This was a day of near-disasters and close encounters.
It wasn’t until 8am that I dragged my reluctant ass out of bed, two full hours later than my usual wake-up time. My throat was scratchy and my limbs felt heavy, and I thanked my lucky stars again and again for my host’s kind offer of a ride this morning. My immune system had been a real pal on all my travels up to this point, but I could feel that if things were going to go wrong, today would be the day.
My host and her boyfriend chatted away merrily as we drove – she speaking very quickly, he using all kinds of French slang I’d never heard in my life – and I did my best to fight through the mental fog and keep up. As it happens, in their review of me on AirBnB, they explicitly singled out my French for praise. Either they’re even more generous than I’d thought, or I’m truly gifted in the smile-and-nod school of feigning comprehension.
My hosts dropped me off just outside Pélisanne, nearly halfway to my destination of Coudoux. I soon rejoined the GR653A, and having saved so much time, was able to amble along as slowly as I needed through the quiet countryside.
The path wandered up from the low farmland into some gentle hills, providing my first glimpse of Cézanne’s beloved Mt. Ste-Victoire looming near Aix-en-Provence. Though Aix was my next day’s destination, I had to veer quite some distance south to make it to Coudoux (pronounced ‘coo-dooks’, by the way; apparently it’s a Provençal eccentricity to pronounce these final consonants that you would expect to be silent), a detour necessitated by lack of available accommodations along the way.
I left the GR about 5 km outside of Coudoux and followed a road through the hills leading to the village. It was a busy enough thoroughfare, so I walked in a ditch alongside it to avoid being flattened. An older man, covered in what looked like motor oil, dirt under his nails, with a no-nonsense look about him and a gruff manner, pulled over and started barking instructions of some sort to me. I had a hard time understanding what he was saying at first (at least he wasn’t coming on to me, anyway), until he sighed, got out of his car, and directed my gaze toward the hillside. “Stay on the road,” he said. “The hills are full of explosives.”
He quickly warmed up to the topic, his brusque manner melting into a modest pride as we talked; undetonated WWII mines in the hills around Coudoux appear to be a particular passion of his. From what I could gather, this area became some sort of dumping ground for explosives in the latter days of the Second World War. I realised that there were warning signs everywhere, but they were so similar to the warnings about hunters (very common around here) that I hadn’t even noticed them. Wildfires frequently strike during the hot, dry summer, and apparently the resulting explosions are quite dramatic. “Boom boom!” He even showed me a small crater nearby, maybe 3 metres across. I was chastened. He eventually continued on his way, and I turned back toward Coudoux, squeezing myself meekly onto the narrow shoulder of the road.
The minefield eventually turns into parkland as you approach Coudoux, and I decided to veer off the road and find a footpath down into the town. I’d like to draw your attention to the photo above, in fact. As you can see, there is a path winding invitingly down to Coudoux. Simple. There is no possible way that this will not lead me to my destination.
Two problems. First, this path is far more meandering than it looks, so it took quite a long time to get down to town-level. Second, and most importantly, it leads not into town, but to an apiary on the outskirts. An apiary, of all things. Hard on the heels of Death by Explosion, here I was facing Death by Bee if I dared to advance. There was no other way into Coudoux because the apiary was flanked on both sides by the tall, unbroken garden walls of the town’s outermost homes. There was really nothing else to do except to retrace my steps up the hill and find an alternative route down to the town, which would probably add an extra hour to my day…
It was for me the work of a moment to remove my backpack, toss it over some innocent inhabitant’s 6-foot-tall perimeter fence, and send my body scrambling after it. After a mad dash round the front of the property, I repeated the manoeuvre, surprising myself with a considerably higher drop on the other side. And like that, I was dusting myself off on a street inside the town of Coudoux, with no one the wiser. Listen, I don’t condone trespassing, kids. It’s just that there was no other way into this strange place.
So I arrived at my AirBnB and was greeted by the owner’s sweet and somewhat doddering old mother. She showed me the place (which was excellent, and charmingly done up for Christmas), confessed that she didn’t really know anything about it, and wandered off to an adjacent apartment. I noticed that there seemed to be something wrong with the toilet – it didn’t flush too well when I tried it – but I elected not to bother Maman. It probably just took some finessing. Besides, I was only going #1.
I napped away the last of my almost-sickness, then went out for a late supper (another unbelievable pizza, if you’re curious, with wondrously flavourful toppings like artichoke hearts and capers and mushrooms and olives and goat cheese, accompanied by another scrumptious, dry local rosé, and topped off with an exquisite crême brulée, thanks for asking). Waddled home well past Maman’s bedtime. Her windows were dark. When I tried the flusher again, I realised that it was properly, for-real not working.
Not to worry, I’m resourceful. I searched YouTube for toilet-fixing tutorials. They all followed the same simple formula:
- Turn off water to toilet.
- Replace the broken part with a new part that you’ve already ordered from the internet.
Useless!! But what could I do? I was too shy to wake Maman up, and wasn’t sure what she could do about it anyway. So far I was adhering to the ‘if it’s yellow let it mellow’ principle…maybe I could make it until morning, report the problem, and find a public toilet before the gastrointestinal situation deteriorated…
With a troubled heart, a broken toilet, and a belly full of pizza, I lay down to sleep.