The Sand Dune and the Sandwich

April 1

Vineyard, hot tub, boarder collie. It all sounded too good to be true. There had to be a catch. So when we pulled up to our Airbnb just outside of Bordeaux, I began a mental checklist. Vineyard: yes. Boarder collie: oooo he’s adorable. Guess I won’t see much of Jakob for the next few days. Hot tub: Wahoo!!!

Our room? Ah yes. Online it was described as a private room and appeared to be a cozy loft. In reality, the cramped farm house (read: converted tool shed) had barely enough room for one bedroom, let alone two. We would be sleeping in the walk way space between the top of the steep attic stairs and the hosts’ bedroom. Two of the “room’s” sides were made up of railings overlooking the kitchen below, one was a flimsy portable divider, and the last was an angled attic wall.
Thankfully, what our new home lacked in comfort was made up by our hosts’ generous hospitality and liberal wine pour.

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This wine was actually grown in the fields surrounding the house!

In fact, we were barely in the door before our hosts, Jennifer and Thomas, invited us to join them for dinner. Of course we agreed. We were eager to experience the authentic human interactions that travel sometimes lacks. Unfortunately, they did not specify the hour of that dinner. By 8:00 I was using very little restraint on the bowl of cheezies on the coffee table. Just when I thought I might disappear into the black hole that was once my stomach, Jennifer headed into the kitchen to begin preparing hamburger patties. I asked to help in any way I could. She smiled and insisted that she didn’t need help, clearly not realizing that it was not an offer, it was a plea. I’d like to think that I’m pretty good at adapting to other cultures, but evidently my stomach is not.

By 9:30 we were seated around the dinner table, stacking our burgers with carmelized onions, french cheeses, and thick slices of avocado. All evening our conversation had been a halting mix of French and English, accented with hand gestures and broken up with long stretches of silence while we all tried to think of what we could say and how to say it.

We had already covered the easiest topic: What do you want to do while in Bordeaux?

I had sheepishly replied, “nous voudrions voir le dune du Pyla.” I thought they might laugh. Is seeing a sand dune really an acceptable tourist goal for a 24 year old?
To the contrary, they nodded enthusiastically, going on to explain that the dune was big, beautiful, and interesting….Whether or not it really was is hard to tell, really those were just the words we could all understand.

“We are hoping to go on Saturday.” Jakob explained, “when Meghan has a day off of work.”
They frowned and shook their heads, “no the weather not good Saturday. Go tomorrow.”

Really we had no choice, I worked Thursday and Friday in the Bordeaux archives, so we were going Saturday, come hell or high water.

We checked the forecast daily, hoping the clouds might notice our persistence and delay their April shower’s mandate by just one day. To the contrary, the forecast managed to get worse. By Saturday morning, there were warnings of thunderstorms, unpredictable high water, strong winds, and quickly changing conditions. Sounded like a perfect west coast beach day to us, so we slipped on our raincoats and adventure pants (only the highest fashion in waterproof zip offs), packed a picnic, and headed to the beach.

We saw the dune before reaching the parking lot. It towered over the jungle-like-forest, the white sand contrasting dramatically with the deep green of the trees and the brilliant blue of the sky. The hulking 3km long 100m high dune looked entirely out of place. It was as if a piece of the Sahara had lost it’s way and decided that life on the Atlantic was too pleasant to pass up. A set of stairs appeared equally out of place, tracing the curve of the dune, ending near the crest. An elderly couple and a family with children dawdled towards the stairs, while a group of five young guys ambled up the free flowing sand. Reaching the obvious conclusion that stairs are for the weak, we slipped out of our shoes and eagerly began scrambling up the dune freestyle. Our dash slowed to a plod after a few meters, a few more and the stairs looked unbelievably good. By the time I caught my first glimpse of the ocean, my thighs and glutes were begging to be back in the archives.

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The dune, which has allegedly swallowed a hotel and the homes of innumerable woodland animals, stretched for as far as we could see towards the south. A few houses to the north clung to their foundations sending up nearly audible pleas for mercy. Jakob, realizing that he was in for more of a hike than a beach, put his shoes back on, while I insisted that barefoot was best. Each of us assumed that the other would eventually regret their decision.

By the time we were almost half way across the dune’s expanse, heading for the highest point, we noticed that the sky was no longer blue. Somewhere out on the Atlantic, sheets of rain were pelting the waves and picking up speed in their land-ward journey.
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Still we had no interest in letting impending weather interrupt our picnic plans, so we found a sheltered dip in the sand and hunkered down to munch on sandwiches. Not long after the cheese and meat were in their rightful place, the wind began to pick up. Jakob stood up, offering a full report on the progress of the ominous clouds. The warning was too late. Seconds later a million tiny spear points pelted my bare feet and legs. By the time I realized that it was wind-whipped sand, not a barrage of arrows from an army of mini sand-dwelling fairies, my sandwich was entirely covered in sand. Jakob yelled at me to stand up to avoid the worst of the sandy onslaught and raced off to check the progress of his GoPro footage.

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Pre-storm GoPro set-up

In minutes, his footsteps were covered and most of the GoPro was buried. I managed to get my pant legs rolled down and my shoes back on just before the pelting rain began. By now my teeth were almost as sandy as my toes, and I decided it was time to abandon the sandwhich. I felt compelled to bury it. As if it had been the unlucky soldier in this battle and deserved a respectful resting place. Of course it would be uncovered again in mere minutes in these conditions, but it’s the thought that counts. With one last look towards the far end of the dune, we admitted defeat, turned our backs to the storm and began our trek back to the parking lot.

A few hours later we were sitting on a beach not far from the dune, enjoying suggery waffles and watching kite surfers under a once again beautiful blue sky. If it weren’t for the thick layer of sand on my scalp and the grainy layer under my clothes, I would have assumed that the battle of the dune hadn’t really happened at all.

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