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Journey to My First WWOOF Destination

So after a week-long stay in St. Petersburg, Russia to participate in a small sustainability conference and four flight changes, I finally made it to Montpellier, France. My final destination is about 30 km (19 miles) away, near a small town called St. Martin-de-Londres. Now you’d think that making it from Montpellier to St. Martin-de-Londres would be a simple affair, however, I seem to attract small misadventures everywhere I go and this excursion happened to be no exception. So I figure we can start our WWOOFing adventure together with my little misadventure trying to get to the farm.

My flight landed in Montpellier at 7:40 PM, which I figured would still leave me ample time to travel 30 km down the road to reach my first farm. However, I was quickly realizing what I may be stepping into when I couldn’t find an ATM or currency exchange at the airport in Montpellier. After a brief conversation with the clerk at the information desk in the best French I could muster (which apparently still needs quite a bit of work), I found that the reason I couldn’t find an ATM was because there wasn’t one. So my first lesson learned is to never make assumptions. Well, I didn’t have Euros. I had tried to get Euros back home in Kansas before I left, but the rush of students from my university venturing out on their study abroad programs completely wiped the local banks of Euros. So my second lesson learned is to be sure and exchange my currency well in advance.

I ventured out of the airport and into the pleasant Mediterranean sun. I take a deep breath. The air smells and feels like my childhood years in Florida and the evening sun was casting a warm, amber glow on everything it touched. There were taxis lining a narrow lane in front of the airport, but I cringed to think about how much a 30+ km taxi ride was going to cost. After a quick look around, I spotted a bus headed into Montpellier. Not having any Euros, I was hoping against hope that the buses here might take a card. They don’t. Luckily, the bus driver agreed to let me ride into town on the terms that I pull money from an ATM at our destination and pay the fare then. Now, this took a certain amount of trust on his part because the ATM is across the street from the stop, around and behind a building. I imagine that he must have had more than one person just never come back, and I base this assumption on his incredibly animated and energetic reaction when I actually returned with the bus fare. I’m telling you, he was genuinely excited. Arms flailing in the air he jumped up out of the driver’s seat, smiling and ushering me onto the bus. In fact, I can’t think of any other time that I have ever been greeted with such enthusiasm by someone I had only just met. Besides just his warm greeting, it was a good thing that I went back for another reason. I was under the impression that the bus into St. Martin-de-Londres was at the destination of the bus that just dropped me off. This apparently was not the case. The bus driver showed me the tram and explained to me in an energetic fit of charades how the tram worked, printed me out a 1 Euro tram ticket to get me on my way, and handed me a tram map with a smile.

Montpellier Alleyway Night 

It took me about 10 minutes at the tram stop to figure out how the whole system operated, decipher the map, and figure out which direction I was wanting to go. I wanted bus 108 to get into St. Martin-de-Londres, and bus 108 took out from the tram stop at Occitaine. After about 15 minutes on the tram I arrived at Occitaine. I got off and walked around until I found the bus stop and checked the posted schedule. It appears that the last bus of the day leaves at precisely 7:40 PM. It’s too bad my plane didn’t land at the bus stop. Well, at this point I’m thinking I’d better get a hold of my host family and let them know what’s going on if I can and in order to do that I need Wi-Fi. I’m also getting pretty hungry, having spent the past 19 hours subsisting off of airplane food and a granola bar that, after 4 flight changes, had returned back to its natural granola state. Surely, there has to be a place to eat nearby. Now here’s a piece of advice, if you ever find yourself in Montpellier and need to find Wi-Fi or something to eat, do not go looking for it around Occitaine. I’m telling you, Occitaine is a veritable food desert. I walked around for over an hour and found nothing. So after a fruitless search (and yes, that’s a shameless pun), I made my way back to the tram station, figured out how to use the tram ticket kiosk and bought myself another ticket.

I remembered seeing a lot of hustle and bustle at one of the stops on the way to Occitaine, so I decided to backtrack to where all of the action was. Two stops in on my ride back, I heard something unmistakable, loud, and familiar; it was two girls speaking English. I went up and introduced myself, hoping to acquire some knowledge of the local area. They were in Montpellier for a study abroad program, one girl from New Jersey and the other from Canada, and were only there for a few more days. They couldn’t help me with any hostel recommendations, but let me know that McDonald's has free Wi-Fi and that there was one that I couldn’t miss a few stops ahead. I’m sorry if there are any McDonald's lovers reading this right now, but I dislike McDonald’s. I especially dislike McDonald’s outside of the US. But it was already dark at this point and I was needing to get a hold of my hosts before they got too worried. So I got off at the stop they recommended and they were right; the yellow light cast by those golden-arches was a veritable lighthouse for lost and weary travelers. I may not have been lost, but I was becomingly increasingly weary.

