Tag Archives: The Road Less Traveled

The Cop Out…

28 Jun

As always, it’s harder to keep up with these writings than I image it to be. So here’s a minor cop out. This I wrote my journalism class, but I think it fits quite well with this blog, so here it is:

Although Marseille, Nice and Cannes may dominate the international publicity concerning southern France, other less traveled roads also exist in this area, ones of untouched natural beauty, reserved only for those willing to put in the work necessary. One of the most pristine of these places can be found about 2 hours east of Marseille, in Hyères, a small port city of about 60,000 people. One particularly pristine pocket of beauty lies surrounded by two small sub-communities on the peninsula extending south of Hyères, known as Giens and Madrague. Although these two community centers hold their respective places in the tourist brochures, I personally wanted something more out of my experience in Hyères. Armed with nothing but a bike, a backpack full of water, and a poorly detailed map that outlined only the main roads on the peninsula, I set out, hoping to find the difficult to access beach called “Plage du Pontillon” that lay somewhere upon the southwestern corner of the peninsula.

The plan was simple, find the one trail outlined on the map that spanned the entire southwest corner of the foot-shaped bottom of the peninsula, and hike it. The execution of that plan? Not so simple. After one hour, with sweat eventually bonding me to my backpack, I had made it to the peninsula, through the community of Giens in the center of the peninsula, and to the southwestern corner of the peninsula. I proceeded to wander around for half an hour more until I finally stumbled across the sign I had been searching for. The yellow, silver and blue rectangle positioned in front of me, however, told me only of what I couldn’t do in the park, while providing absolutely no information concerning trails or routes. With my bike safely secured to the surrounding foliage, it was time to explore on foot. Sweat still bonding man and backpack, huffing with a deep and heavy breath that gave voice to the relentless nature of the voyage thus far, the journey continued for 30 more minutes through the woods. Now two hours in, with the notions of grandeur slowly being replaced with the biting realities of bugs, scratches from twigs, and relentless physical exertion, the thought finally entered my mind- “Why didn’t I just go to the touristy beach and relax like a sane person?” It was at this exact moment that the path split, and out of the fork that veered off to the right, toward the ocean, a middle-aged French couple emerged with a hearty “bonjour!” and smile. “This” I thought to myself, “this is where I need to go.”

After 5 minutes on the new trail, successfully blocking the increasingly harsh realities from my mind, I emerged upon the top of a large rock outcropping. My jaw proceeded to hit its largest possible angle, followed by a faintly audible “oh. my. god.” Seized in a moment of pure bliss, trying in vain to soak in my surroundings, I just stood there, thinking not of the sweat, stings and aches, but only of the clear water, blue skies, and untouched beauty that surrounded me. After that moment, a second wind blew new life into the journey. The only thing on my mind at that moment was to continue looking, hiking, searching for more views of the breathtaking scenery. Unfortunately, a late start to the day put a 2 hour time limit on further adventures, and I was unable to scale the entire length of the trail I had stumbled upon. I beat a hasty retreat back to my bike after a few hours of hiking, soaking in the views, and trying in vain to find the “Plage du Pontillon,” determined to return and complete my originally planned adventure the following week.

(Photos below are from the three trips I took to the this region)

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The following weekend, I returned to the peninsula, starting on the opposite side of the trail and hoping to complete the other half of the circuit. The bike ride to the northwestern end of the trail led me through the second peninsula community, Madrague, one that differed noticeably from my earlier experience riding through Giens. Madrague, unlike the warm and open-space filled art community of Giens that I had visited the week prior, made me feel like an intruder. Situated on the inside of the bay created by the peninsula, Madrague was a much more private community, and the road leading through it was lined on both sides by nothing but walls and gates. “Private Property” signs dominated the landscape, making the neighborhood feel more like a gated community and less like what I had experienced on my first trip. It was disheartening to think that such beautiful landscapes and land could be sold to the highest bidder, and that the beautiful vistas of the coastline could be choked out by fenced-in beaches. Head down and tongue-bit, the path out of the developed area of the peninsula slowly emerged, and my bike was once again chained to the foliage, my feeling of belonging slowly returning to me. Once again navigating the poorly mapped trail system with a severe lack of signs, my meanderings became increasingly vertical in nature. Once again stuck in the forest, battling bugs, trees, and yet another uncomfortable bonding moment with my backpack, I fought my way through, wondering again how such trials and tribulations could lead to worthy rewards. Upon my first emergence on the coastline, my jaw again hit that wide angle. I was convinced that I was in a movie, and that the landscape that lay before me couldn’t possibly exist in real life. These moments continued on my hike, as each new view of the coast was even more beautiful than the one preceding it. The sun seemed brighter, the water clearer, the rock formations more impressive.

I continued to push on down the trail, determined to make it to the ruins of an old World War II fort that I had learned about from the only descriptive sign in the park, conveniently placed at the end point of my previous journey. The ruins I found were somewhat underwhelming, but only until I stumbled upon a long staircase next to what I only could only be described as a giant stone waterslide, leading down to an old small cylindrical building with a dome roof. Stunned by both the surroundings and the complimentary architecture of the structure, I stalled for a while, trying again in vain to soak in my surroundings. After leaving the fort, I finally, after two separate afternoons of trekking, stumbled upon the secluded, beautiful but seaweed plagued “Plage de Pontillon” that had originally spurred my interest in making the hike. After relaxing for a moment on the beach, I made my way back to my bike, intoxicated by a strong feeling of positive closure to my short-lived love affair with the peninsula of Hyères.

Riding back, I wondered what had possessed me to fight though sand-filled 30 mph crosswinds, threatening to blow me into every passing car, and then through the community that presented itself as a private club I was intruding upon. As I reached the community that had earlier disheartened me, however, a wave of clarity splashed across my face, wiping away everything but the no longer ignorable full body exhaustion. These people may have been able to buy an incredible amount of beauty and subsequently shut out rest of the world, but the most beautiful spots on the peninsula still lay beyond the grasp of those who want to hoard it for themselves, and instead is accessible only to those willing to put in the effort necessary to see it. Although I could have utilized the bus routes to reach where I had made it with my bike (although the infrequent nature of most of these routes made such reliance inadvisable), there was no way to see what I had seen without committing to a hike through public land. Everything seemed right with the world once it became evident that the most beautiful things are available not to those with the biggest pocketbooks, but to those willing to work and seek them out. The southern cities of Nice, Cannes and Marseille may always get the most tourists, but even in southern France, the most beautiful and rewarding things require a little more time, effort and care.
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