Pyreneen Brook Salamander, small canyon, Basque Country, Pyrenees, Spain. They live in small pristine canyons between 600m and 1300m with water temperatures under 15C, away from fish, snakes, pollution, livestock and, of course, people. In this canyon we saw hundreds in a few hundred metres…very rare indeed!
Video shot by @jamieulva on a great Trip

 

A Difficult Place (published in Mumbo Jumbo)

I like difficult places. But, before you go wandering to a difficult place in your mind, let me put you in the picture a little.

The top of a mountain or a steep rock face, they can be difficult, downright dangerous in fact; however, no matter how difficult that may seem – it’s just not what I mean.

A difficult place to me, is a place where it’s not only hard to get to but one that no one is interested in getting to either. Well, not too many that is.

So, in my world, what’s a difficult place?

Pyrenean Brook Salamanders live in difficult places. They need to, just to be out of harm’s way, away from pollution, pesticides, hungry trout introduced for sport fishing, snakes and, of course, inquisitive and destructive people.

Now that doesn’t leave much space, especially as they live in shallow pools and are visible and vulnerable. Luckily for them, nature has given these beautiful amphibians a home in a most difficult and rather tricky place.

A canyon is a difficult place, but for some that difficulty becomes a challenge and an adventure sport. Canyoneers go anywhere where water flows from deep pools into sheer waterfalls in an adventurous, steep and perilous cascading descent.

I too have done this; abseiling down vertical walls, water gushing all around, pushing you left and right, so noisy that you can’t hear yourself think. At the bottom of a vertical canyon wall, there’s usually a deep pool whose current quickly pushes you towards the next precipice as you struggle to get off the rope and grab some slippery rock for imaginary safety, before you pull the rope down, to do it all again.

You need your wits about you; you need gear, equipment, and loads of experience. I was, and technically still am, a canyoning guide and instructor, having obtained all my bits of paper in The Blue Mountains of Australia. That’s what I did – canyoning, lots of it. It got me to difficult places. I needed ropes, a wetsuit, and like-minded buddies, which was fine and a lot of fun, but what I was missing was any connection to the canyon – to the actual place itself. It was all about sport, adventure, one-upmanship and nothing to do with the canyon itself – that was just the arena where these things could be played out.

Places where a canyon is too high and too small, too boring and no fun for canyoneers, caught my attention. In these places which are so very hard and dangerous to access, without the fun and thrill to lure the daring adventure sports enthusiast, I found a most interesting and difficult place.

All over the world, you can find these places and not just in canyons. It is here that small plants and creatures survive and thrive away from man.

Some years before writing this journal, I was in the Pyrenees canyoning – yes, old style for adventure and sports. Some local guy dropped us off at a high point, which I will just call Big Mountain. We had left a car on the French Spanish border by an old pilgrims’ rest house for our return journey, once we had completed our canyon adventure.

We were a small party and had no clue where we were going. We just knew that the watercourse was far below us in an impossibly steep valley, and to get there we had to negotiate a near vertical gully of unknown proportions.

The ferns and gorse dropped steeply down, growing out of loose rock and mud. We were at the head of a very steep and narrow valley, the source of the river evident in the soggy ground and reeds beneath our feet. We had the gear, the will and the gall, but it sure looked daunting. There was no solid rock to fix rope anchors, only loose crumbly boulders. A few lone oak trees hung on for dear life where the ground had allowed the odd acorn to sprout. This wasn’t canyoning; this was downhill scrambling on loose chaff (a climber’s term to describe dangerously loose and crumbly rock) into something that would also not be a ‘real’ canyon.

No one comes to this place – it’s dangerous, out of the way with nothing there at all.

We thought we were still in France, but actually, we were in Spain at a time when Basque separatism was still rife, with cross border contraband runs and hideouts in the lonely woods and steep valleys. I was told later that even the police were too scared to venture this far.

No wonder this place was so empty!

I won’t bore you with technical details, but it was a long steep descent in a tiny gully where we occasionally needed ropes. When not using ropes, great care was needed to avoid a non-stop tumble to the valley floor. From a canyoning point of view it was a bore, uninteresting – in fact, beside the danger, it was not fun at all.

But at the bottom of the gully, where it met another slightly larger gully and formed a small canyon, were a series of beautiful, shallow rocky pools smoothed out by millennia of running water. Above us on all sides, the ferns clung onto the impossible steep slopes, hiding the top somewhere way above us.

