Les marmottes

It’s been a day that improved with age – started off very dull: Steve continued his crepi-ing of the lean-to; I painted the door with my standard black hammerite. It was still a little dull by the time I decided to tackle the potato patch – but getting hotter. Jake came with me, since Steve had gone off to look at some creatures he’d seen on the dried up oued. According to Him, they were a little beaver-ish without a flat tail. Too stocky to be an otter. Too big to be a water rat. He said they had a beaver snout. In fact, he asked me if they were capybaras.

I’ve seen capybaras in the wild, in Brazil. They’re strange-looking things – all fluffy like a big guinea pig, but the size of a medium-sized dog. Not as weird as the tapir, but that’s another story all together. They go around in herds, not unlike cows, and it’s really weird to come across them and see them munching and grazing, just like a herd of cows, but small and furry and odd-looking. I saw them in the Pantanal, which is just about the most fabulous place most people have never heard of. It’s a water-logged plain the size of France that cuts across three countries. The most freaky thing there were the pink trees – not blossom, but leaves. I loved the Pantanal. We stayed on a ranch with ‘tame’ caiman, which the owner used to call every morning for feeding.

Punting on the Pantanal

It was the most peaceful place ever; I really cried when I left. I think I’d had such a relaxing time there and the people on the fazenda where we stayed were wonderful.

Anyway, suffice to say, the creatures in the oued are not capybaras. Or Tapir. Not unless someone is doing a little ‘Lost’-style experiment.

Following our picking of potato ‘treasures’, Jake and I had gone on a bike ride to locate these strange animals. Jake is very good at spotting things. We’d cycled for a little bit and then left the bikes.

“Can we leave the bikes here?” he asked.

Well, we were in a dried up river bed, unfrequented. Fairly safe. Not that you can do that in England, packed as it is.

Then we set off on foot. Jake was a little ahead of me, having gone on to look a little further.

“Emma!” he shouted. “Come on!”

I’ve fallen for his tricks before, but this time he really did look excited. I hurried up and as I rounded the corner, they were swimming across a puddle, running up the banks into their burrows and dived into¬†subterranean holes. There were about twelve, all in a row. They sat in their burrows, looking out at us, noses twitching, grunting quietly.

When I was on my way back, I happened upon our neighbour (again… how he has the cheek to call us ‘Les Anglaises qui promenadent’ I don’t know… he’s always walking his own dogs) and two other fellows who were walking along. I said that we’d seen the animals, and asked if they were otters. “No,” I was told. They aren’t otters. They are ‘rongeurs.’

I did my usual thing of repeating it three or four times to get it right. “Rongeurs” – and came home to Google it. At first, I thought ‘rangers’, or even ‘rangeurs’, but you quickly realise you have to substitute other vowels if the word doesn’t appear. I did this once with the ‘ancerre’ that I thought we had – which is a closed-in fire place. Turns out it wasn’t such an oddity. It was an ‘insert’. As in ‘inserted’ into a fireplace.

It didn’t take a long time to realise ‘rongeurs’ just means ‘rodents’. Not a very helpful sub-classification. Darwin wouldn’t have been happy with that. I’m guessing the neighbours weren’t too well up on it. Still, when I was looking at ‘rongeur’, Jake leaned over my shoulder and said ‘that’s it!’ when we saw a picture of a ‘marmotte’ – which I promptly translated to ‘marmot’ – still none the wiser. Turns out it’s a cousin of the prairie dog and the groundhog (which I also didn’t realise was a rodent!) I’m still waiting for further confirmation – marmots seem to live a whole load higher up or in Eastern Europe, but even so – that seemed to be the closest we’d come to determining precisely what they are.

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