November 7, 2008. As you can see in the previous entries of this blog, it was almost exactly one year ago since I was in the Ardennes last. Autumn being one of the prettiest times to be in the Ardennes, my friend Eelco suggested we should head out to La Roche-en-Ardenne, famous for its cured ham and taste bud tickling dry sausages.However nice those meat products are, our main goal would be to capture the changing colours of the undulating fields. Well, at least that is what he told me.
Rolling hills and 'cutting edge' roads
Once there, it turned out he had an alternative motive for going back to the Ardennes: a little over a year ago, he bought himself a nice big Land Rover Discovery with all-terrain tyres. Now, after ample practice, he thought it would be nice to push that car to the limit of its abilities. In the Netherlands we hardly have any hills and the ones we have are closed off to the general public. In Belgium on the other hand, one is allowed to freely roam the woods, the hills and narrow forest paths by car. So, Eelco had set his mind to do just that in the South East of Belgium.
This year, on the contrary to last year, the weather was perfect: dry, sunny, blue sky, the temperature around 15 degrees Celsius, which is not bad for November. Therefore, I was looking forward to see (and take photos of) the lovely little quaint villages that are scattered throughout the region.
"How dairy you take my picture?"
As soon as we passed the city of Namen (Namur in French), we got off the highway and continued our way through the undulating fields. Most of these fields have an agricultural use, some for crop growing, others for keeping livestock. Patches of woodland surround the fields. The colours of the woods were as beautiful as we had hoped, perhaps even better. The bleak sun lit the leaves as if they were on fire.
On and on it went through the green and brown quilt blanket. Don't get me wrong, the fields are lovely and quite necessary for feeding the population. However, they do get a bit boring to the eye after seeing so many. Besides…, after roaming the area all morning, taking pictures of the quilt-like landscape, the cows and tiny settlements, our tummy was telling us it was time for lunch.
We found a lovely place to have a light lunch.
I do like the colours in Autumn
We did feel a bit out of place though. After all, it was a Sunday, so most of the other guests were dressed up for the occasion. In our more informal attire, we felt slightly awkward. I felt happy I polished my shoes this morning, and I was wearing my best jeans, otherwise I would have been really embarrassed. Besides being underdressed, there was another reason to be on our way quickly. So far we had only seen the fields and by now I had caught on to Eelco's hidden agenda of trying out the 4x4. So, soon the search was on for hills, rocks and steep forest roads.
Not long after, those hills were found and up we went. As it had been raining the previous days, the created puddles now formed beautiful mirrors that reflected the world above. Some of these puddles had grown into exciting and challenging larger pools. On the surface they often don't look like much, but you never know how deep they are.
Eelco in his 'not so Sunday-ish' attire, choosing what to have for lunch
So, head first (or should I say: hood first) we dove into a few of them and fortunately always made it out on the other end, without getting our feet wet. This only encourage Eelco more, because his new motto is: "I didn't buy a 4x4 for the open road, and if there is no mud on the roof, we have done something wrong".
We went from hill to hill, through muddy fields and up and down rocky logging-roads. Some of which had been closed off by the way, because it was hunting season. Neat signs told us what part of the woods was open or closed during which hours. Once or twice a steep climbing path looked very appealing to us, but evidently we didn't want to get shot by some over-zealous wild boar hunter. We thought it wiser not to take those :) The roads we did take, took us through beautiful patches of forest and led us to magnificent vistas and panoramas.
Puddles are the mirrors of the woods
However, the roads weren't up to Eelco's usual standard.
With our goal still being the lively centre of La Roche-en-Ardenne, at 14:30 I thought it was time to stay on the asphalt and make our way there. From past experience, I knew there was a picturesque hotel-restaurant hidden in the mountain surrounding La Roche, where the food is fantastic! Just thinking about the meals I had there, is mouth-watering. I had suggested to Eelco we could (or should) have dinner there and he agreed. With slight disappointment, Eelco steered out of the woods, on to the road heading towards La Roche.
All of a sudden, Eelco spots the type of mountain path he had been looking for all this time. "Shall we?" he asked with energetic anticipation in his voice.
Any hunters in these woods?
I didn't feel like it, I just wanted to go to La Roche. Although I had been to that lovely restaurant before, I didn't remember its exact location. I thought we might have to spend some time looking for it. However, it is give & take in friendships and I thought: 'let Eelco have this one'. All I said was, "sure". Without hesitation, he turned off the road, on to the path that went straight down. At first, the woods were scarcely scattered deciduous trees, but soon the scenery changed to pine-trees. The further (and steeper) down we got, the denser the pine-tree forest became.