Here was a tranquil paradise, hidden from all but the accidental adventurer or clandestine Basque (although I am sure they had easier routes than this one).

It was here that I first saw a salamander, then another and another, some dark, some grey green and white and some black with bright yellow stripes on their backs. Undisturbed, they barely moved at our presence, safe in their salamander haven.

Time was pressing. We hiked fast and hard, as we safely could, down the rocky river, until a barn appeared in a small field. Here we left the river and hiked for what seemed an age, up through an ancient dark green mossy forest along a tiny muddy track to a lone stone farmhouse. A small weather beaten farmer stood staring at us, perplexed. We told him, in French, that we were lost and he exclaimed in Spanish that this was Spain and sent us down the valley where we later found the car.

Some years later, when I was guiding a client around the green hills of the Basque Pyrenees, I had the strong memory of my old trip and an inclination to return and visit the salamanders I had so briefly encountered.

It was strange because local people had no real knowledge of these creatures and could not answer my questions. In fact, no one I asked had ever been all the way up the river. It was only after some research that I realised how lucky I had been to see so many salamanders, and that they really could only survive in the most difficult to reach places.

I returned with a like-minded friend and set off, not from Big Mountain but way down the valley, so we could hike up the river all the way – if that was at all possible. Six days supplies we carried, huge packs weighing us down, for the season was autumn and rain could be expected any day. I prayed not.

Given time, things always change; the separatist issue had now been ‘resolved’ and things had remained relatively quiet for the last four years. That would probably mean less tension, more tourists and more development. How would the salamanders be coping with such a change? Would hikers and adventurers now be in the valley?

The idea was to hike and explore the whole river valley all the way, from where it meets a big river in a broad valley with a main road and rail track, right up to its source on Big Mountain.

We arrived at the confluence of the two rivers and followed a small road upstream through a pretty Basque village, with its white and oxide red houses standing proud in the sunlight. The mixture of heat and rain makes this country so green that, even in autumn with leaves turning brown and chestnuts dropping, the fields and gardens still show lush and full.

I had been told, that in July, there had been the biggest river flood recorded in history – five metres it had risen, and the evidence was still apparent. Debris from the torrent was still caught and displaying high in tree branches – old grass and reeds, grey with age and decay, hung alongside ripped black plastic bags that I imagined must have been old farm sacks. Low-lying houses had been flooded out and the railway was still out of service due to landslip and mudslide. What did this mean further upstream?

Later on, we waded across the river to set up camp on a small patch of sand above the river, under an old chestnut tree. Boiled chestnuts became our after dinner treat each night.

We examined the river – plenty of small trout and a frog – there would be no salamanders here, for sure; and anyway, we were far too low – they prefer the high ground above 700m. No chance of a sighting until the river became too steep and shallow for hungry trout and reptiles.

Lying in our tent, listening to the endless rush and gurgle of water over stone and the soft wind on leaves above, we knew nature was still firmly in control here – not a human noise, besides our own, throughout the long dark night. Just the strong hoot of an owl kept us company for a while.

Although the days were still hot, the autumn morning light rose slow and late and it was well after ten by the time we were wading back across the stream to scrabble up a steep vegetated bank, onto the road again. Surprisingly, as the empty track switched back and high across a steep rocky gully tumbling down to the stream below, we passed a recently large squashed yellow and black striped salamander. What was it doing so low and so far from the stream? Had the flood washed them downstream, leaving the survivors to seek safety in the dense undergrowth high above the stream?

I had no clue at all.

A few hours later, we were at the pilgrims’ house, where another tributary rushed out of a narrow and very steep inclining valley, heavily wooded and very understated. It would have been the easiest thing to walk on by, continuing up the stream we had been following, where a small but powerful waterfall makes a pretty feature, and head on up the back road to the very top of Big Mountain.

But we didn’t, and were soon heading up this deep cut valley along a track that served the last farm, where the farmer had told me we were in Spain, not France.

Vultures soared and dropped low above us, crying a sound I have no word for. We then saw another squashed yellow and black salamander. As there was virtually no traffic here, it was either very unlucky or there was an abundance of these creatures living in the wet, dense undergrowth. The river was right by us, flowing swiftly over and between smooth boulders, looking brown, which was the colour of its bed.

The valley is very narrow here and cut very steeply. Before long, we were hiking uphill with a great view back to where we had come from, and another towards the maze of rock and forest of where we were about to go.

