After four days in Barcelona, The Sister, The Best Friend and I made our way by train to Montpellier, France.
Once we’d converted from train travel to car travel, our trip in the surrounding Camargue region quickly turned into European Vacation Three. What do you get when you cross three chicks, a 1.2 horsepower hire car, and no GPS? The answer: many trips around…
and around and around and around
French traffic circles.
In our defence, we were trying to find a beach bar whose address was listed as: “au bout du petit chemin” (at the end of the little road). This was literally all that was given as a physical address on the flyer we’d picked up in Montpellier. When we eventually found “the little road” and the bar “at the end” of it, admittedly the road had no name. Still, the name of the village would have been a nice clue. On the bright side, we got to see more of the Camargue and it's flamingos during our traffic circle joyrides.
Our next stop was a wild, windswept, 9km long beach, known as “l’Espiguette”. Several wrong turns and a number of rounding roundabouts later, we discovered the beach. It was well worth the joyrides. It reminded us of Noordhoek beach in some ways, except it's much more expansive and possibly a little less wild. Here it is:
Despite the many signs stating that the beach and its surrounding ecosystem were protected, we were greeted almost immediately by a coffee-shop-cum-snack-shack only about 10m from the water's edge. I was thrilled since we’d been driving for hours and I was desperate for the loo. When I reached the “bar”, there were two people sitting at a table looking super chilled out. It was hard to tell if they were customers or if they were running the place, they looked so laidback but there was no-one else around so I assumed they were in charge and asked them where their toilets were. Unfortunately, this was met with an amused grin and the following response.
“Welcome to nature – where they are toilets everywhere: behind the dunes, in the sea, everywhere!”
Not exactly the answer I was looking for. But I was pretty desperate so I duly ran off to find a dune, or a tree, or something.
The dunes were cordoned off by a little rope with nature conservation signs all over the place and there were honestly no trees. Desperate, I ran into the car park wondering if I could take a leak behind our car. No such luck either. Parked next to us were a pair of 60-something French hippies in their David Kramer-style volksie bus, tucking into their supper and grinning at me.
I decided to try the other side of the car park, hoping it’d be more deserted. Just as I was about to bare my backside behind a conservation hut, a car crawled past. I waited for it to leave but then seconds later, another car appeared from the other direction. And just after that, a surfer strolled back to his car and proceeded to tie up his board in pain-staking sl o o o o o o w motion.
By now I was beyond desperate and, illogically, started running across the car park like a mad-woman with my packet of tissues, hoping that the answer to my problem would somehow be revealed to me. Nothing. I couldn't believe it. The beach was 9km long, it was practically deserted but there were just enough cars dribbling across this massive parking lot to completely prevent me from taking a leak. It felt like a conspiracy!
After I developed a small stitch from tearing across the car park, I adopted the “who cares-no-one-knows-me-here” approach and squatted behind a parked car. I think the universe must’ve taken pity on me because, mercifully, I had just pulled up my pants when the next car came past.
I arrived back at the beach to find The Sister and The Best Friend worried that I’d been abducted by the hippies. Not that worried, though. By this time they’d made friends with the snack shack peeps. Very hospitable peeps, at that. As I arrived, I was welcomed with open arms by the very man who sent me into the tree-less wilderness to wee. He introduced himself as Jean-Pierre. We later learned just why he was so very comfortable abluting in the wild – he actually lived inside the snack shack from May to September and had done so every year for the past seven years. Luckily, this was no ordinary snack shack – this was a French beach café and what would a French beach café be without some good old French wine? No sipping on Coca-colas while we watched the sun set in this natural sanctuary. Instead, we were able to enjoy the view while sampling the local vin de sable – literally translated as “sand wine” but figuratively translated as “yummy”.
Several carafes of vin de sable later, Jean-Pierre and his head-waitress were well on their way and at one point they were jamming to SA music from The Sister’s I-pod. Here they are in action:
Life's tough in the South of France.
By the time the sun set, it was after 9pm and we still had no accommodation booked for the night. We decided it was time to say goodbye to the crazy snack shack peeps and to go in search of shelter. Jean-Pierre offered us his “spare room” (the snack shack’s deck, to be precise) but we declined, tempting as it was to get up and brush our teeth in the Mediterranean the next morning…