After our repast, it was time to see some sights and get some exercise before meeting our boat, where we would be staying the next three nights.


Saddle

In addition to food, the Camargue is known for its horses and bulls. This saddle was on display at Chef Merlin's. The high pommel and cantle are designed to keep the rider secure in his seat as he handles the bulls.

Various attachments provide storage for necessary items.

Our afternoon's explorations would include some observation of the horses & bulls, but there wasn't time on the schedule for closer investigation. Next time.


Camargue Farmstead

The Camargue, basically the delta of the Rhône river, was once a vast wetland. Much of it has been drained and the management of the Rhône has diminished the influx of nutrients from periodic flooding. Nonetheless there is still plenty of water around and much of the area has been designated a nature reserve.


Tour bus

We had a brief tour along back roads to see the area. Our driver and local guide spoke excellent English -- not surprising since she was from Texas. She had come to France to study and acquired excellent language skills and a French husband!

We enjoyed this vehicle with its big windows and open top. Any time we wanted to stop and check something out, she would stop.


Camargue horses

The Camargue horses that we saw were working animals, not the free-roaming herds that are farther off the beaten track. The mares and foals live an unfettered existence, but the geldings are trained and maintained pretty much the same as riding horses elsewhere. Many of the animals that we saw were workers in the tourist trade. There were livery stables everywhere.


Camargue bulls

The famous black bulls were also much in evidence. They lived quietly together in herds. I don't think we ever saw cows. Perhaps they roam freely like the mares.

The bull with the bell has been gentled and trained to respond to the handlers. He will guide the wilder critters where they need to go.

We were told that the orientation of the horns on these bulls, which are upright, indicated that they weren't fighting bulls in the Spanish style, which have forward-projecting horns.

Click for a description of the French style of bull fighting. The bulls have decorations placed between their horns and the object of the "fight" is to retrieve the decoration. The bulls are not intentionally harmed and may appear multiple times and attract a loyal fan base.


Bird Sanctuary

The culmination of our tour through the Camargue was the Parc Ornithologique Pont de Gau. (The link will open in a new tab because it causes problems with the "back" function.) This sanctuary attracts droves of birds who find rest, relaxation, and good eats in the varied terrain. Some are migrating through and some spend the winter here.

Throughout our visit to the Camargue we were admonished to keep up with bug spray -- thankfully Agathe had brought some. The mosquitoes were fierce!


Owl

Most of the birds are wild and unrestricted, but there are some birds that have been injured and are now being rehabilitated. Other birds have permanent injuries that prevent their survival in the wild. They have a home for life here.

This owl will be released once he (or she) recovers completely.


Heron

This heron was busily fishing in the shallows.


Juvenile flamingos

During the time of our visit most of the flamingos were fast asleep.

It looks awkward to stand on one leg with your head tucked firmly under a wing, but it works for them.

The grey birds are juveniles.


Flamingo display

The flamingos do not yet have their brilliant breeding plumage, so they are a bit paler. We found that the undersides of their wings, however, were much more richly colored. I was lucky to capture one stretching.

The large water creature swimming by the flamingos is a carp. They were VERY large and have become a problem because they don't have any predators.


Nutria

Another unwelcome invasive species is nutria. These were released by failed fur farmers and quickly established themselves in the Camargue.


Traditional house

The traditional houses of the area have a distinctive shape. The rounded end faces north to ward off the fierce mistral and lacks windows. The roof is formed of native reeds. The mortar on top of the thatch secures it in place.

The cross at the peak of the roof is a traditional feature.


Storks

This little island was hosting some storks.


Flamingo mating dance

After the naturalist explained the flamingos' mating dance, which consists of dancing, wing displays and bowing, May was inspired to try it out. Of course this inspired the rest of us to follow suit. Well, almost. Jim and Marilyn are trying to act reasonably dignified while the rest of us have silly fun.

Thanks to Agathe for the picture.


Flying flamingos

There was much more of this park that we didn't have time to explore. We had a long drive and a boat to catch -- time was getting tight. As we were hurrying back to our van, this flight of flamingos came in for a landing. It was too dark to get much color, but they are impressive birds in the air, albeit somewhat ungainly looking.

When we reached the harbor, we were met by numerous staff folks to help with our luggage. We bid a temporary farewell to Mouhi because we didn't expect to need the van for a couple of days. After boarding the MS Van Gogh we hurried to the welcome cocktail party where we discovered that there were two American groups traveling -- us and a young honeymooning couple from New York! Most of the passengers were Italian and French although there was also a sizeable Swiss contingent.

That evening we were underway for our travels on the Rhône.


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