Brian and I had decided to add a little adventure to our daily boatyard routine; we’d planned a road trip! It was an exciting morning at the apartment on the day of our departure; we’d packed a duffel bag, downloaded maps onto the iPad, and armed ourselves with unhealthy snacks. We hopped into the Panda and were off! But not so fast, there was something amiss in our sleepy little town of Port St. Louis du Rhone. The downtown main street was bustling with HUGE tractor trailer trucks! The trucks narrowly avoided parked and traveling cars as they carefully navigated the narrow streets. But why was town filled with trucks?
We recalled the previous night’s events. It had been the night before Thanksgiving. Brian and I had invited our friends, David and Bonita aboard Detour to share an American feast with us. However, on her drive to Port St. Louis from Martigues, Bonita had been detoured. She and David explained that apparently French farmers had blockaded the primary traffic circle entering Port St. Louis from the highway. With the traffic circle blockaded, any traffic headed to Port St. Louis or the nearby industrial port was detoured several miles north and re-routed through Mas Thibert; thus incoming traffic would enter Port St. Louis through the main street of town from the north. The detour had not put a damper on our evening. We had a spectacular meal and enjoyed the company of David and Bonita as our first guests aboard Detour.
“Oh,” we realized as Brian steered the Panda to dodge passing trucks, “these trucks must be re-routed from the traffic circle. It must still be blockaded.” Once through town, we continued our route as it would take us through Mas Thibert where we assumed there was no interference since that was the route Bonita had taken the night before. We would drive northward, toward Arles, where we could access the highway. And so we sat back and began to enjoy our drive.
Through Mas Thibert, there was a steady flow of tractor trailer trucks heading south. The tiny town’s intersection was lined with police vans and several police officers were standing in the middle of the street. The officers were not really directing traffic, just standing. We proceeded slowly, “Can I go through?” Brian asked aloud. There seemed to be nothing stopping us, so we continued. Past Mas Thibert the truck traffic ceased. “Sheesh, this must be because of the farmers’ blockade,” we surmised. We tuned the radio, but of course any news was in French. We had no idea what may have upset the farmers, but they seemed to be targeting the industrial and port areas to stop the flow of shipping. Their actions had certainly disrupted Port St. Louis and Mas Thibert. A driver passed, headed south in the opposing lane; a woman, she was pumping her fist in the air out of her driver’s side window and cheering. She was the only southbound car that had passed for quite a while. Was she cheering for or against this protest? As we discussed the situation, the flow of traffic had begun to slow for us too! We were behind a line of cars. Ahead we could see the line-up included tractors, hay wagons, police cars, and police vans. This was getting interesting! And then, the line-up stopped. Some tractors pulled to the road’s shoulder. A police officer on a motorcycle drove down the line-up then back up, pausing to motion to the police cars in line to come out and follow him. A few farmers got out of the hay wagons to relieve themselves at the roadside. A police van came from behind us and drove up the line-up, it stopped. Police officers were spreading themselves across the opposing lane in the road ahead. The driver of the car directly in front of us got out, he wore tall, rubber boots. And suddenly it became very apparent that Brian and I had become part of this farmers’ protest! They must be headed to Arles too and we were in-line!
It didn’t take long after that realization for us to determine that it was time to turn around! Fitting, isn’t it, that the first time we Rode Trippers try to leave Port St. Louis we are Detoured! We didn’t know why the farmers were protesting, and in general we are supportive of farmers, but not so supportive that we wanted to “Hoorah!” in a foreign protest. We headed south, where we knew there was only one other exit from Port St. Louis, across the Rhone River. Hopefully the angry farmers hadn’t gotten a hold of the ferry! We were in luck! The Bac de Barcarin Ferry was running, business as usual. We could see the ferry approaching the dock as we parked the car to await its arrival. Despite a strong river current the ferry docked flawlessly. The passengers drove off, and shortly thereafter we drove aboard. The ferry costs 5-euros and crosses the Rhone River between Port St. Louis and Salin de Giraud.
We drove off the ferry and into the heart of the Camargue region of France. We later learned that the farmers’ protests were held throughout France that day and had created quite a scene! Disgruntled farmers had organized their demonstrations due to decreasing food prices and increasing fertilizer prices. Farmers protested that sanctions with Russia have decreased the sale prices for milk, cereals, and grains. We will have to follow this story as it further develops to learn whether the farmers’ protests were a success for their cause. In the meanwhile, our road trip continues onward to Spain!