I was all packed and ready to go while Tyler was on the computer ordering Thermarest mattresses (after two days of use our replacement Exped mats are already failing). When he was done he began packing his bike and discovered that one of his pannier straps was missing. We searched all around our campsite and the surrounding areas, pacing and re-tracing our steps while racking our brains trying to figure out where we could have left it. Panniers were dumped out and sorted to no avail; the strap was gone. It really sucks when we lose things because a) we are fairly dependent on every single thing we own, and b) replacing missing items can be a long and complicated affair, far removed from the easy trip to the store we were used to back home.
There is very little that upsets Tyler, except his own supposed inefficiency. In his mind, this was definitely one of those dreaded occasions, as he had just dedicated an hour to performing a fruitless task. Despite the "setback" I was quick to move on, suggesting we quickly and creatively rig up a way to close the pannier, and then order a replacement to be sent along with various other items in the package from my parents. Tyler was more upset about about the time wasted than he was about the strap. Sadly you can't order more time on the internet ;).
Though we could have left earlier when it was cooler, now we were leaving under the pounding heat of the sun. Oh well, I thought. We would survive. We surrendered to the missing strap and began to wheel our bikes to the road. As I was pushing I heard a strange clicking noise. When I stopped to investigate I discovered the elusive strap was on my rear rack, dangling into the wheel, where Tyler had put it the other night! Overjoyed and exasperated about the time wasted, we fished it out and reattached it to the pannier.
We were an hour "late" when we biked back into Arles to buy some almond croissants before hitting the road. Tyler is learning how to relax and I was very proud when he suggested we find a park bench to sit on while we ate instead of hurriedly stuffing our faces and pedaling off, mid-bite. It was when we were nicely settled on a bench in the shade, munching away on those flaky, powdered sugar covered, almond cream filled goodies, that we saw this sign:
Bulls in the street? Was it a joke? The street was blocked off, and there were cops everywhere directing traffic. I asked one of them, and he informed me that the bulls would arrive in a few minutes in a procession to the arena. (Arles is famous for it's Roman amphitheater, where they have bullfighting every Wednesday night). As it turned out, we were not "late"—we were in the right place at the right time!
Suddenly around the corner came an army of cyclists whooping and hollering, followed by a parade of people on horseback, all dressed in traditional garments from the region. Safely corralled within the barrier made by the horses, bulls clopped along in the midst of the throng. Bringing up the rear were two horse-drawn carriages; in one sat a group of women in long dresses and fancy hair pieces, and in the other was a festive group of men playing lively regional music. More bicyclists followed. Excited, we jumped at the chance to be in a French parade and pedaled off with them.
We biked along the crowded streets of Arles, receiving waves and smiles from the parade onlookers. As we wound our way to the arena, getting a better tour of the town that any guide could provide, we smiled at the zillions of people crowding the streets. This was Monday morning, but already the roads were packed, filled with tourists and locals alike. Apartment-dwellers leaned out of their shuttered windows to enjoy the show. Finally arriving at the amphitheater, the parade dispersed into the mob of people blocking the narrow street.
Leaving the throng, we wheeled our bikes over to the sidewalk and leaned them against a wall. Tyler stayed with the them while I explored a gift shop across the road. Its shelves were stocked with olive oil, sausages made of bull meat, lavender sachets, bright yellow Provencal table cloths, and a plethora of other souvenirs. I picked out gifts for the kids, and postcards to send to our friends, and called Tyler over to get his opinion about a bottle of Van Gogh's drink of choice: Absinthe.
We bought a small bottle. While I was paying for our goodies, I noticed a pile of hand-written coupons—a free glass of Sangria at a restaurant down the street, valid today only! I took two, and we made our way to the restaurant.
Across the street from several tables full of men passing around a bottle of Ricard on Monday morning, we settled under a large umbrella and presented our coupons to the woman running the restaurant. She immediately went to fetch two glasses of their special white Sangria made of freshly cut peaches soaking in refreshing chilled white wine. While we drank, other people came to the restaurant for its famous paella (yellow saffron-seasoned rice teeming with seafood) which the woman dished up from a platter four feet in diameter.
Now satisfied with our visit to Arles, complete with parade and free drinks, we left the restaurant and continued out of town. We passed a paper factory that was on strike; workers meandered around the streets, slowly spray painting complaints on the pavement. Further along, we passed camper van after camper van, stopped by the side of the road as if the drivers couldn't bear to drive another mile. The driver and passengers would be laying in lawn chairs, sunning themselves, or having picnics at large tables, making themselves right at home.
As they waved and cheered while we passed, it occurred to me that people seem to have a very difficult time getting anything done here. Workers just can't take it anymore, and even tourists can't be bothered to drive another mile. All activity seems to slow to a halt under the heat of the sun and the buzz of an afternoon glass of rosé.
The next portion of our journey was through the area known as "la Camargue," famous for rice, salt, horses, bulls, and flamingos. Unfortunately we didn't see any flamingos, but we did see several herons (or cranes?) taking off from the rice paddies, and a field full of bulls.
When we stopped to take pictures, Tyler wanted to get up close and so walked down into what he thought was a ditch. It was actually a small canal. He got soaked up to the knees in murky, sludgy water, but still managed to take a few photos. Of course while he was over there, he had to duck under the fence as well, into a field of sharply-horned animals for a better shot. He made it back unscathed, thankfully!
The Camargue was wonderfully flat and we raced along it at 30 kilometers an hour. Nearing the sea, we crossed a ferry, which dumped us, unceremoniously, on to a major highway. We wrestled against the wind and intensity of hundreds of semis passing us by. On the tiny shoulder we stayed focused and rode on as best we could in the unnerving situation. We made it off the highway safely and proceeded to the tourist office where a kind lady told us where the nearest campsite was. Another four kilometers and we would be home for the night.
Although four kilometers is not a long distance by any means, it seemed that way because we were so hot. Instead of heading straight there, we headed towards the beach to cool ourselves off. On the way we crossed a bridge over a salt-water canal and passed just in time to see two teenage boys climb through the railing and leap off of it into the water far below. We followed their lead, not by jumping, but by parking our bikes and slipping in from water level. What a great idea!
Now adequately cooled off, we headed home. Unfortunately, the only way to get there was via the highway. We battled the semis once again and four short kilometers later we arrived. The municipal campsite of Port de Bouc charged a very reasonable 8 a night, a fare the likes of which we haven't seen since since we were riding along the canal in northern France. We settled in to a secluded spot under the pines and made ourselves at home.