We passed the farm and said hallo to the same farmer standing by his front door gate. He still looked perplexed, but smiled on hearing were we English. Perhaps it’s still not good to be on either side, a Spaniard or a Frenchman, inside these tricky hills.

We left the track and entered the dark forest, old and undisturbed, dropping down towards the river on an overgrown stony path.

Every shade of green you could imagine was here, from the vibrant to the sinister, and soon we were standing on a piece of brilliant green pasture only just big enough to set a tent. The valley is so steep that flat ground is a rare find and we decided to set up camp. I noticed a small bridge, nothing more than a newly cut log really, that left the rocks by the pasture and ended up against the near vertical sides on the other side of the stream – a bridge to nowhere by the looks of it. I crossed over. Below was a deep pool where I saw an eight-inch trout dart to safety, as soon as my shadow hit the stream. On the other side was more pasture, a sandy area where patches of grass grew, now the water levels had receded from the incessant rain this place receives. We saw some Basque ponies, but no way was this bridge cut just for them to munch a few mouthfuls of the sporadic grass.

It was truly fortunate not to be Spanish or French in this place right now, I thought.

We could sleep in peace.

We set the tent up across the log bridge on a sandy patch and cooked food over a wooden fire. Then the rain came. All night it hammered down. The noise on the tent flysheet was loud, but the river was louder and I hoped it would not rise. Cutting through this hullabaloo was an owl, clear as anything, and then there were two owls talking to one another.

I listened to the owls and worried about the river.

The water level was the same and the rain had stopped. We hiked up the rocky stream along the same side as our camp. The flood torrent was violently evident here; trees had been uprooted, broken and washed downstream. Anything growing along the streambed had been ripped up and cast aside. There was no room for water to spill anywhere – no fields to flood, no riverbanks to breach – just a gorge to fill up.

We waded across the stream and rejoined the stony path. Trout were still evident, although they were fewer and smaller now.

As the valley slopes became steeper, the path zigzagged high above the stream, yet we could hear it clearly, as it crashed and pounded over the rock below. Deer scat and what looked like grouses’ littered the path.

Down we hiked, through an ancient hazel coppice grove, and briefly joined the stream again by a steep flowing rocky gully, before we hiked back up. Soon below us was the spot where I had left the stream some years before, but the barn was now a house.

I picked up an ancient broken horseshoe – maybe my luck was in – and put it in my bag.

Crossing gullies on our ascent, I thought about heading down and walking in the stream – but the heavy packs and tricky river terrain made the task near impossible.

When the trees allowed a view, I looked over to the other side of the steam; the trees were thinning as the slopes were so very steep, and, in a fold in the valley sides, I saw a very long thin cut of rock, slicing the fold from the very top to bottom – the canyon I had first descended. God it looked unfriendly!

Up we went until daylight filtered through the trees – a ridge or pass must be right ahead.

What a surprise I got: Basque farmer types with guns hiding out for a newfound prey – pigeon, so they said. However, none were flying overhead today, and not a shot was ever heard.

They said there was no way down into the canyon, no path at all, and sent us on a trip around the head of the valley to Big Mountain which was now right opposite us.

I knew they were mistaken; I knew the canyon I wanted was right below us, and once out of sight, we headed straight down through the trees. We were virtually at the very end of the valley – there was nothing left to walk, and I didn’t want to get into another near vertical gully without a rope.

Backpacks can be great things; you can carry a house, larder, stove and wardrobe, sometimes with ease, but I had eighteen kilos and my friend had twenty-one – not a great idea when descending these slopes, hanging onto trees, making huge zigzags so not to take a fall – one tumble and you would be on the canyon floor. Taking great care, I slowly eased myself down. My friend was somewhere behind – I could hear him slip and slide.

Suddenly I saw his pack tumbling and thumping down the slope and coming to rest deep in thorns and ferns.

I looked up and saw him edging down after the pack. At that moment, I thought he had just let it go as an easy option – not a great idea I said aloud. However, after we had retrieved the pack, he said he had been slipping, desperately hanging on and would have fallen if he had not released the load.

Such is the nature of these trips.

We reached the canyon. We were high up, near the point where to go much higher would be too steep to walk. The spot was a large deep pool under a little waterfall. Paradise, my friend said then.

He was right – two huge grey salamanders were suspended motionless before my very eyes. I counted four in this pool – the water was dark and there would be more for sure.

