Cowgirls in Camargue

In Iceland, I have mostly German, British, and Scandinavian riders who come on horse tour, but the few Frenchies that drop in are usually the most memorable. Either they don’t speak a word of English, have no idea to ride or ride better than everyone else, and often drink wine like water. I met a Mr. Berquin this summer, one of the founding creators of the Henson horse breed – a cross between a French riding horse and Norwegian fjord horse. He invited me to ride at his farm, their origin in the Baie de Somme, but as fate would have it, I couldn’t make the trip dates.

the Pont du Gard near Nimes

Instead, I had the weekend before free, and thought I should go riding in France anyway, and after finding a Wow Air return flight for barely more than 100 euros to Paris and a bus ticket from there to Lyon for 9 euros each way, I just went. The south of France sounded much warmer anyway, and I couldn’t think of a better way to spend such little money in Reykjavik.

Alicia and I on the beach in the south of France

I have this other fun French friend I met last year on the Golden Circle, Alicia who also rode with me earlier this year in Kyrgyzstan. She lives in Lyon and decided we should go to Camargue and ride their big white beach horses. After a night in Paris (you always have to stay the night in Paris when you get the chance!) and a few hours in the bus, we were in Lyon drinking wine.

wine tasting at Chateau La Borie

The journey from Lyon to Camargue takes you through the heart of Côtes du Rhône, home to some of the best red wines in France. We stopped at a few vineyards (, and one in Chateuneuf-du-Pape, and ended our day trip at the Pont du Gard, that bridge and ancient Roman aqueduct that you’ve seen a hundred times in videos but never realized how to get there. That night we had dinner at the beach town Saintes-Maries-de-la-mer (why is the town name so long and how many St. Mary’s are there?), which, very appropriately, was a huge portion of moules et frites with white wine from the region.

horses on the ferry -transporting our transport across the little Rhone

We rode Camargue horses for the weekend, and thought we were special, but there were 5 others riding with us the first day (all but 1 were beginners).We galloped on the beach and rode past herds of flamingos, and had picnic lunches that always included rosé wine. I had a cool Camargue cowboy hat and traditional Camargue saddle, which turned out to be terribly uncomfortable, but at least I looked and felt like a real French cowgirl.

approaching another group of Camargue horses

We were one group of many, and only by the end of the weekend did we realize just how many other Camargue horse farms there were in the area. One one random trail crossing in the wetlands, there were 4 groups that actually intersected, causing enough of a traffic jam that maybe yield signs or traffic lights might need to be put up there one day. We had to cross one river, an offshoot of the Rhone, on a barge, and we took our horses on board just as easily as the cars were allowed to be ferried across. Its the first, and probably the last time, I´ve ever ridden a horse on a boat.

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Beautiful Bonaire

beautiful Bonaire

beautiful Bonaire

The ABC’s (Aruba, Bonaire and Curacao) were all once part of the Dutch kingdom, or Netherlands Antilles, but after some confusing legal terms, paperwork and meetings, Bonaire is the only ABC that’s still part of the Netherlands (a “municipality”), along with Saba and Sint Eustatius which are over 800km away. But Bonaire still shares its unofficial “official” language of Papiementu with nearby Aruba and Curcao, which is a confusing mix of Dutch, Spanish, English and Portugese. Native American words from the Arawak Indians and some words from African languages are also mixed in there, but somehow It still sounds like a dialect whose vocabulary is based on a lot of borrowing. The governments and schools of the ABC’s still function predominantly in Dutch, since many of the words and spelling aren’t confirmed in Papiemento – the spelling is largely phonetic and makes it very easy to read but then changes from person to person. Thank God everyone speaks English, and while the locals are hard to pinpoint (where they’re from or what to speak), the tall, white, sometimes sunburned Dutch people are real easy to spot.

salt fields and pink seas

salt fields and pink seas

Bonaire is similar in size to Aruba and Curacao, but only 17,000 people live on this little countryside island. It’s flat and dry, with flamingos, stray donkeys and salt fields spotting the interior. The coast is lined with coral reefs and baby blue seas, but not so many sandy beaches. One of the main public beaches had all its sand blown away in a hurricane, and now they’re left with alot of rocky shores. Its a windy island, making it a kite surfers paradise, and tourists come from all over the world to windsurf and scuba dive. I get claustrophobic under water and prefer to fly kites from land, so I went for free-diving off Kleine Bonaire and windsurfing in Lac Bay… and loved both.

Windsurfing in Lac Bay

Windsurfing in Lac Bay

I couchsurfed with a tall white dutch guy, who was a breath of fresh air on the little island. He;s lived there for a year and half but seemed to already knew everything and everyone on the island. He took me to soccer practice and kick-boxing lessons, two more firsts after windsurfing. We partied and danced every night, even though there were only 2 places to do so, but they were really nice, waterfront places. We had a sunset beach barbeque on my last night, with all the new friends I had made, and even I started to feel like I had a lot of friends on the island. After seeing some flamingos, I got on a plane to Curacao hoping to do the same things on another island.