I had made it from San Sebastian to Toulouse and was now on a bus to St. Girons, where I would eventually have to hitch-hike to reach my final destination: Bonac. I had finished reading my book about “visitors” around the same time Grace finished reading “The Shining” by Stephen King, so we just swapped. One book about strange phenomenon for another. I thought how wildly innappropriate the read might be considering the work I was going to do -an inn tucked away in the middle of the Pyrenees Mountains. (“The Shining” is set in a hotel in the Rockie Mountains) It seemed peculiar, and I had already psyched myself out enough in my head -probably my mother’s voice (which was slowly starting to turn into my own), but the eeriness of the story I was already consuming contrasted greatly with my immediate reality. When I set the book down, I looked around me, and was astounded by the fairytale beauty of the houses, the forest, the smell of leftover cheese on my fingertips. (Not really part of that fairytale idea I just mentioned, but trust me, it added to the ambience.) The little girl behind me was commentating on the scenery. “Les fleures, les arbres, la-la-la…” I think she wanted to say river, but she became distracted and her “la”s were left suspended in the air.
We arrived to St. Girons, and I was now as far as any public transportation could take me. I asked the bus driver about the safety of hitch-hiking here, (even though I’d already asked three other people who all attested to its safety) and he gave the same answer. I made my way to the main road, stuck out my thumb and grinned. It must have been too much grin because I had expected to get picked up a lot sooner. 10 minutes turned into 20, and on a hot day with all of my bags, I was now sweating. Finally, after half of an hour, I won a ride. Two men from Spain, one wearing a fisherman’s hat, and the other with bright blue eyes asked where I needed to go. I had told myself earlier that I would only accept a ride from a family or a couple, but at this point, I was desperate, and something about them made me confident enough to throw my bags into the pocket-sized car. Maybe it was because I knew there was no way they’d be able to fit me into the barely existent trunk.
I did, however, find out later why I subconsciously trusted them. They were dads of kids my age. I guess they must have had that “dad” kind-of vibe. They actually went entirely out of their way to drop me off in the exact village I needed. I thanked them for one last opportunity to use my Spanish before I walked into a new and intimidating linguistic environment to which I was an alien. Yes, I have taken French classes, but the experience I get in the classroom pales in comparison to what I was about to embrace. France is the first country I have ever travelled to where I am not fluent in the language. Proficient? Sure. But I would soon learn the unfamiliar feeling of having no clue what’s happening in a conversation, or even feeling left out entirely.
I found my way to the restaurant, Le Relais Montagnard, which was in the center of the village called Bonac, but my quarters were, according to the waiter working there, another 20 minute walk up the mountain. (I later found out I would be making this jaunt a couple times everyday.) I found the apartment, and Ruppart, the owner of Le Relais, who intoduced himself with a “Oh, I didn’t know you were coming today.” I very soon would grow accustomed to this lackadaisical attitude that the folks of Bonac seemed to share. We ate dinner together, and I settled into what would be home for the next two weeks. And despite the unfortunate toilet accomodations, (a bucket) I was mostly just glad the place existed, wasn’t some weird commune, and that I didn’t get kidnapped during my hitch-hiking adventure.