After a week or wonderful rest with Florent's parents we set off from La Manche and headed south. Passing, first, through flat, grain growing arable land. Miles upon miles of fields devoted to grains. Florent assumed the position of the chauffeur to what must have seemed like a strange family lined up against one side of a bus. Thanks to the children's rear facing car seats (seemingly a good idea when they were bought) which need to be fixed to a seat positioned exactly infront of them, we needed to have a row of seats between them and the front seats. Inevitably this means I need to sit behind the drivers seat to be as close to the girls as possible to respond to their endless demands, cries and shouts of 'I've dropped my biscuit' or 'she touched dolly'. So, in this fashion we are seated in a line, Florent, then me and then the girls. Linny proclaimed 'I'm going to paint the bus with kingfishers, pigs, lions and zebras and it will be the most beautiful in the world', the only thing that could make us even more conspicuous. I think that Variety Club emblazoned across the front in red letters and the faded 'Sunshine Coach' on the side is enough.
The weather was stormy for the entire journey: terrific downpours, brilliant bright light, swishing windscreen wipers and crying children. We stopped overnight near Chateaurault and then Cahors, by now France felt decidely southern.
Then three days after setting off we arrived at a small hamlet in Ariege where we plan to set up tent for the summer. The family who live here, generously welcoming us as strangers, showed us to a small clearing in the woods. Quiet and peaceful. Tall, thin trees reaching upwards; oaks, beech, sweet chestnut, silver birch. It's a humble living arrangement. The tent, a compost toilet, our gas stove and my fridge I proudly built but seems to heat things up rather than keep things cool (two plant pots, sand, water and a cover should apparently do the trick but has failed to so far, if it ever works I'll share how...).
Life in a tent in the woods throws up a few elements to contend with. Our first storm sent us hurrying from our tent at midnight as we were convinced an unlucky lightening strike might hit a tree over our tent. Huddled in the bus we kept deathly quiet, terrified the family in the house nearby would see us cowering from a storm, that once we were safely sheltered, was clearly at a very safe distance from us. "We'll just say we came here to watch the storm" said Florent unconvincingly "From the bus". The story seemed unlikely, no parent risk waking a child for any reason, let alone rushes through pouring rain and thunder to sit in a small car park with no view when they could remain in a tent with an atmospheric view of the sky. All was well, they didn't see us and we snuck back silently willing the girls not to wake up and give the game away.
We are all trying to get used to the insects. There is such an abundance; tics, hornets, horseflies, wasps, spiders, bees (in incredible variety), mosquitoes, cockroaches and butterflies. And I am so dispointed by myself that I am hopelessly scared of a number of these. I can't help but rocket into the air shouting "you-bastard-fuck-off", if a horsefly strays too close then I look down to see two pairs of large round eyes looking up at me. They take in my irrational fear and the swear words and I feel instant parent-guilt. I've given my children a long standing unfounded anxiety problem and they'll probably swear in public and humiliate me. Unfortunately they do both now furiously clap their hands together, Linny shouting 'kill it', when they hear any buzzing sound. I hasten to point out we are trying to foster a respect for nature and do only kill mosquitoes.
We've also encountered a snake, stretching half across the road. I stopped the bike not wanting to frighten it and too frightened myself to contiune. I whispered to Linny who peered from the bike trailer to see it hesitantly continue across the tarmac and disapear into the grass. Later I was told it must have been a grass snake but I had no idea snakes grew to such lengths here.
The insects, snakes and storms can all be the first of what I'm sure will be a catalogue of oversights we have made on this little adventure. Most importantly of all though, it's so beautifully wild.