The UNESCO site at Pont du Gard near Remoulin plays host to a Feux d’artifice/fireworks spectacular over four weekends every summer and we were fortunate to be in Provence for one of them. The show included a drama, Les Fééries du Pont/ The Fairies of the Bridge, that was played out on the rocky shore with the Roman aqueduct cast as stage and backdrop. I’ll share more about the show later because plenty of drama happened before that other curtain even went up.
Anyone can take the traditional route when traveling, but not us (or should I say not me). Remember Cassis? This time around we began our day not with a hike, but with a canoe trip down the River Gard, which would end with a pique-nique/picninc and the show. Sounds fun, right? Well, first let me say, the great effort put into marking exits and monuments along France’s autoroutes must have taken a toll on resources because finding anything smaller than a large grocery store chain off the beaten track is a real challenge. Our search for the boat rental place was no different. Instead of directing us to the beginning, the first sign we saw led us to a boat storage yard near the end; the randomly placed café plopped down in the middle of the gravel covered yard left us scratching our heads, but hey, this is France. Keeping in mind we had a reservation for our canoe rental, time was definitely not our friend. Some twenty minutes and a few miles later, we finally tracked down the correct lot where we parked and loaded onto a bus that then took us to the riverside rental shack and more boats. With life jackets on and waterproof container secured, we set off.
Tension from the morning faded as we paddled our way through the serene river setting, stopping every little while to swim; we waved at the horses that appeared out of nowhere along the tree-lined shore; we watched as a man in his underwear fished from the sandbar using just a cane pole. Ahh, France.
Near the end of our two hour ride, we passed beneath the impressive pont/bridge and were heading towards our riverside pick-up spot when we spotted a group of young men on a ledge high above us. Without warning, they ambushed our trio of canoes! Two tried to flip our boat with our 8-year-old son on board, but Rick (Hubby) aimed his paddle at one guy clinging to the side, who then promptly let go, only to head for the girls behind us! In a flash, the girls were upside down in the water surrounded by a bunch a guys fist-pumping in celebration over what they had done. Rick immediately dove in to help the stunned girls right their boat–okay, right after taking off his lunettes de soleil/sunglasses and chapeau/hat; then he set after letting those guys know what we thought of their stupid stunt. One received an unexpected dunk under water, prompting his buddy to pick up a fist-sized rock, just in case things REALLY got out of hand. Finally, cooler heads prevailed, but not before some very choice words were hurled at us. They appeared to make up the only English phrase the punks knew because we heard it over and over. Ahem. I guess they never encountered an angry dad before now. We paddled across to the opposite shore so Papa Bear could get back in the boat. (Eyes were still upon us, so the last we wanted was to give them something to laugh at by tipping the canoe as he climbed back in it.)
Still fuming from the event, we paddled on to where we hoped to spot the rental company’s sign that we were told was about two kilometers past the bridge. Marking distance covered using the odometer in my car is a cinch, but on a winding river? Relief swept over us when we spotted their little red sign welcoming us back to civilization. When I told the tale of our encounter to the “guide” in my very broken French (I think I called the girls fils/sons by accident), he knew exactly where it had happened. I guess we were just the latest victims of what have become known around our house as the French River Pirates.
“Discoveries are often made by not following instructions, by going off the main road, by trying the untried.”–Frank Tyger