To summarise a few things and update you…
Days since we left: 15
Kilometers cycled: 1024 (636 miles)
Average daily distance cycled: 80 km
Baguettes consumed: 29
Whole cheeses consumed: 17
Canned meals eaten: 10
Bike falls (owing to clip-ins): Imran 6/ Mikaela 1
Well, leaving Bordeaux was never going to be easy, but it was a departure made easier by one of Polo’s lovely housemates Arnaud who generously suggested we stay with his parents on the next leg of our journey. Somehow the incentive of a bed and shower led us to cycle 120 km across hilly terrain reaching the warmth of French hospitality in a village called Lavardac by nightfall. Feeding us with a fantastic feast and insisting we try a local digéstif, we settled down to sleep with absolute contentment. The next day, in spite of the bum-suffering, we continued to cycle through the Lot-et-Garonne and past the Landes, known as ‘France’s lungs’ as it’s composed entirely of sand and pine trees.
We were relieved however to reach Toulouse and the beginning of the Canal du Midi, a beautiful stretch of water listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and running for 240 km from Toulouse to Séte .
The original purpose of the Canal du Midi was to provide a shortcut between the Atlantic and the Mediterranean, avoiding a long sea voyage, a hostile Spain and Barbary pirates. The canal has a rich history including the story of the thousands of labourers it took to build it, of these many were women who came from the Pyrenees specifically for this work. These peasant women were mainly of Roman descent and their knowledge of water systems was apparently vital to the construction of the canal, which in its era was a feat of engineering never seen before.
We followed the path of the Canal du Midi for just under 200 km, passing Europe’s largest medieval fortress in Carcassonne. Our time by the canal had its advantages given that it was of course very flat, but the ground was broken, uneven and seriously bumpy. We were slowed down by the difficult terrain and tired of camping in the cold we decided to take a slightly different route and made our way to Montpellier to stay with friends. Once again we have been shown huge generosity and when we catch our ferry this evening we’ll be sad to have only stayed one night. But the new leg of our journey begins soon, crossing continents from Europe to Africa on the 36 hour ferry from Séte to Tangier putting us another step closer to Mali.