We were slipping and sliding down the piny hill when suddenly the car stopped. With this sudden halt, our bodies went on forward with momentum. It wasn't a failure of the engine; that was still running. Better yet, it was screaming with maximum revs. So what stopped us in our tracks? After we were thrown back into our seats when the momentum died out, we guessed it was the bank of mud we were in.
Somewhere in the middle of nowhere
Eelco did his best trying to reverse the car, then forward again, than back a little, hoping to rock the car gently out of its precarious position. Alas, he failed… After a good bit of swearing, Eelco asked me to get out of the car to asses the situation more carefully. You'll understand I was surprised to say the least, and I asked him why he didn't get out himself.
Apparently, he had tried so hard to get the car out, it was now knee-deep stuck in the mud and he couldn't open his door anymore. If you have read other blogs of mine, you know Eelco is a big fellow; climbing out of the window isn't an option in his case. So, there I went. I opened my door as wide as I could, put one of my stilts on the pine needle covered bank and hauled myself out of the car. So far, so good. With both hands on the roof of the car and one leg on firmer ground, I dragged my other leg out of the vehicle.
Ooooops, were stuck. Now it aint fun any more :(
There I stood, more than half my body towering over the (quite high in its own right) 4x4. The roof of the car came up no higher than my waist. Okay genius, what now?
For a moment, Eelco thought my 85 kilo's would make all the difference in the world, so he tried to move the car back and forth. Of course this had no effect, other than more skidding. Fortunately, the car slid over to the right, so now Eelco could open his door. Eelco immediately let some air escape from the tyres, thus making them softer and wider. Normally this procedure gives a car some extra grip. Yes, on a sandy surface it does, BUT NOT WHEN YOU ARE KNEE-DEEP IN SLIPPERY MUD!!!!
I started to collect some wood to put under the tyres and in the tracks but with 2.
The first of many, many dead Christmas trees going under the tyres.
5 tons of car, I quickly realised 'some' wood just wasn't going to do the job. Before I knew it, I was dragging entire pine trees out of that forest. Now, I am somewhat of an environmentalist (yeah, yeah, only a little, otherwise I wouldn't have gone to Belgium to burn a lot of diesel…, but I recycle paper, metal, glass and water, and use very little electricity :D) so, I only used dead trees that were already lying around. After scavenging half the forest, we reckoned it would be enough to get us out. There was a problem though. The car had dug such deep trenches, there was no way we could turn the car. Therefore, Eelco had to reverse the car back up the steep and slippery path we came down from. Getting all that wood in the gaping tracks turned out to be an additional problem. It meant I had to stump around in the mud with my good jeans and polished shoes :(
Anyway, Eelco started the engine, put the car in reverse and gave it a go.
We both were so excited to be freed from our precarious situation, I couldn't hold the camera still enough to make a decent picture :)
First, the back tyres slipped of the logs and sprayed mud all over my coat, but soon enough, they found some grip on the rugged bark of the pines. Yoohooooooo....., Splat! Yohoo is what we shouted in excitement, 'splat' was the sound of the car slipping off the tree trunks, into the mud again. What had seemed like firm ground at first (and we therefore didn't put any trees on), still turned out to be too muddy. So off we went, to scavenge the other half of the forest. By now, my coat and face are covered in green and black smudges from all sorts of fungi, moss and other nasty stuff. Anyway, to make a long story slightly shorter; in the end we had found enough logs, trunks, and branches to fill the self-dug tyre trenches. Eelco didn't want to risk getting stuck again, so he backed up the car all the way to the main road, leaving me to climb a couple of hundred metres up that godforsaken muddy, slippery hill. Thanks buddy!!
Eelco was guilt ridden the rest of our journey.
We couldn't go to this picturesque restaurant anymore, especially not the way we now looked: highly camouflaged giants after mud wrestling a 2.5 thousand kilo monster… We opted for something simpler in the town centre. In between all the butchers the town is rich of, we spotted a place to our liking. After securing a table, we each went to the restrooms to clean ourselves up a bit, and then had a wonderful dinner. "Dinner?", I hear you ask in a shock. Yes!, because it took the greater part of three hours to back up a few hundred metres. It was now near 6 o'clock in the evening and after all that hard labour, we were dying to get a hardy meal. After dinner, we made a few snapshots of the town by night, and then went on our way back to The Netherlands. I can assure you, we stayed on the asphalt all the way back :D