It was only a few minutes before my host, Viktor, was there to pick me up. Here’s the scoop on Viktor:
He grew up in England, but had a distaste for city life and ended up WWOOFing (World wide opportunities on organic farms) with his boyfriend for six years, living out of a van and moving around doing handiwork. At one point, he was also a mountain climbing instructor, and then he started managing websites and built his own home here in the mountains of southwest France. He also built his mom’s second house here, 200m away up the mountain, and is an ovolactarian.
By the way, WWOOFing is basically a worldwide network of organic farms that offer lodging for people who come and volunteer on the farm as hands. Now, Craig is a CouchSurfing AND WWOOF host at his cabin. He has a wood burning stove/heater, a composting toilet, no refrigerator, an Internet connection through a wire than runs down from his mom’s house (after passing through a solar powered amplifier) and runs all his electricity from the solar panels installed on his house which store up energy in batteries. This is the most ridiculously awesome thing ever.
So anyway, to take a shower, you stand outside and hose yourself off with rainwater collected in basins at the corner of his cabin, which runs down the hose from a reserve farther uphill. It’s cold. If you want a hot shower, you have to heat up some water, carry it in a bucket to a place a few yards from the cabin and use a pulley system to lift it up to get pressure through the hose while you shower. Rain water isn’t for drinking, so he has several large bottles that act as the reserve for drinking water which can be refilled at a Spring water spigot further down the mountain. He gathers firewood every couple of days to keep his stove lit when it’s cold and it doubles as an oven. Pretty cool. I keep thinking my brother should be here with me. He’s definitely more of a mountain man than I am. And also, this is the view from my shower.
And the view when I wake up.
On Sunday morning I slept in and went up to his mom’s cabin for WiFi, ventured around a little bit, and took some pictures of the many many lizards that inhabit the area (and some butterflies, because they were everywhere).
This one got scared of me, ran over the barrier, and when I stopped moving for a minute it peeped its head back over to make sure I wasn’t about to kill it.
Later we went hiking up to the top of the mountain to get a good view of the surrounding area and the Spanish border. Many of his neighbors rise animals or run farms of their own, so it’s not uncommon to see pigs and cows and such. Also, it’s basically impossible to go outside without hearing an entire chorus of cowbells.
Then we got hit with a downpour, and, having left the cabin with sunny weather, I hadn’t thought to bring an umbrella, so we had to take shelter under a small tree until it passed. And you can see it coming in the distance, too:
At this point, we were like, “Oh, crap.”
Things to know about mountains:
Never assume the weather will be nice (or not nice).
Always wear jeans. Not shorts. Oy vey.
Bring a jacket.
Watch the ground at all times.
It gets very cold at night even if it’s warm in the day time.
Weather varies between mountains since air currents can get trapped.
The tree we took shelter under.
Then dinner happened. Everything here is non refrigerated so once it’s out of the bag or can or off the vine (so to speak) it has to be eaten within a certain amount of time. Normally this means a big dinner with leftovers to be eaten for lunch the next day. Monday night, we had stir fry!
Viktor’s stir-fry sauce, made of tomato paste, peanut butter, soy sauce, and sesame seed oil. Looks weird, tastes great.
On Tuesday we went out for an excursion in the mountains farther away from his home.
This is hilarious. Covoiturage is just the French way of saying ride share.
This trip was the greatest outdoor excursion I’ve done so far. The way up was really long, and we were originally only planning on going to the first waterfall, but after getting there we kept convincing each other to keep going. I don’t think I’ve ever generated so much sweat in my life, but it was so worth it. The view was unbelievable.
Our mountain in the distance.
This means “Blow holes.” I don’t know how they function, but it means that where there are cracks between rocks, cold air blows out. Like natural air conditioning.
The way back down was MUCH more painful than the way up. I thought my ankles were going to give up on life. But they didn’t, so all is well in the world. I did, however, run out of Twix when we’d made it to the bottom, which means things are potentially not all well in the world. We shall see. At any rate, the number of Twix bars I’ve consumed in France is in the thirties. Win.
On the way home, we picked up two Norwegian guys named Johannes and Andrea we met up in the mountains who were trying to hitchhike towards Saint-Girons. They were on holiday from school, just traveling around the mountains, camping and hitching their way through basically all of Western Europe. They were 20! Makes me feel inadequate. But Viktor invited them to hang out and stay at his place for the night, so they came with us and set up their tent and we all took our socks off in the cabin. I have never smelled anything so gut-wrenchingly EW. They made themselves dinner at the cabin, and I took Viktor and I out for pizza in town because I didn’t feel like cooking. I went big; bacon, tomatoes, onions, something I can’t pronounce, cream, cheese… and I got a large all to myself. I also got to try crème brûlée for the first time ever and it was SO good. They literally stand there with a torch and burn the top so it looks all nice and becomes crystallized. Mmmm.
When we had gotten back, we exhanged contact information with the Norwegian guys and wished them luck, and they headed out Wednesday morning with Viktor in his car to go hitchhiking to the rest of their amazing adventure. I’m here just til tomorrow (Thursday) to hitchhike and take a train and hitchhike more from Saint-Girons, to Foix, to Latour, to Barcelona, to Valencia.
Today (Wednesday, keep up now) I made French toast for lunch because Craig mentioned he had maple syrup that a Canadian CouchSurfer had give him as a gift. Unfortunately, when we opened it (after I’d made the toast of course) it was all moldy (not having a fridge probably aided in that process), I made an impromptu sauce from honey (he has a giant bucket of solid country-style honey), Nutella, and butter which actually turned out to be really good! European country-side style American French toast. Yeesh.
I ground the cinnamon in this thing? Legit!
Making French toast on a gas grill.
Viktor’s first experience with not-actually-French-toast.
This afternoon we took Chispa (his dog) for a walk and I saw my first chestnut. They grow in spiky green balls that fall off of trees, and then you have to open them up to get at the chestnut inside. Plants are weird.
If you just read the bigger letters, it says “Warning danger. It is dangerous.”
NOW WE ARE WATCHING MEAN GIRLS. Technically, Mean Girls day is October 3, and it’s the second here today, but Viktor has never seen it and it’s a must for all gays and I won’t be here tomorrow, so this will have to do.
Life in the mountains has been fun, but I’m definitely ready to head off to Spain. I’ve wanted to go for eight or nine years now, and the fact that I’ll be there tomorrow is probably going to keep me up all night. Life is beautiful, guys! Embrace it!
“Why aren’t you white?”
“Oh my God, Karen, you can’t just ask people why they’re white!”