After a somewhat uneventful bus ride to Valence via Paris, things got a bit more exciting on the final leg of what ended up being a three-day journey. I took a train to Montélimar to catch a connecting bus to Vallon-Pont-D’Arc, which is pretty far out from any big settlement, so I guess I should have anticipated that there would only be one bus. Said bus wasn’t due to leave until 5.25 and I had arrived around 10.30 in Montélimar. With no locker to leave my bags in at the station, and so far no word from my hosts to say they could pick me up when I got there at dusk I wandered out, loaded up like a donkey, in search of an internet café. As if the universe was giving me a morale boost, just outside the station I stumbled upon a park with goats, shaggy sheep with long twisted horns, miniature ponies, peacocks, ducks, chickens and geese, the streets bordering it lined with plane trees (apparently it was an English design). Spirits high, I took some snaps of the animals and trees, and set off towards the centre ville where I found a pub with wifi (double score), and set about trying to contact my hosts, Jean-Noel and Geneviève.
Unsuccessful in my attempts to reach my hosts by phone or email, I went in search of nourishment for the soul and body in the form of nougat de Montélimar, a spécialité of the town (blog post on this to come), which is made with locally grown almonds. There were a million nougat ‘houses’, but apparently the whole of Montélimar takes a two hour lunch, so I just wandered through side streets and plazas admiring all the independent stores, the abundance of organic food and naturopathic products, and the distinct lack of Starbucks, Primark, and McDonalds. Having finally got my nougat (almond and pistachio- delicious), I chose a bar and ordered my first actual meal in France: a croque-monsieur with chèvre (one might expect the goat cheese to replace the standard cheese, but it in fact replaced the jambon... un peu trop de fromage pour moi).
Fortified with too much food and a new French mobile number I went back to the wifi pub to check my emails and make more unanswered phone calls (and drink another beer). I did wonder at this point if I should start to worry, but my spirits were seriously high, and I was very much enjoying moseying around a Provençal town, and making amateur attempts to get by only in French. Even as I left Montélimar on a bus heading further and further into the boonies, I was feeling wonderfully excited and free, and not much concerned about the fact that I had no idea how, if at all, I was going to make it to the farm tonight.
Rewarding my trust in her, the universe saw to it that everything worked out of course. Having been directed to the town square by a kind Parisian, I was wandering around in the fading light looking for an internet cafe or a hostel, when a car pulled up beside me and a lady with mad-curly hair in leopard print leggings leant out and shouted ‘Jennie?’. And so I met my hosts, who had apparently gotten at least one of my messages and had come to find me. They were on their last circuit of the town searching for me and about to give up (the bus station was moved recently and they didn’t know where to), when they saw a lone backpacker (outside of tourist season) and guessed that it must be their new WWOOFer!
I’m writing this at the coffee table in my small apartment, which has two bedrooms, a bathroom, and a kitchenette/dining room), listening to the wind tearing across the mountains outside while I cosy up in my armchair. The house is vast, and my rooms connect to the main apartment by a narrow passageway leading upstairs, which makes me feel like I’m in a castle. I’m full from a hearty dinner of about six varieties of tomatoes organically grown on the farm, an omelette made with fresh eggs supplied by Jean-Noel and Geneviève’s chickens, olive tapenade (you can guess where it was made), and warm crusty French bread, eaten at a big table in a cluttered living room with my hosts, their son Jean, and another WWOOFer named Olivier. I’ve already learned that if you say je suis plein, literally ‘I am full’ in French, it means you’re pregnant! So, j’ai bien mange is my new vocab of the day!
Full and tired I’m ending this post abruptly and hitting the hay, bon nuit!