I didn’t want to head up canyon – that would have been very tricky and we needed to find a campsite long before dusk. We just had the time if we moved on fast but not too fast, as I wanted to look in every pool.

A small drop, too high to jump and too slippery to climb down, lay directly before us. The damp rocks were like ice under our feet and, to minimise the risk, I climbed up the steep bank and traversed the canyon around at about twenty feet above. It was slippery and loose, I had to take my pack off and push it in front of me through the ferns and brambles, eventually rejoining the canyon floor about a hundred feet ahead. I waited for my friend.

Nothing.

I left my pack and wandered back up the canyon floor to under the tricky down climb I had just avoided. He was above me at the start of the traverse, not moving an inch.

I didn’t see a problem at first, I guess I should have, but I just didn’t twig at all. He was scared of heights and unable to proceed. He hadn’t told me that, and I had yet to cotton on.

From this point, it was easy for him to lower me his pack. Once it was safely down, I helped him jump across a gap in the rocks. He grabbed my hand and lunged hard, nearly pulling me off balance. Take it easy, I tried to joke.

I can’t remember if we saw more salamanders, for the way needed thinking about, sizing up; one slip and a head would surely crack.

Another drop on smooth wet rock, not much water, but steep and wet enough for me to shy away. The choice was between a traverse on one side or the other. One side was so steep, that getting back into the canyon would have needed a rope, but even with a rope, there was nothing but ferns, no anchor points at all. I opted for the ‘easy’ side, heading up past two oak trees onto the ferny slopes. I had to traverse high up through tall bracken to keep away from the steepness below. I could see another very steep gully tumbling down towards the canyon, just slim enough in places for me to step over but a death trap to be inside. I stopped and looked behind. My friend was not in sight. I called but no answer.

Traversing back, I caught sight of him struggling to get up past the oak trees. He did not answer my calls. When he was at the last tree, he sat down. He didn’t really give me answers, just vague replies about the pack and straps – nothing to explain what was up.

It seemed like an age before the penny dropped.

‘If you are freaking out, you’d better tell me right now so I can do something about it’.

A simple yes came back at me.

I guess these things have now become automatic in me. I didn’t need to know what was wrong or why. We were in a difficult place and needing to find a camp fast.

I dropped my pack and went over to him. Going back was not on my list – ahead is where I wanted to be. I took his pack – god it was heavy – and battled through the ferns a few hundred meters and dropped it down. I then went back for mine to do the same, telling my friend to follow close behind me. I set off.

When I arrived and dropped my pack, I turned around and saw only ferns.

I shouted to him and soon an answer came back at me, but he was nowhere to be seen. Then I saw the bracken move – he was down on his hands and knees crawling through the dense and wretched stuff. His head quickly bobbing up like a frightened rabbit to take a bearing, only to disappear again.

Just before he arrived, I was off again with a pack to the small gully where I just managed to step across and throw the pack to the ground. I was hot and sweating.

Returning to collect the other pack, I saw my friend sitting there amongst the ferns. I couldn’t believe it – he was wearing a T-shirt and shorts and his hands and legs were lacerated, cut to ribbons by the brambles and gorse lying under the ferns – a proper bloody mess, superficial perhaps, but more scratches than I had ever seen. I mumbled something about the first aid kit, and he mumbled something back about washing in the river. I then just ignored it and focused on a way to get back into the canyon and relative safety.

It was far too steep to climb down the edge of the gully with these packs, and straight ahead was gorse and brambles – not an option anymore. I backtracked thirty feet or so and dropped down steeply to where the gully met the canyon. Here was a short vertical drop. I released my pack and dropped it down – it rolled a little way down the gully before stopping on a big flat rock. I then jumped the few feet down to meet a dry smooth piece of rock. To my surprise, my friend was following with his heavy load and did the same.

We were down, safe, and didn’t need to mention what had just occurred.

It’s not really a canyon, but a smoothed out narrow rocky stream bed with continuous small drops and large boulders. The sides were crumbly rocky vegetation leading onto the impossible steep fern slopes. However, it was quite easy to walk and negotiate obstacles on the canyon floor.

A few trees grew out of the crumbly sides, where the ground allowed – oak, beech and ash, large mature trees still full of leaves. Once out of the canyon only ferns could cling onto the steep slopes. The flood had obviously not been so severe here – no sign of the destruction that had occurred further downstream. The high water mark was no more than three or four feet above the very low level it was now.

