Ondres. The name almost sounds Mexican to me- it has a rhythm like ‘hombre’. But it is the most typical French village in the Basque that you can imagine- this tiny village, now our home for the last couple of days where we are staying with Nelly in her tasteful villa. The beauty of this region is simply breath-taking not only our village Ondres- but everything east of San Sebastian.
Green so green that it hurts the eye. The foliage is just overflowing- every twig or branch you see has more leaves than it should. The roads are narrow and every few hundred meters you meet roundabouts. The cars generally never obey the speed limits- two wheelers zip past so fast that they perhaps remain oblivious to the speed expectations anyway. Yet, there is respect for the passers-by. And there are smiles and pleasantries exchanged when you stop at traffic lights. And despite long queues of vehicles at traffic junctions, drivers are accommodating and mild mannered. Welcome to France, I smiled to myself as our motorcycle weaved through the long queue of vehicles. We were now attired right for the season- Anu in her poncho and me in my waterproof riding pants with a rain jacket on top- this morning we were caught unawares by the rain but not so any longer.
At the fuel station we stopped for air- and there we met David. The gentleman walked up to us and started a conversation in relatively coherent English. David is a proud Frenchman- and an even more proud member of the Basque community. As we posed for pictures, he corrected the angle for his French beret cap- just to make sure his identity was reflected in the right light. And standing at the fuel station, we discussed about politics, food, sports and everything else in between. And then he said if you have a few minutes I’d like to show you something- it is the typical sport of the Basque region. He had us- and he knew it. A few minutes later we were at an indoor stadium, watching a bunch of children play a special game. And thus it was- a bond was formed, a connection was made. He will visit India in 2018- and I hope we can also share with him something interesting and enriching. I guess this trip is all about chance encounters- and every detour, every smile and every ‘Bonjour’ may bring about new experiences.
Today was a good day- we had a second such encounter- this time it was 71 year old Rudolf. The man knew India well, had travelled through the subcontinent and was currently touring France on his bicycle- already 2000 kilometres from his home in the Netherlands. Eloquent and expressive, he was earlier into events and marketing- and knew several of India’s leading families including Lata Mangeshkar, Asha Bhosale, DIlip Kumar, Nargis, Sunil Gavaskar. Kapil Dev, etc.- and they knew him personally. What a free spirit- what persistence- to travel thousands of kilometres alone on a bicycle. His tan was deep, his eyes sparkled as he laughed and he spoke from the heart like a child would. As he kissed us goodbye, his last words were Ï am going to race real fast down this hill now” … and off he went like a flash.
The blue of the sea, the grey of the clouds, the green of the plants, the brown earth and the dark tarmac- these were the colours that surrounded us today as we travelled through spectacular panoramas and beautiful architecture of the Basque countryside. Sococa, Sainte Barbe, Guethary, Bidart, Biarritz, Anglet, Bayonne, Tarnos and Ondres… these will not be strange French names anymore. For us, each have a smell, a smile, a coffee shop or a landscape that we associate with.
More and more, each passing day is making me realize that places on the map are for real- where people live, love and share lives. And in some strange way, these dots on the map play a role in our lives too- however distant or theoretical they may seem when you watch them on the GPS. For Anu and me, it is even more so- every encounter we have been having over the past weeks have been a case of ‘maps coming live’. With each passing day, I am beginning to look at every delay, every detour, every miss- as new opportunities ready to reveal its potential to us. At every moment, there awaits new experiences- we just have to be open to greet it and await for it to unveil itself. Amen!