Thursday, June 20, 2013

Rock climbing, anyone? - Vacation in France - VIII

June 9, 2013. Sunday  

Planning out daily activities has always been the priority during our previous vacations in France.  This time however, we are quite relaxed because we have 6 weeks in hand, although Fabrice has many meetings to attend, they are all in Paris, so he has been trying to squeeze his business trips within a school day to ensure our family time on weekends and we have been enjoying so far our spontaneous trips such as this one to the Provence, which came from a random phone call from Rousset.   

Since the weather man did not give us too much encouraging news, the two decision makers, Fabrice and Rousset, have not had any concrete outdoor activities planed out yet other than our 2 families should meet at a fun place, in this case, the South of France.  Of course, meeting Rousset's family during our French trips has always been in our "must do list", although most of the times it's the Fabrices hoping in a TGV train from Montceau to Lyon, where Fabrice has few other friends to visit in the same time such as his ex-girlfriend - the man spent his last few years in University of Lyon before he left France for the U.S..  From time to time though, Rousset would take the opportunity to drive his family out of Lyon to meet us somewhere that is worth of our while to visit, such as here and there.

On Sunday morning, we seemed to have a lot of free time by ourselves so we took our time for a big breakfast that Joseph fetched - there is a new bakery in town, he said, as if he needed an excuse to pay that special visit.  During that time, the sun slowly came out, so the 2 French men decided it could be a good day for rock climbing after all.    

Yes, we did take our climbing gears that we had not touched ever since Zhuzhu was implanted in my belly.  It's about time for us to refresh our  rock climbing skills on these beautiful and natural climbing walls at the mountains close to Saint Victoria.  Kids started the trip enthusiastically, particularly Niuniu, they were singing and laughing all the way on the 30 min car ride there.  We even did not have too much trouble to have them gone through the 20 min hike to the cliffs.  However, when we arrived our designated easy cliffs, they hesitated, they climbed up and down the big rocks at the bottom of the cliffs, and occasionally looked up high to watch all of the others to get up and down the cliff.  After we all had our turns, we told the kids it's their turn to put on the harness.  Niuniu happily accepted the challenge, but Zhuzhu declared that she would have nothing to with cliffs whatsoever this time.  Niuniu once his feet touched the rocks on the cliff, he discovered it's not as easy as it seemed and then refused to climb even one step more.  The Daddy had to put him on a spot higher than where he was to allow him at least to learn how to get down by standing on the rock perpendicularly to the cliffs, which made him scream.  Then the belayer Rousset pulled his rope to make sure that he understood that he would not possibly fall off the cliff, yet that did not change the situation, he would not move one inch more for us.  So, we had to let him get off the harness.  Somehow the struggle of his brother got rid of Zhuzhu's fear so she volunteered to go after him, but she was only better than him by 1 more step on the cliff.  Again, the same story repeated once more.  The Daddy bravely climbed up to the middle of the cliff without any ropes and then pull Zhuzhu up so that she could at least experience a bit of climbing on real cliffs.  The girl later admitted to us that she was fearful because she was not any good at climbing on the fake wall at her school.  "Have you already learned to climb at school?"  I was surprised.  "Yes, we have 3 small climbing walls in the old Gym at our school, but I am not any good at climbing, you know."  She admitted.  "That's okay, I know that you are very good at monkey bars."  I am quite proud of our sporty daughter yet in the mean time, I truly wished that she was not as fearful as she has showed today.  

On a sharp contrary, Celesse and Lacie, two older daughters of Rousset, had good time on these cliffs.  They conquered one cliff after another, climing all the way to the top of the rope and went down, quite skillfully.  Our big adults also conquered few of these easy ones and then we headed back home.  It was the first time that Rousset and Fabrice climbed together.  Rousset knows that Fabrice used to be a climbing teacher, of course.  Being a typical French, Rousset could not help but to ridicule his buddy who lost his fitness and climbing techniques, "I thought I was coming with an expert!"  "I have felt what I have been eating."  Fabrice blamed on his weight.  He could not defend himself because he indeed has forgotten some of the skills.  "I need to revisit my climbing books now."  He said on the way back.

The trip was short and sweet.  The only downside was we had to hike a long way to get to those cliffs.  

