Happy to leave our militant campsite this morning we set out in the direction of Arles, a city near the Mediterranean coast. A few kilometers down the road we passed the biggest caterpillar I have ever seen. It was neon green and speckled with bizarre blue balls that were each covered with black spikes or antennae of some kind. As the alien-like insect inched across the sun-baked highway into traffic I tortured myself with thoughts of what it would feel like to run over it, or worse, accidentally step on it! A few meters later my curiosity got the better of me (to see it up close, not kill it) and we turned around to investigate. Nature is so weird.
For the past few weeks I have been working diligently on slowing down. On the road, in camp, during breaks, everywhere. It is my natural tendency to attack nearly every task I set before myself as quickly and efficiently as I possibly can; rarely stopping until it is finished. While this works very well in my professional life (and I have no intention of changing there) it doesn't translate well into cycling around the world.
Even though we have at least a year or more in front of us I still feel a need to rush at times, thinking that if we don't keep moving we'll never "make it". Tara often teases me when I get frustrated about some minor slowdown on the road, saying "oh no, we'll be five minutes late in MALAYSIA!" A natural daydreamer, she is working on the exact opposite things and I expect we'll meet somewhere in the middle eventually.
With all of this said, I was very proud of myself early in the morning as I signaled for us to stop at a local fruit market. We'd been on the road for less than 30 minutes! Normally I would have passed it by thinking we "need to get some distance behind us". Instead of trying to charge forward at full tilt from start to finish we settled in for an early snack of melon, deliciously sweet apples and white nectarines. It was worth every "wasted" minute :)
Even though I am trying to go slower these days, we can still be more efficient! (hah) To this end I've been encouraging Tara to draft me when the roads permit since the day we left. For a long time she wasn't comfortable enough to try. When she was, early attempts were met with little success because she wouldn't ride close enough. After we left the fruit market I told her I wouldn't use my brakes for any reason for the next several kilometers and that I wanted her to put her front wheel as near as she could to my rear wheel. It took some coaxing but she agreed and off we went! It worked, and she discovered her new favorite way of riding!
It was another sweaty day, although not quite as hot at some we've experienced lately. Alternating between drinking water, pouring it all over myself, and spraying Tara with it as we rode, I kept my eyes peeled for a cool lake or stream we could throw ourselves in. Ten kilometers outside of Arles my silent prayers were granted when we came upon a canal we could access easily from the road! Tara understood what I was up to immediately as I parked my bike. We were both heaving deep sighs of relief from the middle of the canal in a matter of seconds. Thankfully this time I had both of my shoes on!
We emerged from the canal feeling much more human. No longer dying of heat exhaustion we completed the final miles to Arles in comfort. Arriving in town early we made short work finding a campsite: CAMPING CITY, a seedy cactusy/texas themed place. We set up and immediately headed to the pool for another (most likely, cleaner) swim. The pool was crowded with kids practicing their dives and young couples making out enthusiastically, but we found a nice spot to cool ourselves and splash around.
We had decided earlier in the day that we would treat ourselves to a dinner out, and so after our swim we got dressed and headed to town in search of a meal that didn't involve a camp-stove. Along the way we stopped at the local artisan's market to browse selections of locally-made soap, something we both agreed was the perfect souvenir for us (small and very practical). Tara found a bar of intensely fragrant almond soap that we purchased for 2. With shopping done we started wandering from restaurant to restaurant trying to find the perfect meal. We must have completed at least five laps of the main street before we gave up.
Because we never eat out (unless some kind person offers) we have a hard time justifying the expense if it isn't a) a cultural experience or b) exactly what we want. If we do manage to find a place with a nice atmosphere serving something we like, our appetites invariably disappear when we imagine how many groceries we could purchase for the 10-20 per plate asking price.
In the end we wound up with a pair of hot dogs from a market vendor and what we've decided is our favorite "special" meal: a frozen pizza (less than 5) cooked in our camping oven.