The final stage of my long-haul journey from New Zealand was the drive from Orthez to Lucq de Béarn.
I had spent the last thirty minutes of the five-hour train journey from Paris to Orthez forcing myself to stay awake. I barely cope with a thirty-six hour long-haul journey when all goes well but when it doesn’t the combination of jet-lag and stress means my mind enters a labyrinthine almost but not quite as bizarre as a Thomas Pynhcon book.
After months of worrying how I would fill in five hours at Gare Montparnasse, Paris I had enough time to retrieve my ticket and drag my overweight luggage down platform #5. My original schedule altered by engineering issues on the outbound plane from Singapore to Paris; instead of boarding at mid-night we had boarded at 3.15am.
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. 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, having had visions of me still asleep on the train.
Rand lives in the canton Lucq de Béarn –in the department situé région de Aquitaine, en département de Pyrénées-Atlantiques, en arrondissement de Arrondissement d’Oloron-Sainte-Marie. Hugely confusing. What it really means is the Atlantic coast and Biarritz beaches are an hours drive (south west direction) and Pyrénées Mountain range an hours drive (south east direction).
The medieval looking village of Lucq de Béarn sits at the bottom of a valley. As the car wound down the hillside into a village where solid stone-walled houses abut the road I spied a sign – Fete du Bois. Over 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.
The Fete – a Wood Festival – is an annual celebration of béarnaise language, dance and music. In the grounds of the Chateau bordering the village square, people had gathered to dance – cross between a medieval group dance and a Celtic jig. Inside the Marie (town hall) children gathered to learn how to weave baskets.
At 2pm the heat and humidity was unbearable. We left the girls to hangout with their mates and headed back up the hill to chill-out.
At 6pm we went back to the Fete; listened to a band, which had a New Zealand summer cruze vibe. We had gone back to the Fete to eat dinner – Moules marinière and frites although the moules were sweet and juicy, I felt guilty for eating Pipi sized mussels. We ate with our fingers and mussel shells, sitting at long trestle tables, squeezed in amongst hippies who lived in the surrounding countryside.
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 was ready for sleep.