So, yesterday was ride-a-donkey-in-the-Pyrenees-Day.
Not the super high Pyrenees, whose snow-capped peaks can be spied far in the distance in some of these pictures, but high enough.
The gite owner also runs a hiking with donkey enterprise. One can rent the donkeys for a day or several.
We just took a day. Actually half a day.
It was all so casual – so accustomed am I to the high-tension-paper-signing-liability-disavowing American way, the experience of just being handed a donkey and being told, “Au revoir” is startling.
At 10 am sharp, the owner appeared, and walked with us a couple of hundred yards west of the village to get the donkey. The four donkeys in the yard surrounded us, nuzzling and poking. We got the oldest one.
We all then walked back to the gite – “all” now including a gray donkey. The owner left us for a moment to go inside and fetch the equipment – blanket, saddle, bags, rope. He gave me instructions, which mainly centered on making sure the donkey knows that “you are the boss.”
I don’t think the donkey ever really accepted this suggestion.
And then he told me what road to go on. It would take us up high. There would be a refuge at the top. The donkey would go faster on the way down, partly because “he wants to see his friends again.”
Robert Louis Stevenson described his fraught relationship with his donkey, riding through the Cevennes area of France …..I absolutely understand him now – boy, these critters can be stubborn.
Of course, it was only that he wanted to eat. Not everything – just certain types of leaves that we soon recognized as trouble and occasions for steering the animal to the other side of the road or well in the center.
Thistles were his favorite. That was a chore, tearing him away from tearing at those thistles.
It was certainly hard work getting him to go all the way up. There was pretty much constant pulling on the rope and regular orders to “Allez!”
But we made it!
The way down was completely different – he didn’t trot, but neither did he tarry, and I didn’t have to pull much at all. Only when we returned to the gite and, as per instructions, took off the equipment before returning the animal to his friends. We took everything off, put it where we’d been told, and he just. Would. Not. Move.
He just stood there, looking at me with not the most intelligent eyes I’ve ever seen. I really understood the term “dumb beast” in a new, very deep way.
I almost despaired,thinking that we were going to be standing there when the owner – whom we’d just waved to as he bicycled past us eating a sandwich – returned.
But then Joseph emerged from the house, where he’d gone to restore his strength with a Kinder Egg, I imagine, smacked the donkey on the rear (as we had been instructed to do), yelled, “Allez!” one more time, and for some reason – all of that finally helped the donkey make a decision, and off we were, back through the village to his home.
It was a little aggravating at times, but in all very enjoyable – a gorgeous day (as opposed to the day before, which was rainy and turned into a rest and catch-up-on-school day, which was good.) – with incredible views. So very grateful to be here.
We parked the donkey at about 2:30, raced back to the gite, hopped in the car and headed down the mountain a bit to the stunning setting of the Chateau of Lordat, where a “spectacular” would take place at 3 – “Les Aigles du Chateau de Lordat.”
I am not sure how this event came about or how it can be in this location, but here it is. Every day except Mondays and Fridays, one can climb up to the chateau in the afternoons, and, for a fee, see this fellow and his assistant show various birds of prey – falcons, owls, eagles and vultures – have them fly about, feed them, and talk about them.
The birds were interesting enough. The experience of having a vulture sit on your arm, more so.
(“It was heavy” was their main observation)
But I think what we will all - all of us – including me – remember most was…well…let’s just say this.
Whenever we hear the phrase “feed the birds” in the future, Julie Andrew’s sweet voice and poignant images of “tuppence a bag” will not be what we think of.
No, I think what will come to mind will be a man in medieval falconer garb with a falcon on his arm while he (the man, not the bird), tears a (dead, but still) fluffy yellow baby chick into pieces and feeding it to said falcon while speaking French very rapidly, and doing this about three feet away from us.