I have been staying with Keith and Deborah in their farmhouse for three weeks. It has been one of the most memorable times in my life, and I am constantly surprised by the wonderful hospitality they provide. I have seen French culture, local events, and learned their traditions.
On one Friday they tell me that I have the chance to experience even more over the weekend. We have been invited to join the locals from Gondrin on their Chasse (hunt) on Saturday. On Sunday I then have the chance to go with the ski club of a nearby village that travels south to the Pyrenees mountains once a week. Of course I accept both invitations.
It's the Saturday of the Chasse, and I find myself waking up at 6:45am. Justin is already awake. Ben, Keith, and I soon join him in getting ready. It starts at 8am, so we have to hurry or we will be late. When we arrive at this old, run-down building in Gondrin I am a little underwhelmed. It doesn't look like much. The concrete is deteriorating and there is rebar sticking out all over. Inside though we find a large group of men, mostly older, chatting away and preparing to hunt some boar. The preparations are a little bit different than if you were to hunt in the States. They begin with red wine and deer pate on bread. Then the cheese and bacon is cooked. I opt for the black coffee with two sugars instead. Something about drinking wine before walking around with a shotgun doesn't sit well with me. When everyone is done eating the president of the Chasse gathers everyone outside and starts to go through the safety briefings for the day. After he finishes everyone loads up in their cars drives off to the meeting place for the hunt.
The trip out to the hunting area doesn't take long. We actually end up driving back to just south of Keith and Debs' place. Some of the other hunters have said there were sightings of wild boars and tracks in this area. The large group splits into three smaller groups. One group goes north of the woods, and the hunters position themselves in areas where the boar would run out the wood. The second group goes south of the woods and positions themselves in the same way. Keith, Ben, Justin, the neighbor Andre, and I are in group three. We are called 'beaters', and we are in charge of crawling through the woods and the brambles with the dogs in order to rustle up any boar that are hiding.
The hunt starts off in high spirits, but doesn't advance much further than that. Keith steps wrong while climbing a hill in the woods and injures his back. He needs to be picked up by Debs for some rest back at the house. Thankfully the drive for her only takes 10 minutes since we are now so close to their property. The rest of us stay out and walk through the fields and the woods searching for boar. Searching until near lunchtime proves fruitless as we don't see a single boar. There are plenty of fresh tracks to imply that the boar were near, but they must have been smart to keep out of reach. The hunters call it quits around noon and head back to the meeting point. We spend the next 20 minutes conversing with the other hunters while they drink more, and then we leave around 1pm. Overall it was an extremely interesting event to partake in.
We arrive back at the house around 2pm. The rest of the day is spent doing small tasks around the house in order to make up for the time spent at the Chasse. I spend some time looking online for my next HelpX location as I am planning to move on soon. The general mood is a little low because we weren't able to experience the excitement of finding a boar, but I am still filled with anticipation for tomorrow. After we eat dinner I go to bed and dream about snowboarding tomorrow.
At 6am my alarm goes off. Oddly though I have already been awake for 20 minutes. Maybe it is the anticipation for today that got me up. Careful not to disturb my other roommates, I gather my stuff for the day in near darkness. Keith has let me borrow a pair of snow pants and gloves. I pack those into my backpack along with my other gloves and some things for the day. Ben has let me use his GPS, and Debs wrote down some directions to the nearby village beforehand. I walk out of the house, after quietly getting some breakfast from the kitchen, and hop in the Mitsubishi truck. They have been kind enough to let me borrow their truck for the day in order to drive into Vic Fezensac where I will be getting on the bus. The drive doesn't take long, and I arrive in plenty of time. They are just starting to load up the bus. Walking up the steps I quickly find a seat and get comfortable for the three hour trip. The bus driver turns on a movie soon after we leave. It's a Disney film, 'Alpha and Omega', that must be for the little ones on the bus. I find it interesting to watch Disney in French.
The scenery just keeps getting more and more beautiful as we get closer to the resort, Piau Engaly. The resort is situated far up in the mountains and the bus has to drive on a switchback road to it from the village down below. Sitting in the outermost seat is now giving me a fantastic view of the valleys below because there is no guardrail. We make it to the resort soon after. As everyone is unloading and getting their gear prepared I manage to find a guy from the bus that speaks decent English. He helps me figure out the guidelines for the day, and in getting a lift ticket.
"No need to stay with the group," he says, "but be sure to get back to the bus by 4:30pm." Perfect.
I split from the group and find a shuttle bus that takes me from the parking lot to the resort. After spending about 20 minutes in the rental shop I'm setup with a snowboard and some boots. Now I am back in my comfort zone. Even though I don't speak the language, snowboarding is snowboarding, and I can handle this. It takes about two minutes to get into line for the nearest ski lift, and I'm soon on my way up the mountain. The weather is clear and sunny. On my way up I notice that this chair line doesn't go all the way to the top. The one nearby does, and I spot an easy path over there once I get off.
The first couple turns with the rental equipment are weird. I have to get used to boots that don't hold my feet in near as well as my ones at home, and a board that is quite a bit longer than mine. I manage though and carve my way down to the main chairlift. That lift takes me all the way to the top. When I get off I am amazed by the breathtaking view that is offered up. The location they picked for this resort is really picturesque. I take some photos and then make my way to the other side of the trails. There are some black diamonds over here that lead to the backside of the mountain, out of the sun, and I am hoping there will be better snow there. The trails are steep and fun, but I quickly find out that the snow back here is just as icy as the other parts of the resort. There are even a couple spots of exposed ice which I hit and quickly wash out. I am having so much fun. My calves and thighs are screaming at me and pleading that I stop abusing them after not snowboarding for so long, but I ignore them.
The rest of the day is spent in much the same way. Riding the chair to the top, riding one of the trails to the bottom, and trying each time to find a new line that may have some undisturbed powder left over. To no avail though. But even without the powder, and using the rental equipment, this is one of my best experiences snowboarding. It's soon cut short as I notice a nasty blister forming on my right ankle around 2:30pm. I make my way back down to the bottom and turn in my rental gear for the day. For the last couple hours before the bus leaves I relax in the sun and read my book, 'Blink'. At 4:30pm I hop back on the shuttle and get off in the parking lot, meeting up with the others from the group. Based on their smiles, they had a great time as well.
This has been a fantastic sort of finale for my time spent with Keith and Deborah. I can't thank them enough for making all these opportunities possible for me. I hope to see them again sometime. It's going to be sad leaving them, but I am looking forward to all of the adventures that lay ahead of me.
The bus ride home is relaxing. The days events combined with the sunburn I now have (I should have brought sun block!) have made me very tired, and I end up taking a much needed nap. I don't wake up until we arrive back in Vic Fezensac where I leave the bus group, get in the Mitsubishi truck, and make my way back to the house. When I arrive everyone is gathered around in the sitting room while Keith finishes up dinner. They ask questions about my day, and I retell my story to them. Dinner is delicious. I retire early and jump into my bed. It feels really good to rest my aching muscles.