Thursday, October 25, 2018

the marsh by boat: the trip begins

Today, Wednesday, I was asked whether I'd care to take a boat trip in the marsh. I thought that would be a nifty idea, so I said yes. Véro drove me and the kids: her son Tim, her daughter Héloïse, and Héloïse's friend Pauline. The story of Héloïse and Pauline's friendship is an interesting one: they were both traveling separately in Canada when they met, and they quickly discovered they were both from Alsace (Hélo's family lived near Strasbourg at the time). Today, I learned of another karmic connection: one of Pauline's sisters is currently studying international relations at Georgetown University, my alma mater. Curiouser and curiouser.

We drove over to La Garette, the next town over, which I've already passed through several times. Véronique had called ahead to see whether boat tours were still happening; we're apparently at the end of boating season. It turned out that today was the last day for such tours, so we met a friendly dude who seemed to be the tour manager, and we signed up for a 90-minute tour of the marshlands.

Our guide seemed a bit dour at first, but he proved to be friendly and full of information about the marshes. We got into a boat called a barque in French (which I think has Latin roots in common with English words like "disembark": cf. débarquement). As we poled our way along the quiet canals (I had originally thought we'd be renting a boat that I'd end up rowing), our guide explained the long history of the local marshes, which come in "dry" and "wet" varieties. The local civilization was built on the construction of thousands of kilometers of canals that are veined through the region in an enormous, crisscrossing network. People used to transport everything from cows to logs along the canals. Our guide also spoke about the plant life, taking time to note the all-important frêne têtard, a wigged-out-looking tree whose wild branches make for great firewood, and whose gnarled roots act as rhizomes when the trees grow along the banks of the canals, intertwining with the roots of other trees and forming a barrier that keeps the marsh's soft soil from collapsing into the canals. Rat-like nutria (les ragondins) gnaw at the roots of these trees, which makes the animals a pest to be eliminated. The guide noted that the vermin probably have more in common with beavers than with rats.

Anyway, before I get too far ahead of myself, here's the first batch of pics from today's adventure in the marsh.

Below, L to R: tour manager, Véro, and Héloïse:


A shot of the boats we didn't use:

More of the same:

The entrance to the boat we would be using:

See the English on the sign below? This region plays host to both English expats and tourists from England.

Pauline's and Hélo's heads are going to feature prominently in most of the upcoming photos, so I apologize in advance. Here's our guide, prepping the boat for our trip:

And we're off:

Signs like these were all over the marshland, but if I had been left to my own devices, I'd have gotten hopelessly lost.

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