Traveling alone and having a fairly flexible schedule gives you some time to do more spontaneous things. I was lucky enough to befriend a girl from Marseille while WWOOFing on the farm close to Sisteron. Initially, I just wanted a lift to Marseille before going to Ardèche. However, she invited me to her home and I ended up staying there for two nights. I got a quick tour of the center of Marseille and also went to the Calanques (narrow sea inlets) for a hike with another former WWOOFer.
CAMPING IN ARDÈCHE
Motivated by the family in Vaucouleurs who said I would love Ardèche, I decided that that would be my destination after my second WWOOFing experience. I decided that I wanted to go to Vallon Pont D’arc to see the natural bridge and the gorges. Since there is no direct train there, I had to bus and stop in one of the larger towns.
All communities in the Ardèche region are fairly small. Aubenas was my first stop…
Finding Couchsurfing hosts in this region is fairly difficult, so I decided I would be camping the first night and then move on to Vallon Pont D’arc afterwards. Traveling does not come without making mistakes and getting lost. I was unaware that there were several stops within Aubenas itself, so once I arrived at the “gare” (station for busses), I thought that was my end point. I then realized after I got off that I had made a mistake, as the bus taking me to the downtown area was in two stops. I was perhaps a little less than 1km away. My backpack probably weighed nearly 20kg, excluding my smaller knapsack. Little did I know that my way to the office of tourism was uphill. Let me tell you that the heat was extraordinary – I don’t believe I have ever sweated that much in my life.
Once I got to the peak, it was a wonderful view. However, I was on the look out for a spot to camp. This was hard to do since I was in the center of the town. After walking in the heat with my heavy bag, I decided that the best thing to do would be to hide my large backpack and explore the village a little. I wouldn’t really recommend this in a larger city, but I was desperate – my back was aching, I was sweating buckets and I was being very cheap. I finally found a spot where I felt the shrubs would cover my bag and went off on my merry way. What I did was rather risky, but I left things that I would be okay with losing – my tent, clothes, toiletries…
From there I explored the city a little bit and picked up some food. I noticed from the view that there was a river and I decided that because of the heat, I would be better off camping near the water. I decided to take my valuables and essentials (leaving my large backpack once more) and took off to the river. I was able to find a pretty secluded place to sleep, although there just so happened to be some music concert nearby – they didn’t stop playing music until 3am!
The next morning, I decided to go find out what time the bus to Vallon Pont D’arc would be. While doing this I met a stranger who wanted to know if could accompany me. Again, I probably should not have agreed to this – I just can’t be mean to people. I don’t think he had too much money and he was surprised that I slept outside the previous night. He asked if I slept with the homeless people in the center square. I suppose in a sense, I was homeless. I took my chances again because I usually have great encounters with strangers. However, I must admit this experience was creepy. I ended up treating him to a coffee and after much silence, I decided to finally tell him that I wanted to be left alone. A few hours later, I took off to Vallon Pont D’Arc.
VALLON PONT D’ARC
When I was on the bus to Vallon Pont D’arc and saw the Ardèche river, I was thrilled. Although I should have expected this, I think I was overwhelmed by the amount of tourists there. I mean, who wouldn’t want to kayak all the way down this river? The river is fairly shallow in some areas and is pretty calm so it is perfect. All I wanted to do here was do hikes and swim in the river.
I don’t know what it is about me, whether it’s having too much pride or just wanting to figure out things on my own, but I found it difficult to ask people for directions. I had a map and I just wanted to figure it out all on my own. Naturally, I went to opposite way. A group of guys stopped their car to ask me if I needed help and felt sorry for me – I was carrying such a heavy bag in the heat. They told me there was a camp site near by and that I could definitely stay there. It was about 12 euros to camp which wasn’t bad, although I wanted to find a more isolated place to camp. The next day, I finally found the Grand Randonee (GR) trail and found a fairly secretive area to camp for the next few days.
I Couchsurfed in Montpellier with another amazing host, who did everything to make me feel comfortable. Despite my short stay, I was able to climb up Pic St-Loup, attend the Les estivales and witness capoeira, a Brazilian martial art that looks very much like a dance. Here’s a glimpse of my stay here: