For my part, I travel not to go anywhere, but to go. I travel for travel's sake. The great affair is to move. ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON

Saturday, 1 November 2008

Saint-Gilles

It took me 5 hours to walk across this northern part of the Camargue from Arles to Saint-Gilles. At times the heat was overpowering (used as I was to cool English Septembers) and the mosquitos annoyingly persistent (I'd dowsed with repellent my exposed bits - but the crafty buggers found their bloodsucking way onto the unsprayed skin under my shirt and socks..!)

I'd kind of imagined vast, unfenced water meadows full of galloping bulls and wild horses, and flocks of flamingos trailing long pink legs. But the reality was far different. Much of this northern part of the delta is a patchwork of enclosed paddy fields, cereal fields and market gardens. I didn't realise how important a crop rice was in the area. In September each year Arles holds a rice festival, the Feria du Riz; and you can see rice silos sticking up like space rockets all along the wide horizons.

However the marshy vegetation was exotic - not that I could properly identify much of it - and the aroma of wild herbs sweetly pungent. And the numerous herons and egrets almost made up for the lack of flamingos. But the swallows made up for everything. Thousands upon thousands of them arced and dived over the reeds and drainage ditches lining the roadside; thousands upon thousands gorging on mosquitos and other flying insects, building up strength for their final migratory swoop into Africa.

And in the end I did see some white Camargue ponies after all:

At 5.30 pm I unrolled my sleeping bag in the comfortable, stone-built gîte d'étape provided by the Church in the lovely small town of Saint-Gilles-du-Gard. The richly carved façade of the Abbey Church was simply stunning:


Though many of the stone sculptures were sadly damaged and eroded:

After a 3 course restaurant meal the night before in Arles - fish soup with aioli croutons and grated cheese, panga-fish with tomatoes and asparagus, goat's cheese with herbes de Provence (I thought I might not get such a meal again as I intended mostly preparing all my own food on the Camino) - I shared a budget pizza that night with Reiner, a fellow pilgrim from Germany.

PS Since eating panga I've become aware of controversial issues surrounding the farming of this fish - check out the Internet for further details.

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