Unbelievably, it is almost a month since my return from my travels with my tribe. The whole thing was dreamed up by my beloved daughter, Joey, almost a year ago. Some years ago, we went on a canal boat vacation in France and the less said about that trip, the better! The actual boating experience was fabulous but we, as individuals, were having our own private wars within. These things tend to rub off even if we think they don’t! So, we will not mention that again…
However, because the actual boating experience was good, Joey suggested that we did it again. This time, she said, let’s do the Canal du Midi in Southern France. Well, this was something I have wanted to do for yonks! She was on! She started making the enquiries, and eventually the route was determined and the boat booked. It was to be a whopping 60-footer with three cabins for five passengers, each with their own bathroom. It was luxury personified… She then went ahead and booked the rest of the vacation which was to include three nights in Marseilles and three nights in Cannes after disembarkation at Castelnaudery. We started in Homps – see the map here
And then came the shocker! We were losing one of our party due to unforeseen circumstances. The boating people were not interested in down-sizing the boat; it was booked and that was that. So, we decided we were going to do the 71 kilometres with 44 locks with just the four of us – how brave we were!
Let me tell you something: It was magnificent!
I didn’t think that a family with volatile temperaments and internal demons lurking could come together in a fairly confined space and do what we did. I am SO proud of My Tribe and yes, Brittany Haantjes is certainly included in My Tribe!
Brit and SWE – our first lunch on board.
Being a child of the 40s, the one thing that astounded me was how we all found each other at various points during this vacation! Technology has come a long way from when we had to crank telephones in telephone kiosks, insert money to talk and unfold paper maps to find our way! But, when technology plays silly b*ggers, it can cause problems … like buying a SIM card that you can’t make work! But being resilient and inventive, we fixed everything.
I flew from Cyprus, Joey, Schalk-Willem and Brittany flew from South Africa but on different flights and all found each other! Joey and I spent our first night in an airport hotel in Paris, catching the TGV to Carcassonne early the following morning. A long and fairly boring journey, changing over in Bordeaux which was a bit messy as they were renovating the station, with scaffolding and netting everywhere! Hard to see signage!! Joey and I never stopped talking as we haven’t seen each in yonks.
Never liked close-ups …. but these are happy faces!
In Carcassonne we grabbed a taxi to our first hotel in Floure. What a magnificent hotel! The Chateaux de Floure which is also known as the Relais de Silence – it was a small monastery once. Best to see for yourselves:
Next morning, Gerry, the owner (we think) drove us to Homps to board the boat. It again astounded me that we rendezvoused without problems – mobile phones… wow!
Getting to know our boat
Freddy, our very Scottish instructor, took us through our paces as we all needed to know how the boat worked in case one of us became incapacitated… We were warned about head bumping on low bridges, falling in the water at the locks and all sorts of other potential disasters! Freddy got a bit annoyed with us when we interrupted with questions as it upset his flow. In the end, anyone of us could be the captain… well, maybe! After that, we had a lovely lunch under a vine and then we found ourselves a supermarket and stocked up with provisions.
Day 1 – on the boat
We set off up-river and we all realised it was not going to be a doddle – it was extremely hard work whilst we were sorting out how things were supposed to be done. We arrived at our first overnight stop just 15 minutes too late to go through the lock – they never told us that you had to be at a lock 30 minutes before closing time to be let through! It takes a while to get through…
We cleaned up, put on pretty dresses and SWE (Schalk-Willem) also scrubbed up really well. Off we trotted to a restaurant that was recommended and that we took the trouble to book. We had to walk through a freshly-mown wheat field and up a little hill to get to it and it was all pretty gorgeous … until we were attacked – YES, attacked – by the most enormous number of mosquitoes I’ve ever seen! We ran! And when we got to the restaurant we were not allowed to sit indoors … away from the biters! SWE and Joey dashed back to the boat to get repellent and apart from having to fight their way through the mossies, were attacked by a dog on the way! In the end, we were reluctantly allowed to sit indoors. What was served did not look a bit like the pictures on the menu either! Not a restaurant to be recommended as far as we were concerned: Ô fil de l’Ö … it is just before the down-river lock at Marseillettes – remember that! Don’t go there…
We fell into bed, feeling pretty pleased with ourselves for even getting this far! Oh, we had a long way to go!
Day 2 – on the boat
Having had the experience of arriving late for a lock, we decided that we should make an early start in the morning. The locks open at 09.00hrs and close at 17.00hrs AND close for lunch between 13.00hrs and 14.30hrs … and a certain distance had to be completed during each day in order to get the boat to its destination on the final day.
Due to a few miscalculations with getting all hands on deck, we were so distracted that we didn’t realise we had … left the bimini (canopy) up! As Joey negotiated the entrance to the lock and SWE and I were preparing for the rope throwing and fastening to Brittany who was on shore, we heard an awful sound! Where Joey got the presence of mind from to immediately put the boat in reverse, I will never know! BUT we came to an almost immediate stop and had to reverse out again – the bimini had to be folded away as best we could. Phew! What a wake-up call that was! If it were not for the bimini, my head would certainly have had a huge bump on it as I was busy sorting out my rope and wasn’t prepared to duck! The bridge was fairly low… We learn very quickly!
That evening we were pretty subdued as we all felt responsible for the mishap. However, when we moored for the night, we discovered that we could still use the bimini with a few manipulations – it wasn’t a total disaster after all.
