When I last left you all off, I was still in the Dordogne region of France.
I caught the train from Sarlat to Brive-la-Gaillard, a small city in the Dordogne area, to catch a ride share to Montpellier. Montpellier is slightly more south and east from the Dordogne area, taking about 6 hours or so to get there. On the road, we stopped at Millau for lunch and to see the tallest bridge in the world (according to Wikipedia, it has "one mast's summit at 343.0 metres (1,125 ft) above the base of the structure"). Millau also has a strong air current and high cliff above the small city that sits in the valley, making it a popular spot for para-sailing and para-gliding. The driver wanted to take the cheaper (and slightly longer) route to Montpellier, putting us through beautiful national parks and towns.
When I arrived at Montpellier, I couchsurfed with someone who is studying to get his masters in viticulture (wine making), which was quite cool. I arrived late in the afternoon and was leaving the next morning, so I went out for a few hours to see as much of Montpellier as possible. I really like the city, it is quite cute and charming and not extremely large. There are nice wide boulevards and parks and the buildings are all very neat and pretty. Plus, the weather was nice, which helps! There is a beach nearby (you can simply take the tram) but I didn't have enough time, unfortunately. I returned to my couchsurfers home to make sushi for dinner (my first time making sushi myself!). I had to run to the supermarket to buy some food for it, and you know what I did? I bought zucchini instead of cucumber! I obviously don't buy many vegetables! What's even funnier, he told me I'm not the first couchsurfer to do this! Woops...
The next day I had to catch an early train to a nearby smaller city called Nimes and then a 1 hours and 30 minute bus to a small town called St Jean du Gard where the husband of the next farm would be. From there, we headed the one hour to his home in the mountains, in the village Le Pompidu. The village is in the Lozere region and is amidst the Massif Central mountains. Honestly, I thought things couldn't get more beautiful after being in the Dordogne region, but here it is just a fabulous, but in a slightly different way. As the road twists and turns up, down, and around the mountains, you catch glimpses of beautiful vistas over the valley, waterfalls, and endless green trees.
When I arrive at the "farm" I'm floored. It is absolutely massive. It is so massive, in fact, they don't even use half of it. The family is a husband and wife from Belgium who moved here with their 3 sons about 12 years ago. The 3 sons are now in school studying engineering, medicine, and law (they were all home schooled by the mother- she must have done something right!). The history of the home is quite interesting: it used to be a summer camp that was then abandoned and subsequently taken over by squatters, who destroyed most of the interior (you can still see some graffiti in the old parts of the home). The first floor of the house is split in two, with one side being a massive room for cooking and giving lectures, and the other side being the laboratory where they mix essential oils (more on this in just a minute). The second floor is their floor (which I haven't seen). The third floor is for guests and WWOOFers and includes many bedrooms, showers, bathrooms, a kitchen, a living room, a communal computer, and a deck that over looks the valley and has the most unbelievable view. When I arrived there were two other WWOOFers and 3 guests to come. The guests were coming for an aromatic/essential oils beginners training for 3 days...
So the family I am staying with mixes essential oils. Essential oils are essentially oils that come from plants and can be used topically or internally for medical purposes. They have a garden for the food they need as well as some aromatic plants that they themselves distill (using the same process you use to make alcohol) to extract the essential oils. They also order essential oils from around the world in bulk and then sell them for small orders or mix them with other oils to make their own "synergies." They have been doing this for 30 years and have written books on it.
As I mentioned, there was to be a 3 day training. When I arrived, I was basically told there was going to be a training, and if I wanted to participate I could, but I would have to make up the 15 hours I would be missing by working extra time the next week. I sort of tried to get out of it, not because I didn't want to do the training, but because I was worried about making up the hours (they expected you to work 5 hours per day; 3 hours in the mornings in the garden and 2 hours in the lab in the afternoons). However, they sort of pointed out to me that if I did that I would be all by myself all day and it would be boring for me. So I took the training.
