Saturday, August 25, 2012

Basking in the Basque

From the Dunes, we navigated down the coast and immediately got slammed right in the middle of a traffic jam. The French traffic really is insane over the summer, and it really is true that the entire country goes on holiday all at once, flocking like sheep to the south. On our way to Lauzerte about a month ago, the rest stops were ALL madhouses. In the states, these places are usually creepy places to avoid, whereas here, they're necessary mental breaks from the insanity on the highway. People were parking three deep in semi's parking spaces, every inch of grass was taken up by a picnicker.

We seriously did not have time for this crap for we had a beach to get to! (just like everyone else) Our next stop was St. Jean de Luz  near the border of Spain. I had been told it has an amazing beach, and by the looks of google satellite, it looked like quite the spot to fulfill some beach time need. Once we finally got to town, it was already getting late and we didn't have anywhere to sleep yet. The campgrounds in town were about as expensive as cheap hotels, so we said screw that. We drove further and further from town being rejected at each campground we stopped. It's sad when you start to recognize the same cars going place to place with you and also being rejected. The campgrounds, like the rest stops were all just bursting at the seams with vacationers. It was all really insane. Even FURTHER from the beach, we finally found a place that was able to take us for the night. Exhale. By the time we got changed, sat in traffic for over an hour to get BACK into town, it was already almost 6pm. Thankfully the sun stays out here until about 10pm, so we got a couple of good hours relaxing and people watching.

The beach really was something like out of the movies. SOOO packed, and colorful, and full of activity. Full of cabanas and striped umbrellas, and people half dressed or not dressed at all...and that guy walking through selling roasted nuts as if we were at a baseball game. No longer were we in the world of the scrawny/pale Parisians; here we had a whole rainbow of body types, all feeling carefree in the sun. Ah, so here's where all the 'normal' people are ; )

Trying to get that big catch
The Harbor

St. Jean de Luz is located in the upper left blue region.
The rest of our road trip took us through the remaining
blue regions through the Pyrenees.
We packed up shop after a bit of sun, then went for a stroll around town. Quite a cute town, indeed, with it's French/Basque architecture, culture, and food. The streets were packed with people and shops, but you didn't get that sense of over kitschiness. It was nice.

So as I mentioned, we were now in Basque region, an area that stretches through northern Spain and covers this little corner of southwestern France. Reading a bit about these guys, their history is fascinating. They have maintained their own language, Euskara...which looks totally greek to me with all its X'z and Y's and Zs...culture, and geographic position for 1000s of years and are in constant protest both peaceful (more of the French side) and hostile (more of the Spanish side) to break away and be recognized as their own country. Since their language seems to predate any influence of european dialect and none of their mythical stories include any accounts of 'the big move' (like most cultures experience sometime in their existence), evidence points to the Basque having been settled on this same ground, for a very very VERY long time. It is believed they are actually direct descendants of cro-magnon man! With as niche as their language seems to be, I was surprised to see it as an option in Google Translate! The tend to be the opposite of Parisians, big, thick, and strong, and apparently consider winning games of strength a form of honor...tug of war. cart lifting....we saw a sign for a festival with log chopping. Awesome. And every town, all adorned in the Basque colors of green and red, will have a pelota court (see here for a video about the sport!) and hopefully a bakery with their famous almond custard cake, Gateau de Basque.
Traditional wear
The Basque make some amazing cheeses
At the Musee du Beret
Unfortunately, we didn't get to see anyone in their traditional garb like these guys (thanks google search!), but we did see an abundant amount of berets. Little did we know, these funny little hats, originally designed in France for the local peasants and Basque sheep herders, were actually invented and produced in the tiny southern town of Nay, the beret capitol of the world! (mind you, a handful of other countries do the beret thing as well, so you can't quite call it exclusively French) It's said that the only remaining 2 factories of France are located near this town. Though we didn't have time to go through the entire museum, we had to make a stop for photo's sake. Man, the sun was bright that day.

Following our introduction to French beach-going and a bit of Basquism, we continued east into the Pyrenees to see what all the hype is about....secluded Basque towns, sheep, breathtaking views, shear mountain cliffs, lush's an area that is blanketed in mystery and awe, superstitions and success stories (this strip of mountains thoughout the ages has provided the perfect secret access across borders for vagabonds, thieves, the persecuted (such as the Jews in WWII), or anyone else trying to escape one country and start anew in another. It was time to take off the swim suits and put on the hiking gear.

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