Its still cold and a strong breeze is finding its way through the gaps in the poorly sealed window. After carefully unpacking and lovingly set up, the printer isn’t working. The signal is not too good here so I’m guessing that may be the problem.
We go down for breakfast and it is busy with several tables of couples and groups. Each person has their own tray in front of them eating breakfast. It reminds me of school canteens and food courts. Once finished you slot your tray into the trolley rack and go.
At around 10:20 am we set off on the second leg of this trip to Les Leves et Thoumeyragues. Soon it starts to rain. The glorious sunny days of Javea seem far behind. The architecture is changing as we pass through the west Pyrenees. More chalet style homes.
The journey is over bridges and through tunnels, the longest tunnel being 3 km. They all have distance markers and the railings on the bridges are painted blue for their whole length.
At Irun we reach the Border. Police with mean looking machine guns chat. Occasional cars are stopped. Toll Booths don’t seem to be designed with the driver in mind. Most people look like they are struggling out of a straight jacket as they twist and contort their bodies, trapped by the seat belt to reach the coin drop. People nervously place notes into the slot holding on hard so that they don’t blow away. Cars judder as stretching bodies release their feet from the pedals. Some people open their car doors and step closer to the machines as if to hold a conversation. The cost of this exercise is a toll of 1.70 Euros. It takes its toll on many people!
We reach East of Biarritz a few kilometers down the road and another 2.40 Euros toll.
We stop off at Aire de Labenne Est for petrol and a comfort break. The petrol pump doesn’t seem to work, then all of a sudden kicks-in. I’m sure the meter started at a Litre and not zero. The guy making the coffee is doubling as the cashier so it takes ages to pay.
I’m starting to hear French voices. The radio is on. The French language is kinder on the ear. We get back in the car, drive 1 kilometre and another 3.70 Euro toll.
There are roadworks everywhere and the lanes are very narrow. It is compounded by the trucks and heavy vehicles. There has been heavy traffic like this most of the way. It makes you feel like you almost have to squeeze past everything. It makes the going slow. Sarah is driving and doing a brilliant job, but I am a nervous passenger and squirm in my seat as we get so close to these trucks. Sitting on the right in a left hand drive car is also disorientating. Visions of us spinning off the road ignite my mind. We get so close at one point that I scream like a baby. Sarah is patient … to a point. Another image enters my mind. She screeches the car to a halt and says you bloody well drive then. But it doesn’t happen. Not yet anyway. Then all of a sudden we leave the roadworks, sprint into a 130 speed limit zone and 3 lanes! And then too soon again another 3.70 Euro toll … Guckinf Hell!
Approaching Saugnacq St Murat …. another 3.70 Euro toll!!!!!
We miss (okay, okay, okay …..I miss) the exit for Dax that takes us onto the A65. A large truck must have been in front of the sign. So instead, continue on the A63 heading for Bordeaux. Eventually we take the D672 that winds its way through the green french countryside. Its like off-roading on just a hint of tarmac. Focused on the fuel gauge and feeling like we are going round in a circle we eventually catch up with the A62 and so are now back enroute. Its raining.
As per advice from Jo we look for the Chateau Le Peyrail sign. I think we have arrived and look for number 6, but I can only find number 4. The place next door looks very much like Jo’s house. I go up to the door and see all sorts of things that resonate with her such as a panama hat, horse tackle and even the shutters are that deep purple colour. There is no one in sight. The lady at number 4 comes out and I ask for number 6, but she doesn’t know where it is or heard of Jo. Bugger. I want her say “I am number 4”, but I guess she hasn’t read the book. Then I realise we are in Les Bramants. Just meters down the road is our destination … in the correct road … well, lane, perhaps track … Le Peyrail.
We park the car in the car port next to an old Citroen 2CV and BMW. Gervais appears and greets us. Eek … who is he? Jo comes out of the house and the introductions begin. Gervais is a good friend who sponsors Jo’s artwork in the community and also helps where he can. We realise later into our stay that he must be a busy man. We leave our luggage in the car and go into the house. We soon have a glass of red in front of us and give a short summary of our trip. The log burner is warm and glowing.
After the pleasantries we find some wellington boots and start a brief tour that includes verbal instructions on looking after the animals. Nothing is written down. The property is basically 3 workers cottages converted into one big house. As you enter the first front door you walk straight into the lounge with dinning area to the right. Beyond is the main guest “Chambre”with an ensuite. To the left is a large kitchen and breakfast room. Beyond that past the second front door, two bedrooms, one of which is ours and next to that the walk-in larder. Downstairs is a large bathroom and another door leading to the laundry and a separate store room. In the laundry some swallows have made a nest so we should keep the door open so that they can come and go. Upstairs are the quarters of the lady of the house … Jo.
