I need to remember these moments in the depths of winter when we are scratching the ice from the inside of the plastic windows and shuddering with cold. Winter is shorter here than the UK with the better weather stretching for longer throughout the year. Nevertheless, it seems that the cherished good weather, when we live constantly outside, passes by in a flash, and the mud and chill of winter lasts an eternity.
Eight thirty at night. Long, dusty shadows slink across what is laughingly referred to as the lawn-now-desert, with the sun descending its daily path. It’s still 35 degrees centigrade outside. The motionless air hangs heavy and close. Every physical movement induces streams of salty sweat to pour from my scalp, running down the side of my face, dripping off my chin and plopping finally onto the old terracotta floor tiles or parched, brown patches of long since desiccated grass outside.
Mosquitos have decided that Lot et Garonne is the place to be in residence this summer. According to recent gite guests, we hardly have any compared to the suburbs of Bordeaux where the guests had escaped from for a couple of weeks. Still, it seems like we are constantly slathering repellent on, from morning until night and even one is an annoyance.
Ten o clock now. An hour and a half later. Although the sky is turning inky blue and perforated with gazillions of pinprick bright stars, it is still 31 degrees outside.
We are all melting, and after a cooling dip in the pool, retire to bed.
Simon has rigged up a couple of temporary fans in the bedrooms to try and get some air circulating as we sleep under the eaves. The old stone farmhouse has 50cm thick walls, built not only for strength, but to keep the heat out in the summer and also the heat in during the winter. It is doing its best to keep us cool, but it’s still enough to have you sliding around in bed and awake for many hours at a time. Noisy fans are not conducive to a restful slumber, so I try with ear plugs. Better yes, but no, that’s not the problem, it’s the actual draught of the fan that is so intense, it is as if someone is tickling me. It is driving me mad.
The fan is turned off. Peace reigns, alongside the sweat which trickles from each and every pore.
We start yet another restless night and at 01h00 I can bear it no longer, venturing outside to envelope myself into the relative cool of the pool waters that are still reading a steamy 30 degrees - the same temperature in the water as outside. Nights are made vastly more comfortable with these nocturnal immersions and afterwards, I sleep deeply until after nine in the morning.
As our paying guests leave just after ten, its all hands on deck to clean the gite throughout. My eldest and his family move out of our cramped and makeshift house that has been their stopgap holiday accommodation, into the relative luxury of the stone cottage. More space, better facilities. Maybe cooler at night? We will know tomorrow.
Forty degrees centigrade is predicted today. Forty two tomorrow. It’s an endurance test if you need to do things, and much of the day is spent lounging in the shade of the passably less warm interior of the house. Much cooler here than the Middle East, parts of Africa and Death Valley I realise, but pretty darned scorchio for here. The dogs are prostrate and panting until the sun dips below the horizon, when they come alive for a short while, before finally giving it up as a bad job, once more flopping down onto the coolness of the house floor.
Wringing wet clothes dry in a fraction of the time on the clothes line. We all give in to comfort and resort to remaining in damp swimwear all day long, abandoning all care about muffin tops and middle aged spread.
Tables and chairs, liberally draped with damp towels, are in a permanent state of transit around the garden as we chase the shade. Even the toothpaste in the tube feels warm when you squeeze it onto the toothbrush and put it in your mouth.
Leaving the house through the shaded porch doors during the daytime, the heat assaults us, wrapping us tightly in a fierce and unrelenting blanket. The hot air is now dry and dusty. Long since gone is the humidity of the previous weeks.
About five in the afternoon, and the heat reaches its zenith. There is a lack of even agricultural traffic on the top road through the woods. A surrounding peace falls over the area I have not heard since we were in lockdown.
Perfect though, for the praying mantis basking in the blistering heat on the gite wall during the day time, who wriggles to rediscover the sun as I make a shadow over him as I snap a picture.
We have to get acclimatised to it. In a few weeks, we are off to Cuba for a fortnight. Housesitters are booked, to ensure the dogs and house are looked after. Heat and humidity will be the norm there so this is a good trial for us.
It’s the rainy season in September in Cuba. The hurricane season even.
We have decided to make it even more of an adventure by cycling around the island using electric bikes. I am swinging wildly between thinking it is abject folly and being massively excited by it, with everything in between being a consideration at some point in time or another.
Doing this and of course other less adventurous activities, apart from the intense pain and impending possible paralysis, are the reasons I had the spine surgery just six months ago. I have my life back. It really is my back in the future, and the future is now. I am grateful beyond words that it was possible and appears successful. We await confirmation for this officially in October.
I contacted my surgeon a few weeks ago to ask his advice prior to booking the electric bikes. Amazingly, he called me back that very same evening at 22h00. He says that if everything feels as if it is healing well, only I know if I can do it and it should be perfectly fine from a healing perspective. More dangerous, he says, to have a road traffic accident. Regardless, the ‘training‘ has commenced. Yesterday, I ventured out early, before the intense drain of the sun intensified, clocking up a comfortable and effortless 21km along traffic free roads and hidden tracks overhung with cooling and shady trees. Back home by 10h30. It’s hot even by then and I realise that in actual fact, 21km is no distance at all, particularly in the heat, and we will most likely need to extend that by two or three times, likely on some occasions, four. Heart sink moment.
The electric bike has been a game changer. Most notably, swiftly ensuring we arrive home from friends after jolly evenings out. It is a revelation to arrive at said friends, still relatively intact and smiling, rather than the grouchy, sweaty resentment of previous cycling outings prior to the joy of the e-bike.
Our Cuban itinerary needs planning to a degree as it is a massive country. Simon finally decides yes, he will need to look at the Rough Guide to determine where he would like to go. Last time we went, he did this on the plane journey out there. This time, I insist we are more focussed as I don’t want to spend all my time on the autopista when there are tropical forests, glorious white sand beaches and limpid waters to find.
For the last three months I have slid into a daily routine of learning Spanish on Duolingo. My impressive 102 day lesson streak will hopefully mean that I can at least understand a little of what is said to us, or communicate our most primary needs when required. It’s very basic but should make it easier than previously.
Simon is now finally head down into the books and decisions will be jointly made about destinations soon, taking into consideration heat, back, stamina and achievable distance reality. After a few minutes, even this relaxing task is a chore and the book is puffingly discarded.
Back into the pool.