Camping in Provence Without Any Camping Equipment
Updated: Dec 18, 2020
Straight away when we arrived in Nice, Pete started asking people for cigarettes and lighters in made up French:
‘Avez vouz un leet,’ he said to a man at the café attached to the airport.
I met Pete at art university. I remember helping him put up an exhibition in his studio once, mainly bits of beat poetry scrawled on napkins blue-tacked to the wall. Pete likes smoking and drinking coffee outside cafes, while I like hiking and taking unbearably arduous journeys for the sake of saving a few pounds. Still we decided to spend nine days in the South of France together and I planned a route from Nice to Montpellier. After one day sitting on the beach watching people in neon sports-wear power-walking along the promenade Pete asked me when we were going to Paris.
‘Pete, we’re travelling the South of France.’
‘Oh,’ he said disappointed and found some Canadian girl who had been sleeping her way around the world.
We drank tequila infused beer in a flavour you can’t get in England, and the girl told us about all the people she'd slept with in Thailand and her collection of sea glass.
After Nice we headed to Cannes which was nondescript, and due to an error in my research I had booked us into a windowless hotel in the middle of an industrial estate. This didn’t fulfil Pete’s longing for bohemian café culture, so he bought a bottle of gin and talked about Paris a lot. I remember a hike we went on around some hilly shrub-land in the late afternoon sun where we had a heart to heart about our ex-partners. When we got back to our room Pete said,
‘We have to check out now and get on the night train to Paris!’
The next day we accidentally left the bottle of gin at a bus stop and by the time we got to Marseilles Pete was telling me this was going to be his last day of the trip. Marseilles was beautiful, but we lost our tent and both ended up smoking on a rock jutting out into the crystal blue sea. The following day I heard from someone that it was Marseilles pride. So I left Pete at a café and went in search of gays. I found two in the street and without seeing a parade ended up back at their house having sex with one in the shower. He said he spoke English and then didn’t speak any English, so my French had to get very good very quickly. We went to a gay bar where beers were 10 euros each. I left due to the price of drinks and walked along most of the Marseilles’ sea front back to my hostel. Climbing into my hostel bunk bed in the dark Pete came up to me and whispered loudly,
‘I’ve lost my bank card … and my passport.’
Some people at the hostel started giving Pete money. I don’t know why because he didn’t even seem to be hanging around with them. He had enough to buy Tobacco, cheese, and a hostel bed. But not enough for a ticket to his beloved Paris where he hoped to seek refuge from the hostilities of the Cote D’azur and attempt to cross the Channel without any ID. After a few days trapped in Marseilles eating fromage and baguettes outside various branches of Carrefour I finally bought Pete a ticket to Paris, and we printed it off at the hostel. When we got to the station we were swarmed by Algerian men muttering about marijuana, asking us if we were English. We looked at the ticket and saw that it was from Paris to Marseilles not Marseilles to Paris.
‘Get on the train, just get on the train.’ I told Pete, and he did.
He later told me he befriended a Parisian journalist on the train who let him stay in her apartment. I was still working out how to get out of Marseilles. The next place on my list was Le Gorge du Verdon and Lake St Croix, natural wonders in the heart of Provence. Natural wonders everybody had told me and Pete we needed a car to get to. Somebody saying I need a car to get somewhere is like a red flag to a bull. I got on the bus to the closest village, with a blurry ordnance survey map, no tent, no idea of the distance to the lake, and nowhere to stay.
I walked through miles of lavender fields and bought some plums from a girl’s trestle table by the road. The orange of the sunset began to blend with the purple of the lavender, and I realised I was probably going to have to sleep in a bush. In the last light of the day I saw Lake St Croix, a huge body of water with little villages dotted amidst the trees surrounding it. There was a rocky path that I followed for half an hour down to the lake, the dusk painting the landscape blue. At the bottom was a little beach with a wigwam made of drift wood. I slept in there, with the dim lights from distant houses and the sounds of the forest. I worried the rustling from the nearby trees could be a serial killer who built the wigwam to lure backpackers onto the beach.
In the morning I swam in the lake and meditated in the sun on a platform built from driftwood. It was paradise. I ventured a few miles to find some food and biros, walking past broken down chalets to an area full of little boats and tourists. I felt a bit like a hermit or survivalist mountain man seeing all these families in their holiday resort. It made me miss Pete and his constant prattling about Paris.
The trip ended on Bastille day, somewhere called Nimes where they launched masses of fireworks off the walls of an ancient Roman Colosseum. Maybe I don’t understand the physics of fireworks, but I was surprised the Colosseum wasn’t burnt to shit. More or less all the fireworks just missed the audience. I watched them with a guy from my hostel. Drinking sangria from a carton, I told him all about me and Pete’s journey.
‘How long have you been out here for?’ He asked.
‘About eight days,’ I estimated.
‘I thought from what you just described it had been months,’ he said with a look of wonder at how some could live so fast.