My head, wedged between the seat and the window, pops out of its awkward position as we come to a stop at the bus station. The jovial and plump bus driver bellows “Cauterets”, and heads off the bus to smoke a fag. Moving slowly off the bus, I can still taste the last tequila shot from the previous night. For a moment, it seems as though I am going to enjoy it a second time. I thought my week of debauchery in Greece would halt in Southern France, but it’s nearly impossible to omit untried nightlife while traveling through new cities.
The summer season of tourism has come to an end in Cauterets, and the only remaining life is the thousand, or so, French locals who reside there. The stillness of this little city is remarkable; colossal sized Pyrenees that surround it, a serene stream that derives from the glacier at the North East peak, and low voices at ground level that blend together to form a whisper in a crisp breeze. A simple inhale alleviated the pulsating beat in my head from the wild night in Toulouse.
After a brief wait, a van labeled “Ferme Basque” arrives. Chantal, my wwoofing host, greets me with two kisses and affability. We drive 15 minutes up the mountain to her house/restaurant/farm. Her husband Leon, a former shepard, is your typical French man. He has a rotund shape and a funny wit to him. Their 20-year-old son, Aurelien, comes across soft and nerdy with his glasses. Conversely, the kid is an absolute force in the kitchen. His geeky mannerisms overpower his character on the exterior, but if you look at his hands, worn and robust, you can tell the kid is tough.
A week with this family was a nice slap back to reality for me. The plush life of 20-hour workweeks of teaching English in Spain can make one forget that some people actually have to work countless hours to make a living. During my week on the farm, I had pleasure derivative from striking views, miscommunication that was followed by laughs or frustration, endless tales of the mountains, delicious meals, fresh organic vegetables and ice-cold mountain water, aching muscles, and 15-hour days. This family had a great manner of verve, and it was contagious.
While I gained several memories, the one I will hold most dear to my heart took place at 2am the last night I was with this hard working family. After waking up at 4 am in the morning, we worked all day. All day. At about 2 am in the morning, Chantal and Aurelien went to bed. I began to pack my bag because I had an early bus out. As I am about finished, I hear loud explosions coming from outside. Fireworks! Peering out the window to enjoy the show, I notice Leon is out there peeling potatoes. He was still working. I immediately put on my coat, poured two glasses of wine and joined the aged man who spoke no English. If he still had to work, I could help him. We sat there with our wine, peeled potatoes, and spoke no words as light saturated the skies over the little city inside the Pyrenees.