Barg­ing along on trou­bled wa­ters

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - TRAVEL & INDULGENCE - PETER KING

The canals of France are a na­tional trea­sure, used for com­mer­cial and plea­sure pur­poses. When th­ese two op­pos­ing forces come to­gether, amus­ing in­ci­dents may lie just around the cor­ner, as hap­pened to our group while cruis­ing the won­der­ful Canal du Midi.

James, an eru­dite English­men, had taken the con­trols of our rented plea­sure barge and we were tod­dling along an­other pic­turesque sec­tion of the canal, in south­ern France, ap­proach­ing the gor­geous vil­lage of Homps. De­spite the peak sum­mer sea­son be­ing over, there were still plenty of hol­i­day-mak­ers on the wa­ter as well as the oc­ca­sional larger work­ing barge. Moored along­side the canal were half a dozen barges with per­ma­nent res­i­dents. This is a com­mon sight across the wa­ter­ways of Europe as life on the wa­ter of­fers many life­style ad­van­tages.

How­ever, the peak tourist sea­son also pro­vides many in­con­ve­niences for the long-term lo­cals, in­clud­ing boats ex­ceed­ing speed lim­its and favourite restau­rants be­ing over­run with noisy for­eign­ers. Our group was aware not to up­set the barge com­mu­ni­ties and James was nav­i­gat- ing qui­etly along the canal, keep­ing clear of the parked ves­sels and keep­ing an eye out for on­com­ing traf­fic.

A mo­ment later the ob­vi­ous yet unimag­in­able hap­pened. Around a bend came a barge laden with hol­i­day­mak­ers, on the wrong side of the canal and trav­el­ling faster than de­sir­able. As they saw us and ur­gently changed to the cor­rect side, James also ad­justed but went too close to the near­est parked barge and gave its steel hull a solid bump.

Our smaller fi­bre­glass boat was not dam­aged and nei­ther was the re­cip­i­ent of our nudge, but the Gal­lic curs­ing that em­anated from the boat in­di­cated a fi­nal straw had been bro­ken. Any­body within earshot did not need to un­der­stand French to re­alise this was one an­gry lo­cal.

Some may have been tempted to keep go­ing and pre­tend noth­ing had hap­pened, but our crew, led by the in­domitable James, was a team apart. We moored our boat as soon as we reached a clear sec­tion of bank, James grabbed a bot­tle of wine and headed back to the war zone, in­sist­ing he must do this on his own, for English pride. Long min­utes passed and we were fear­ing the worst when our hero re­turned, hav­ing re­stored An­glo-Franco re­la­tions to friendly lev­els not seen be­fore, or pos­si­bly since. Send your 400-word con­tri­bu­tion to Fol­low the Reader: travel@theaus­ Colum­nists re­ceive Nour­ish­ing Gera­nium and Laven­der Hand Cream from So­dashi, en­riched with av­o­cado oil, shea but­ter and rose­hip; in a 50ml tube ($85.50). More: so­

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