Time and space are abundant. Physical reality seems to have been gently elongated in all directions. No longer waiting or wishing for time to change. We have bathed in a perfumed paradise where the hustle and bustle of city living is replaced with slow and mindful existence. Three weeks have passed since we arrived in the village of La Palud sur Verdon, which sits comfortably behind a small peak, masking what is often described as the Grand Canyon of Europe.
Our Workaway hosts live in an artistically designed house constructed completely by themselves, and have 25 sheep, 9 llamas and 2 cats. They are gorge and mountain activity guides, with a business of directing canyoning, climbing, rafting, hiking etc. in the summer months. As we have arrived off-peak, things are only just warming up.
Typically we have breakfast at 9:00 (the regional lavender honey is exceptional!) and then start ‘work’ – educating the llamas (well, training them to walk on a lead). Catching a llama is a real skill. They are very curious creatures and will approach when you enter their enclosure, but as soon as you make any fast movements they scram!
There were the ‘usual suspects’ who loved going for walks and would let us put leads on with little resistance. For a certain trio, we had to take special measures to catch them. We made a new pen in the corner of their field (they were suspicious of the existing one – it looked too much like a cage), and would carefully herd them towards it and then – BAM! – shut the fence around. Despite being a fool-proof plan, this method usually took three or four tries before it was successful. Even after that there was a fair amount of panicking, pushing and spitting before their leads were finally attached!
Once over the hurdle of catching a llama, the rest was a breeze. We would plod slowly and steadily around mountain paths, trying to stop the llamas from eating ALL the foliage, occasionally going off the beaten track (which upset the llamas a bit – they seem to like regularity and order).
[A previous workawayer, Vincent, created a marvellous video of walking the llamas]
The walks revealed glimpses of the group dynamic: some would always lead, whilst others panicked if there were llamas behind them. The grandmother of the group, Maya, spat in our host’s face at least 10 times before we realised she just wanted to walk at the front! Nearly the whole group was related. As females can give birth each year – Maya’s 6-month-old, Molly, was younger than her granddaughter, Lolita. There may have also been some incest…
The llamas all had their own little personalities: Lolita (as demonstrating above) eats everything, Maya is overprotective of her baby Molly, who loves to follow you around (you can guess the spitty outcome of this equation) … Tallulah behaves perfectly, Gitou is photogenic:
Our other tasks included: mucking out the llamas and sheep, preparing dinner and general help around the house. We also dabbled at fixing some bugs on their Adventure Guides (Des Guides pour l’Aventure) website and made a promotional video of canyoning – using footage from our own exciting experience!
During our free time, we made the most of exploring the gorge – walking three of the iconic ‘Sentiers’: du Blanc-Martel, des Pecheurs, and du Bastidon. The Blanc-Martel is the most famous route – descending to the heart of the gorge, along the river at some points, down an enormous set of steep staircases next to sheer cliffs, through caves, and beside vast rock faces which will be teeming with climbers in the popular season.
As per usual I took every opportunity to jump in for a swim.
We also spent a leisurely afternoon beside the turquoise depths of Lac de Sainte-Croix, before hiking back up to the entrance of the gorge.
We cycled the ‘Route des Crêtes’ which steeply ascends the mountain beside the gorge for about 11km – but we were rewarded with some of the best views of the Verdon (and an exciting toboggan-style descent on the winding road).
Soaring above us were huge vultures, circling hungrily. These were part of a program to reintroduce vultures to the gorge. Our hosts told us that there was a plateau where you could take your sacrifices, ahem, dead animals for the vultures to feed on – saving yourself the fee to have it taken away.
Our hosts treated us to lunch in Rougon, at a place which could probably win and award for the world’s best view from a creperie!
Just before we left, the sheep got sheared! Which was quite an exciting experience for us city folk 😊 Herding them through the village was also lots of fun (trying to prevent them from eating people’s window flowers!) and attracted quite an audience.
In van news: I made a crude spice rack out of leftover wood, and the water pump stopped working – Kieran made a video of how we fixed it.
And finally, some of the local wildlife:
That’s all for now. Next up – Ardèche!