When I decided to come out and work in Le Praz for the two months of ‘inter season’, everyone warned me about how quiet it would be. I thought that it would be perfect and I imagined myself being zen, hiking to the top of a mountain doing some yoga and getting a great tan along the way.
So far none of the above have happened.
I have quickly realised that no exercise is remotely easy here. One leg of the journey is extremely steep uphill, and the other extremely steep downhill. Neither ways are enjoyable, but when I arrive back to my start point I do feel as if I have achieved something, even though I have hated every second.
Most of my adventures have been pretty uneventful- just a lot of sweating and breaks to ‘take in the view’. But on a few occasions I have made some friends, and on one occasion an enemy…
I decided I should start off with an easy walk to assess just how unfit I am. The answer being very (or maybe it’s just the altitude and thin air?). One afternoon I made a picnic, packed my backpack and set off for La Tania. Along the way I bumped into a field of horses. This was fine until I realised the ‘fence’ separating us was actually just a piece of string. Many people think I love horses, which isn’t entirely true. I’m still a total chicken when it comes to horses I don’t know, and would much rather be on them than around them.
So after a second glance at the barrier between us, and the fact that they could 100% walk straight through it if they wanted (which I’m sure they wouldn’t) we said our farewells. I got off unscathed.
Next activity- biking. Considering I’ve only ridden a bike once in the last two years (a failed attempt to get to the top of the Hardens) I was pretty sure this wouldn’t end well. Again I thought I would head for La Tania as it wasn’t that far on the road. Just as I was about to head off, a dog appeared and decided to follow me along the way. Considering I love dogs and the fact that she was very cute, I was more than happy for her to join me, to begin with anyway.
It very quickly became apparent that she had absolutely no road sense and made it her mission to run in front of every vehicle coming our way. So I’m trying to cycle up what feels like Mt Blanc, struggling to breathe, let alone speak, attempting to control a dog who has most likely been taught commands in French. The looks I was given from the drivers of the cars were bad enough to kill, but all I could do was stand with my bike and do a sort of shrug which I hoped would mean ‘I’m sorry, she’s not my dog, she’s following me’, whilst at the same time trying to reach the dog and drag her out of harms way. Along the way I came across a couple of runners. I pedalled as fast as I could in the hope that the dog would decide I was just too quick for her and she would rather follow the runners. No luck. So we carry on, until the last straw. By this point I have called her ‘Here’ as that’s all I’ve been shouting at her for the last hour. We get through La Tania and for a second the road goes a bit flat. So I’m pedalling along, minding my own business, enjoying giving my legs a bit of rest. Until a van comes round the corner. Panic. And repeat the process of shouting ‘Here!’ over and over. My first thought was ‘yes, I’ve lost the dog’ as I couldn’t see her, until two seconds later I’m just about knocked flying from my bike, as she decides the quickest way to be in the van’s route is straight at my bike. She was a bit dazed and the van continued past us, giving me a bit of a funny look. Again I do the ‘shrug’ hoping it translates into French that I’m sorry and I’m trying my best to control her. I had a lightbulb moment, make a lead and tie her to my bike. (I wish I had thought of this for the uphills). So there I was rummaging around in what looked like a popular fly tipping spot / building site. I found some tape and managed to catch the dog and tie her to my bike. The cycle home was a lot more enjoyable- all downhill and the suicidal dog was under control.
We both made it home with no injuries, despite her best efforts. Long story short, don’t try and cycle in the Alps ever.
My most recent animal encounter was with a cow. I decided to go for a walk down to Le Fontanil, which is a whole other story in itself (what should have been a 40 minute round trip took me 3 hours and quite bad sunburn). The cows here get moved up the mountain, eating the grass as they go. They often wear bells around their neck so you can locate them easily. I got down to the village unscathed, had a look around and started the trek back uphill. I was walking along a track through a forest, just below the road, when I noticed one lone cow sounding rather distressed. I decided it was in my best interests to try and scramble up the banking and on to the road to safety. All going to plan until a car goes past me and the cow turns round and spots me. I wasn’t very discreet in a white tshirt and bright yellow shorts…
I thought if I walked along the road and tried to stay calm the cow wouldn’t bother me. This didn’t go to plan. The cow became more agitated and started to show an interest, coming towards me. Panic. Straight away scramble up the banking on the other side of the road. Then I notice that all the other cows, say 50, are actually here and this is where the lone cow probably wants to be too. I decided there was nothing else for it but to leg it as fast as I could (which is not fast at all) along the banking and in the direction of another village, St Bon. All good and I make it to the safety of civilisation. Until I find the sign for Le Praz and it is pointing along a path back in the direction of said cows. At this point I’m losing the will to live- no sun cream, no water left and not really sure how to get home. So I figure the only thing for it is to walk along the path. Straight back to the cows. Great. The angry lone cow has made it up the second banking, only to realise all its friends have now made it up to the next field above. I’m walking along, trying to act natural, all the while thinking this is the end for me. I figure if necessary my only escape is to climb a tree and wait for my rescuers. Marching along, completely out of breath, I make it to the safety of some trees which have been fenced off (well, stringed off). Sheer relief- I am alive and my death certificate will not say ’cause of death – trampled by cows’. Delighted. I made it back to the bar in time for my shift and continued to tell anyone who would listen about my very traumatic near death experience.
From these experiences I decided to try an activity I hoped would involve no animals- sunbathing. I walked through the forest to a man made water feature I had been told about. It’s a river with three pools in the middle with a waterfall between each pool.
It’s really peaceful- wild flowers, luscious green grass, snowy mountains in the distance, and best of all, or so I thought, no animals. I find my spot and start reading my book. Until I realise I have set up camp right next to an anthill and now I am being eaten alive by them. Again, panic. I start flapping around and shrieking in the hope that this will scare them off. Unfortunately no luck, I pack up my things and head home feeling disappointed. No peace.
I have reached the conclusion that why go outside and be traumatised, when I could stay inside and bake. So that’s the plan for the next wee while- bake cakes and eat them! These truffles didn’t last long!