Word of the day
Joie-de-vivre: exuberant enjoyment of life (French)
Along with the film Notting Hill and red cherry Muller fruit corners I classify Ridin Solo by Jason Derulo as one of my guilty pleasures in life. Few would argue it’s a classic but what Jason lacks in songwriting ability he more than makes up for with autotuning and joie-de-vivre. I am particularly fond of listening to Ridin Solo in the all too familiar “Jonesy’s back” post break-up phase, but did not expect to be humming it on my first night in Biarritz.
(Jason has kindly offered to provide the backing music as you read the rest of this post)
My first six weeks of freedom hadn’t been too testing; jumping from place to place in Germany and France I was either travelling with friends or visiting them in their home venues for guaranteed fun and ready made social circles.
A one man trip to the south of France was hardly a major challenge but it was a step up; for the first time I was actually backpacking and didn’t know anyone in my destination. I would either have to make some friends or find some of Jason’s joie-de-vivre in my own company – I’d left Pieter the white tiger in London.
I rocked up at the Biarritz Surf Hostel with a spring in my step expecting to be fist-bumped by some radical bro; the French version of Brad from Neighbours. Instead I was greeted by a note on the door detailing the entry code and my sleeping arrangements:
I would be staying in the delightfully named ‘Brown Room.’ Perhaps they’d heard about my surfing ability and were predicting the future colour of my underpants.
There was an eerie silence as I walked up the stairs and realised the building was deserted. On reflection perhaps Halloween and surfing weren’t quite the happy bedfellows I’d imagined when booking my flights.
Recalling my recent epoophanies I felt reassured; ayahuasca clearly wanted me to catch up on some admin so I replied to a few emails and bought travel insurance.
I decided to leave in search of sustenance and bumped into a friendly group of Brits eating dinner in the kitchen downstairs. As Michael Jackson’s You Are Not Alone replaced Jason Derulo in my head I felt uncharacteristically self-conscious chatting to them.
Are you travelling alone? Yep
Are you a good surfer? Nope
What do you do for work? Nothing
What did you do before nothing? Umm finance, investment stuff
Oh so you were an investment banker? Nooooo
Despite this unpromising introduction they kindly offered me a slice of pizza. I politely declined; I was on a solo joie-de-vivre mission and marched into town, taking my Kindle just in case.
Thursday night in Biarritz was lively but after tip-toeing in and out of a couple of bars it felt a little too French; my conversational skills weren’t up to the challenge so I decided to keep my powder dry. Dinner for one please Monsieur.
I made a single glass of wine last an eternity before walking back to the hostel, slightly disappointed in myself but looking forward to an episode of Narcos and a good night’s sleep.
When I returned the British foursome’s pizzas had been replaced with a deck of cards; they were playing drinking games and ploughing into their remaining alcohol supplies. They again invited me to join and this time I gratefully accepted, downing a welcome shot of rum. God Save The Queen.
My solo excursion had been underwhelming but thanks to these benevolent strangers I rediscovered my joie-de-vivre and had a really fun evening.
The fun continued as they heroically went out to a local club until 4am while I went to bed, happy with my first day as a lone ranger.
The next day I was invited to join their morning surfing excursion. I was even more grateful for the companionship as I was repeatedly battered by large waves, barely getting onto a knee let alone two feet. I have a long way to go before achieving my ‘Get Good At Surfing’ goal. My attempts at volleyball were marginally more successful.
Rosie, James, Flo and Jos were a lovely group; entertaining, cheerful (we did our serious faces in the shot below to look professional), interesting and all doing jobs that make the world a better place. They dropped me back at base before heading off to the airport. I waved them off, grateful to have been taken under their collective wing.
Next stop: San Sebastian (Spain)
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