Les Calanques de Marseille

The Calanques in Marseilles, France, are steep-walled bays formed by carbonate strata along the Mediterranean coast. 

As a solitary traveller who set out to explore this natural wonder, I was determined, desirous and lost. An old man approached me when I wandered about the bus stop, a large map of the city clutched in my hands, feeling like a weed that didn't belong in a royal garden. 

He spoke rapidly in French. I shrugged and made some weird noises before stabbing my finger at the map. "Here, I want to go here." He turned around to ask two other aunties for directions before grabbing my left arm to drag me towards the correct bus stop. Woah, very friendly!

Because I had to be prudent, I actually patted all my pockets, to ensure that my phone and wallet were still with me, to assure myself that this friendly old man wasn't a pickpocket. Guilt gnawed at me when I realised that all my valuables were safe.

The bus to Luminy - bus 21 - was packed with people like madeleines in a tin container. Two Argentinian ladies helped me on this treacherous journey into the great unknown. Bellfina (which means 'dolphin' in Spanish) and Lucia (which is just a Spanish name) were really bubbly people. Between us, we knew English, French and Spanish. 

It was shocking when the bus driver asked everyone to get down and take the next bus because he wasn't on schedule. We had to rely on the poor-English the driver spoke and the poor-French that Bellfina spoke before coming to the dismal conclusion that the transport system in France was truly unique. Buses, at least those in Argentina and Singapore, don't usually chase busloads of people off.

On the way inwards, the winds blew insistently as we strolled along the pebbled walkway. There was a serene power to every breathe that enveloped us. 

There was this wild energy and vibrancy to every molecule that bounced against my skin. It was as though I could feel every minute particle. 

Where the sky ended and the sea began, we couldn't be sure. The views were simply so amazing that we couldn't care to be sure. The waters were shifting palettes of turquoise and emerald. 

At the beach, I bid farewell to the two ladies because I wanted to try plein air painting while they hoped to sun tan.

Lucia and Bellfina, they made the treacherous
1.5 hr walk inwards bearable.
It didn't cease to amaze me that these people really enjoyed tanning themselves. Didn't they know that overexposure to ultraviolet radiation would cause skin cancers and glaucoma?!

It was a sublime experience, to feel the power of Nature coursing in with every breathe I took.

On the way out, I took a break in a sheltered nook. The sun was blazing and I was still dressed for a mild winter. Another university student from Nice sneaked in when she saw me sitting on a boulder.

She spoke about a 'book that is published daily' and how she read that some Japanese schoolchildren committed suicide when they didn't win a competition.

Book that is published daily? I made a face. What could that book be?

She paused for a while before screaming excitedly, "newspapers!"

"French people are lazy. They don't want to study, they take drugs. Not like Asians, who feel it's strange not to work." She was one talkative Law student.

She also expressed her shame in her poor English. When she visited Germany last year, she realised that the people there spoke French as fluently as her even though they have only been learning French for 2 years.  She sighed, "I've been learning English for four years and can only string broken sentences together."

It was interesting, this conversation with a French student majoring in Law. So many opportunities to explore the interface between different cultures and the stereotypes that one culture might have of another.

Besides, if I didn't meet her, I might still be lost in the wilderness now.

All in all, this visit to Marseille has affirmed a belief in the wondrous, untamed beauty of Nature and the milk of human kindness that is within us all.