I awoke at 6 am in a cold sweat, and knew immediately that my plan to find a public toilet later in the morning would not work out. I needed to sort out the flusher situation now.
Fortunately, with that panicked thought came an idea. It’s amazing what adrenaline can for to your cognitive abilities, even at 6 am. It occurred to me that, though I couldn’t possibly follow step two of the toilet-fixing tutorials I’d watched (‘replace broken part with a new part that you’ve already acquired’), I hadn’t fully explored step one (‘turn off water to toilet’). Maybe – just maybe – if I was really lucky – the problem would simply be that the water to the toilet was turned off. I found the nozzle indicated in my YouTube tutorials. I turned it. The tank filled up with water and flushed freely and abundantly when tested. I’ve never been so relieved in my entire life.
So! Breathing easy once more, I bid farewell to Coudoux and struck back the way I had come in order to rejoin the GR653A. Well, not quite. I gave the wall-hopping and apiary-skirting a miss this time and followed the road out of town and back into the hills. After a brief but exciting foray into some sort of public works land alongside the Marseille canal that is definitely not intended for members of the public, I hopped yet another fence to rejoin the road just as a cyclist came by. She correctly guessed that I was winging it and asked if she could help me find my route. She called over another passing cyclist for backup, and he gave me such good directions. Wouldn’t have found my way at all otherwise. The Provençals earned another tally in the ‘Not Jerks’ column for their efforts.
They took off, and Cyclist 1 soon returned to report that she’d found my path. I thanked her, and just before she turned away, she casually mentioned that these hills are full of hunters and that I’d better wear something red to avoid getting shot.
By this point, I was almost accustomed to threats to life & limb. I’m not sure I even raised an eyebrow. I tied a red shirt around my head and plunged into the bush, looking like an idiot, grimly wondering whether it would be the bullet or the dogs that would finish me off in the end.
As it happened, I avoided a violent death in the hills around Coudoux. The hunters, though certainly abundant, proved quite adept at not shooting humans. Can’t say how they fared with the birds.
As I scampered out of the hills and rejoined the GR, I became aware that I was not alone. A huge, friendly doofus of a dog, whom I immediately named Byfuglien (pronounced ‘Bufflin’, after the Winnipeg Jets defenceman with a kind face and the body of a tank), appeared out of nowhere and took an instant shining to me. Perhaps he was protecting me from the hunters…Or the mines…Or the bees…Or perhaps he wanted a taste of the leftover pizza in my bag.
Byfuglien and I spent the next couple of hours chatting away as we wandered through some idyllic farmland. I even found myself contemplating how on earth I was going to smuggle him into my AirBnB that night. As it was, he accompanied me as far as Éguilles, the last town before Aix, where he suddenly took a shining to a very grumpy jogger who was not at all in the mood to befriend a big galoot of a dog. Poor old Byfuglien, oblivious to the jogger’s insults, merrily trotted along by his side, dropping me as suddenly as he had picked me up. It’s fine. I’m okay. Let’s move on.
I was now free to heed the call of my bladder, at least, and sought out a public toilet in Éguilles- which by the way is a lovely, bustling little town with a sweeping view over the surrounding countryside. Unfortunately, the town’s charm does not extend to its toilets.
I elected to hold it until I could pee in a bush.
The rest of the walk into Aix was uneventful, most of it pretty, some of it on the shoulder of a busy highway, getting honked at. I reached the somewhat suburban neighbourhood where I would be staying that night about 4 hours early. I was hungry and tired, and decided to find something to eat in the area rather than go exploring downtown. Two hours later – two hours, I swear on my life! – having found not a single place where I could buy anything to eat of any sort, I finally gave up and made the half-hour trek downtown.
Why didn’t I just do that in the first place? The moment I crossed into the core of the city, there were shops and cafés and restaurants everywhere. As I penetrated deeper into the city, I became aware of bright, flashing lights and jolly music coming from a big plaza. It was the Christmas market.
And what a Christmas market!! There were carnival rides full of beaming children, street performers bothering passers-by, and an endless row of booths stretching as far as I could see down the main drag. There were even side-markets, including an international market with each kiosk representing one of Aix’s sister-cities (where I picked up a delicious Tunisian couscous, washing it down with a Belgian hot wine), and a santon market. I had never seen santons before I came here, but was instantly drawn to them. They’re small terra cotta figurines, often but not always painted, representing people and objects from rural Provençal life. There are figures for farmers, bakers, dancers, cooks, even a walker braced against the Mistral, anything you like. At Christmastime, instead of (or alongside) the Nativity scenes that many of us are accustomed to, the people of Provence use santons to decorate their homes with little vignettes of traditional country life. I just love that. (Also, being small and fairly cheap, they made my Christmas shopping really easy.)
I trundled back out of the city’s downtown charmed, well-fed, and glad that I would have a few hours to explore the next day before busing down to Marseille for the next phase of my adventure. I bought a bottle of wine, checked into my AirBnB, and ran a nice hot bath, and thus ended my Arles-Aix walk.