I apologize for the brief delay in blog posts, as the hiatus was caused by a visit of a friend who was backpacking through Europe and Asia. In an attempt to be a welcoming host, I delayed sitting down to write for awhile.
I am looking forward to hopefully being able to watch Lance Armstrong’s interview with Oprah Winfrey tonight, as it will be streaming via her website at around 3 AM local time. I have thought a lot about the situation, but will delay my thoughts till we hear what he has to say. While I have heard that the story is making headlines everywhere back home, I can’t say the same for here in France. However, the French have their hands full after exercising military action in Mali a few days ago, an action that has only gotten progressively more serious with the hostage situation in Algeria, believed to be linked to the event.
The scenario has been on my mind as well after encountering a caravan of coach buses dropping off French soldiers at the airport on Wednesday. I was there with my friend, renting a car to drive out and see the Dune of Pyla, the tallest sand dune in Europe. When we walked into the Hertz counter, there were a number of armed men patrolling the grounds as the soldiers passed through the check-in area. I assume they were headed to Mali, or were in some way involved with the situation, given the timing. The sight of so many armed men was frightening, and I desired to leave the airport as quick as possible. That was enough of a shock for me in one day. Little did I know what would follow.
As I am without a printer here in Bordeaux, we could only write the directions to the dune on paper, and hope that street names would present themselves as indicated. This, however, was not the case. While we had the opportunity to see a hand full of quaint seaside towns that MapQuest would have had us otherwise avoid, the journey took over two hours, much longer than the computer estimated 45 minutes.
As you might imagine, we were thrilled to arrive at the dune, only to pull into an empty parking lot. Given that this is perhaps southwestern France’s most prized natural gem, it would be plausible to think that it would attract many tourists. In fairness to every human we expected to be there, it is January, and it was raining off and on all day, accompanied by a piercing wind that really makes summiting a pile of sand treacherous. In retrospect, I suppose the dune is not on a natural route through Europe, given that its closest major cities would probably be Paris or Barcelona, hours and hours away.
In any case, we began to trek along the footpath through the forest, and out to the dune. It is worth noting that along the way, we passed by a multitude of tourist shops, restaurants, and circus attractions, all boarded up and deserted. For the second time in one day, I felt scared. Were we not supposed to be here? Was the park actually closed or something? As my mind swirled with questions, my body continued to approach the mass of beach in front of us.
Climbing up a dune is a very unique experience. If you close your eyes, it feels similar to walking up a sledding hill in the winter. You don’t get perfect traction, but the ground is soft and forgiving, making the ascent relatively stress-free. Reaching the summit was a different story. We had gone up the backside of the dune, shielding us of any view of the ocean – and the wrath of the speedy winds. Because the dune is made of sand, the wind was sweeping in off the waves and blowing the sand straight up and over the top of the peak. Consequently, reaching the summit was like being the kid who gets ambushed in a snowball fight. Only in this case, the “snowballs” were grains of sand, which made me feel more like a filet mignon at the mercy of the salt and pepper shakers. I had to turn my head away as I traversed over the top, so as to avoid sand getting in my eyes. Once over, the experience turned extreme. First, the view was stunning. I will post some pictures to exemplify this, but what also made the experience extreme was the aforementioned wind gusts, which I’d imagine had to be in the upwards of 50 mph. I’m no wind expert, but I think even guys on the PGA Tour would struggle to hit a ball more than a few yards into that force.
To top off the whole experience, we were the only signs of human existence that we could see on the dune. It was truly a man v. wild experience, and one that I will not forget for a long while. I can say that one of the most entertaining parts about climbing up a dune is coming back down. The ground is so soft and powdery that folks have even skied down. For those of us who don’t frequently channel our inner Lindsey Vonn, hopping down the dune will provide almost an equivalent level of fun.
This morning, I was still washing some of the beach out of my hair, and dumping it out of my shoes. Yet, for what was made of it, the excess sand is totally worth it.
Take it easy,