"We will do more climbing on the cliffs in Montceau."  Fabrice said to me on the way back.  As a retired climbing teacher, he also made a comment about our cliff choices, "The height of the cliffs was way too impressive and intimating to motivate little kids of Zhuzhu and Niuniu's age."  He did not want to hurt Rousset's feelings, so he said this to me while Rousset was busy on taking care of Zhuzhu to hike back down the mountains.  It's quite hard to accommodate our need, because our kids are at different levels.  An easy cliff for Celesse and Lucie would be an impossible cliff for Zhuzhu and Niuniu, especially it was the first time for our kids to experience real rock climbing.

Technically speaking, the cliffs of our choice were appropriate, it was only the height of these cliffs scared our little ones, which reminded me the first time when I was taken to climb in Dijon by Fabrice and his friend Pierre.  Having lived in Gongcheng (恭城) from ages 8 to 15 and Guilin (桂林) from ages 16 to 20, I walked, hiked, and climbed on limestone rocks uncountable times without any protection.  Now these French men put a harness around my waist that was linked to Fabrice, my belayer, I was fearless.  Mimicking the French men, I first stood straight at the bottom of a vertical cliff, inserting my fingers of the right hand inside a perfect crack and then step up on the tip of my right foot in another small eye on the rock, and then quickly I pulled my body up and there, I made my first important step!  Then I inserted my left foot tip into another small crack and finding another place for my left hand, I pulled my body up again.  Slowly and steadily, I kept climbing and walking on the rocky wall like a spider woman.  When I reached the middle of the cliff, I could not locate any place to stabilize my body so I had to move horizontally, which required me to switch weight supporting foot from one to another at the same spot.  That also means I had to use one hand, possibly few fingers, to hang on the rock and let me both foot fly in the air for a brief second.  So I made my first little jump on a vertical cliff, this bravery movement shocked Fabrice and Pierre.  They have brought many beginners to learn how to climb on this particular cliff so they knew I had to overcome that particular spot to reach the top.  Once I progressed over that point, they knew their job was done.  Swiftly I made it all the way to the top and they cheered me at the bottom of the cliff.

"Rock climbing is just a piece of cake!" I thought to myself and was very proud.  Then I forgot to listen to my instructors at the bottom of the cliff.  And I started to "walk" on the top of the mountain - I mean I went a bit too far on the flat top, which resulted the following embarrassing experience.

"Stop, stop, don't climb beyond the anchor (handhold) of the rope!"  Pierre warned me seeing me continued to climb up after reaching the top.  I looked back down and found myself very far from the bottom of mountain.  "It was a small cliff, how the hell it had grown so high?"  I was puzzled, the distance from top of the mountain to the bottom of the cliff was so incredibly impressive and far, I felt that my life now was on a string of the belaying rope.  Oh, by the way, where was my belayer?  They had disappeared.

"Are you down there, Fabrice, are you holding me?"  I shouted in a big panic.

"Yes, but you should not have gone that far.  Come back down now."  Both Fabrice and Pierre answered me back.  But I could not see any of them, nor could I feel the rope was pulled by my belayer.

Have you climbed all the way to the top of a mountain before?  Let me tell you, if you are beginner, more or less you are like me, wear a harness that linked to device on a belayer with a nylon rope on your harness.  The rope is kept tight (taut) by the belayer who takes in the slake in the rope as you move up.  It is in this way that you and the belayer communicate: you are secured by the rope and the belayer and you know that you cannot fall very far if you happen to slip your feet or fingers off the cliff.  Generally speaking though, if you reach the end of the top anchor where the top rope running through and then start walking on the top of the cliff, the protective rope on your would become lose, as you switch from a vertical cliff to a flat area.  Now, you can stay at the top forever.

Why?  Because it is close to impossible for a first timer to reposition his/her body from a safe flat place to a dangerous vertical cliff to be able to get down with the help of the belayer.  It is 100 times harder than climbing up vertically!

That, my friends, I did not know, if was my first time climbing on vertical rocks!

So there I was, stuck on the top of the mountain, feeling no longer secured by the belayer but still having to get back down.  Fabrice and Pierre were no where to be found - I went from the cliff just enough to prevent me to see them at the bottom although I could hear them giving me instructions.  I was unable to understand what they meant by "sitting on the rope!"  "You are okay, you are safe, just try to position your body parallel to the rocks.  Then push your legs so that you can stand on the rocks and slide down."  They did not give up on me, but I did.

