Thursday, July 17, 2014

Grottes de Soyons

Trip to Ardèche - Day 1: 

After Château de Crussol and a picnic lunch on a grassy bluff overlooking a goat farm, we clambered back into Blandine's dinky Mini Cooper for the next stage: the beau village of  Vogüé. Driving down D86, we came across a signboard pointing to Grottes de Soyons, the prehistoric caves of Soyons. The signboard said this was where Neanderthal bones had been discovered in ... in... some year or the other. I started jumping up and down in frenzy. Blandine sighed. She knows I have this thing about Neanderthals. She says I sometimes behave like one. I admit it. I am a Neanderthal freak. I have had a soft spot for these prehistoric chappies ever since I wrote a novel about them... sort of... (Perl and the Last of the Neanderthals: More info here ).

Blandine dutifully turned off the road and parked. After a steep climb up a cliff, we got to the hell hole. Nope, we did not grimp up the cliff. The gents at the Soyons tourism office have cut a nice scenic staircase into the rock face, only there are lots and lots of steps to climb.

I wasn't expecting much. I didn't get it. It was -- how shall I put it? -- a cave. A cave-ish cave. A Plain Jane cave. With one exception: It was barred with a steel grill and an attractive young woman at a cash counter. Good Grief ! Seven euros to see a dusty old cave? Actually, the boys at the tourism office thought so too, so they had put up some life-sized plastic models of a Neanderthal family and a saber-toothed tiger in the cave, to sort of jazz it up and justify the entry fee. To me, it made matters worse. I would've been content to have seen a cave where Neanderthals had once lived, and try and imagine what it must have been like then (only I wouldn't have been terribly happy shelling out seven euros for the pleasure). But one with kitsch plastic dummies? Ugh! I wanted to turn back. But Blandine wasn't about to. Not after having climbed endless flights of stairs in the summer heat. She shelled out and we shuffled in.

We kicked around the plastic Neanderthal family, who looked a bit depressed. I was depressed too. Too depressed to take photos. Anyhow, here is a pic of the place, "borrowed" from the Soyons Tourism website. Nope, I haven't taken their permission. What, you mean I can't borrow a stupid pic from their stupid website, when Blandine and I shelled out a grand total of fourteen euros and climbed up and down endless stupid stairs to see the stupid place?

Then the attractive lady at the cash counter, who apparently also doubles up as tour guide, showed us some skulls. A Neanderthal skull, she informed. Holy Hanna! A real Neanderthal skull? Nope. No such luck. A plastic replica. She compared that to the other skull, a modern human skull. Yep, also plastic. Then she showed us some Neanderthal hip bones and saber-toothed tiger tooth bones and various other animal part bones that had been discovered in this cave. Yep. Still plastic.

Then a bit of good news. The entry ticket also paid the price of entry to another cave, right below that one. It was called the Le Trou du Renard  - the fox's hole.  The Neanderthal cave, by the way, is called Nero's Cave (Grotte de Néron), for some reason that the lady explained but I've forgotten. I do remember the reason for the second cave's name, though. Apparently, it was used as a shelter by foxes, because they discovered fox bones there. Nope, no saber-toothed tigers or prehistoric gents. This latter cave's claim to fame (and an entry fee) is that there are wonderful stalactites and stalagmites in there. Yes, it was impressive. It cheered me up enormously. Enough so that I wanted to take a few pictures. But this time, iPad was depressed. Too gloomy, said iPad. It showed a dark blob. Oh well, if you can borrow one pic, you can borrow two. Or three. Here are a couple of pics of the fox cave from the altruistic gents at Soyons Tourism:-

Then an even better piece of news. The ticket also got us entry into the Soyons Neanderthal museum. Would I find real Neanderthal bones there? No idea. For Blandine said enough was more than sufficient. She had had enough of bones. She wanted meat. Real meat. Not plastic. Blandine is always hungry. I hadn't even digested our picnic lunch. Besides, to get to the museum, we would have to go back to the town of Soyons, which we'd driven through. And our policy is: Never Turn Back. Or if you prefer: Onwards, Ever Onwards.

Then the nice cash lady said something really important, which we ignored as yada yada chatter. She said the ticket also got us one free entry into several other caves in Ardèche. We regretted not having paid attention, the following day. More about that in a later post.

On departing, I asked the nice cash lady how it felt, having to sit alone atop a cliff, locked into a cave with a spooky set of Neanderthal dummies. In all our time there, there hadn't been a single other visitor. Didn't it get depressing? Nice cash lady put on a brave face. It grows on you, she said. Or rather, something to that effect in French. But the pasty complexion of her face and her wide, terror-stricken eyes told another story. Blandine asked me why I was showing so much interest in nice cash ladies.

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