With record-setting high temperatures this weekend, it was Group C and D's turn to go cool off at the beach. We (all women and girls) boarded the bus right after class on Friday and headed to Port-Vendres, France, a small seaside city that would become our home base for the weekend.
When we got off the bus for a few minutes to rest and use the bathroom, we started noticing how much hotter it was the further South we went. Temperatures hovered above 100°F for most of the weekend. Needless to say, Program leaders reminded students to wear sunscreen, drink lots of water, and then drink some more water after that.
We arrived at Port Vendres and students settled in to their accommodation. Most of the girls stayed at Le Swan gîte (a cozy and beautiful bed and breakfast hostel), while a few others stayed at a nearby hotel. All participants ate their breakfast and dinner at Le Swan. We learned about the history of the hostel, and how it had been used as a cinema in the past. The current walls of the gîte are lined with gorgeous paintings by the late owner of the hostel, Paul. I was fortunate enough to meet Paul last summer; I will never forget his warmth and amazing tour of Port-Vendres.
Paul's widow Aziza has since taken over the direction of the hostel. The young ladies settled in to the hostel and made conversation with Aziza, who's of Algerian origin. They asked her how she had ended up in Port Vendres, and she spoke fondly of having been on vacation in Port Vendres when she met Paul, fell in love, and stayed there ever since.
Soon it was time for dinner on Friday night. We had a delicious paella, combining seafood, chicken, and pork.
We then spoke to the girls about the plan for Saturday. Program leaders knew that it would be dangerous to try to hike in such hot weather, so we wondered whether the girls wanted to cancel the hike altogether or try to hike at an earlier time, to allow for cooler temperatures. The group unanimously agreed to wake up at 5am in order to leave for the hike by 6am, and the decision was followed by cheers from the ladies. I was flabergasted and impressed!
The next day, everyone woke up at 5am, as promised. We headed out the door by 6:00am, as scheduled. The hike was fairly strenuous, with lots of rocks and climbing altitudes, but the girls maintained a cheerful attitude, some of them even singing throughout the whole thing. I was very surprised they had enough breath to sing after climbing all the rocks during the hike!
The beautiful views of the cliffs, mountains and the sea were the recompense for our determination. Not everyone hiked at the same rate, but we always made sure to take breaks and wait for the back of the group to catch up to ensure no one got lost. We didn't leave anyone behind and just three hours after we began, we arrived at Paulilles Beach, where we would spend the day.
Some girls took a nap, others jumped right into the beach, and most of them devoured their picnic sandwiches right away. Some girls stayed at the beach for four hours, five hours or six hours and Program Leaders took turns accompanying them back to the hostel by bus, of course!
The very last group of girls to stay at the beach fully took in the relaxing Mediterranean Sea! One student even suggested to their friends that they put away their smartphones and detox from technology. It's times like these that remind us that joy can come from simple pleasures, such as floating on the water, skipping rocks or picking up beautiful stones and shells along the water.
Back at the hostel, a group of girls were starving and they made good use of the hostel's kitchen to cook their own mid-afternoon snack, noodles! That night, we had a slightly earlier dinner composed of different "tapas", such as sausage, cold cuts, cheese, tuna/rice salad, and vegetables. After dinner, some of the girls were tired and stayed in while others attended a concert with their Program Leader. Some of the concert-goers ate the largest barbapapa (cotton candy) I have ever seen!
On Sunday morning, we packed and cleaned out our rooms, leaving our luggage in the lobby of the hostel as we made our way by foot to the beautiful town of Collioure. Collioure boasts a beautiful medieval castle and a Sunday farmer's market. The girls had time to explore Collioure in the morning before meeting up for a Castle Tour with French guide Morgane, who explained the history of the castle and what the different rooms were used for in medieval times.
Due to the heat, we decided not to walk back to Port-Vendres. Instead, some Program Leaders headed back to the hostel to load the bus with all the luggage and then bring the bus to the girls-- we had to be flexible and protect our students from the high temperatures! After the castle tour, the girls had a little free time to get ice cream or one last souvenir before boarding the bus back to Toulouse.
All in all, our weekend by the Mediterranean Sea was quite an adventure which enabled us to see just how determined and positive this group of young girls is.