yoga in the pine forest – miso-tahini porridge – daydreaming while “surfing” – beach siestas – debates about veganism – matcha ice cream in San Sebastián – miraculous dinner buffets – sunset surf in golden water – fresh air: All Day Long.
For the first part of my gap year, I decided to go abroad – “only” to France. My long term goal is to learn French. However I also want to use this time to get to know a different culture and meet all different types of people in various stages of their life. And lastly, I hope to let go of some “daily life” aspects of life – to live more by the day . . .
My first month started by volunteering at the Vegan Surf Camp in Moliets Plage (southwest France). From morning yoga, to miso-tahini-porridge, wading through shoulder-high water, surfing in the sunset and a day in San Sebastián – these weeks have a lot to tell. But let me start from the beginning.
Many people wondered how I found this surf camp. Well: I was browsing the internet looking for options of what to do abroad France – AuPair, volunteer, wwoof, workaday? At some point I found a link for “volunteering at a surf camp”. I’ve always wanted to learn how to surf, so that gave me the idea to specifically google “volunteer surf camp France”. Not much later I found this vegan one, and immediately applied. Then I skyped with Tyn and Leni, being asked questions like:
“Who is your biggest idol in long-distance running”
“What is your favorite kitchen knife?”
My response to the latter was “Opinel knives”, which they turned out to also use at the surf camp. Maybe that’s what convinced them? Or my chatty-ness? Ask them, but whatever it was, herewith I had my fist activity abroad settled.
Warning: This post is very long 😉
So before you start and get impatient after 3 minutes, I will give you an idea of what I will write about, so you can find what interests you most – if not everything 😉
- What exactly is the Vegan Surf Camp? (general information about the camp)
- Vegan Food (talk with the chef, my favorite breakfast, list of all foods, personal opinion and others’ opinion)
- More than Yoga and Surfing (chakra meditation, movie nights, cooking classes etc.)
- A Day in San Sebastián (amazing matcha ice cream)
- My Experience as a Volunteer (free chocolate)
- Insider’s Packing List & Tips (scarf and hat – YES, sunscreen – NO)
Also, last info before I come to the real telling: I only decided to write this post a week after I had left. That means I didn’t take many appealing pictures, and also didn’t note down every important piece of information. But my memory still has enough capacity for a too long post . . . so stay with me even without the best pictures 😉
What exactly is the Vegan Surf Camp?
This surf camp exists for about five years. It is run by an organic farm association (L’Amour de la Terre) that is based near Toulouse. So the main staff group is from this association and has grown up eating almost only vegan and organic foods. To me they seem like a big, kind of hippy, but well routined, extended family.
Their camp is in Moliets Plage, along one of the biggest surfing coasts, in southwest France. The neighboring “real town” (Moliets-et-Maa) is 2km inland. However this beach town was sufficient for my stay. It has one promenade, quite touristy, with lots of restaurants, grocery stores, some brand name surf shops, not bad cafés and tasty ice cream.
The Vegan Surf Camp itself is on a big camping complex amongst other surf camps – Pure Surf, DreamSea, Star Surf – as well as private vacationers. You sleep in tents, on air mattresses and with your brought along comforter/sleeping bag. In the rest of their camping area are common seating areas, hammocks, a trampolin, a ping pong table, some vegetable plants and herbs, a tea-corner, a surfing corner, the buffet tent, the reception tent, the activity tent…
Apart from eating freshly prepared vegan food (of which every guest said they did “too much”), I surfed, did yoga, practiced my slack-lining and volleyball skills, wandered through the pine forest collecting blackberries, jogged, and played board games. There were special activities daily too, but I’ll come to those later. First, this is what an exemplary day of mine looked like:
- 8:00 Wake Up
- 8:30-9:30 Hatha or Vinyasa Yoga in the Pine Forest
- 10:00 Breakfast
- 11:30-15:00 Beach & Surfing
- 15:30-19:00 Dinner Prep Working Shift (cutting, peeling, washing veggies)
- 19:00 Dinner
- 20:30-23:00 Evening Activities
- 23:00 Sleep
Each part will get its extent of explanation below, starting with the breakfast and dinner first.
