To Auribeau

Auribeau Travel Blog

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Wednesday, June 16
Stephen

 I could see that we were not going to be able to get up and over the mountains and down to a village with lodging without a very long day with our packs on. So I decided to stay two days at Les Fondons and climb to the ridge on our off day so that we could at least look down on the area we would just have to save for another trip.

As we left Lou Caleu, one of the things that had been worrying me was getting across the river. Sometimes I don't know why I worry about anything, because the river proved to be bone dry. They had not been getting much rain in the area and the river showed it. The river had been dry in the gorge d'Oppedette but I had forgotten that it was the same river. Today, we would climb as we headed toward Auribeau and then the next day, Mourre Negre, the highest point in the area. First, we had a nice walk through the grassy fields next to the dry riverbed.

As with headed towards Castellet, we found ourselves following a dry gorge. Anyone who has followed a streamside path understands that the trail has variations for wet and dry seasons . As you travel up the stream bed you see trails leading off into the surrounding area that are used during high water. In the dry season, one must distinguish between these paths that just return to the bed after fifty yards of bush whacking through the overgrowth and the real trail. When you make the wrong decision as we did, you end up in a dry pool facing 30 feet of vertical wall which at other times must have produced a fine waterfall.

I wouldn't mention any of this except that when I put the map in my pocket so that I would have both hands free for the little bit of rock climbing it took to regain the path, I wasn't careful enough so it fell out at the top of the climb. I only noticed that it was missing at a stop ten or fifteen minutes farther along when we stopped at a junction to decide our route. No map. So I hiked back to the wall and found it at the top, very pleased to have found it and very pleased not to have to climb down and back up again. But, my backtracking for the day was not complete, because once I returned to Dawn with the map, we realized that in fact we may have missed the junction where we wanted to turn. So I had to hike back up the hill and look at the junction that Dawn had pointed out to me as we passed it the first time, but that I had dismissed. So now returning to Dawn a second time, I decided that we could get there by continuing on the trail we were on because I just couldn't bear to climb back up that hill for a third time.

Turned out to be a good trail. It had a gentle if constant pitch but also a variety of aspects, going from a single track path to a cart path to a grass covered tree arched over lane. At the top, just before we met the road that lead into Castellet, we had lunch with a grand view of the places where we had walked for the past couple of days.

Castellet

This little hillside village would fit into half a football stadium. The main road that we were walking on approached the village from the side, touched it for a moment then curved sharply uphill on its way to Auribeau. We continued on in and stopped by the fountain and clothes washing facility. The shade was welcomed and the water soaked bandanas around our necks felt great. I wandered off to look for a B&B that I saw advertised and Dawn stayed to guard our packs and watch the renovation being done on the church. I found the B&B, just a small sign near a glass doorway and a hanging pot of flowers. Probably just an extra bedroom in a house which was the origin of what has now become a major cottage industry. I continued up the steep cobbledstoned street and in fifteen minutes have seen the whole town. It is a thirteenth century villages, houses are tucked into one another, the streets are narrow. There are buildings that are abandoned and others have been renovated. There are some second story decks and some windows have been enlarged. To me it is totally charming.

Maybe, I shouldn't be surprised. In 1964, the Belgian Village, a copy of a Medieval town, opened at the World's Fair in New York and I spent much of my time at the fair, wandering around its streets. I loved it. I found it very romantic and used it as a rendezvous with girls with whom I was trying to be involved. The fair did not receive official world' fair status and so was boycotted by the major European nations, therefore most of the exhibits were sponsored by US companies and they all emphasized the benefits of progress through technology, but I seemed to be pleasantly mired in the past. Even as I was totally immersed in sex, drugs, and rock and roll, and was confirming in my French classes my total inaptitude in foreign languages, I was drawn to a place that was decidedly foreign and very old. Maybe I just have a thing for cobblestones.

I don't want to leave the World's Fair without mentioning an experience at the Johnson Wax exhibit that revealed another side of myself that I was trying to ignore. The exhibit consisted of a film called "To be alive" which was being shown in a room with no chairs. One just came in from one side and apparently stood against a wall in the dark and then when you had enough or the film had looped through to where you had come in, you walked out the other side. The design element that changed everything for me was that the wall was slanted back, so rather than standing next to someone, people were leaning against the wall. I felt that I was lying down with them and at the time, it felt like a shockingly intimate experience. I think this must have been the designer's intention, to try to pull the audience together. I was amazed how the change of just a few degrees in my body angle could take me so far out of my comfort zone. I don't remember how long I stayed in there, and I am pretty sure that I didn't return, but I probably got the feeling from this event that life was probably going to be a little bit more complicated than I thought it would be.

