Grape Picking in the Corbières

 In 1974, I thought it would be a good experience to take part in the wine harvest in France.

Without overthinking it, I signed up.
Ferry to France from Ireland. 
Train down to the Corbières region of southern France. 

I didn't realize it was SO far. Or that the work would be SO hard. 


To the small town of St.Laurent de la Cabrerisse. Southwest of Narbonne.

Our 'patron' was a lively fellow a good 6 inches shorter than I was. 
His wife was even shorter. His daughter, who picked with us, was also small. 

I felt enormous in comparison.

Suddenly, their son Jean-Luc appeared. 
He towered in the doorway to the kitchen! Huge! 

I later discovered Jean-Luc and I were roughly the same size. 
No wonder they called me Monsieur Muscles. 

I shared a shack outside the patron's house with another student, Danielle from Toulouse. 

It had no running water.  The pump was in the street. 
The toilet facilities, basically a hole in the ground, were across the street. 

I was young and strong, but holy cow, the work was exhausting. 

Hot. Sticky. Hard. Long. My muscles ached. 
All we could do at the end of the day was fall off the truck and onto our cots. 

Danielle and I really struggled with the work. 
Other pickers in our group were members of the same family. 
Three generations. 

I was amazed at how the older women kept going, talking, telling jokes. 
They helped us finish our rows when we were slower than they were. 

We clipped the bunches of grapes with sharp secateurs, and filled our buckets. 
They were heavy. 

We hoisted the heavy buckets of grapes into the pannier. 
The pannier was then carried to the wagon, usually by Jean-Luc. 

I figured we hoisted over a ton of grapes EACH, every day. 

While we picked, we gathered the vineyard snails. 

 The little granddaughter ran about, crying excitedly, "Scargo! Scargo!" while 
"Mme Escargot", cooked them up in the evenings, using various recipes. 

We started very early, and took a break a couple hours later for breakfast. 

Breakfast was bread and wine with water. 

We stayed in the fields for lunch, trying to find a bit of shade.  
Also with wine. 


For dinner, we ate with the patron's family in their kitchen. Maman cooked.  
Once or twice, we all dined with Mme Escargot, who lived nearby. 

"Ah, don't take a photo with my cap on!" 

All the farmers brought their grapes to the co-op at the end of the day. 
They were paid according to the weight and the sugar content of the grapes. 

Everything was done by hand.

I tried to explain where I lived, but Ireland meant nothing to them.  

"Where they have the wooden shoes?" No, that's Holland. 
"Where they have the glaciers?" No, that's Iceland. 
"Oh, where the men wear skirts!" No, that's Scotland. 

Finally, I just told them I came from north of Paris. 
They were terribly impressed. 

(I didn't actually drive the tractor.)

We worked about 3 weeks, and got paid in cash and in wine, which of course, was impossible to take back. It was the most physically demanding job I ever had. (And that includes working one summer in Bavaria as a lumberjack helper.)

I kept in touch with Therese, the patron's daughter, for years, until her marriage. 

Who'd have thought we'd wind up living - 50 years later - less than 50 km from where I picked grapes when I was a teenager? 

Visiting the town in 2014, I found it hadn't changed all that much. 
Better roads. Probably more plumbing.

Nowadays, they have machines that pick the grapes. 

They're huge, a true specialty vehicle. 
They sail down the narrow rows of vines with incredible precision. 

The wine is better these days, too. 
Dozens of new winemakers and wineries, with all sorts of variety. 

I'm glad I got to experience it back then.
I certainly wouldn't do it a second time. 
Holy s**t.

Thailand - Islands and Jungles

Thailand wasn't ALL beaches and islands - 

There were jungle adventures, too.

This was right after Erik and Ray's wedding on Koh Munnork. 

Khao Yai National Park. Up in the hills. 
Totally different. 

I didn't really know what to expect.
It's a very popular region, mostly with Thai visitors. 

With good reason. It's cooler. 
Higher elevation. 


Frogs at night. 

Flowers. Landscaping. 
Ponds and pools! 

 One evening, we headed into the jungle just after sunset. 
Quietly. Across a wooden bridge. 

Erik and Ray testing the bridge strength

Suddenly, something came charging down the jungle path toward us. 
We couldn't see it, but it was coming. Fast.
We RAN back across the bridge in the dark. 

A monkey? An angry elephant? A wild boar? 

Turns out - it was a fairly large porcupine. 
Trundling down the path at us. We tiptoed back to investigate.

(Okay, at night it sounded MUCH larger and scarier-!)
But still - didn't want to get too close. 

(More my kind of wildlife-)

Anything was possible. 

When we booked this place, the site said "villas with private pool". 

But I didn't think EACH villa would have it's OWN private pool-! 

A golf course - ball courts - outdoor movie theatre. 
Excellent restaurants, Japanese, Italian, Thai. 

Massages, yoga. 
Fresh fruit smoothies.

I could get used to this.

(It was hard to leave - to go out and explore the national park-)

Even had a nearby "Speed Kart" track. 
(These things went FAST!)

No instructions except, "Left foot - stop. Right foot GO!"
No liability waivers. No signatures. 
Of course we went.

-Have to admit, it was pretty darn fun.
Some of the kids went twice. Including Stan.

They also played golf. 

Each player got his/her own caddy, neatly attired in an orange uniform, and their own cart. 

Since some of our group had never played golf before, 
the caddies tried valiantly to help. "Madam, hit the BALL!" 

Or when the shots went up and over the trees, they waved sadly, "Bye bye ball!"

Aside from all the cool times spent with the family, what really impressed me on this trip was the vegetation. The gardens. Plants. The flowers. 

Papaya trees. Mango trees. Ginger flowers. Orchids. Bird of paradise. 
Jackfruit. Pineapple plants. Bananas. 

Totally inspiring.

One day, we met up with Wolfgang, Monica and Carlene for a boat trip in Ayutthaya. 

They played music on the traditional wooden boat.
-Cruising down a Thai river to the strains of "Rhinestone Cowboy". 

It just - made my day.

They really know how to do lunch here. 

Great place to hang out with family - good choice - and killer cool memories.  

- Including the wild porcupines.

3 sons, 3 partners, one grandkid. And Stan and Trish.

The extended family went their separate ways - 
some to Manila, others to Berlin.

The younger gang back to Bangkok's big city life. 

Kilian, Aidan, Erik and Ray - nightlife in Bangkok.

And those Thai islands? 
Stan and I hit a few more before heading back to France. 

A variety of ferries, fishing boats and speedboats.

Sunrise, sunset. Both good times on a beach.

Stan finds his 'spot' on Koh Yao Yai. 

This time, we didn't do much exploring. 

This trip was about family - and enjoying a little luxury. 

Pineapple, papaya, and mango. With fresh lime. And chilled white wine.

-What a FINE way to spend a February. 

"Be careful going in search of adventure - it's ridiculously easy to find." 

Some other posts about cool times in Southeast Asia: 

And a bit more about Thailand.