I was extremely impressed by how much this team of around 5 cooks and 6 volunteers managed to make – we were roughly 150 hungry herbivores. Everything is organic, as local as possible and adapted to the guests diets (like gluten intolerance or nut allergies). They cook based on a MACROBIOTIC DIET, and of course vegan. I wanted to learn more about the macrobiotic aspect, so I asked the “chef-cook” Mausi. The part I took along most was that whilst eating macrobiotic, you try to find a balance of your Yin and Yang (the calm/soft (yin) versus the active/hard/determined (yang) energies in your body). Many vegan people tend to eat quite “Yin”. That includes a lot of raw veggies, that your body needs a lot of energy to digest. So Mausi put value on having a good balance, that incorporated enough contractive “Yang” options, like steamed veggies, stews and soups.
Another peculiar thing, that was different from my usual diet was the dominance of seasonings mixed with sesame, miso, tamari or the Japanese plum Umeboshi. Now I want to start and experiment with those once I’m back in my kitchen.
My mornings started with an Ayurvedic tea from Atma, before going to yoga. These classes did me surprisingly good. Walking back from the pine forest I literally felt stronger, more clear-minded and innerly perfectly balanced – yes, and this is coming from a person who is usually very sceptical about reading anything of this “how you feel like” life. But it’s true, and so I tried to make my breakfast just as harmonious. The BREAKFAST BUFFET offered hot to cold, sweet to savory, and typical french to Ayurvedic and macrobiotic options:
- oat-porridge w/ raisins
- unsweetened rice porridge (only cooked with water)
- polenta w/ raisins (sometimes)
- different mueslis (also gf)
- mix-ins: raisins, coconut, cinnamon, gomasio
- rice and soy milk
- peanut butter and tahini (both only sometimes)
- fruit: watermelon, cantaloupe, bananas, plums, apples, pears
- baguette with margarine and jams
“Savory” (also for packing your lunch-box)
- unsweetened rice porridge (only cooked with water)
- miso soup
- homemade sunflower seeds spreads (with curry or tomato)
- hummus (sometimes)
- bread (mostly baguettes)
- raw: shredded carrots, cucumbers, tomatoes, cabbage salad, lettuce
- fried zucchini, sometimes pumpkin
- condiments: gomasio, soy sauce, salt, tamari, vinegar, oil
I was amazed how many people actually only ate the French tartine. That is a baguette with butter (here margarine) and jam. However other people had a rainbow plate lavishing with colorful veggies. My comfort food, I know call the Miso-Tahini Porridge Bowl. It is not a “savoury breakfast”, yet without much sweeteners either – warm, flavourful and different from my usuals.
My Miso-Tahini Porridge Bowl:
- porridge base (oat, rice, millet, polenta)
- mashed bananas
- a big dollop or miso-tahini
- gomasio, coconut, raisins on top + a splash of rice milk
- optional: sometimes also carrots or fried pumpkin
I might not have taken miso-tahini as my first choice. But they often didn’t have normal tahini and I try to avoid peanuts (for my yin-yang balance 😉 ). So I immediately got used to this version, which solely is tahini mixed with miso: quite pungent, but totally possible (I think awesome) in a “sweet breakfast bowl”.
Now for LUNCH, there’s no official eating time and most people have packed sandwiches or tupperwares that they assembled breakfast. Though if you are at the camp, a mix of breakfast and the prior’s day dinner will be standing outside till the late afternoon.
By 19:00 everybody was hungrily waiting at the buffet tent for DINNER. The selection was abundant. Some guests challenged themselves to try every item every day, however I didn’t, so on this plate is maybe half of what the buffet offered.
