Long-haul travel implies freedom and adventures. But the reality, especially if you are flying economy, is a scrunched-up body, stiff neck and envy. Yes, the envy of those who fall into a deep sleep the second the cabin lights are dimmed. For those, like myself, who struggle to sleep on planes, managing the odd cat-nap, there are two options; tedium or binge-watching a television series.
While my ultimate adventure would be my Camino Frances pilgrimage, the first stage of my journey would be a week in the canton Lucq de Béarn –in the department situé région de Aquitaine, en département de Pyrénées-Atlantiques. A small hamlet near the town d’Oloron-Sainte-Marie. Lucq de Béarn is an hour from Biarritz, on the Atlantic Coast and the Pyrénées Mountain ranges.
My travel itinerary was ambitious, given I had three connecting journeys and the unpredictable nature of planes and trains. My first flight was from Auckland to Singapore. However, engineering issues delayed the outbound plane from Singapore to Paris by three hours. It also affected my previously arranged transportation to take me from the airport to Gare Montparnasse train station. As a result, my worries changed from filling in five hours at the train station to altering my pick-up booking with the delay. Thankfully, I managed to change the booking. Finally, we arrived at Gare Montparnasse, Paris. I managed to retrieve my ticket from a vending type machine, then drag my overweight luggage down platform #5. With some help, I got my luggage on board; behind me, the train doors silently closed.
Once I located my seat and sat down, the train’s motion started to lull me off to sleep. It was more than thirty-six hours since I last slept, but I had to stay awake. The train trip from Paris to Orthez took just under five hours, but my planning didn’t factor in the need to know the stations it stopped at beforehand. Because, after several stops, I realised that I would need to be ready to get off the train actually stopped at Orthez.
Thankfully, a nearby passenger spoke English and rattled off a list of the stations.
Once past Dax, I lined up with my baggage in the narrow carriageway of the TGV five minutes before Orthez station, pondering about the logistics of hauling my heavy bags off the railway carriage. Then, finally, I jumped off; just as I was about to cause myself bodily injury, a student picked up one end and together, we dropped it upright on the platform. In amongst the congested train station, I found my friend Rand, who was equally relieved to see me, as he was worried that I was fast asleep on the train.
Lucq de Béarn sits at the bottom of a picturesque valley. As the car wound down the hillside into a medieval-looking village. On the exterior of a solid stone-walled house, I spied a sign for the Fete du Bois. Rand explained that Fete du Bois (Wood Festival) is an annual celebration of béarnaise language, dance and music.
In the village square, local men were erecting a large wooden structure. Even in my dazed state, I sensed this otherwise sleepy village was getting ready to party.
After I settled into the large guest room, with windows overlooking the backyard and the Pyrennes, we headed back down to the village with Rands two daughters, Jessica and Sophie.
Next to the village square, hidden by ancient trees, is a Chateau. The owners allowed the grounds to be used for the Fete, so we were free to wander. First, we walked past dancers whose performance looked like a cross between a medieval group dance and a Celtic jig. Then we wandered over to the Marie (town hall). Inside, children had gathered to learn how to weave baskets. Around 2pm, the heat and humidity became unbearable, so we left the girls to hang out with their mates and headed back up the hill to chill out on large comfy sofas in Rand’s lovely cool lounge.
At 6pm, we went back to the Fete. We had gone back to the Fete to eat dinner. This years feast was Moules marinière and Frites prepared by a group of local men. It was a communal dinner, so we sat around long trestle tables, ate with our fingers and mussel shells, squeezed in amongst hippies who lived in the surrounding countryside, listening to a band. The moules were sweet and juicy; however, I felt guilty for eating what New Zealanders would consider undersized mussels.
We made a last circuit of the town square, a band of hipsters playing traditional instruments and chanting over megaphones. The crowd were ready to party until dawn; I, unfortunately, needed to sleep.
Revised November 2021