July in the south of France.
It’s hot. As soon as night falls a deafening concert of croaking frogs starts, followed by a chorus of crickets buzzing in the background. The stars are our only light sources. We sleep in perfect isolation in a wooden hut at least ten kilometres away from what some call ‘civilization’. Mosquito nets and fans are supposed to keep the little buggers out of our bed.
This is the Camargue, a marsh area in the south of France and Salin-de-Giraud is the nearest village. There we find, except salt, restaurants and an ATM for much-needed cash.
The Big Five
We drove here to watch animals, the ‘Big Five’ of this nature reserve. The main objective of this trip is to spot the white Camargue horses in the wild. Alas, upon our arrival and after close inspection, the animals actually appear more grey than white and not so wild anymore.
The horses seem to be domesticated, most even spend the night in a stable. In fact, the animals are up for rent. For a fee of 32 euros, we can ride one. Starting from Domaine de la Pallisade we make a two-hour journey on horseback through the swamp. During the ride, we see wild boar, black bulls and huge flocks of flamingos. That is four out of five under the belt. But that is not all, we also see some smaller fry: dragonflies, herons and a swimming beaver.
Camargue Nature Reserve
The next day we drive tens of kilometres through wetlands and forests by car. Via a dirt road which is only passable at low tide, we arrive at a secluded beach. There, at the seashore, we find the missing number five, the biggest beast in the jungle, the homo sapiens.
Hundreds, perhaps thousands set up camp here. Yes, this crowd lives in ‘the wild’, sort of. No sanitation, no bar nor a pool in sight. Only beach, tents and people. The next village is at least an hour’s drive away. Believe me, I am the first to applaud camping in the wild, but here in the middle of nature on a beautiful beach I can’t help but wonder:
How do these people do their business?
In the sea, or perhaps behind a non-existent bush? The charm of camping in the wild, surrounded by so many people eludes me in this beautiful place. I rather go back to our frog concert in an almost comfortable bed, away from the rest of humanity.
- Saintes Maries de la Mer is a town in the middle of the park. Here are most of the facilities and hence most tourists.
- Saline de Giraud is on the other side of the Camargue and is much less touristy.
- Arles, the city of Van Gogh, is a stone’s throw from the park. It’s a beautiful place and forms a good base for visiting the park.
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