They made a different soup every day, offered 2-4 different “starchy bases”, a green salad, baguette, maybe 8-10 different veggies, and daily specials with matching sauces or dips. Here’s what I can remember:
- soup/stew: potato-leek, pumpkin-ginger, , curry-pumpkin-lentil, carrot-pumpkin-onion, cold gazpacho, cold cucumber-avocado
- starchy base (2-4): pasta, rice, millet, potatoes (mashed, plain, as a salad), white bean salad, bulgur, couscous
- veggies: various cabbage salads, sweet-sour cooked kale, various seaweed salads, steamed kombu w/ mushrooms, glazed onions, fried bell peppers, shredded carrot salad, steamed carrots and radish, cucumber salad, pickled radish, green beans, cooked broccoli, sweet-sour cooked pumpkin, tomato-“veg-mozzarella”, red beet salad, fried pimientos
- daily special: burgers (also gf), tempura veggies and tofu, fried-shredded seitan and tofu, sushi, smeared baguette with tofu cream and spices
- sauces/dips: mayonnaise, ketchup, hummus, avocado-cucumber sauce, tahini sauce, red beet-almond dip, tofu cream, seitan-tomato sauce, homemade pestos
I felt like the staff crew didn’t seem like the type of people who would eat a lot of DESSERT. So unfortunately their dessert buffet wasn’t comparable to any other meal of the day. Usually they only served cantaloupe and watermelon. However every few days, we got surprised with something special, such as the following:
- watermelon slush ice cream
- agar agar pudding
- a sticky muesli-nut-rice syrup mingle
- soy vanilla pudding
- banana nice cream with chocolate pieces
- popcorn and chips (on movie nights)
All in all, the food was amazing. Everything was homemade, prettily decorated, and the selection was so large, that you could mix and match a favorite but differing combo daily. I met some very picky eaters, that were less satisfied. They complained about too much oil and salt. I can see their point for a few dishes, however most were seasoned in a normal way, nowhere near too much in my opinion. You could always find good gluten-free choices, raw or unseasoned veggies as well.
All guests I talked too were amazed. They asked for the recipes and took pictures daily. If people went to buy something in a super market, it was usually chocolate. And the only other complaint I heard, was their problem of eating too much.
Now well fed, I can feed your mind with the activities that filled the rest of the day.
More than Yoga and Surfing:
It was hard to get bored here, and if you did, a last saviour was to play board games.
The first activity I loved was YOGA, which you could go to 2-3x a day. One of my yoga teachers was Hanna, a very down to earth teacher, originally from Braunschweig, currently from Neukölln, Berlin. She teaches Hatha Yoga, which is usually a calm, “holding poses for a long time” form of yoga. But at this camp her classes were a bit more dynamic than traditionally.
Alix from Paris was my other teacher. Her classes were Vinyasa, the real dynamic “flowing-yoga” that connects breath and movement. She liked to trick us with the “last round” and challenge our core into multiple contractions. But at the latest when I did partner and Acro Yoga (that she offers once a week at sunset at the beach) I knew that you seriously needed them to be a yogi.
One rainy day, when it wasn’t possible to move on the water-filled ground, she spontaneously decided to guide us through a CHAKRA MEDITATION. We were guided through the seven parts in our spine that host the Chakra Energy. The first one is the grounded, red , “I am safe” Chakra in your tailbone, the last the spiritual, shining, violet Chakra at the tip of your head – “I am my own god”. These 30 minutes passed much easier than I would have ever thought and stayed with me the whole day . . . and longer.
The other main activity of this camp is SURFING. It surprised me that we had to walk about 20min from the camp to the beach, including wading through a river on the beach, to get to our surf spot.
One day it was new moon and a super high tide. The usually knee-high river rose a bit too much for my liking. I could only have walked underwater. Luckily I was with someone who had a surfboard, so I put my backpack and clothes on it and swam across!
