Friday, June 13, 2014


When you're near Millau you have the option of going to visit the world's largest viaduct. But we are confident that when we get to China, they will have built an even larger one, so we left such valuable tourist attraction aside, a milestone in the history of man's struggle against nature, and instead of the bridge we visit Olivier and Hélène´s house in Prailhac. And it's a good choice: we spend two days with them during which we learn about gardening and natural medicine, house building, cooking and humanity. Not bad. Olivier advises us not to miss the opportunity to climb the Causse Mejean (the highest and Most extensive plateau of France) to see the animals are in danger of extinction. The ecosystem of the Causse, 1,000 meters above sea level and covered meadows with no trees, is like Mongolia. Here biologists have found a place to try to save the Przewalski horses (the only species of wild horses in the world) from extinction. Although this breed is the horse that is represented in the caves of Lascaux, experts say, the the wild horses were forced to migrate eastward as caused by climate change. Their rediscovery in Mongolia in 1879 did not help them, as they began to be victims of massive hunting, flayed or sent to European zoos. The massive domestication almost wiped out the horses in the wild, while the number of breeding stock in the mid-twentieth century was scarcely a dozen. Indeed, the last sighting of a Przewalski horse in the wild was in 1966  in the Gobi desert. In 1990 the TAKH association was formed  to reintroduce horses in Mongolia the horses that wereliving in zoos in Europe. After so many years in captivity, the animals need a period of acclimatization, which takes place in the town of Le Villaret, in the Cévennes National Park. Here they learn to fend for themselves, form herds and natural selection works again. Currently, about 30 horses are living in semi freedom in Le Villaret. The world population of these horses has grown to 1,872,  including more than 300 that have been reintroduced thanks to programs likeTAKH.

Maybe seeing two horses instead of the world's largest viaduct is not a big deal to some people, but for us it is exciting.  The occupants of the cars stopped at the same place as us along the road up to the Causse must have thought the same thing.They all got out, asked us four questions and had us ride up the slope while they video taped us. At least they could have given us some peanuts.

I feel identified with the plateau: it is a difficult beauty to explain and understand. There are barely any trees, no mountains or valleys, there is simply shrubby vegetation, but it has something special. The fact that no slugs fill our tent with drool also helps us to love it. The second day we have engaged in a love-hate relationship because of a headwind forcing us to enjoy the plateau longer than we expected. The descent to Florac takes us along a road on which a warning reads: "difficult and dangerous path", and it´s certainly so for motor vehicles. They have to avoid being carried away by the force of gravity on the slopes of 15%. In the morning we descend vertically half a kilometer that we have to go back up again in the afternoon if we want to stay and live in the national park, and we do it through Eaves Road to the Pompidou. Once here, we go down the Gard Valley, without being fully aware that we are leaving behind a beautiful part of France.

We have just realized that it's summer. Suddenly the heat is stifling, mosquitoes everywhere and there is a strong necessity of water. We are in Nîmes, Mediterranean climate: in a couple of days we have changed from the French Mongolia to the Roma gala. The Nimes festival offers exotic shows: bulls, churros, paella and flamenco. What it doesn´t offer with such joy is a fountain that works, so we have to search for a cemetery to find water (and take the chance to have a furtive shower, those who are resting there don´t really mind) or take it directly from a ditch. Tamagotchi tells us that it is 46.5ºC so we cannot even pedal, we have to stop a  long couple of hours  at in the afternoon so we don´t melt in the attempt. We even rethink today's stage, fifteen kilometers to the beach in the Camargue seem. Howe insuperable however, we have not come here to smell the sea from afar, and in less than an hour or so we are in Saint-Marie de la Mer, where all the gypsies of Europe meet once a year. We leave behind the touristy beaches and we are back in a natural park, this time similar to the marshlands of Doñana. We enjoy a swim in the sea in our birthday suits (I will never tire of enumerating the remarkable benefits of this activity) and camp near the shore, after dragging the bike half a kilometer down the beach.

At night the problems begin. The stove stops working while a horde of tiger mosquitoes choose us to be their dinner. Gabi tries to thoroughly clean all the ducts, but it doesn´t work. We leave the rice with lentils in a tupper. Tomorrow will be another day. Today we eat fruit. But the next day it does not work either. Gabi spends a couple of hours cleaning it completely, cross checking all the parts, taking it apart and puttint it together several times ... nothing. We read the instructions over and over. The first thing is they say is that if there are problems, check that the fuel injector  is right for the type of fuel used. And indeed, almost two months later, we realize that we have been using kerosene instead of gasoline. Problem solved: fifteen hours later, we eat rice with lentils.

 Camping is not easy in this region (equivalent to the autonomous communities in Spain). There is little forest and we have to settle for pitching the tent in untilled fields. Even in a field located a few meters from a military tower. The place is packed with All kinds of animals, two, four, six and eight legged. At night, someone´s stomach rumbles. At first we laugh until we realize that it´s no one´s stomach. The sound comes from below the floor of the tent and it takes a while to find out what it is ... there's a mole among us. Like two idiots, we try to redirect the mole hitting the ground and placing our arms and legs in the right direction. We spend much of the night doing this. The next morning we make sure we have not caused  any damage to the molehill, while spiders and earwigs make us miss the slugs. We chose another privileged untilled field near Avignon. A  place so special that at three in the morning we are woken up by a disgusting smell, like that of a  dead animal, which leads us to think about starting the day directly under the stars. We manage to fall asleep again and the next day defy the heat to reach the papal city, where Gabi will be reunited with an old friend.

Finally, we arrived early and while waiting for our meeting with David, we meet a special family: Monika and Heiner have come from Germany by bike with their three children (the youngest of 9 months) ... all in the same machine . It is a kind of five-seater trike, powered by two adults and a children's bike in the back. Anything is possible in the world of travelling cyclists.  Very soon they become more popular than the Palais des Papes and attract the attention of everyone in the square. We exchange our addresses and go to meet David, who has prepared three days of rest, during which we enjoy 5-1 score that the Dutch give to the Spanish and the French joke about, all of which we'll talk about later.

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