I have a question. For myself. Perhaps some of you have asked in your minds, but that is probably not the case because you are not me. Haha. In any case, here is the question:
What am I learning here?
Well, certainly school stuff. But even I see that as secondary (despite the fact that I’ll be learning things conducive to my major and understanding of the world). School isn’t why I’m here. Honestly, if I could I would probably just ditch school second semester and just go exploring. Find a job doing something and just go do it.
Culture. But what does that mean? Haha. I mean, I’m learning more than I consciously know about norms, forms of engagement and French culture just by living here. And I’m sure I’ll only continue learning more as things continue.
But what I’ve really started learning, and what I’ve heard from a lot of other people is what you learn, is myself. I am learning myself. I am learning what my fears are, what my assumptions are, and for the second time in my life, I have begun the process of re-evaluating. You see, after hiking that mountain with the girl who really, really had to push herself to do it, it made me think. If she is willing to push her comfort zone that far, what right do I have to stay in mine? I asked myself, what can I do? Who can I be? I’ve carried so many fears with me. Perhaps it is a curse stemming from just knowing so many things. I sometimes wonder how doctors aren’t all hypochondriacs. But that hike/climb made me think. I LOVED it. It was physically challenging, beautiful, new, wild – everything I love about being outside. And I looked at myself and this girl. And the sheer will and courage she had against the surety in myself. What can I do? I’ve always said “no” to skydiving. When my friends asked I always said, “no I could never do it.” But why not? That’s the thing isn’t it. That’s the question I’ve been missing. Why not?
Why not push your comfort zone? Why not see what you’re capable of? I mean, looking up at Mt. Sainte Victoire I was just like “how are we ever going to get up there?” And then we were. And then looking how far we had to go to get to the lake, “how are we ever going to walk over there” and then we were suddenly there. They say a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step, but I think people forget too that the WHOLE journey is just a single step. A single step followed by another single step.
What do you have to lose?
Why not try it?
Why not discover who you really are? When you place all the assumptions about yourself aside, what can you truly become?
Yesterday I had one of the most enriching experiences of my life. Perhaps not for any particular reason, but it really was. Three people from my program and I decided to hike Mt. Sainte Victoire.
The bus ticket there was only 1 euro, which is probably one of the best deals I’ve seen here in Aix.
We got to the mountain at about noon and set off. The first thing we came to was a small pine forest and a map, which we proceeded to try and decipher. It was not easy.
However, we did manage to do it and we started off on our merry (and somewhat doubtful) way. It wasn’t long before we came across another group of people hiking the mountain. It turns out they were Americans. And, get this ’cause this is the most insane coincidence ever, not only were they Americans, but they were a group of friends having a 20 year reunion FOR OUR PROGRAM. Haha literally, they did the same study abroad program that we did. It was INSANE. So we chilled with them for a bit (and by “chilled” I mean hiked up a mountain). They helped us get up a rock face that I thought was actually pretty fun to climb, but one of the girls from my group really doesn’t like that kind of stuff, so we had to give her lots of moral support. BUT we all made it up just fine. And once we were all up, the french guy who was with the older people group said, “It’s alright. That’s the most technical part of the whole climb.” Haha. If only he knew.
Shortly after that, our group decided to stop in this cave-like thing to chill for a bit, get some food, get some water and rest. So we told the other group we would meet up with them back at the top. It was a real nice little break. We had peanuts. I didn’t expect them to have good peanuts in France considering the fact that THEY DON’T HAVE PEANUT BUTTER.
Anyway, we set out again soon after this. And this is where it gets interesting because the path became this:
SO, we took a wrong turn. Innocent enough, except this is a MOUNTAIN. Haha, so we ended up having to climb down a cliff-type thing that was almost at a 90 degree angle. This is what it looked like:
And from afar:
The girl in our group who didn’t do so well with all this clambering did a fantastic job. The other guy in our group had to go ahead of her and walk/carry her all the way down till we regained the path, but really everyone did a fantastic job. Honestly, I probably did the worst of the three of us because the climb was fairly easy for me, so I was kind of lackadaisical which didn’t help the others out at all. BUT, it all worked out fine.
Then we went finally got on top of the mountain and the hiking got a lot easier. We stopped to rest, drink some water and eat a little bit of chocolate on a precipice that overlooked everything. It was the most impressive sight I’ve seen in a long while. Just incredible.
And then, after hours of climbing and hiking, we finally made it to the priory at the top of the mountain! It was awesome. We sat on a ledge overlooking everything (REALLY freaky btw) and ate lunch. I had to run away because the bees were not my friendly honey bee friends. No, they were hornets of some kind. Yigh. But once we finished eating they left.
At the priory we were also faced with an interesting decision. There was a well there, but it said “Eau Non Potable” which means “water not potable/drinkable.” BUT we had no more water left and hours left to go. And I was already dehydrated. SO, we just said eff it and filled up. And off we were again! This time, however, we chose to descend along the backbone that gently slid down into the rest of the countryside. We were headed for a dam we could see in the distance.
We hiked and hiked and hiked. It was crazy. I could never believe how far we had to go, nor how far we had come. It was just incredible. I hung back, as I tend to, to help the girl in our group who was really pushing her limits being out there with us. Good conversation there. It was nice to start making friends well enough to really open up my thoughts.
Anyway, we finally came to another pine forest which was just stunningly beautiful.
It opened out into some countryside. We met this strange woman and asked her if we were headed in the right direction (we were, thank God) and she asked us if we could spare some money so she could buy gas ’cause she lost (or was stolen) her ten euros. We were like “this is sketch” but we gave her a little anyway. None of us had very much left and we still didn’t really know how we were getting back (because we were miles from the bus stop we came from originally), but we got her something. I mean, if she really did need it, I’m super glad we got it to her, but if not, you know, we’re only out a euro or two each.
The lake was beautiful. We all want to go back so we can swim in it.
This is when we realized we REALLY didn’t know how to get back. And when we really started looking. We could find no bus schedules or stops (although we did find where you can land a parachute? French priorities. I’ll never understand.) We called some people back in Aix to see if they could help (not really), and we got a phone number for a cab service. HOWEVER, one of the girls in our group talked to some German women who were willing to take us back to Aix! So we piled in (literally) and headed out. The women had actually just had all their luggage stolen out of the car, but they were super nice. We offered to give them money for gas, but they flat refused. It was a true blessing.
We finished the night by chilling. Making pasta and eating ice cream. It was rather wonderful, to be honest.
And one of the most amazing things about it was the amount of wild rosemary growing on that mountain. I mean, it was just straight-up EVERYWHERE.
But the one really important thing I learned from that trip was to push your boundaries. To not be complacent. It was a really important lesson for me. I think I’m ready to do a lot more than I was before, and that’s really something special.