Back to the 20min walk – it’s not as bad as it might sound, you get used to it pretty quickly. Plus, if surfing isn’t a sport for you (for example because you mostly daydream in the water like me) . . . this warm-up is a good training, especially when carrying the board alone.
Surf lessons are 1.5 hours including a theoretical and practical part. I can’t say much, because as a volunteer I didn’t take any. Once you know the basics, I think that practice, concentration and endurance are the best teacher. Unfortunately when I surfed, I daydreamed a lot and got cold too fast to stay in any longer than an hour. So my skills improved slower than hoped. But just wading through the salty water, chilling on the board, watching professional surfers, or the feeling of flying on water once I caught a wave, was worth all the board-schlepping. Plus, in the reflecting and salty water your skin gets tanner and your hair blond quicker than anywhere else.
There were EXTRA ACTIVITIES daily, sometimes in the afternoon, but usually in the evenings:
- sunset surf and Acro Yoga at the beach
- movie night with sweet and salty popcorn
- beach games (volleyball, running games)
- Just Dance on the Wii
- A “talk”, e.g. about climate change, or Ayurvedic foods
- surf theory class
- cooking course
- party night (twice a week) with homemade mojitos
- beach clean with a really cool goodie bag to win
On the day of SUNSET SURF & YOGA I pondered forever which I should do. I felt too full for Acro Yoga, but didn’t want to get sick for real (I already had a cough), when surfing at 9pm. I ended up choosing the surf, and was incredibly happy I did. Again, I didn’t try to catch too many waves because I was stupefied by the sunset. It went through the deepest orange tones that reflected on the dark blue glittering water. The white streaks of soft clouds in the sky made the perfect background for a surfers silhouettes. It also turned out not to be any colder than the rest of the day and the tide was perfect so that once I did concentrate, I actually got some of my best waves yet.
A week later, my cough had increased a bit and so I chose the Acro Yoga. It was super cool. Again I thought I was too full to have my stomach balance on someones feet but after some sun salutations and other challenging parter poses, I felt well digested for the flying pose. All poses weren’t too hard, but more exhausting, especially in the abs, than I expected.
Monday and Friday it’s official PARTY NIGHT in all of Moliets. Till 23:00 everybody parties at the camp. Then, after quiet time, everybody moves on to the crowded bars in town. I’m not a party person at all, so I put zero pressure on myself to mingle in if I didn’t want to. After all, my priorities where to be fit the next day, try to learn how to surf and enjoy the yoga early in the morning. However on my last night I told my mind the opposite, and was seriously curious to give this partying a chance. I tried the handcrafted “dirty” Mojito, served in the re-used jam jars, got some hipster face-paint and enjoyed the vibe between the trees on the sandy dance floor. There was everything from hipster bare feet, to stylish white tunicas, from the blond surfer dudes, to parents with their baby wrapped on their chest.
The last activity I will write in more depth about is the BEACH CLEAN. I didn’t want to join this, but had to join as a volunteer – and ended up loving it. Not every person is like me, so I’m only speaking for myself. Other than learning some really interesting stuff I thought it was like a relaxing meditation. We cleaned up for about an hour, picking up the smallest of small pieces that would never take an end in this sand. So it did feel a bit useless. However one kind of plastic we picked up was a tiny wheel. “Factories put it in their drain to catch-all bacteria that flows through” – or something like that. They leak into the ocean (with all the bacteria clung to them) and get stranded back onto the beach. We collected these pieces separately, so that the Vegan Surf Camp could send them to the SurfRider Foundation. This non-profit organization can track back which factory they came from and “sue” them or something like that, hehe 😉 So if the meditation and “good will” doesn’t convince you, then you now know that these little wheels here actually do make a difference. After the hour, all bags were collected, and the most successful trash-finder won an organic cotton Vegan Surf Camp bag, including iChoc chocolate and HURRAW chapsticks. Unfortunately it wasn’t me, but as a consolation prize, all other fellow trash collectors, including me, got a bar of Sunny Almond iChoc.
