“Jo, Soph, wake up, there’s something outside the tent!”, I hiss whilst jabbing my friends sharply in their sides. The three of us were young whippersnappers on a jaunt around France for the first of our long summers away from University. Carefree and without a single laid plan or booking arrangement, our adventures were determined by random meetings, chance decisions and the type of creativity that accompanies a student’s lack of funds.
Throwing everyday caution to the wind, we learnt life skills such as how to build a campfire, master the art of not paying train fares – (we got all the way to Monaco from Biot and a bit of the way back before being frisked by a conductor "CagNES sur Mer" we muttered in our worst French accent, hoping to convince him we were ignorant innocent English folk and not French students who should know better…), hitchhike with a camera crew from the Tour de France and how to drink five litres of rosé wine in one evening. After non-successful attempts to get work on the yachts that line the harbours of the French South (we didn't try too hard), we ditched the Mediterranean for more alpine climes, and were now happily ensconced in a campsite in a fairly rural part of Southern France.
The sun was sinking behind the hills, its fading light replaced by our smoking coals glowing neon orange on a fire we had proudly made ourselves. All seemed well as we retired to our three-man tent feeling serene. Until now that is, and the discovery of some distinctly bestial snorting and growling going on right outside aforementioned tent. Panicking and frozen with fear, none of us dared move in our thin sleeping bags for fear of attracting the beasts’ attention. Only a thin layer of flimsy canvas separated us from the unknown monsters outside.
Images of hungry, blood-thirsty coyotes dragging people out of their tents raced through my brain. Should we shout for help? Make a run for it? Remain silent and hope they go away? Were there wolves in the French alps? It certainly sounded like wolves. The determined sniffling felt close in the darkness, a salivating tongue smacked canine chops so close to my ear I could smell its lingering breath. Was that a howl to rally the pack? We were to be ripped apart for sure. How would we ever get out alive?
“Did we leave the sausages inside the porch?” Jo’s whisper broke my thought process, “errr no, maybe…yes we did…” I racked my brain. In fact all of our food was in the tent’s porchway, currently acting as animal bait. Had I learnt nothing from those bear-deterring lessons once upon a family holiday in Canada? Weirdly annoyed now that we’d wasted precious food, the hound-like grunts, gratified with our lovingly-cooked leftovers drifted away into the stillness of the night, leaving our bodies untouched but our food supplies in tatters.