I did not move an inch!  I could not move an inch.  I was frozen on the top of the cliff.

Then Pierre had to link himself to the other end of the rope and climbing up without a belayer like he did when he was setting up the top rope protection earlier to put me on the correct position.  He asked me to imitate what he was doing.  What he did was impossible for me to learn.  He crouched down to make a squat as if he would to make a dump in the air on the top of a cliff.  Then he pushed his legs straight against the cliff and started to jump down a step.  I watched the man in shock and heard this, "Trust Fabrice, he won't let you fall.  Just put your body weight on the rope."  "But the rope felt so floppy and lose, how could I put my weight on it?"  I questioned him and myself.  Then he tried to show me how safe I was by moving about his body against the rocks without holding on the rope with his hands.  But for the life of me, I could not make him understand at that point that I was not worried about falling all the way down to kill myself, I was worried about the floppy rope would send my body splashing against the hard rocks.  It will hurt, you see.

In the end, I understood it would be unethical to stay at the top taking up everyone else's joy.  So I must gather every ounce of my courage to get back on the rope to get down.  I grabbed the rope tightly and slowly I was trying to put my body in a sitting position, as instructed.  Fabrice was patiently and carefully belaying me.  He did not take in the rope as much as he did when I was ascending, because that would have pulled me off the cliff.  He did not give me too much slack either, because that would make me feel unsafe.  At the moment that my butt was showing on the cliff again from a hidden position, both Pierre and Fabrice stopped talking.  I almost could feel that he stopped breathing!  As soon as I put my body weight on the rope and straightened my legs, they cheered.  I finally found the safe feeling again.  Fabrice belayed me to fly and jump down the cliff.

I felt like a pro again!

Now where I was on our current climbing?

Oh, right, after climbing trip, we went to have some simple lunch at a bakery where pizza was also served.  It was 4 pm.  Then we drove back to Joseph and Josee's house.  Adalie and her parents were just pulling in the gate of the house.  They went to Marseille for this parade.

The kids again got lost themselves in the backyard as soon as they were out of the car.  We ended our visit to Joseph and Josee's house with another swimming pool fun at almost 7 pm.

We kept ourselves so busy for the outdoor activities this weekend, I even did not have a chance to visit the inside of the main resident area.  The only thing that I know about their house is that they had 3 toilet rooms, one is larger than another, in a row at the main floor.  I found that out because Zhuzhu wanted to pee in the middle of her pool fun in a hurry and I was led to them, yet each of them was occupied by someone...

Well, if you really want to know what the house looks like, you will need to wait for few more years when we will visit them next time, if there will be a next time.  Sorry about that.  

The kids were hunting for wild straw berries in the front yard of the house after the pool, so we know it's time to feed them - Zhuzhu and Niuniu have lived in a very regular and predictable life back home in the U.S., their stomach clock is quite functional.  BTW, most of the French restaurants don't open on Sundays, can you believe that?  So, we had decided to go to a cafeteria in a big shopping mall in Aix-En-Provence, yet when we got there, the shopping mall was also closed.

Then we consulted our iPhone and was told there was a fast-food restaurant close by so we drove towards that one...then we discovered Lotre Restaurant with lights on just beside.  We immediately pull in and checked the menu outside a front yard Garden.  The kids flew in the garden, they intended to harvest their straw berries!  We started our meal with Pata negra and baguettes, do you know what this is?  Google it you will find how tasty it should be.  The Ibrian pigs who contributed these meat were raised by strictly the Provence's acorns!  For main course, Rousset and Adalie, our 2 drivers, ordered this massive veal leg - the photo was taken after they worked on it 10 min later!  Fabrice ordered a fish called Loup and I preferred my order though, its EntrecÔte or pork chop from the same Ibrian pigs!  Again, French food has to be tasted in France, I am not even joking here!  The kids had fish steak and vegetable skewers, steak, and French fries from fresh potato.  Even the 2 yr old Honoree had her own order.  What a luxury!  Fabrice generously offered our dinner, thanks honey, your euros were well-spent!

On the car ride back home, the kids had their DVD player with 2 displays on so they had nothing to complain about, except Niuniu once again screamed before we arrived Lyon at 1 am!  The boy just simply does not like car rides.  "I cannot sleep in the car seat!"  he complained later.

So there you have it, a fun fun fun day!

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