The bicycle trip itself was uneventful, albeit slightly traumatic. (no pics to show - I didn't want to load my bike, and I knew my friends had cameras at my final destination)
I think I now know why professional cyclists pump so much trash in their veins, it's just too hard without it.
The total distance I went was 128 km, including a good 30km of constant climbing at the end (was dropped halfway on the way back, by a friend).
All I can say is that I had planned to use my 8 hours on a bicycle to think about my software, to practice speaking Russian, etc etc
But all that I ended up thinking was "ok my left knee hurts, ok now it's my right knee, ok let's see if it still hurts in 200 meters, ok now my back hurts [...]". Which makes me wonder what migrating birds think about.
Basically the first 60 km were spent on the Canal du Midi, which looks like this (it's not my picture):
The Canal is often bordered by the highway, which sucks. The only interesting town I crossed was Avignonet-Lauragais. Interesting because it has a very big windfarm on its outskirts (not my picture):
My final destination was Quillan, near where the Lupins live (Chalabre), and where my friends picked me up to take me 800 meters higher, to Rouze, a small town with 30 permanent inhabitants but 300 houses, about 40 km north of the Spanish border.
What's fascinating about Rouze is that being near a hydroelectric factory, the village benefits from ultra cheap electricty, and shows off about it. Rouze by night looks like Las Vegas. Everything is lit up, the tennis court, the unused-for-three-generations-communal-washing-basins, etc.
Another peculiarity of this village: there is so little happening here that every minor thing is commented with public announces on loudspeakers and with a jingle:
(JIIIIIIIIINNNNNNGLE) "Attention everyone, attention everyone, the mattress seller will be on the municipal parking this afternoon" (JIIIIIIIIINNNNNNGLE)
The house I stayed in:
Like most villages dominating a valley in the Pays Cathare, Rouze has its very own castle in ruins, perched on top of a rock (they always are).
The stream that passes through the village is teeming with trouts, protected in this particular area. But more importantly, Rouze is a mushroom Eden. I have eaten so many mushrooms in my 4 days there, that I can almost say that I am sick of eating Cèpes. An example of a mushroom-collecting day's progress:
So what is there to do near Rouze? I spent most of my time either looking for mushrooms, like I said, or climbing mountains:
Some views ...
This lake here was right in the clouds. We had gone there in the hope of finding marmots (wild ones), as indicated by some guide of ours. But a bus of Spanish tourists, and a contingent of "Scouts of Europe" (complete with priest and all) had gotten there before us, and were all making a lot of noise - no marmots to see that day.
This is that same lake seen from above (I climbed higher up because I wanted to burn some fat, but my friends waited for me below, you may be able to see them as a small spot near the lake):
And this is me pretending to be an expert at reading trekking maps:
The only interesting events in those 4 days were - the surprise venue of a couple from Poland (friends), who brought some Jouandkova Goshka Vodka with them (Wouuuuuudj), and - an agressive shepherd we crossed on some mountain trek, and whose interaction with us I'll describe below.
How it happened:
My friend's dog runs up towards the shepherd, ahead of us - she is half Labrador and half Corsican shepherd dog, so climbs like crazy and loves herding sheep, people ... all she needs is a traffic cop costume and a whistle).
I call her back when I see her running towards a fluffy white shape next to the shepherd, thinking it's a sheep, and call my friend to take his leash out because there are sheeps.
A few meters closer, I notice it's just a white dog, and I say a smiling "bonjour" to the shepherd, who doesn't answer. Just looks at my friend's dog, and in an extremely unpleasant and unfriendly manner, starts a very nasty conversation:
Shepherd - "Hey, you put that dog of yours on a leash or you can climb back down to where you came from."
Me, unamused by this guy's unfriendliness from the start - "And why don't you put your dog on a leash?"
Shepherd - "Because I tell you so!! God I'm sick of tourists who come around here and act like they're the boss, I live off the mountain, you don't!"
My friend S. - "I don't see any sheep around, when I see some I'll put my dog on a leash"
Shepherd - "There are muttons, you fuck. If you don't want to tie your dog then go back to your country!"
My friend M. (a girl, in a very calm voice, unlike us men who act like rebels and quickly get all hormonal): - "You may not like it, but we come from the same country."
Shepherd - "You don't live here, I'm the one who has to pick up all the trash after tourists are gone. I'm sick and tired of tourists."
M. - "Be reasonable, you know that you live off tourism."
Shepherd (still screaming) - "When I go to town I respect the rules there !!!" (ps: there is no such rule as having to put your dog on a leash in the mountains, the guy had put a sign saying "tie your dogs" that we had indeed seen, but it was his own sign)
M. - "Look, the dog is on a leash now, so can we talk quietly or are you just going to continue screaming?"
The guy probably had a point, and I imagine that he's had problems with dogs in the past, but if he had been polite from the start we would have been very receptive to what he had to say. When people scream at you and are unfriendly, you don't want to be nice to them either.
Anyhow we did find sheep later on, and at that point, my friend S., who naturally had let his dog loose as soon as we thought we were out of sight of that shepherd's sniper rifle, tied his dog and that was the end of it.
All this got me thinking, about how regionalistic Catalans are reputed to be (or Basques, or Corsicans, or Alsatians, etc), about how stupid any regionalist extremist is in general, about this guy's real personality, seeing how other mountaineers like him live: he probably drives a 4x4, doesn't blink an eye before polluting mountain streams with mutton shit, lives off state subsidies, and tells me that this mountain doesn't belong to me and that I should piss off back to where I come, me the horrible polluting tourist.
We crossed some "tourists" during our climbs (not many though), and each time we did they were very friendly, all had their little plastic garbage bag in hand ... not the trash-the-mountain and evil tourist types ...
Anyhow, this is where the guy will live this winter. If you zoom enough you'll probably be able to see him (red shirt).
Oh, and I also enjoyed a night bath in geothermal springs in the middle of nowhere. Some hippies have accomodated the place, created basins. Quite nice. This is not a very good pic of them, but at least you can see my green tongs on it.
Finally, I learned that there is a Spanish enclave in France! It's around the village of Livia, and is tiny: