It was now 6:30pm and we had driven some 485 kilometres by the time we parked our car in the shade of the pines at la Salie Sud beach, on the Atlantic coast more or less mid-way between Arcachon and Biscarrosse. Venturing out onto the sandy pathway over the dunes to the sea we gained a little height and enjoyed our first view of La Salie’s distinctive – and controversial – landmark: “le Wharf”.
This impressive light-blue iron structure stretches over 800 metres. Its primary purpose is to support a pipeline which spews around 60,000 cubic metres of processed human and industrial waste into the ocean every day. Sacré bleu! And yet, in many ways, the wharf, as it currently stands, was a plan B.
The original plan was to channel the sewage through a shorter wharf which would have linked up with an underwater pipe that ran along the sea bed, rejecting its contents 4,000 metres off the coast. Over several months of work in the early 1970s, the Dutch company commissioned to deliver the project struggled to cope with harsh oceanic and climactic conditions, and the pipe they were laying was irretrievably lost after a storm.
|The wharf, stretching out into the Atlantic waters.|
Soooo… is it safe? Well, theoretically, by the time waste reaches la Salie’s wharf, it has been processed at one of the three plants dotted around the area (in Biganos, la Teste and Cazaux). But that doesn’t stop incessant speculation about the state and properties of the produce being pumped into the ocean water. This isn’t exactly helped by the local decrees outlawing activities such as fishing, bathing and shellfish gathering in the vicinity of the wharf. And, of course, access to the wharf itself is strictly forbidden. So you can probably guess what we did next.
|Information panel. And also a "don't mess with the wharf" panel.|
Anyway, as the sun shone in our eyes, the wind blew on our faces and the sea-salt gathered on our skin, it was easy to forget that a few metres below our feet there was a constant flow of processed urine and poo being blasted into the sea. Then again, perhaps that was indeed best forgotten.
We reached the end of the wharf and congratulated ourselves on having achieved what we’d set out to do, road-tripping our way from north to east, south and west, enjoying a unique perspective of what it’s like to visit Extreme Gironde in a single day. All that was left to do was to head back to our starting point in Saint-Aubin-de-Médoc; we got there safe and sound with almost 570 kilometres on the clock. It had been a good day.
|The pretty sight of Gironde's westernmost point, constantly spewing wee and poo into the Atlantic ocean.|