As many of you know, especially if you've looked through my France Category, we have a small apartment in an old Basque house in the little village of Guethary, France.
We usually come here twice a year, once in the spring and again in the fall. We try to avoid the summer when tens of thousands of French and other European tourists descend on this little fishing village of just 1,000 people.
Guethary is located on the Atlantic just a few kilometers from the Spanish border at the foot of the Pyrenees. The village and the surrounding Basque Country (or Pays Basque in French) have become the surf capital of Europe. And for most of the year, the surf is even more crowded than in California.
Still, there is much to do here other than surfing. Water sports abound and include stand-up paddling, white water kayaking, kite surfing, wind surfing, diving, catamaran racing, and many more, but there's also the amazing food, which is a mix of French, country French, Basque, Spanish, and seafood.
Hiking in the Pyrenees and along the rugged coastline is spectacular, and you'll also find golfing, sailing, disc golf, and countless outdoor activities.
The area is rich in history and even prehistory (see my post about a hike into prehistory). And the Basque culture is fascinating. The excellent regional wines rival those of Bordeaux to the north, and ah, did I mention the food?
But in spite of enjoying most of what the area has to offer over the past several years, we were surprised to discover that our little village is now doing a Soap Box Derby every year. The first derby was two years ago and the organizers tried to duplicate the U.S. version with similar rules. There weren't many entrants that year and publicity was limited. We heard about it after the fact. Last year it rained, making the somewhat steep course with two significant curves a bit dangerous. But this year? Well, this year was exceptional.
The race was to start at 2 pm, but the festivities began at 10:30 am. We made our way to the fronton. In the Basque Country, every village has a Pelote Basque (or Jai Alai) court in the center of town called the fronton. Most are adjacent to the town hall. In addition to the dramatic sport of jai alai, these huge courts serve as places for farmers' markets, community shows and exhibitions, and celebrations.
The village and its merchants had set up a bouncy castle along with a miniature driving course for little kids. Several three-year-olds were trying to navigate tiny electric vehicles around the cones with very little success. Parents tried vainly to get their kids to turn the cars, but in general this just resulted in slow-motion collisions and smashed (parents') toes.
There was an exhibit of electric vehicles (cars, scooters, bikes, and skateboards), and of course a large concession area for food and wine.
The roads through the village were closed to traffic and barriers kept pedestrians and spectators off the streets. Village workers set up inflatable barriers on the curves to protect both the spectators and the drivers from injury during potential crashes. We noticed that they had also attached high quality speakers to the lamp posts along the course.
The course itself starts about 200 yards above the fronton, continues down a very gentle slope to the first curve, then down a much steeper slope to a very tight curve, with the finish line a few hundred feet beyond.
Instead, prizes were awarded for most ecological, best decoration, loudest, most crowd pleasing, best costume for the drivers, and of course the fastest car. Here are a few of the racers:
Before the race started, Karen and I made our way to the last curve so that we could see the steep descent, the treacherous turn and the finish. A DJ and an announcer joked around as they played an eclectic mix of rock tunes and eventually got down to calling the race. Most of the racers were adults though there was one group of teen-aged boys (15 years old) and a single girls team who piloted the Eco racer. One of the cars that did well in last year's race died on the speed bump on the steep hill and had to be towed away. But the rest ran the course several times.
After crossing the finish line, ATVs towed the racers back up to the starting line.
You can pick your favorites for best decorated and for best costume. I liked the Octopus and the Dog. Karen rooted for the girl's team and their Eco racer. And as for fastest time, no one even came close to Chez Renaud, with the Guerafy (the local satirical publication/website) a somewhat distant second. Chez Renaud was also the loudest with its La Cucaracha air horn echoing across all of Guethary and to Bidart, the neighboring village.
It was a great event marking the end of summer and the beginning of the glorious fall season in the Pays Basque.