Some of the horses still run wild, retaining their distinct breed that has lasted through the ages. Born brown, like the famous Lipizzaner stallions, they turn white at around age four or five. Many are also tamed and used for the “promenade aux chevaux” (horseback rides) through the Camargue. I wanted to go on a ride, but no one would go with me, Mom having always stayed as far away from horses as possible with a horseback-riding daughter, and Dad said he turned over his “someone has to go with her” responsibilities to Alan. Alan has never been on a horse (shocking! I know) and said that he would like to at least be able to communicate with the person in charge if not the horse for his first time. I supposed I understand…
The only town and place to stay is Stes-Maries-de-la-Mer, an ocean town with a very Spanish flavor. We went their first, as with the holiday weekend we wanted to make sure we got a room before exploring. It was only about a hour and a half drive from Lacoste, and we got two of the four rooms left at the hotel recommended by Alan’s professor. The town is at the bottom western end of the arch that makes up the reserve, so we headed back up the way we had come to stop first at the park information center and plan our day.
The park information center is right next to the Park Ornithologique; however, we had trouble finding the building until we realized that it was all boarded up! Every guidebook said to stop there first, and we have current guidebooks, so I don’t know what happened. But since we were there, we decided to just go into the bird sanctuary. And it was wonderful! They have some birds in cages with signs and information, as well as bird feeders and open areas with trails. The bird population here changes seasonally, but with 400 species to choose from (160 of which are migratory) there is a lot to see! Pink flamingos really steal the show; they come here in the thousands in the spring, but we were quite satisfied with the hundreds we saw. Boy, are they noisy!
They have a version of the great blue heron, which were very pretty as well. Ducks abounded, and we got to see some nutria (little muskrat-like animals) as well as a beaver. Swans, egrets and ibis rounded out the bird families, although there were lots of little birds flitting about. We ate our picnic lunch next to a flock of flamingos before finishing the 7 km walk.
By the time we finished exploring this, our first stop, we had run out of time to get to the other walking areas we had picked out. So we headed back to town along another smaller road which lead us along the sea. As we got close to town, we could see kite surfers out in the water. Alan still is looking for some photos for his outdoor lifestyle and culture categories, so we stopped to watch. The wind was still blowing very hard, and some of the kite surfers were flying 25 feet in the air. We walked along the beach for a ways, Mom and I picking up shells and rocks. I spotted a snake in the sand, which was rather startling and scary. It hardly moved, as I am sure it was cold, but still is not something I want to see on the beach!
After moving our things into the hotel, we walked around town. According to legend, the town is built on the spot where a boat, set adrift by the Jews without any oars or sail, landed with a boat-load of people: Mary, the mother of James, Mary Magdalene, Martha and her brother Lazarus, St. Maximinus, Mary Salome, the mother of James Major and John, and Cedonius, the man born blind. Sara, the black slave of the two Marys, was left behind but wept till Mary Salome threw her mantle out over the water, allowing Sara to come join the rest of them in the boat. After landing, everyone else went their separate ways, but the two Marys and Sara stayed here till they died. The gypsies come here in pilgrimage every year; they revere St. Sara. The church is fortified and contains relics of St Sara, as well as the boat in which everyone arrived.
We picked out a Spanish restaurant to eat in, and it was going to have live flamenco music; however, after sitting down we asked about their two vegetarian dishes only to be told they both had chicken broth as a base. So we left in search of our stand-by vegetarian option–pizza. The next restaurant had lovely décor, and I really wanted to take home the bottle they used for water! But everyone talked me out of it, and I am a little worried about getting everything in our suitcases to come home. I guess I’ll just have to look at the photo!