We tested... A ride in a "Nego Chin" flat-bottomed boat
For the last 20 years or so, the association "Protection des Traditions Locales" has been welcoming curiosity-seekers aboard for a voyage out of time in Port-Saint-Louis.
Nature reclaims its rights as soon as you exit the town, and wild and beautiful natural scenery pans out in every direction. The road leading to Plage Napoléon beach is seemingly endless. After a good 5-minute car ride, the cars parked on the verge tell us we have arrived! Our departure point - a picturesque pontoon crossing the backwater of the Rhône river – lies at the end of a little pathway lined with vegetation. A few rowing boats dotted here and there and an old cottage complete the picture.
This is where the excursion starts. We climb aboard the nego chin, accompanied by a guide from the association. It's nothing like a stand-up paddleboard, even if you do have to paddle standing up... And it's even less like a kayak, although the shape is almost the same. This flat-bottomed boat is ideal for shallow waters and is used for hunting and fishing. The original wooden bottom has now been replaced with polyester but despite its modern twist, the boat remains extremely unstable, hence its name meaning "dog drowner"... So it really is vital to climb aboard with a nego pro! The association's members paddle using a "partègue": a long, wooden perch with an iron tip, which allows them to propel the nego chin forwards by digging into the marshy river bed. A failsafe way to build your biceps !
What about the excursion ? It starts under the pontoon, where the goal is to climb onto the boat without falling off... Then you enjoy the ride along the Rhône backwater. The landscape is truly astonishing and resembles a mangrove. The nego chin has to be the world's most peaceful activity: there isn't a sound, except for the gentle lapping of water against the boat, chirping birds and the occasional mosquito buzzing in your ear.
Sometimes you steer between branches. There are also a few near misses, like bumping gently into some neighbouring boats or the current trying to run you aground! After around 40 minutes drifting along the water and chatting, you leave the narrow canal and emerge onto the vast Rhône river itself. It feels almost frighteningly big for our tiny little boat. There, an abandoned boat offers you a fun stop-off and place to play pirates...
The verdict ? A fantastic way to discover local flora and fauna you can't reach on foot and get back in touch with nature. Thumbs up !
Nature lovers, plant and animal aficionados, fans of Camargue and anyone who enjoys slow tours.
The 1st and 3rd Sundays of the month, from May to August
Departure at 9.30 a.m. from Tour St Louis
Length: 1 hour
And also… During the Festival de la Camargue et du Delta du Rhône taking place every year in early May. The association has been hosting nego chin excursions since the festival's creation.
€3 for under 12s and €5 for adults. Any mosquito bites are free.
What do you need?
Trainers, long sleeves (but avoid black as it attracts mosquitoes), a hat and a bottle of water, because you're often in the sun. Bring along a change of clothes just in case (but rest assured you're very unlikely to need them !), mosquito-repellent (tropical) for your clothes and/or lemon eucalyptus essential oil, which is gentler on your skin.
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