Photo: Fine Arts/Alamy Stock Photo
This article originally appeared on VICE France.
It’s nightfall at the end of August and I’m somewhere in the French Alps, heading towards the summit of Peyre Eyraute, where I’ll eventually camp amongst the cows and chalets. I take a break, not to marvel at the mountain ranges lit up by the last of the day’s sun, but because I’ve noticed a poo at my feet. A small, pointed, black poo studded with purple. Intrigued by the stool, I stare at it for a while. I’m pretty sure it’s the work of a carnivore who recently ate blueberries, but I can’t identify the animal in question.
Having hiked through this part of France for around ten days now, I have to face facts – the more time I’ve spent in the mountains, the more fascinated with excrement I’ve become and it seems like all this walking is turning me into someone who really, really likes poo.
At the beginning of the trip, I only paid attention to the mounds of shit to make sure I wouldn’t step in it. But after coming across all manner of droppings — left by wild goats, cows, foxes, dogs, otters, and occasionally tourists who didn’t seem to mind taking a dump at the foot of a cairn — I’d be gripped by curiosity, dying to dissect the dried-up turd with my walking stick, hoping to reveal the secrets within.
It turned out that I wasn’t the only person with these interests. Mountain guide Sébastien Janin is just as fascinated as I am by the things animals leave behind. He works at Au Pays des Traces (“At the Land of Traces” in French), a theme park located in the heart of the Pyrenees mountains — on the southern border with Spain — which aims to introduce the public to ichnology — the science of interpreting animal tracks and traces. This, as you’d imagine, involves analysing excrement …….