For the tour we take a door leading onto a veranda and then down some steps. At the bottom if you continue, after about 15 meters there is a covered BBQ area and a door leading to Jo’s studio. We go down some stone steps and turn right along an overgrown path through a covered seating area. Further down the terrace is a round sunken pool. It is empty. No, that’s not true. There is about 2 inches of water with some kind of abandoned equipment in it and several lizards basking on the edge with their tails in the water, cooling. It doesn’t look inviting. Apparently the pool has a leak and I learn later that it is on the Gervais list. The list must be very long. We walk further along to a tack room where Jo keeps her saddles and the feed for the horses. Next to this room is a barn. It is dark and full of oddments and abandoned things. Jo has been carrying a mysterious big black pot full of food. We discover that it is for Oliver the Vietnamese Pot-bellied Pig. Perhaps he eats pots! (Ha). It is emptied into a large tin bowl. We don’t see anything. Despite the amount of food being lovingly scrapped into the large tin bowl I imagine a little pink piggie the size of a poodle. There is a rustle and a grunt in the very back of the barn. I sense some movement. The grunting and moaning gets louder. Suddenly as my eyes adjust I can see a large haystack moving towards me. As my eyes focus I realise that it must be the infamous Oliver … black, large, hairy, covered in hay and very grumpy. He may be a bit blind we are told and he uses his large nostrils to locate his feed, occasionally bumping into things. These pigs are raised for meat and I suspect that Oliver could feed a small village for a week.
Next door in the tack room we mix the horse feed from various bags, into 3 buckets for Darcy, Nougat and Thomas. Just outside are planks of wood nailed together to create a platform. It is the feeding table for the 20 or so Doves. Jo throws down a few handfuls of birdseed and they dive into it. Carrying the buckets we walk down a slope to a grass area. It is covered in daisies and looks beautiful. We are introduced to Darcey, Nougat and Thomas. There is a fence … well .. some wire interlaced with wood and a gate that you could blow over. It is here that we place the buckets. Beyond the fence is a small stable and next to it the bird house. Behind is the large paddock for horses to roam and a bamboo wood hidden by the enormous trees. Jo and I go inside the birdhouse. It is not the most desirable place to be. The Doves don’t seem to mind though. Jo puts her hand into one of the boxes and retrieves a baby Dove. It is a miracle because it is life and a young innocent life, but it is not the most beautiful looking thing. Bald and scrawny with oddments of feathers … a bit like me in the morning.
Dotted around the paddock near the stable are mounds of horse poo. If the inclination takes me I am invited to scoop some up during our stay. I am shown a wheelbarrow and a fork in which to perform the activity and where I should place the poo which is at the side of the stable. It is very wet and slushy here. The mud pulls at your feet drawing you in like a large mouth.
We return up the small hill pressing down the turf with our feet. It is churned up by horse hooves. Jo says she has a ride-on mower and I offer to cut it when the ground dries out. If it doesn’t rain it may be okay to have a go next week, but it will take time to harden underfoot.
During the tour Jo mentions that she has a booking for Saturday. (oh really). A German couple via airbnb. Gervais is planning to come over to prepare breakfast for them. We offer to do breakfast and the optional evening meal so that Gervais does not need to travel the 1 hour from home to host them. Plus we also want some independence.
We return to the barn and try and start the mower. I look at the tired dusty machine and think fat chance. True to form the battery is flat and so we (the Royal we) push the mower round to the charger. Jo hooks up the clips … positive to negative which Gervais notices in good time. We hear Oliver grunting and fussing. I don’t think he likes the idea of the mower in his way.
On the return journey to the house we take a small diversion to a very small pond to view 5 small Carp. Who also need some tender loving care.
The remaining troupe are Buzz and Des the cats. Big Dog a 14 year old labrador who huffs and puffs, snorts and snores. Then there is Puppy. He is a lovely dog. Mixture of Sheep Dog and Collie, but has an intimidating wolf-like look and must scare the shit out of joggers and hikers as they come down the lane. He chases after every car nearly getting caught in the back wheels. Apparently Jo accidently drove her car into him. It may account for the quizzical look he gives with a tilted head. Its like he is trying to puzzle it all out. I guess I’m with him there … still trying to puzzle it all out! Truth is he is actually a very well behaved dog and over the coming days we will sort of bond.
We unpack in a bedroom that is more like a retro shop with a bed in it. Pieces of stuff everywhere. Or should I say a collection of items. A tallboy, but no wardrobe. There is a bohemian theme running through the whole place. A silky thread of this life philosophy weaves its way through everything from the cobwebs to the host. There is nothing wrong with it. Except Sarah and I are not accustomed with the concept that seems to place the unimportance on the things that are important to us.
Returning to the lounge to socialise we drink more wine.
We are introduced to a Korean airbnb guest, Heechul Lee. He Leaves the following day and is touring in europe while he thinks about the meaning of life and University.
We are then told by Jo that a young chinese girl by the name of Wantan Li is staying at the house. A lodger in fact, who has the middle room and is working locally at Univitis. This comes as a surprise as it was never mentioned when we agreed to housesit. Wrongly, we assumed we had the house to ourselves and had not entered into a mini commune. Laced in red wine and because we were committed, (in other words nowhere else to go) there was an uncharacteristic acceptance to this situation on our part. I can reveal though that over the following days we felt that it was more than absent minded not to mention this to us.
Anyway … the wine flows and we retreat to the large kitchen. Gervais goes to the local petrol station for more wine. They sell a Gold Award winning wine for 6 Euros. Ian, Jo’s partner in life and drummer in a band arrives for a quick 5 minute visit …. he stays and later also goes to the petrol station for more wine. Ian ends up staying for dinner, then stays over. I chop onions and chillies for the spaghetti bolognaise. The next day I rub my eyes and other tender parts of my body and am violently reminded of this.
It is a great evening. Stories, laughter, wine. A long, long day.
Until next time 🌏