Viva la France

Sometimes all it takes is packing a bag and booking a ticket. A leap of faith that only a spontaneously purchased travel ticket to a foreign land can fulfill. In retrospect, my very first trip overseas was astonishingly shortsighted but thanks to the overwhelming graciousness of a few kind strangers I was able to have an experience that was nothing short of exceptional.

My trip started with a simple idea: how can I experience a new culture while also benefiting from a world-class surf break. Surfers are selfish creatures and I was definitely hoping to score some good waves and the cultural experience would be an added bonus to go somewhere new. I figured the only real guideline was to find a destination that was still somewhat user friendly yet I was determined to escape from my Anglophone counterparts. Europe was eventually decided upon as the continent given its diversity within a close proximity then I focused ever more on a sleepy town in the southwest of France bordering the Atlantic near the Basque region called Hossegor.

A very close friend of mine from California originally sparked my interest in going to this particular corner of the world as he had once visited the town himself. Having an American father and a French mother enabled him to explore the region with an exceptional proficiency given that he already had a solid network of locals, family and friends, who were able to point out what to do and where to avoid. This kind of local insight is something that can literally make or break my trip; particularly in a place where I have very little previous knowledge. And so my close friend rambled on and on about the beautiful beaches, divine culinary delicacies and perfect waves that I could not even begin to comprehend and before I knew it my flights were booked.

This local insight, however, was not something that I was able to utilize at the beginning of my trip. My friend’s family happened to be out of town and I was never able to successfully reach any other of his friends or contacts but I wouldn’t let a small hurdle deter me. After nearly twenty hours of flying, multiple airports and layovers, a bus, a train and a taxi I had arrived to this sleepy village. I was completely lost and out of my comfort zone but could not have been happier. I had finally made it to my shoebox of a room that I would lay my hat for the next few weeks.

The flat was perfectly situated about five hundred yards away from the main break and had just enough amenities to make any minimalistic traveler perfectly content. The next few days passed in a surreal blur in my euphoric and jet lagged state as I indulged in an array of seafood, buttery baked goods, local wines and a caliber of waves that I bore more of a resemblance to the ones that I used to sketch in my schoolbooks rather than anything I had seen in real life. The trip had been going better than expected until an unexpected visitor came to my doorstep.

 

It was the property manager declaring that I had two hours to leave the apartment, as there was to be a new guest in the studio. In protest I looked for an email confirmation stating the duration of my stay. Her stubbornness along with my continuous struggle with our language barrier did not help my case. There was an error in the manager’s scheduling and I was to be homeless in a short matter of time. Having very few acquaintances and virtually no other contacts in Hossegor, I was panic stricken and learned very quickly a lesson in traveling that would serve me well on nearly every trip I have taken since. When I travel with virtually no itinerary and with minimal baggage, I must be able to improvise if plans suddenly change or the surf goes flat.

Leaving the studio apartment was the moment that I truly branched out and began to meet some of the most incredible people that I encountered during my trip. I had taken up a camping spot a little to the north of my preferred break at the time but winter was fast approaching and the nights were getting much colder. I spent most mornings after a surf in a café in the village usually looking for warm couch to crash on and eventually the proprietors, two sisters, noticed that I appeared out of place. While they did not know me at all outside of my breakfast preferences and apparently anxiety riddled face, they warmly opened their home to me for the next few weeks and introduced me to a side of the country and culture that I would never have experienced on my own. The family had a home just outside of the main village and each member was heavily involved in the surf community. I couldn’t have gotten luckier. I spent many mornings driving up all over the coast with the brothers searching for the ever elusive shifting sandbars to surf and many late evenings dining and conversing in a familial atmosphere that no restaurant could ever impersonate.

 

Although the trip went in very unexpected directions, I am grateful that my plans were eventually steered off so far course as it led me to find this exceptional family and group of friends. The friends that I made and experiences shared cannot exist without openness from oneself and the local community. I learned a new language, surfed so many new and secret waves that I never would have found on my own, ate delectable meals and was introduced to a culture that I admire exceedingly all thanks to the willingness to share from new friends.

Merci encore pour tous, je vous aime.

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