Monday, April 2, 2012

Ma descente dans les gorges de l'Ardèche

Yesterday I had the opportunity to take a boat down through the canyons of the Ardèche River (Gorges de l'Ardèche) and it was by far one of the most amazing experiences I've had in Europe. For tourists, it can be difficult to travel beyond large cities to see the natural beauty of Europe, but I've been incredibly lucky to have my host family to show me around to beautiful places I would never have seen without them (specifically, here and here and here). I only hope I can return the favor someday.

Google Map of the river

I left with Mme. T at 8:30 in the morning, despite the fact that I hadn't gone to bed until 1:30 or 2 am due to a very, very late going-away dinner with Kayley's professors (8pm to 12:30 am!). Fortunately I forgot about my sleepiness as soon as we stumbled into our rowboat. In the boat, there was me, Mme. T, an elderly woman, another younger girl, one boatman with a brace on his entire left leg, and two able-bodied boatman to row. In total, there were about forty or fifty people in our group, the majority of them employees, their families, and co-workers of Mme. T. The main objective of the excursion was to see how the river had changed since the winter and to get an idea of how the summer tourist season might go this year. At times the water level was very low, but most of the boatmen seemed enthusiastic anyway.

Proof that I was there

The take-off

Baby on board

Even though we were on the water the entire day, the time went by incredibly fast. The three boatmen were constantly cracking jokes, making wordplay (that often went completely over my head), and pointing out what certain rock formations and cliffs resembled. They also amused themselves by trying to speak English with me, but their efforts were mostly confined to names of the rock formations ("Katrina! It is a chien! A dog rock!" "Katrina! Requin rock... shark rock!").

When they started showing their English cursing skills ("Ah! This f***ing wind!"), I explained that they shouldn't use that particular word as a foreigner in the US, depending on the company they were keeping there. Later there was a seal-shaped rock (foq in French) and immediately one of the boatman pointed out the word's similarity to the English f-word, to which I explained why French high school teachers don't bother teaching the French word for seal. They save that one for the college professors for when the students are (maybe) more mature. It still makes me laugh anyway.

They also told me that I was only the second American to have gone down the river on one of their tours, the other American being an ambassador and his daughter. I still find that a little hard to believe, but maybe that was just the case for these particular boatmen.

The bateliers going through the rougher rapids without us


More goats!

The "cathedral" -- I think it looks like Poseidon or something.

Right before I took this videoclip, I nearly jumped out of my seat because the batelier on the back of the boat smacked the water with his paddle and made a huge noise that echoed. In the clip you hear him say that you're not supposed to make noise on the reserve, then he played it off like he "slipped" -- not sure if he was saying that he literally slipped or if it was an expression like "slipped up." Then he called Mme. T "chef" because she's technically the director of the reserve, but she laughed it off. 

I can't believe that this is my last week with my students. Just two more weeks until I start my trek home! Let's hope that it goes more smoothly than last time.

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