Now, I didn’t care how hungry I was, I wasn’t going to begin my WWOOFing trip and exploration of sustainable food systems with a Big Mac, so I plopped down at an outdoor table and proceeded to sign on to the internet. Within moments I was descended upon by a 6’4”, burly, body-builder type with a serious face, stern voice, and a pointed finger signaling me scram. It took me a moment to understand what was going on, but after the initial shock wore off I realized what was happening; I was being bounced…from a McDonald’s. Apparently, at this particular McDonald's, they have an honest-to-goodness bouncer on duty to take care of the riff-raff wanting free Wi-Fi without purchasing something from the restaurant. At that moment, I was the riff-raff. Well, I don’t give up that easily, so I went inside and purchased a small bottle of water, went back outside, and since all of the outside tables were now taken, sat down on the sidewalk; my bottle of McDonald’s water clearly displayed. While I was no longer actual riff-raff, I now looked too much like riff-raff, so the McDonald's bouncer, who was clearly agitated, was insisting that I sit in a chair at one of the taken tables. Back and forth he ran, signaling for me to sit in the chair. I sat in the chair, with my bottle of water, and everything was good; except for my Wi-Fi connection. Apparently my computer does not like open networks and refused to look up anything; only giving me pop-up messages which read, “This is an unprotected network. Unauthorized access to your device is possible”. So I resorted to my phone browser. I sent my hosts Silvia and Stèphane a quick email explaining my circumstances and let them know I would be in St. Martin-de-Londres at noon the next day. I then did a quick search for hotels, which was largely unsuccessful, mostly because I didn’t have a proper map of Montpellier. It was a beautiful night and so I decided that I would walk around and look for a place to sleep, whether it was indoors or out.

I knew Comedie, which seemed to be something of the town square and was still bustling even at night, was only one stop away, so I followed the path of the tram tracks to the square. After walking around the square, down the streets, and through the alleys I finally happened upon an open hotel called Abasun. It was cheap and I was tired. I booked the night, looking forward to a hot shower and internet access so that I could plan the next day. It was bad. Real bad. A cot, a toilet missing the seat, one of those shower heads on a hose but with nowhere to hang it, peeling paint, and holes. This may seem odd, but these are the kinds of things that I genuinely enjoy. I don’t know what it is, but it was so ridiculous that it was enjoyable. It was nearly midnight and I was beat. Between getting to the airport at 3 AM that morning, trying to do that awkward sitting/sleeping thing on the plane rides (you know, the kind where you wake up every few minutes because you’re drooling all over yourself and your mouth is wide open), and lugging my backpack around for hours, that cot was heaven. And as I awoke in the morning, the sun was filtering in through the open window, casting a beautiful slant of sunshine onto the soft, peachy tiles. The birds were singing outside in the mysteriously overgrown courtyard complete with a stone veranda, tropical trees, and vines. With a little finesse, I was able to rig the shower head in such a way that it worked acceptably well as a shower, and just as I was beginning to take a cold shower after waiting patiently for an honest three minutes for hot water, it began to warm. And I had my hot shower after all.

Sunshine Tile Warm Window 

After checking out, I wandered through the old alleys of the square; smelling the smells and watching the people. I found myself in front of a nice little bakery named Ortholan. The aromas coming from the small counter were so enticing that I couldn’t help but buy myself a simple little personal pizza on a flaky round of bread. I savored it as I strolled the streets, passing the time before catching the tram to the 11:30 bus.

I made the bus and by some stroke of luck, I got off at the right stop. Everyone must know the route pretty well, because there were no announcements, or signs, or anything that I could find to let you know what stop you were at. When I decided to ask the driver which stop I needed to get off at, behold, it was St. Martin-de-Londres; my stop! I picked a direction and started walking, in search of a café or restaurant that had Wi-Fi. I eventually came across a small sandwicherie near a roundabout, bought a panini, and sent Silvia a quick email. She responded right away and pulled up with a beaming smile and a warm welcome, just as I was finishing my sandwich.

I have the feeling that this is going to be a good adventure.

C’était une excellente façon de commencer une aventure!

What Did I Learn?

1. Don’t make the assumption that there are going to be ATM’s at the airport; especially if it’s a small airport. If it’s a possibility, exchange an appropriate amount of cash into the currency of your destination well in advance to your departure.

2. Try to schedule your flight to arrive earlier rather than later.

3. If a bus driver puts trust in you…prove them right. 

4. McDonald’s Wi-Fi isn’t really free…and some McDonald’s have the bouncers to prove it.

5. If you can, and it makes sense for where you are going, buy a Tracfone at your destination or upgrade to an international plan with your current cell service.

6. You generally get what you pay for at hotels.

7. The personal pizzas at Ortholan in Montpellier are really, really good.

And always look at the bright side; because adventure is seldom adventure without a bit of mis-adventure thrown in.

Read all of Russell's adventures (and misadventures) WWOOFing in France by clicking here.

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