This place was hidden from the world, hidden from the Basque farmers above, hidden from the view point on Big Mountain, three hundred metres or so above, and hidden from the forest further downstream – we couldn’t see a thing above the fern slopes and nothing could look down into here.

Here we saw salamanders in the shallow pools, just a few of them at first, mainly green/grey with white dots and stripes on their backs. Some were dark, almost black, but no yellow anywhere – the ones we had seen squashed on the road were not here.

And then a pool, maybe four feet deep with shallow sides and plenty of small stones and boulders on its bed – Salamander City – I stopped counting at twenty. Now all the pools revealed a similar treasure. We had found our salamanders!

The strange thing was, no yellow ones were to be seen anywhere.

We made camp under a large old oak tree. In fact, the tent sat on the only flat ground around – a rough grassy patch sticking out into the canyon. Our tent was directly under a huge low-slung branch, which my friend swung from to check it wouldn’t fall on top of us in the dead of night. It was the perfect spot, right at the juncture of two small canyons – the one we were in and the one I had canyoned down from the top of Big Mountain previously.

I explored the other canyon. Perhaps it was too steep and small or perhaps too open and exposed – whatever the reason, there were no salamanders here at all, and I knew further up between the steep drops there would definitely be none.

My friend had an Indian girlfriend and, as today was the Hindu festival of Diwali, he had promised her to eat boil-in-the-bag chicken tikka whilst dancing around the campfire. I was to take a photograph.

OK, so we had the chicken tikka, but to make a fire in this pristine place was like sacrilege to me, yet I didn’t want to stop his fun. Oak is not the best wood to start a fire and he struggled to get a flame. When he did, by catching dry ferns, the wood would still not burn. I refrained from pointing to the ash tree in the shadows opposite our camp.

But I can vouch he tried and did his best (just in case a split is on the cards!).

The following morning we broke camp and packed our bags. We left them under the oak tree and wandered downstream to have a look for more pools. There was an old stone building above the stream junction, dilapidated with no roof. The timber supports could have been one hundred years old and the open floor was littered with large rough-cut slate tiles, half hidden in the ferns. I couldn’t imagine anyone herding sheep down here – what a nightmare – and so very dangerous to round them up again. I fantasised it had been a safe house, hidden from view, allowing a clandestine escape down the canyon and into the dense forest below – who knows?

This time there were so many salamanders that we didn’t even try to count them. We even saw a pair mating in six inches of water. This was October 24th and the day was balmy, as had all the other days been, the summer hanging over far too long this year – had the fauna and the flora been tricked by nature? The weather could turn any day now, forcing the salamanders to leave the streambed and hibernate above the canyon under rocks and logs.

Fresh deer scat and tracks were evident on the canyon floor – at least two different animals, and we saw what looked like cat and martin scat.

It was safe down here from men with guns and a liking for blood.

The canyon dropped steeply, and we climbed down until the forest started on the right hand bank. The Salamanders were scant here and, as I had already once walked down this stream, I knew that soon there would be no more. We turned and went back to our packs.

It would be fair to say that the salamanders live in a stretch of shallow canyon no more than six hundred metres long, with the main concentration being in a three hundred metre stretch. There is no evidence of them living in the steep gullies feeding the main stream.

In the bustle to transport the bags across the ferns, I had somehow lost the maps and compass. Damn! Maybe they wished to remain in this difficult place, hidden forever!

There were three ways out: back up the stream – that could mean traversing the fern slopes again; down the stream – that meant a very hard descent on slippery boulders and then a long walk up through the forest; going straight up to Big Mountain – nearly a thousand feet of very steep hiking through ferns and crumbly rock. Big Mountain seemed the best option and a route I knew – also the route was visible, and I remembered a track on the top, which would take us back around the head of the valley to where the Basque farmer pretended to shoot pigeons.

Off we set, up and up, slipping on loose rock, grunting and zigzagging to find the safest path. Our packs made it hard and I had to stop to catch my breath, often.

I looked back, saw my friend sitting, not moving up at all, and knew we had to turn back and try another way.

Back at the canyon floor, we had two choices left – up stream or down – he chose to go back up.

On arriving at the junction of the steep gully and the stream, we found a huge dead slowworm floating in a pool.

