Camargue

We arrived late afternoon in Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer and quickly found our camping site already with at least 50 vans parked.   Of course with Thursday being Armistice Day many people take Friday off as well to make it a long weekend. 

dawn over the medDawn breaks over the Mediterranean off Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer

armistice dayArmistice Day wreaths placed at the local war memorial.

swans and seagullsFirst sight of Flamingos in a small area just outside the camp site

We later found out that there had been horse racing along the beach the day before hence the stream of traffic.

We wandered around the quiet village (pop. 2000) and enjoyed the warmth of the sun, the lack of crowds, and the sound and sight of the sea. It also happened to be market day so we spent some time wandering the market and testing the wares. 

paellaPaella in the market

The information centre was the next port of call, however, the information was a little lacking, but we did decide to contact a company offering a 4 wheel drive safari tour of the Camargue. Although the lady on the telephone spoke as much English as we did French, we did manage to book a tour, and yes, they had a guide who spoke English.  That booked for the afternoon, we again enjoyed sauntering around the town before heading back to the van for a bite to eat.  French bread with fresh sun ripened tomatoes, olive oil (from San Gimignano), balsamic (Modena) and some shavings of parmesan.  Delicious!

Off to meet our guide, we were joined by a French couple, we sped away for our 3 hour tour.   Our guide was amazing, he switched from French to English with no hesitation and had a good grasp of colloquial English as well.  He also took delight in taking the mickey out of American and Australian accents,  he had spent some time in both countries.

We spent the next three hours seeing flamingos, Camargue horses, Camargue bulls and Spanish bulls as well as visiting ranches and getting a good background of the history of the region, the peoples and the animals.

bulls and flamingosCamargue bulls and flamingos feeding in the shallow waters.  The bulls are actually eating the grass from under the water and the Flamingos are filter feeding on the stirred up sediment.

lead bullCloser view of Camargue bulls. 

Bred for bullfighting they are not killed in the ring as Spanish bulls often are.  they are prized if they have a mean temperament and the best are accorded a Royal funeral in the end.  Those not up to scratch are sent to the works.  They are all owned and managed, the farmers making their money by letting them to the various Arenas for bullfighting.  Not that their horns are upright and raked back.  The bull at the front with the bell is the leader of this group.

camargue bullsA small herd on the move.

camargue horseCamargue horses

These horses are bred on the Camargue and have a stud book just as “pure bred“ horses.  They are primarily used as tourist transport with a significant number of horse trekking operations taking tourists on tours of the Camargue.

family group Family group with young foal

The foals are often coloured when born and it can take up to five years for the darkest of them to develop the pure white coat that distinguishes them.

spanishSpanish bull

Spanish bulls are also raised in the Camargue.  These are distinguished by the different shape of the animal and also by the fact that their horns are raked forward and down.  These are again used in bullfighting.

spanish 1Old man stud Spanish bull

all in  a row    Flamingos proceeding left to right in line astern.  Each of them follows the one in front with all of them feeding at the same time.  Well choreographed!!

rice Rice field

A significant volume of rice is produced in the Camargue.  

original houseThis thatched house, glimpsed here, is one of the original fishermen’s houses with a traditional  reed roof.

Dropped off after our lovely afternoon, we headed back to the van, first calling in at the local church to see the ‘Black Madonna’ or Saint Sara, the patron saint of the gypsies.  Apparently there is a large festival in May when 24,000 gypsies swamp the village and they parade the effigy through the town.  As well, they have effigies of the two Marie’s that the town is named after,  supposedly the sisters and or cousins of Mary Magdalene.  That done, we headed back to the van for a quiet night. 

erosionSevere erosion of ornamental carving in the walls of the church. 

We are still contemplating our next moves, but tomorrow we are heading off to Millau to view the viaduct.

PS If we haven’t won Lotto, then how about Bonus Bonds?? 

Unusual sight of the day is this one

wc

and of course we still keep an eye out for sundials.   This on is on the face of a church

       sundial

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