The big black hole of Ariège.

Day 11.

94km, 972m climbing: Foix – Mauvezin-de-Prat.

“Oh, look. A bird show! With snakes and turtles! I like turtles. I pointed at the paper place mat while Yann and I waited for our meal the night before we left Foix.

BirdShowMat
Our next destination was right under our noses.

Mazères was only 37km away but Yann decided he didn’t like birds or turtles enough. Instead, we aimed to find a giant hole in a mountain to pass through. There was one of those in Le Mas-d’Azil. To get there, we took the D-49 through the farms of Alliéres which had a healthy bovine population.

YannandCow
Yann’s run-in with a ruminant.

I had also expected to see an assortment of reptiles in Alliéres.

ReptileFarm
Yann checking the map on his phone because he doesn’t trust actual signs.

Like, a fistful of snakes slithering alongside cows. Have a closer look:

ReptileFarmCloseup
More noteworthy than Brouzenac.

A paper place mat promoting a bird show wasn’t enough to entice Yann. Surely, he would take an actual sign for a reptile farm as a sign that this is what we were supposed to do on a Sunday afternoon in France, but he disagreed.

While the bird show was in full swing, and the reptile farm open, it seemed like everything else was closed.

But not la grotte du Mas d’Azil, which was wide open. I’ve gone inside a number of caves (way more than castles!) but this was my first drive-thru cave.

MasdAzil
How many people can say they’ve been inside a cave with their bicycle?

I think there was a gift shop inside the cave: I could see people inside, and the lights were still on, but the security roller shutters outside the building were halfway down. I’m sure cave tour guides aren’t above accepting bribes. If I were a tour guide, I would definitely be bribe-able. You could slip me one Euro and I’d let you touch the Mona Lisa.

There was a concession stand outside the cave entrance, which I have cropped out of my pictures like any sensible traveller would. Information plaques about the solar system were posted around this snack stand. How is the solar system relevant to a cave full of bats and cars? Sure, if you want to get really philosophical, the solar system is relevant to everything.

After Mas d’Azil, we spotted what looked to be an old orphanage with a mini forest growing inside. It would have been easy to just climb inside one of the pane-less windows, if not for the tiny “Private Property” sign out front. The same kind of sign one can buy at a hardware store. I’m kind of mad at myself for letting that stop me. Evidently, the inside of this building was a fair game for the rest of the animal kingdom.

InsideOutHouse
In North America, we call this an “attractive nuisance”. The architectural equivalence of “she was asking for it.”

At this point, Yann and I were hungry and regretting not visiting the concession stand at Mas d’Azil. Every grocery store we checked was closed. Restaurants didn’t open until 19H.

Saint-Girons
Saint-Girons.

I was too hungry to enjoy even picturesque Saint-Girons. Frustratingly enough, this wasn’t the first time we had found ourselves struggling to find food. After 10 days, we still hadn’t figured out the French’s regular feeding hours.

Finally, a bakery saved us. We stuffed cold pizza and cake into our panniers and rode another 16km before we pitched our tent in Mauvezin-de-Prat at a campsite guarded by a cat with a perpetual look of suspicion.

FrenchCat
Much softer than a turtle could ever be.

Cats are 100% better than turtles.

One thought on “The big black hole of Ariège.

  1. Pingback: Tour overview.

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