Saturday, September 15, 2012

My Day Apple Picking in Pays Basque, France

I left my house at 7:30am to get to the bus to go to the airport to get picked up and driven to France to pick apples. Completely worth it.

As a side note, I discovered my local carniceria (butcher shop) is open earlier than my local bakery on Saturday mornings.

A group of nine of us students took the 8 am bus from the Plaza de Gizpukoa to Hondarribea where we were met by our study abroad program's contact/ friend, Manolo. We were told that he was a fantastically Basque man and we were not disappointed when he drove up and we saw that he was wearing a beret. Fact: really Basque men wear berets. His van fit all of us and we had a pleasant and scenic drive across the border into France. We eventually arrived at what I would call their home base. We hung out there for a while, waiting for Manolo's workers to arrive.

Manolo speaks Spanish. French, Basque and a decent amount of English. Super awesome. Just about everyone else spoke French of course, a good amount of Basque, some Spanish and very little if any English. I got to use my very limited  French. I managed pretty well. Used my few Basque phrases too.

With out the nine of us students, it would normally have been just the six of them picking apples. No wonder they we so grateful for our help.

The first order of business once everyone arrived was to get a delicious cup of coffee at a local cafe. They paid, saying that it was the least they could do for our help. We hit the road again and saw more of the beautiful rural Pays Basque and the Pyreenes Mountains. When we finally got to the farm, it was quite beautiful. We weren't entirely prepared for our adventure though. When we got to the orchard, it was on the side of a very large hill and was incredibly steep. Not to mention, full of many different type of bugs. Really pretty shiny green spiders, crickets, grasshoppers, praying mantises, beetles, ants, moths, etc. We found a praying mantis and Manolo picked it up and put it on my shoulder. Good thing I'm not squeamish. It hopped away after hanging out with me for a bit. It was cool.

The second field wasn't so bad. It was less steep and less full of bugs. I found a lizard too. It crawled up my leg (on the outside of my jeans thankfully) and hung out there long enough to pose for pictures. Apple picking isn't so bad when you're being entertained at the same time. One of the workers spoke very little English or Spanish but his physicality was very humorous. His job was to climb the trees and shake them. He loved clowning around with the Americans but he seems like that's just how he is. Also, his shirt for some reason said "dip me in beer and throw me to the drunk chicks." People in Spain wear a lot of t-shirts in English and most of the time I wonder if they know what they mean. More often then not, they say somewhat inappropriate things.

The third orchard was the steepest and we could barely get around. But we learned about the two different species of bees in the area and how chestnuts are grown. We got to try grapes and black berries grown there too. Least we weren't directly under the trees this time. Getting pelted by falling apples was virtually inevitable. I have at least a couple apple shaped bruises developing right now.

Having cleared three entire fields, we accomplished our mission. We had basically a tailgate picnic, Basque style. We had tortilla español snadwiches with our beverages of choice. Once we found out that the cider was the one from this very farm we'd been working on all this time, we all elected to try it. It was amazing and delicious. As is traditional in the Basque Country, they poured it really high. They also offered us pâté and sardines and peppers. Dessert was of course a selection of local cheeses. They were all fantastic.

After our nice leisurely lunch, they drove us to the nearby town of Espelette and bought us another coffee. If the wage for a few hours of apple picking is two coffees, delicious lunch and whatever drinks I want, I'm in. That is not a bad way to spend a Saturday. They even drove us back to San Sebastian so the only money I spent was the €2,25 for the bus ticket. This is an experience that I wouldn't have been able to have on my own so kudos to my study abroad program.

After getting back to the city, most of us went out for arroz con leche ice cream. They top it with real cinnamon. Fantastic.

Life is very, very good.

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