The training was really interesting and amazing (and all in French!). I never even really know that you could take a drop or two of an essential oil in, say, a yogurt as a treatment for a certain ailment or problem. There are essential oils for everything: headaches, depression, severe menstrual cramps, anxiety, sunburn, infection, and much more. Most people know that medicines come from plants, but are usually chemically manipulated to simply bring out certain aspects, so that when you ingest a pill there is nothing natural about it. We're aware of the effects: Prozac found in NYC drinking water and evidence of fish being lacking the ability to reproduce from birth control in water ways (here's a NY Times blog article I just found quickly on the subject, http://thelede.blogs.nytimes.com/2008/03/10/there-are-drugs-in-drinking-)water-now-what/). Our bodies aren't built to process the chemically produced medicines we're putting into our bodies, so eventually it comes out in our urine. The same effect isn't seen with essentials oils, since they break down naturally.
Anyway, the point is, I learned a lot from this training. I learned about different types of lavender, helped to pick lavender in the garden, then watched as it was distilled before my eyes into an essential oil. I got to see a large-scale distillery where a local association allows members to distill their products. I also got to mix my own synergies, or mixes of essential oils, in this case to make massage oils. The crowd was quite interesting and different (there were about 20 people in total), with many different interests in the area of essential oils and organic products. Overall, I'm glad I took it- it has given me a lot to think about!
That Friday, I caught a ride with one of the attendees to Marseille. Here I was supposed to meet my friend Jessica. I arrived at the hotel where I was supposed to meet her, only to be told she had canceled the reservation and that her flight was canceled! Panicking, I called her. Apparently, she had been trying to reach me all day but must have had the wrong number! Anyway, I called one of the girls I met at the training and asked if she happened to have a friend in Marseille whom I could crash with. What luck, she did! I was able to crash with her 2 friends in their apartment that night, but I was so exhausted from the travel and stress, I fell asleep pretty early.
The next day, I left the apartment and headed to the beach. I went to the furthest beach on the strip of beaches in hopes that it would be less touristy, and consequently less dangerous. Luckily, I was right and the beach was a family beach, so I could leave my stuff on on the beach and go for a swim! Soon I needed to meet Jessica (she caught a new flight to come meet me). We wandered all around Marseille that afternoon and evening, having a picnic in a park, walking to the church on a hill overlooking the city (so awesome), and seeing the Old Port and Panier districts. Panier was very cute, with adorable tea shops and art galleries and the church on the hill was amazing. We had an amazing dinner in an Italian restaurant and then decided to tuck in early and head to Aix-en-Provence the next day after heading to a museum.
The next morning we headed to a museum called La Vieille Charité, meaning "Old charity" because of its former use as an almshouse in the 17th century. The museum is actually two museums, Museum of Mediterranean Archaeology and Museum of Art of Africa, Oceania and Amerindia, as well as a temporary exhibit on the main floor. Jessica and I decided to skip the two museums to catch the temporary exhibit, which was supposed to be quite good. It featured the Austrian artist Friedensreich Hundertwasser (1928-2000). The work was incredible. Hundertwasser's works are powerful, modern, and full of life and color. He rejected societal values and felt that man needed to get back to his roots in the earth (which I find ironic, as I'm out here to work on an organic farm). I really enjoyed the exhibit, as it gave great examples and explanations of how his work changed over time and also gave really thoughtful quotes. Definitely worth the visit!
Afterwards, it began to rain. We walked to the train station and headed to Aix-en-Provence, a beautiful nearby town. Unfortunately, it really began to pour. By the time we got there, we had to borrow umbrellas from the hotel that Jessica was staying at, and we ventured into town. We did a little bit of restaurant and bar hopping as we tried to stay out of the rain, and I found I really loved Aix. It is smaller and a lot cleaner than Marseille and, despite it being a Sunday, there were a good number of people out and about. This brought the color back into our cheeks, just before I had to leave to catch a ride back to Le Pompidu.
My friend Caroline has been on a bike tour with two friends for the last two weeks and was to finish in Le Pompidu and WWOOF with me for my last week. She was pretty close to Pompidu when I was getting my ride share back from Marseille. As I mentioned, it was torrential raining. Luckily for her, my rideshare was able to pick her up and she came back with me to the farm!
Now I should go, I've been holding up the internet for too long writing this! That as on Monday and now it is Friday. I will update again this weekend and tell you about the work I've done this week and well as the fun I'll hopefully have this weekend! :) I can't post pictures here unfortunately! They'll have to wait until I'm back in Le Havre on Thursday or so.