Sunday, 15 September 2013

Hélette, France: The Countryside of Awesomeness

After a successful hitchhiking trip I was dropped off at the door to Santa Maria, the name of the gîte I would be HelpXing at in Hélette. Hélette is a tiny Basque town in the foothills of the Pyrenees. Every house is white with red roof tiles and red window shutters. Most houses end where the side of the road starts. The tour the France always goes through towns like this and has been through Hélette multiple times. The square in the centre of the town has a giant wall where families will play the Basque sport of pelota. The most similar well known game would be squash but with only one wall and outdoors. The town only has 2 bars and 2 restaurants, all 4 of these surround the square with all the chairs facing the pelota court... this town has no ATM and I arrived with only 9 Euro in my wallet. Let's see if I can make this last the full 2 weeks as opposed to the 500 dollars per a week I had averaged over the preceding 8 weeks.

My hosts were another English couple, Tony and Jane. They owned and ran the Gîtes of Santa Maria. Gîtes are fully equipped apartments inside a massive stone building. Santa Maria was 800 years old with 4 multi-level gîtes inside plus many more additional rooms. An entire family will generally rent out just one gîte for a holiday. I had a massive room to myself. There was a double bed and 3 single beds inside my room. The size of Santa Maria was unbelievable.

Santa Maria gite

The town of Hélette

When I arrived two other HelpXers, an English couple, were staying there as well. They broke up on the day I arrived... not because of me... I think. They both ended their adventure and flew back to London two days later.

My first couple of days just involved watering plants and moving wood. I had plenty of time for touring around on a bicycle pretending I was Lance Armstrong (the clean version). It was always up a steep hill or down a steep hill. It was very tough and sad realising I will never be cut out to achieve my dream of competing in Tour de France and having as many titles as Lance... oh wait.

I also went for a big hike on my second day. It wasn't as tough as La Rhune but it was longer and very beautiful. The mountain was just shy of 1000m but the views were amazing. The Pyrenees were in view. There were many horses roaming free on the hill. I thought they were wild. As it turns out everyone in the town just keeps their horses on the mountain so they take care of themselves and play with their friends.

On my fourth day another HelpXer arrived. A girl from the US, we hungout for a week but I can't remember her name (I know, I'm still hopeless with names). She was cool and could speak French. Tony and Jane took us rafting in their raft, jumping off a 15m cliff (I stupidly did a bomb and had a sore lower back and bum for a few days), to waterfalls that you can slide off into rock pools and to the Basque Witch caves just inside Spain. Due to cameras and water not being best mates the best parts aren't on photo.

The big slide

The small slide

When we were at the waterfalls mystery US girl lost her sun glasses down one of the waterfalls. I went diving to recover them. The visibility was terrible and the rock pools are about 4m deep. Something caught my eye so I grabbed it having know idea what it was but assuming it was the glasses... an open pocket knife. Lucky it was the wooden handle that caught my eye and not the shiny blade. I still carry this knife around with me... let's hope it's not a hidden murder weapon.

The Prize of the Dive

I got dropped off in Bayonne, a large French Basque town, on my second last day to explore and catch a train with very scenic views back.

One last thing, I spent 4 Euro to enter the Basque caves and 3 Euro on chocolate so 2 weeks of fun for 7 Euro! (Excluding my day in Bayonne).

It was time to say goodbye to Tony and Jane after an amazing two weeks. Next stop San Sebastian, Spain for a 4 week intensive language school.

Lessons Learnt:
My ability to remember people's names is still hopeless.
Fun can be free. If I was homeless in Europe or unable to find a job I would just hitchhike and HelpX across Europe. Temproary farm jobs are also easy to find in these small towns if you're desperate for money. They won't be on the internet but the wall of the town hall.