Rob Ennals > Travel > Simon and Rob Invade and Conquer France

Day 10: Warm Scummy Water

Massat -> Ax Les Thermes

Climbs: Col de Porte: 620m Feeling well rested from our early night, we attempted the day's only col feeling extra-bouncy. We managed to do the entire climb with only one stop (when I wrongly thought we'd reached the top) - something we hadn't previously managed. Feeling the need to make a point after the previous day, I sprinted the last couple of miles, and waited for Simon at the top.

On reaching the top, a couple of Dutch tourers informed me that we should be very careful on the descent, due to the loose gravel road surface. As Simon arrived, another cyclist told us the same thing in more extreme terms. Thus warned, Simon decided to bomb it down anyway and "let his rear wheel drift". I took it more slowly, doing the descent barely faster than the climb. I considered this to be quite a waste of altitude.

We were entering the Tarascon area, which is famous for its cave paintings. Simon decided that we should stop and have a look at his guidebook, so we could find out where the best caves were. This naturally revealed that the best one was right next to where we had stopped.

The cave was very interesting, almost as much for its geology as for its paintings and sculptures. The paintings and sculptures seemed to be largely of bison and penises. The guide explained how archaeologists thought these images had great significance. Simon felt the archaeologists were trying to overanalyse a bit, and that the cave people probably just thought it was fun to draw bison and penises.

[Simon- the drawing were at the same time a bit disappointing and fascinating. This cave (Bedeilhac) was a rare example of polychrome art, but that meant red and black, rather than just black. Also they were pretty faded. What redeemed them, and made them quite remarkable, was that they were in 3D. To draw a bison, they'd find a bit of rock that had a bison-shaped outcrop. This often meant that the drawings were tucked away in obscure places, which the archaeologist thought had immense significance. I reckon it's simply that bison-shaped rock isn't that common... And as to the male member, that was sculpted from a huge bone (apt?) and planted (erected?) on a ledge. I can easily imagine a group of Paleoliths sitting round their fire, eating meat, finding the bone, guffawing, and sticking it on the wall. Fertility symbols? Nah. When it comes to it, is Stonehenge any different from building beer-bottle towers?]

As we left the cave, we were suddenly hit by the smell of the real world, and by the intense heat that had been creeping up on us as we came out of the mountains. As we continued to cycle out of the area, we were hit by gusts of wind so hot that they stung my eyes. This was then reinforced by a headwind, making the final miles into Ax Les Thermes quite a drag.

On arrival at our campsite, we were told that we could camp wherever we liked. We thus decided to camp on the highest, most inaccessible point we could find, on the top of a rock outcropping, next to a big loudspeaker pole that we hoped wouldn't be used.

It was about time to do another wash and, feeling rather ambitious, I decided that I was going to wash EVERYTHING. I thus hid in the showers while Simon did the washing. Once the washing was ready, I had been in the shower for an hour, and was feeling fairly hard boiled and prune-like. Not content with this dose of hot water, we went into Ax Les Thermes, in search of thermal springs. The main place where one can use the springs is a large communal foot-bath in the center of town. While pleasantly warm, the water was also extremely scummy. We sat around the bath for a good while, taking photos; and laughing at Americans who turned their noses up at the scummy foot bath, and tried to bathe their feet in the steaming hot spring next to it. The evening was rounded off with an excellent Tangine at a Moroccan restaurant.