Still from our guest’s diary: Joan, San Jose, California.
Dedication: to Nancy L., whose voice I heard, smile I saw, joy I felt during today’s trip. You would have had a blast.
Today was quite a day. I have to say that when Jackie put together this Provence tour, she must have figured all of us would be doing the ’sitting by the river at a little cafe sipping Cafe au Lait or Pastis’ thing on our own in Paris. (Correct assumption) Therefore, she makes sure we experience things we NEVER would have experienced if we took larger, more rigid tours. Or if we had come as individuals just traveling the world.
Today was not a “tourist” day, today was a “field trip” (pun intended) and there was a test!! How many of you knew that France has cowboys? Yup, cowboys. And horses! Lots of white horses, the majority of which are wild. What do the horses do? They herd the WILD BOOOLS. (That’s bulls with a french accent) I am serious. Thousands of ‘em. Camargue is about 90 min drive south of our tiny village of Maubec and is technically not in Provence. It’s a delta region situated where the Rhone River empties into the Mediterranean. The land is very marshy and has a high salt content, so farming is limited to rice and occasionally wheat. Here, farmers are ranchers. We went to Manade (ranch) Thibaud. He was a very simple, local farmer who agreed to show us around. He had us hop into the flat bed trailer hooked to his tractor and we zoomed off into yonder fields.
Okay, more like crawled, but there’s a good reason for that. He took us out to watch cowboy-mounted horses ’select’ bulls to separated from the herd. (By the way, not for bull fighting purposes, but for another type competition). The horses will select a bull, break into a trot and the bull will start trotting to get away from the horse, then the horse gallops and the bull runs away, usually off to join another bull off yonder. But wait! That bull off yonder has a bell around his neck! That’s because he has been observed to be a natural leader in the herd and therefore is considered head boool. So after the horses select 5 or 6 bulls, all of whom run away from the horses and begin to gather around their leader with the bell, the head bull leads them to the trailer to get them loaded up to go to the arena for “race Camarguaise”. This is a local competitive sport where the only one who might get hurt is the human. So apparently only the most aggressive (and therefore most competitive) bull will attempt to escape the horses. These bulls are then trucked to the nearby arena and have tassels tied to their horns. (How humiliating) The object of the sport is for these 18-29 year old skillfully trained (hotties) men to take the tassels off the (really angry) bulls without getting, well, you know, KILLED. Young boys of 9 and 10 go off to special schools to learn how to be good bull detasselers. Mr.Thibaud said they have to be good at running fast and jumping really high so they can leap out of the ring for safety. (The men, not the bulls) Wusses. Anyway- so here we are, out in Messuier Thibaud’s field (I did mention that this is a field trip) on this flatbed trailer and sure enough we’re transported into the movie ‘City Slickers’ and all these bulls get herded in by beautiful white horses ridden by Camargaise cowboys. Yeee-Ha!!.
One guardian “cow-boy” from the manade Thibauld
So sure enough the horses would be milling around and the bulls would be trying to avoid them. Then, a bull would be bold enough to make a break for it – and it’d be over. Horse 1, bull zip. By the way, the ranchers breed their bulls to their cows but its more like letting nature take its course than like matchmaker international. Incredibly, the ranchers name ALL the bulls. So when the horses select a particular bull and begin to trot after the bull (who is trying to act like ‘who, me?’) The cowboy will call out the bulls name. (that’s why they need the cowboys) That way the other bulls know to go off (quite relieved) in another direction while “Javert” gets escorted off to join the bull with the bell. The bulls are kept out in the fields away from humans, horses and dogs. They naturally shun the company of others and they are not fed or supported in anyway other than receiving veterinary care. They eat grass and stay outside 24/7/365. This keeps the bulls ‘wild’ and aggressive. I’d be aggressive too if I had to sleep outside. According to Mr. Thibaud no 2 bulls look exactly alike, so that’s how they know their names.
Wild bulls from the manade Thibauld.
After our tractor-tour we then walked way out to another field to see the “best bull”. We were behind fences now, so it was ’safe’… or so it seemed. As we were hiking out we kept dodging piles of bull-stuff. Mr. Thibaud explained that the reason BS was on our path was because his Best Bull would break out of the pasture he was kept in, hop the fence, swim across a creek, hop another fence and hang out in the field closest to the barn and other bulls and cows. Every day this bull does this and everyday they move him further away to keep him aggressive. We all cooed “oh, but he must be sooo lonely” but let me tell you- this Bull – his name is Gastion – looked pissed off to see 8 women hanging out by ‘his’ fence. The other bulls were ignoring us, and when Mr.Thibaud said ‘Gastion is the 4th bull from the right’ we saw many thousands of pounds of snorting bull just staring at us. When we learned that the fence we were standing at was the one he jumps over every day, we weren’t quite as tickled. But man was this fun. Reminded me of my childhood, hanging out in the pastures belonging to the nearby stables waiting for anything on 4 legs to get close enough to the fence for me to jump onto. We walked back to the van and piled in and Jackie drove us about 15 min to Les Saintes Maries de la Mer. (to be posted tomorrow). From Joan, San Jose, California
Joan and Eppie