A Day in San Sebastián:
As a volunteer I worked the breakfast shift (7:30-11:45) to earn my day in San Sebastián. We left around 1pm on a 1.5 hour freezing bus ride, of which I slept most of the time. But awaking in this small but culturally booming Spanish town, was quite a reward. I immediately loved it: old buildings, a river, the ocean, islands, narrow streets, the Monte Urgull hill, lots of tapas bars (and vegan cafes).
After walking to the main square together, we were free to do what we wanted. Once choice was to stay with our tour guide (one of the volunteers), which I chose to do. I wasn’t fully lectured, but saw some nice old buildings and got introduced to a delicious ice cream shop (Oiartzun) that I might not have found otherwise. They had vegan sorbets, and creamy dairy flavors. I got to sample lots, loved all, but chose a scoop of matcha (very strong and refreshing) and “rice-pudding” on which she freshly sprinkled cinnamon on top. It wasn’t a super idyllic, owner-based ice cream shop, but delicious and different than the ones I know from Hamburg.
Then we strolled some hours, till we were ready to search for dinner. The Vegan Surf Camp gave us a Google Doc Map with all veggie and vegan friendly places in San Sebastián. There were tons! We decided on KM.0 and arrived finding that they only reopened at 19:00. We were standing in front, discussing our options, when an old Spanish lady walked by and decided to drag us through town to show us other vegan restaurants. Pulling her shopping trolley behind her, she lead us to a second closed restaurant and eventually ended at (what we think was her) vegan grocery shop. A complicated but also fun little detour, though by then it was 19:00 and we decided to return to KM.0. It turned out that this café also only served dinner after 20:00. But the plan was to watch the sunset on the Monte Urgull Hill at 20:30! Luckily the owner served her spongy vegan tortilla and cornbread bruschetta with eggplants, before 20:00. They were superb, and we ate up her stash before charging through town to get to Monte Urgull on time.
Now to be honest, long story, I know, there was a planned picnic with our surf camp group at the sunset. So we didn’t even have to eat, but had wanted to anyway. In the end the picnic was really nice too: baguettes, hummus and pesto, nuts, dried fruit, grapes, wine and olives. A guy from the Netherlands forced me to try the olives, my second-detested food. Don’t ask me why, but I suddenly liked these free ones! But I had to swallow an “amazingly juicy delicious” cherry tomato as well and boy no no no, as poisonous as always. We stayed long past the sunset though, drinking wine, nibbling through the rests of the picnic whilst having philosophical vegan chats with some cool other campers that I hadn’t met yet.
At 22:30 we had to head back “already”, I could have stayed the whole night. But sleep did good too. Luckily my group didn’t have the party vibe like the week before did, so we all got a first nights rest on the ride home before wrapping up in snug warm tents around 1am.
My Experience as a Volunteer:
As a volunteer (there were around 15 of us), we had to work around four hours a day. In exchange we got everything for free – “lodging”, food, San Sebastián trip, yoga classes, surfboard, wetsuit . . . We only weren’t assigned to surf lessons, but could join whenever there was a free spot.
Here are some examples of what my daily shifts looked like:
- Breakfast Shift (7:30-11:45) with 30min break for our breaky: e.g. peel and grate carrots, cut melons and bananas, fry zucchinis on the plancha, sweep and wipe the buffet and eating area, wash all breakfast dishes . . .
- Dinner-Prep Shift (15:30-19:00): e.g. peel potatoes, grate radishes on a mandoline (and try not to get cut – I minimized this to four times), wash dishes in between, cut cucumbers, wash and hand dry lettuce (by shaking each leaf), help prepare the buffet . . .
- Day Teamer (10:30-14:30) and Evening Dishes (19:30-21:30): [Day Teamer] sit at the reception counter and help guests (or eat iChoc chocolate 😉 ), sweep common areas, fill up sunscreen bottles, take out trash // [Dishes] that is self-explanatory I guess: wash, dry and clean up all of dinners’ dishes!
