“Our happiest moments as tourists always seem to come when we stumble upon one thing while in pursuit of something else”
If you are lucky this happens.
You are on vacation and all the stars line up for a serendipitous experience. Maybe you are at a resort and the maid brings you back to her house for a home cooked meal or a local might show you the best place to swim away from the hustle and bustle of the tourists.
Being in the right place at the right time, open to extraordinary experience is what happened to us and in the process met a fabulous family and their friends.
Our family was doing our normal activities, filling up the local tourist office with business cards for our rentals, enjoying the air-conditioned space on that hot summer day, when a man came to the counter.
I said, ‘No go ahead we live here.’ as the man approached the help desk to talk with the clerk Sandra.
We heard the man ask for instructions on how to use the shower card properly, in a definite southern US accent. He had an infectious smile and oozed charm and Sandra was quick to help him out of his troubles.
We were chatting to Sandra when he returned. “Where ya all from anyway and how did you end up here?’ That is how we met Mike.
He introduced us to his family, wife Lalie and three children; Jack, Stella and Alex, then to their six friends with another six children. On two rented boats for a week, they were on day two of seven, drifting down the Canal Du Midi towards the sea and then back, showing the children the historical sites along the way. Sampling some great food and wine at each stop, they happened to stay overnight in Capestang to do laundry and find supplies when our paths crossed.
We talked with Mike for a while when it came up…
‘We live here but have never been on a canal barge before. Crazy right?’ Without hesitation, he invited us onboard and asked if we would like to drift down to the next stop with them. We had Danna and Bob coming to stay with us from Canada and could not go, exchanged emails and said let us meet again on your way back.
After they left we received an email saying how nice it was to meet us and feeling the same way we arranged a time to meet for dinner on their return.We headed over to a restaurant and asked how long it would take to serve 25 people, including 11 children. They said over 4 hours. Um, that does not sound like much fun for the kids after being on a barge for a week.
Then it hit me! How about having them over for dinner. The kids can swim and stretch their legs and we can have a good old fashion potluck BBQ party, and mingle with our new friends. (Not sure how I got Alfonz to agree but he did.)
Twenty-five of us all together, Danna and Rob from Canada helped us out and made a nice macaroni salad to go with our homemade potatoe salad. We stocked the house with ice cream, sausages and european wieners for the kids, bought a few cases of beer and cleaned the house up to welcome our guests.
I picked up two of the four ladies in the late afternoon and took them shopping with the van at the local Lidl. They filled their basket up and generously added to the menu.
The children walked over to the house with Daniel leading the way, straight to the pool and managed to play for a couple of hours before dinner.
Alfonz set up the BBQs and started the cookout. We served up French sausages for dinner and every plate, cup and fork in the house was used. It was, thankfully, a success.
The kids separated into two rooms, one with video games and the other with Barbies. Some children stayed close to their parents to swim some more and by the sounds of things the rest were preoccupied up stairs and quiet as mice. The kids gave us parents a chance to talk and get to know each other.
All the children are so down to earth and polite. My kids were craving their North American friends and they got a fix. They could talk Harry Potter, poke-man and TV pop fiction with the group.
After endless goodbyes and ‘no don’t go’s, we made a date for the next day to join them on their two boats for a 3-hour tour down the canal to Le Somail.
Alfonz, Daniel, Angelina and I were with Mike and Lalie, Celia and Rob and their five kids combined plus two more kids from the other boat. Danna and Bob were with Jack and Juan and the remaining child on the other barge. Our friend Mallory grabbed Sarah and went out for lunch and headed up towards the final destination by van to pick us all up. Her husband also managed to squeeze on the other boat, and Veronika, a fellow Hungarian, decided to steel a moment and road her bike to meet us. Win-win all around, there was something for everyone.
We brought watermelon and sandwiches for the kids to share; Lalie served cheese, meat and bread platters as we sipped chilled Rose wine under the shaded Plane trees that line the Canal Du Midi. A light breeze greeted us, and the muffled engine sound was drowned out by birds and rustling leaves as we passed vine-covered countryside, cyclists and nestled villages along route.
It was a lovely afternoon, one I will never forget. Among strangers, now friends we share a love of travel and the memories of this fine afternoon. Through some of the most beautiful scenery in the world, we chatted.
I asked Mike if he enjoyed his trip. He said it was the right combination: riding the bikes at each stop, exploring the towns along the way and even a day finding the Mediterranean Sea.
After these seven days the group heading to Barcelona, Spain by bus. He mentioned how much he enjoyed putting the vacation together, using his French and spending time with his beautiful wife and children. Who could ask for more?
People cross paths in the most interesting moments during life. Our life in Capestang seems like a vacation, and our relaxed lifestyle seems to attract travellers giving us a chance to meet people we would not normally cross paths with.
Thank you for sharing part of your trip with us Mike and for being the generous person you are. I am forever grateful. Happy and safe travels!
Saint Augustine also said “The world is a book, and those who do not travel read only a page”.