Going up a canyon, as long as it is not vertical, can be a lot easier than coming down one. I chose to try to ascend rather than face the ferns again. It was tricky and very slippery, and more than once, we had to pass the packs up after I had climbed up without one. I nearly fell back once, just managing to thrust and jam a hand into a crack in time. Fortunately, there were no snakes getting ready for hibernation. We passed a deer skull and were soon back at the oasis pool.

Back up the route we had come down, the way where my friend had released the pack – this was going to be a tough one for sure. I offered to relay both packs to the top, but he declined, much to my relief. I took his heavier bag and set off. Even zigzagging up the slope it was slippery, and with the weight constantly moving from side to side, it was tough not to succumb and take the unthinkable tumble to the canyon floor. My friend was slow, desperately grabbing at tree roots or the odd clump of grass – a complete mistake and a basic rule of trekking. I kept shouting down not to trust anything underfoot or in his hand – check it first.

I waited at the top, breathing hard and happy to have the pack off my back. Wild boar scat lay near my feet. He arrived some time later.

Finally, mission accomplished, we had to find a different and interesting way back home.

We camped by an old stone barn – this was luxury camping now – no hurry or pressure, as we had enough time to get back to our village and catch our flight home.

Owls kept us company once again that night.

There is one funny thing that happened that evening. We needed water, and there was a bath with a pipe-feed and ball-cock for some horses in a huge field. My friend disconnected the pipe, drank and washed. However, the fitting would not screw back on and the water powerfully gushed out all over the field, so he turned the screw valve off.

The horses drank the bath dry in no time. We were a bit concerned that some angry Basque would accuse us of breaking his pipefittings or worse, allowing his horses to die of dehydration – there were no houses up here, no ‘farming’ as such, just sheep and not many of those – so there would probably not be a person up here for days. Finally, he managed to bodge the pipe fitting, with half the water running into the bath and half onto the already wet quagmire field. The horses would get the blame no doubt!

The next morning the shooters were back – no pigeons they said, and when I asked about pheasants or grouse, they said they had all long disappeared. In the year 2000, the last Pyrenean ibex was found dead in a national park. They had systematically been shot out over hundreds of years.

Having no map or compass now, I had asked the Basques to point the way back. I had opted for a long traverse across the valley top – a high ridge and plateau directly opposite Big Mountain. The vista was magnificent; to our left we could see the whole valley from start to finish except for the small, discreet and well-hidden salamander canyon. To our right was a continuous huge drop down to the main river valley and rail track.

It was one of those hellish, non-stop hikes across an undulating rocky plateau that never seemed to end. At the top of every small escarpment, where we thought the path would drop down into the main valley, we saw yet another escarpment to traverse. So it went on, and, under a warm low sun and heavy packs, we forged on, hoping the end would soon be in sight. Eventually it was; a steep rocky descent taking us down hard and fast – it was an effort not to stumble. We rested for a while on some grass knowing there was no water anywhere near, no campground, and probably no hotel. We forced ourselves to get up and go on. We had long run out of water – there’s almost never any water on top of a mountain, and we were now really parched.

Eventually, there was a hotel and bar, which had outside tables overlooking a church and the high hills we had just descended. We took our well-deserved place and rested for a moment. Water and lots of it was needed to quench our burning thirst; however, if anyone reading this has ever seen the movie Ice Cold in Alex, you will know what is coming next. In the movie, the main cast had just finished a gruelling truck ride full of peril across the scorching Sahara desert and arrived in Alexandria, Egypt – hot, exhausted and very, very thirsty. Water was badly needed. But no, not water but an ice-cold beer drunk and savoured slowly before any real hydration. You’ll never taste a beer like it. All you need is one to taste and feel the cool nectar, the reward for all your hard work. It just doesn’t taste the same or have any effect if you drink water first.

We ordered our beers and had the Ice Cold in Alex experience. One was enough, for we then had to trek another two miles to find a piece of flat ground alongside the big rushing river, where we set up camp and cooked in the pitch black of night.

Yes, it’s fair to say we were spent by then!

A few days later, after we had returned, we were sitting outside a café in a splendid French Basque spa town, under the shade of an ornamental plane tree. The waitress sat on a stool, plucking birds. I strolled over and she seemed put out, slightly embarrassed, and I’m not surprised; she was plucking a green woodpecker and had two more besides, waiting their cooking pot fate.

Now for the moral of this story: If you are green or yellow, interesting, cute or tasty, I suggest hiding and hanging out in the most difficult place you can possibly find!