When I got back to Dawn, she wanted to know where the heck I went, so maybe it was a little longer than fifteen minutes

Getting out of town was another adventure of following near hidden blazes through narrow pathways that seemed to travel through people's kitchens. We went down the side of the hill that the village sat on, moving into the shade down steep switchbacks. We ended up by a field at the base of the village. From there, we traveled up a valley for an hour or two to the village of Auribeau, passing may cherry orchards where the fruit was almost ripe.

Auribeau

More upscale than Castellet with more flowers. We spent some time waiting for the right light to take pictures. I haven't got the idea of these villages that have no commerce. No bakeries, cafes, food stores. Most likely, there is a small market once a week, and although at one point in the planning of this trip I had the idea to be in the villages on their markets days it turned out that the introduction of one more variable was totally impracticable. (Once I had the idea that you could travel across the United States going from one church supper to another, throwing in a firehouse supper once in a while. Another impractical idea in the indigestibility of the fare, but you would meet the locals.)

Dawn

Auribeau is the name of my favorite hilltown in the Alpes-Maritime area which I discovered during my stay at the artists' colony in 1989. There are many towns by the same name in France, but of course they are each in a different province. This Auribeau is quite a bit smaller but still a "village fleuri" with plenty enough charm. As we were sitting beside the fountain in the small main square, a couple of French tourists came by and asked if I knew where one could get a drink in town. I replied that there were no cafes or bars around but pointed to the "eau potable" spigot which emptied into the public basin. They departed without refreshing themselves; we filled our water bottles for the last leg of our hike.

As we left town and starting walking up the road curving to the left, we saw a vast field of stumps,all the same height, arranged in a perfect geometric pattern. It was a strange and macabre sight. I struggled to find the right camera position to capture the odd regularity of the stumps' arrangement. I managed to grab a photo just before losing the light. We figured this must have been a cherry orchard since that was the predominant fruit grown in this area, but why were they all cut down? It didn't look like there had been a fire. Was the wood more valuable than the cherries? Had there been some kind of pestilence in this area? We found the answer to our question by talking with our hosts at dinner later that evening.

Stephen

I think we were within a mile of Fondons when the weather began to play that same old end of day game with the rain clouds and we almost didn't go through our routine of stopping to get our jackets out of the packs and putting them on. Glad we did. We got hit with the deluge. The skies emptied on us and we were completely soaked in five minutes. Now I know why people recommend rain pants. All the water that runs off your jacket just flows down onto your legs. When I am backpacking I solve this problem by wearing a bathing suit and hiking fast enough to keep warm. Here, everything that wasn't under the jackets got wet. We looked like a couple of drowned rats when we arrived at le Moulin des Foundons.

Moulin des Fondons

We picked the room with the most light, forgetting that it would have the least privacy. The room might have been a renovated garage with the doors being replaced with a wall of glass. Unfortunately, open to the path coming down from the road. The room was spacious and it allowed us to hang our wet things around in order to dry them out

Dawn

I think Brigitte had been astonished to see us arrive dripping wet. Although many people stay at their B&B in order to hike, I think that again, most of them are day hikers who arrive at the B&B by car...and thus much drier.

After drying out and cleaning up, it was dinnertime, and as is often the case, we didn't know where to go. We wandered over to the kitchen door where Brigitte had earlier greeted us in our wet attire. We found her and her husband Jacky and another couple standing around a table laden with a big bowl of cherries and lots of bottles of different colored drinks. "Bonsoirs" all around, but as usual, no introductions. Since it was still damp on the patio, we were ushered into the house dining room to enjoy a meal full of wonderful local produce and fascinating conversation. There were nine of us at the table: Brigitte and Jacky and their two adolescent sons, a Belgian couple named Jean-Luc and Marie-Claude, a young man staying there to do research on the local water quality, and the two of us.