Day 3 – on the boat
The indications on the dashboard showed that the engine was overheating when we were cruising at the recommended speed needed to charge the generator. There also seemed to be a loss of power… We telephoned ahead and Le Boat sent out a mechanic to meet us along the way to sort out the problem(s). Very impressive!
We made Trebes for lunch and sorted out my modem that wasn’t working. Lunch was had at a charming back street restaurant called Le Pasteur before pushing on towards Carcassonne where we had decided to spend two nights in order to take in the famous sights.
Day 4 – on the boat
As I now had a working modem I decided to get my external hard drive out of the safe and do some work while the others took various forms of me-time. Another shocker! The safe wouldn’t open! The ONLY backup that I’ve been using for my laptop was not available… Well, Le Boat people decided that the only way to get round the problem was to break out the safe and break it open forcefully! This was something to see… literally safe cracking! In the end, they got my small box of travel jewellery and the drive out and I could breathe easy again, now sans safe…
With a lighter heart I sat down to start work and … the hard drive did not register on my laptop… On closer inspection, I could see that the safe crackers must’ve accidentally given the hard drive a side swipe – there was slight damage and it appeared as if the housing was opened up… It was the only back up I had for ALL my files, including all the work I had done for Cyprus Open Studios!!! My heart lay in tatters on the floor…
In the afternoon, Joey and I sat down and plotted our course forward. We still had 40 kms to go in three days, which meant we had to travel 13.3333 kms per day with a huge number of locks to negotiate. It was quite an exercise and made us feel like true explorers! We also planned the menus for the three days as we realised there wouldn’t be time to stop for lunches.
After that, we went and stocked up our supplies and then went out to a Chinese meal.
Day 5 – on the boat
SWE had somehow become the leader of the band and we cast off on schedule and made good time as there suddenly was hardly any traffic! He was quite expert at handling the boat as all those video games trained him well… I call him my Last Star Fighter now!
We were in two minds about stopping at the designated mooring for the night as we were suddenly ahead of schedule… We decided to stay and take a walk to the nearby village and made it as far as the cemetery! It was fascinating!!
In the afternoon we were entertained by the local boys who used the bridge to dive from into the canal. Well, we were horrified as the water in that canal is certainly NOT clean! The boats all ‘mash’ their refuse (all of it!) and spits it out into the water. Yikes!!! We certainly didn’t feel like dipping a toe in that!
While the sun still shone, we put up the bimini and prepared for our evening BBQ on board. What we had forgotten to buy were candles as it got quite dark after sunset. The mobile phones did the job again – wonderfully! Great evening under the stars and the food was outstanding! Here is some of what went on the barbie:
But then we realised that we would have to pack up quick as a storm was moving in… We made it inside and – oh, dear! – left the bimini up!
During the night, as the storm raged on and the wind blew, I heard creaking noises and assumed they came from the trees on the shore. We slept.
Day 6 – on the boat
We had the luxury of sleeping in a bit and when we wanted to set off at 10.00hrs as agreed, we discovered that during the storm, the bimini had slipped sideways as the rain filled one of the hollows between bars. It was now hanging over the side of the boat, making it impossible to go through any lock!
Team-work did it again and we managed to bail out the water and salvage the bimini to such an extent that we could move it right out of the way and tie it up on the front of the deck upstairs where all the steering was done from. Now we were really depressed about this darn bimini as it would obviously have to be replaced with us carrying the cost…
We still made good time and had lunch just before the last lock of the day. When they re-opened after lunch at 14.30hrs, we were through and got to our designated mooring at Villepinte around 15.00hrs. Our planning was paying off! After resting, we set off to the village to see if we could find some wine only to discover that the village had closed for the weekend… alas, no wine to be bought but we still had some in stock for the evening!
A game of Truth or Dare ended a bit disastrously but at the end of the day, we were all back in balance again – sort of. We have learned to ‘work’ with each other in a most wonderful way.
Day 7 – on the boat … our last!
This day was expected to be tough as we had 6 single, 1 triple, 1 double and 1 quadruple locks to go through over a distance of 11 kms before arriving at Castelnaudery, our final destination. It was agreed that we had to leave at 08.00hrs latest … and we did! Not too good planning … the first lock was much closer than calculated and we had to hang ten, waiting for it to open. Amazingly there was hardly any other traffic on the canal… two boats and a rubber duck with us and one or two boats coming down river. We made excellent time and decided to have lunch below the quadruple, which we all dreaded.
We had such fun watching newbies trying to handle this dreaded quadruple lock on their way down while we were waiting … it was hilarious! Were we like that when we started? Absolutely!
The staircase… and the newbies at the top…
When it was our turn to go up, the audience was still in attendance and we gave a demonstration of how it should be done … and got applause! We felt really chuffed with ourselves and there was nothing wrong with feeling very proud of what we had achieved! After we parked – expertly, of course – we cleaned the boat, rested and put on pretty dresses again.
That evening we ate at a restaurant run by a man and his partner from Senegal – it was the best sea bass I have EVER had! The restaurant was simply outstanding. A brilliant way to celebrate our Canal du Midi experience.
It was a trip of a lifetime!
I was going to continue here with the rest of the travelogue, but I think you’ve probably had enough! Suffice it to say that the 3 nights in Marseilles and the 3 nights in Cannes were equally fabulous and I have come to know my family a whole lot better than ever before. Thank you, Jo, SWE and Brit for being part of My Tribe!
Unfortunately, this tiled in reverse order: It’s supposed to be: We Did It!, SWE & Brit, and me…
P.S. It turned out that the bimini was covered by the insurance… and when I got to Marseilles, my hard drive suddenly worked … the gods were smiling on us!