Just for a change Justin and I walked down to the village. Something I had never done before, but often thought about. It took over two and a half hours to descend via a steep mountain path and over three and a half to climb back up to the chalet, the beers at lunchtime probably made the climb back up easier to start with.
I hardly ever go down to the village at all as I know that each time I go I will come back many euros lighter. There is never anything I need to buy, but always a temptation, perhaps a ‘T’ shirt or something to eat, chocolate, or a couple of beers on a pavement terrace. All perfectly allowable expenses, but easily avoided by not being there in the first place. Skiing is free and extremely enjoyable, as is walking and the weather has been incredibly warm for a while.
The difference was amazing, normally we head up the mountain into the cold and snow, I had almost forgotten that spring was on its way and things were starting to enjoy the warmer weather and longer days. The valley floor was carpeted in lush green pasture and as we descended the woodland was brimming with the ground level activity that gets its growing done before the trees are in full leaf. Violets and anemones were everywhere, the occasional drift of primroses, hints of blueberry plants that will carpet whole slopes later in the year. Now and again a warm breath of air, full of the scent of spring, the promise of the summer ahead, bringing back memories of hot days on the moors surrounded by heather, cliff top walks back in England and a sensory reminder of things to look for.
We talked of our different lives, of the freedom in europe compared to South Africa, where it is too dangerous to roam the countryside, especially if you are white, for fear of shootings or theft or kidnap. Of the greed in the world and the workings of big business, marketing and control of resources. Of options and choices and our need to tread more lightly on the planet before it kicks us off by natural means or otherwise. Of our time in the chalet, the lessons we have learned and memories we will take with us. Of travel and moving and the importance of material goods around us. It was great to have such discussions with someone from a different culture, background, age and upbringing and interesting to hear how somewhere else sees itself in the world. (South Africa that is not just Justin himself).
Chester dog was great on the way down and surprisingly calm on a lead. I had only ever seen him ‘loose’ in the mountains, never even with a collar on. He walked into the village next to me as if it was the most normal thing to do. We stopped at a bar for a couple of pints in the sun and he rested with us. A few people came to pet him, he tolerated that too, even the children, although we knew that he was more scared of them than they of him. Other dogs were good to say Hi to, the smaller the more scary he appeared to be. Two tiny dogs appeared from nowhere and he nearly tipped me off my chair in an attempt to escape their interest, though he soon calmed down.
It was good to sit and relax in the village and watch the world go by. Real people with proper lives and places to go, it made such a change from the skiers I become so used to in the winter. I know better now why Cameron came down to the village so often, without a love of skiing, living up there must have been maddeningly boring and inert of stimulation. A small part of me knew that it was nearly time to move on, that and the fact that more snow was melting every day.
The climb back up was a challenge. My legs had been rested but complained never the less. Chester no longer bounded ahead and Justin did moan just a couple of times about how far it was going to be. I convinced him that it was worth continuing if only to loose the calories that we had just imbibed I started discovering things of interest as we took a different route back up the hill. A few dandelion leaves to take away the taste of old beer, a primrose or two to remind myself of the taste, violets because I had never tried them direct from the wild, Parma Violets were once the height of fashion and were, in fact just violet petals coated in sugar. Watercress straight from the stream edge and of course a nettle leaf or two, yes, you can eat them raw and without getting stung, if you roll them tightly and chew them straight away. It passed the time well, gave us a great topic of conversation and enthused me further about finding somewhere new to go. The thought of working on a straw bale house, still in the mountains certainly seemed like a strong contender by the time we got home.
Most of the climb took us up an old farm track, though fields and woodland and in exactly the right direction. The remainder was on the road which was not ideal with Chester, though he was so tired and calm he hardly needed his lead, until of course we were just about to arrive at the chalet. Clare called out and he was off up the road like a shot, as if he had all the energy in the world, rushing to say Hi to his owner and to tell her all about how exciting and scary it had been. Justin and I continued at the same speed that we had maintained most of the way, arriving not that far behind. Mark was busy in the kitchen and dinner was almost ready. There was the rest of a barrel of beer to finish before we all left the chalet and an early night to be had.