Jacky offered us a choice of four aperitifs: three"wines" made by Brigitte, walnut, peach, and lime, and of course, the standard of southern France, Ricard. I opted for the noix (walnut) and Stephen the Ricard. We had terrine d'aubergines and a sardine tapenade for appetizers, and then a vegetable salad with their first haricots verts of the season, tomatoes and feta. It was unusual to have salad before the main course in France, but it tasted great. Then she brought an amazing country casserole of courgettes and ground duck with the crispy skin of the duck spread over the surface of the whole thing, and I think she said there was mozzarella in it too. So that's already two kinds of cheese in the meal, then we pass a cheese plate with five varieties on it. Dessert was mousse aux fraises (with strawberries that her son picked that morning.) Good thing I'm a recovering vegetarian, and good thing I'm hiking on this trip. The wine also flowed, including an excellent bottle of Bordeaux????

The food was only part of what made that dinner so special. The conversation was animated and included political and social issues such as mandatory retirement, pensions and the relationship of work to life. Brigitte used to be a teacher in an urban area, so she did not grow up here in the country. She talked about what a hard life the local people had here, recounting a story of a mason who worked for them who, when asked for a receipt, was unable to write it. She felt it was important for her sons to learn what it was like to work in the local trades so one was picking cherries for the summer and the other was packing candied fruit in a factory.

Thursday, June 17
Les Fondons
Stephen:

Today was our layover day that we had planned to climb Mourre Negre, the highest point in the area. We didn't think it would take us very long so we had a leisurely morning. We did yoga by the pool. My yoga attracted their two large dogs who were very upset with my down dog position. I think they thought it was an aggressive posture, so to my practice which consists of the positions, plus maintaining my banda, a sort of holding of some internal muscles, and maintaining a kind of mindless focus was added the additional tasks of mentally communicating with the dogs that I did not mean to threaten them. I felt like a "dog whisperer", although a horse whisperer uses body positions to communicate with a horse and all I had was some tenuous mental projections. Things worked out with the exception of getting my hand stepped on once because they felt the need to stay very close to me during the whole time

So, in the afternoon we climbed to the top of Mourre Negre and had a lunch that Brigitte packed. Today we found out that the map that we were using is not the most uptodate one. This explains some of the problems we had navigating the past ten days. We decided to come down a different way which ended up taking at least twice as long as the way up. We ended going through Auribeau again. We didn't get back until almost dinner time. But we did have time to take a quick dip in the pool, which was great on the legs.

Dawn

Later that evening, Brigitte said that the housekeeper told her that the cat was copying our yoga postures!

It was a relief to hike with only one light daypack between the two of us. The hike was truly straight up. After lunch, we progressed to the very top, with its towers of transmission/reception devices and its nasty weeds that kept attacking our socks and boots. The view was incredible. We could see so much of the area we had walked through as well as a whole other region we hoped to walk through someday. Wandering around and looking through binoculars made us lose track of time. We did not start down until 5:10 p.m. The longer route that we chose turned out to be quite long and very steep, with downs and ups on precipitous scree and talis slopes. We became very rushed as we realized that we had to hike almost all the way back to Castellet. The ridge/ravine trail with its alternations of way up and way down was indeed a challenge to do fast. I gave up the idea that we'd have time for a swim and began to worry about whether we'd even be back in time for dinner. It was a bit of a bummer to have to do the same road we had done the day before, through Auribeau and on to Fondons.

As we rounded the corner where the cherry stumps were, the sight was dramatically different from the prior evening. Instead of the bizarre, geometric order of the cut stumps, it looked like a couple of giants had passed through the field, ripping up stumps and throwing them at each other. Most were uprooted and lay haphazardly about. We found out later that the cherry trees were being removed because it was too expensive to hire pickers. The fields would be replanted with lavender which, I guess, is easier to harvest and is certainly in great demand throughout the world. While I adore all things lavender, it seemed sad to me that the cherry business was too difficult for this landowner. I have never tasted more delicious cherries anywhere than in this particular part of Provence.

When we got back to Les Fondons at 7:40, Brigitte graciously said we should take a dip in the pool. I was rushing around so fast, I practically bumped into Jacky, carrying a hot casserole dish of food. The dip felt great after a pretty arduous day of hiking. I never got showered and dressed so quickly, managing to be only five minutes late for hors d'oeuvres on the terrace.
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