The jobs themselves were more of a workout than I thought (especially grating veggies for two hours). But it definitely wasn’t too exhausting to take part in yoga, go running or surf. For me it was a perfect balance of enough work that I didn’t get bored, with still plenty free time to do what else I wanted. Only on the days when we had a teamer meeting at 12:00, depending on what shift you had, the day was cut short by that. But the teamer meetings were also when we got our new stamp card for the bar: free chocolate, cookies or drinks in return wasn’t bad.
21 year old Germans
The group of volunteers was a mix of mostly Germans and French; with a few exceptions from Italy, Spain, Austria, Czech and the US. The vast majority was girls – aged at 21 actually. I was the youngest at 18, and the oldest was 32. The surf-assistants and yoga teachers hung out mostly with “us volunteers”, for example at the beach practicing Acro Yoga poses in the sand. But we also mingled with guests – from playing babysitter for their kids, to chats at the beach about all pros (and cons) about veganism. It seemed to me that most guests were vegetarian and many vegan. However of us volunteers, most of us were “nothing” and some vegetarian.
So we did slip out in the evenings for a misdeed of ice cream and nutella crepes. All the way up to a cheese and ham pizza (not me 😉 ). But that was the exception. Almost everyone enjoyed the vegan lifestyle as much as I did. All in all we were a great team and got along great.
A wonderful “time-out” from normal life
Now to complete this little life-update here: My three and a half weeks at the vegan surf camp were great! They felt like a “time-out” from normal life, I got into my new daily routine, didn’t even want to use my phone and was active the whole day, which made every meal even more delicious. I also didn’t envy the guests for having more time at all. By being here for many weeks, I got the chance to take part in any extra activity I wanted too. If time allows, I will definitely try to come again!
Insider’s Packing List & Tips:
So…! Whoever has made it to the end and decided that they want to go to the surf camp next year here are my insider packing tips. I’m not writing down everything, only those items that don’t seem obvious to me.
- enough warm clothes: hat, scarf, wool socks for the tent (it gets quite chilly in the mornings and evenings)
- rain clothes (it rained every few days)
- a mix of ragged and nice clothes (I only packed my “ugliest” outside clothes, but most other people wore else nice/normal city clothes in the evenings)
Thinking I was on one of those trips where you don’t get to make your own food, I packed granola bars, a jar of almond butter, tea bags . . . However, food wise they offer more than you want so I recommend not to waste much luggage space with more. I would have only liked honey for my throat, they obviously didn’t have the bee’s product. And maybe if you “love your almond milk” (they only have rice and soy) or “your special dark chocolate in the evenings”, then you can think about that. But altogether I savoured happily without any of my extras. Justin’s almond butter was saved for wwoofing days and instead I discovered miso-tahini!
- cough drops/throat ache bonbons (so many people had a cold, probably because of the cold nights)
- many different sized bags to rearrange your clean, dirty, and wet stuff in a maybe very sandy tent
- clothing pins (if you’re picky about your laundry possibly falling into the sand of the laundry lines)
- perfect sized spoon (their spoons are the size of a coin, and as flat as can be, so if you love your porridge in the mornings and have that perfect sized breakfast spoon craze like me, then you should take one)
- something to make you feel cozy at home in your tent (pillow/dreamweaver/blanket)
- earplugs, sleeping mask
- NOT sunscreen – or only a little, because they almost always have their eco.cosmetics sunscreen out for everybody to use (in all strengths, as cream oil, for tattooed skin, after sun), it was amazing: the smell, texture and function, I didn’t sunburn a single time in the three weeks!
Now now … I don’t know if there is a possible summary to end. I think I actually already finished my post before the packing list. But for the second ending I will rewrite my favorite parts of these twenty four days (like I did at the beginning). Maybe now you will read them in a different way.