The beautiful city of Biarritz was the next stop on our trip. The tide looked a bit high on the city centre beaches when we arrived and they were still pretty crowded, so we kept moving until we found a sweet looking peak at the south end of the city.
This is what was waiting to greet us at the top of the cliff where we decided to go surfing. We decided the best way to proceed was to cross our fingers that the locals weren't too hardcore and go surfing regardless! We ended up having a great session, with perfect head high waves and a chilled out crowd on the water.
One of the highlights of Biarritz was seeing the local grom school get on the water, around half an hour after the school bells rang. Just as in Ireland we have hurling/football/rugby/whatever training after school, in Biarritz a big group of ten to fifteen year old kids gets on the water with coaches on the shore recording and critiqueing every move. All of a sudden there were airs being thrown left right and centre, along with all sorts of other crazy turns and high performance surfing. The kids could surf better than anyone I've seen on the water in Ireland and it was definitely an eye opener as to what's possible on a board if you put the time in!
Moving on from Biarritz after a couple of sessions, we headed for Zarautz in the Basque country. This spot was reccommended by a local surf kayaker who turned out to be bang on. It's an awesome old town with great pinxtos and kebabs, and some lovely small, clean surf.
Lunchtime in between surf sessions in Zarautz, with scrambled eggs cooked at a bus stop providing sustenance for the day. It's quite a classy looking place and the locals definitely aren't used to tourists cooking lunch in the middle of the footpath!
Unfortunately we had a less than ideal end to our time in Zarautz. Mark had a wipeout in the shorebreak which resulted in a chunk of fiberglass from his board entering his mouth below his bottom lip and then lodging in his top teeth. This pinned his mouth closed and stopped him from talking, so it took myself and Adam a while to figure out what was going on!
Despite Mark's pleasant new demeanour and the new-found peace and quiet in the car, as soon as we realised that the reason Mark wasn't talking to us was that there was a piece of surfboard lodged in his mouth myself and Adam agreed that it would be bad form to take advantage and leave him like that for a while and that we had to go and sort it out. We plugged 'hospital' into the GPS and aimed for the nearest result, which was about an hour away in San Sebastian. ...one of the problems of driving on the continent is that the driver's seat is on the wrong side of the car. For this trip the driver's life was complicated by the fact that the entire space behind the passenger seat in the Fiesta was packed from floor to ceiling with camping gear. This meant that the driver was totally reliant on the passenger to be his eyes on the road, keeping an eye on the gaping blind spot and letting the driver know if it was safe to change lane or not. Anyway, we totally forgot about this key duty of the passenger, threw Mark into the passenger seat and took off for San Sebastian. All went well for a while; we drove through beautiful mountain roads at dusk, unfortunately spending more time trying to figure out exactly what was wrong with Mark and how we were going to explain it to a doctor when we found one than admiring the view.
When we reached San Sebastian, all hell broke loose! By the time we got there darkness had fallen, rush hour had well and truly begun, and I have never seen craziness like it on a road ever before in my life! Layers upon layers of motorways, stacked four high at some of the busier interchanges, roundabouts within roundabouts within entrance ramps, traffic merging and leaving every hundred metres or so, all filled with crazy Basque people in an awful rush home to do whatever Basque people do at night. Add to this a GPS which was just slightly too slow to tell us which lane or exit we should be taking and a total lack of signposts, and you can guess what kind of a job we did of finding the hospital. Around an hour later, after many near death experiences and on our third trip around the city, Mark's grunts were getting urgent enough to be translated to 'I really need to get to a hospital now' and we finally rolled into a hospital car park. We explained to the staff on the desk in attempted Spanish that we needed someone who spoke English, and approximately what the problem was. They said that they would get someone with more English, and also that this was a private hospital and Mark would need to prove that he had insurance before they would do anything for him. So while we were waiting for an English speaker I got onto Mark's parent's on the phone, trying my best to explain that Mark was fine, but couldn't talk and could I please have his health insurance information...
Eventually, a pleasant, English speaking doctor showed up who explained that this was in fact a private day hospital which didn't have an emergency department. So they wouldn't be able to do anything for Mark even if his insurance was underwritten by God himself... While quietly exploding inside, myself and Adam politely asked were we far from an actual A&E department (no, we weren't), could they tell us how to get there (Not a chance, sure we had seen the state of the roads already, they were way too complicated for directions and it obviously wasn't signposted), and could he find it on our GPS (the initial answer was yes, but after ten or fifteen minutes of searching our friendly doctor decided it wasn't on the GPS). So we decided that the best course action would be to put Mark in a taxi and get him to a hospital while myself and Adam aimlessly drove around San Sebastian looking for him. We were reluctant to split up since Mark couldn't talk, none of us spoke Spanish and none of us knew where we were, so thankfully just as our taxi pulled up the driveway I somehow found the emergency department on the GPS. So we said good luck and thanks to the hospital staff and ran out of there before we had to face the taxi driver and explain why we didn't really need him any more!
After another unintentional detour or two around San Sebastian we found ourselves having a heated argument with a talking car park barrier outside a hospital, which it turned out was trying to tell us that the car park we were trying to force our way into was for staff only. At this point Mark gave up on us and took flight out of the car, deciding that he could do a better job of finding A&E on foot. And he was right. I found him a few minutes later at the A&E desk, trying to explain his problem to the unfortunate receptionist using a combination of grunts and hand gestures. In fairness, once we had explained the issue using sign language and sketched pictures things moved incredibly quickly. A cute doctor appeared to try and open Mark's mouth, and when she couldn't sent him away for an x-ray to see what was going on. The x-ray didn't seem to have done much, and the doctor seemed pretty confused as to what the problem was when Mark got back. Myself and Adam did our best to try to explain what was going on and the doctor did a really good job of pretending she understood what we were saying, so when two doctors, three interns and a nurse or two came back to pump Mark full of anasthetic and have a closer look we thought they had a pretty good idea of what they were dealing with. However the look of shock, horror, awe and disgust that appeared on the entire group's faces when they finally managed peel Mark's lip away from the chunk of fiberglass stuck between his teeth revealed that whatever they had been expecting to find it wasn't that!
Cue a high-five from Mark for the doctor, big smiles all around, and that was the hard part of the job finished. They spent a while picking shards of fiberglass out of the hole in Mark's lip and from between his teeth, and then washed everything out and stitched it inside and out. After we had avoided a couple of awkward questions like 'where are you staying tonight?' and where will you be in a week's time when these stitches need to come out?' we were free to continue on our merry way. At this stage we were all starving so we splashed out and found a half decent carbonara at a supermarket food court, while Mark bought himself a bottle of vodka for when the painkillers wore off. Then we went off to try to find a flat patch of ground to try to pitch tents on in what must be one of the hilliest areas in the world! That was quite the struggle and by the time we found something even borderline suitable it was the early hours of the morning and we were all flat out exhausted. I don't think I've ever been as happy to climb into bed as that night at the edge of a field half way up a Basque mountain!
All's well that ends well, or something like that... he could still breath through the lower lip, and it leaked when he was drinking for a while, but it was an impressively tidy stitching job from the team at San Sebastian A&E! A couple of days off the water and it was as good as new, with plenty of surfing still to be done during the trip.
After the day we just had you would think we were due a run of especially good luck. Unfortunately though that's not exactly how it worked out! Check back in a couple of days time for the next update on the calamity tour, I promise that the next post will be just as excitement-filled as this one!!