Filed under: EUROPE, France, Germany, Switzerland | Tags: backpacking, cheese, Emmental, Emmental cheese, England, european travel, farmers, feelings of failure, France, Germany, Lucerne, Prague, sad, Switzerland, Thoreau, travel, travel stories, Walden
I’m in Lucerne, and it is totally beautiful here. The streets are leafy and the buildings old and leaning. The lake is magnificent turquoise, and seems to capture sunlight then fragment it into a million hues of awesome. Only staying overnight, and loads to sort out, then a five day march to Konstanz and Germany! I realised that it is six weeks today that I set out. Wowzer. My mileage is now 744.72.
Ok, so before I bore you with events, there are two interesting bits of news to share. Firstly, I shall be joined in Konstanz by my friend, Chloe Loftus. She seemed keen on some adventuring, and after some discussion has decided to join me for an indeterminate period of time. I think it’s very brave to come and do this so off the cuff. Me, I took months of preparation and umming and arring before I finally got my bum off the island. So if you see her in the next couple of days, wish her luck! I’m not sure how it’s going to feel having company. I’ve got so used to being on my own, barely speaking for days, cooking for one etc. But then, I guess that will be an adventure in itself, a departure from what has become my norm and routine.
Secondly, a bit of slightly crap news. I may well not make it to Prague, and there is a very distinct possibility that I will bring the finish line forward to Munich. This is for a number of reasons. For a start, I have covered about 150 miles more than I expected to at this geographical point. My body is starting to really hurt. Just outside of Geneva, I tweaked my hamstring, and a double dose of Nurofen and a hefty splodge of Deep Heat is about all that makes it bearable at the moment. I am very worried it will tear or snap or whatever it is that hamstrings do when they go wrong. Added to that, my knees are pretty bad, and Switzerland has no flat bits, so they’re taking a pounding. And I have just shaken off a horrid cold, which I walked with for the best part of a week. Moan moan winge shut up Paul, you lucky bastard. Also, financial considerations (I can’t keep borrowing from mum and dad!), and I would like to be home in time for my mum’s birthday at the end of September. I’ve decided to make a final call on it in Konstanz. Basically, if I think I can make Prague in no more than three weeks from there, then I’ll go on. If not, as long as I will hit 1000 miles by the time I get there, twill be Munich. Believe me, this will be one of the hardest decisions I ever have to make. I’m so desperate to make it all the way, to complete what I set out to do. And I don’t want to let anyone down, and there is still so far to reach my charity target (HINT: http://www.charitygiving.co.uk/paulholder) (just to recap that’s http://www.charitygiving.co.uk/paulholder). Anyway, that’s how it is.
I didn’t really get a chance to describe the hike over the Jura Mountains on the French/Swiss border last time I sent a message, and there was one particular moment I quite wanted to share. The whole four days I was up there were amazing. Grueling, but amazing. The night before I hit the highest peak (Cret de la Neige -1720m) I stayed in a refuge hut with a group of guys and a little girl (don’t worry, they were related – I think). I made a big fire outside after we had eaten, and we sat round.
One by one, they went in and I was alone beside the fire for some time, just watching its motion and the embers flitting off into the mountain night. And as I stared into it, it became hard for me to find where I stopped and it started, if that makes any sense. I found that the way I was feeling was identical to the fire. I had a moment of absolutely, utterly, beyond any doubt or refutation, knowing that everything really is ok, and happening the right way and order. And I realised that, like the fire, parts of me have been burned off in this journey. I knew then that no matter what happens to me in life, there is a line that I shall never drop below again. There is no need for me ever to feel crap again, because there is a mountain hut in a beautiful place I can escape to whenever I want, for 5euros a night (honesty box job). Anyway, that was pretty much one of the best moments I can recall. And there were shooting stars that night.
So what can I say about Switzerland. Well for one, THERE ARE NO FLAT BITS IN SWITZERLAND!!! It is all up and down, threading through valleys. But it is a spectacular place to hike. Rarely out of sight of mountains, clear lakes, forests and always Buddha cows with their jingling bells.
I wasn’t so keen on Geneva. Was full of banks and commerce and other such silly unnecessary things, and stink of money. Was glad to leave and walking along Lake Leman (known as Geneva to you uneducated foreigners) for two days was one of the highlights of my whole trip. Cannot convey how vast it is. Was so wanting to go for a swim, but time and fear of leaving my kit kept me bone dry. One night, I slept about two metres from the water, and awoke to dancing light on crystal water. Happymaking.
The path I am on is so well signposted, which is a relief after the hassle of staying on track across France. Though there have been a couple of moments, especially in Lausanne, where it took me over three hours to find the route. Weather is temperamental. It can be over 30 degrees, clear skies, then ten minutes later, blazing thunderstorm with end-of-days style clouds. But so many picturesque villages to keep me happy. Willisau especially good (will post up pictures when I get time). Had to stop in Fribourg overnight, which I didn’t plan to do, because I was so ill I had stars dancing in my vision. Lowest point so far. Couple of days where my head went completely blank, and I walked in a kind of goofy euphoria, neither feeling pain, nor thinking thought. I became the no-minded nomad, which was nice. Just to be a creature engaged in the most basic of activities is very, very fulfilling. Henry David Thoreau wrote that the cost of anything is the amount of life that has to be exchanged for it. There are times when I would give my all just to stay this way all my days. People in Switzerland are super friendly. I have had people going into shops and coming out with water for me, an old man gave me the best chunk of Emmental cheese I have ever tasted, and even the farmers generally give me a wave. I am in the German speaking region of Switzerland now, so good practice for the road ahead!
I better go and get on with finding a cheap hotel for the night and washing my filthy rags and body. Just to leave on a positive note, here’s something that happened as I lay in my tent beside Lac Leman: I had just eaten my dinner, was lying in the tent listening to the lapping water and the cicadas, when a thought popped into my head: I have never felt more at home. I probed this – did I just mean in the tent, or there beside the lake? No. I realised that I was feeling for the first time that I am at home in the world, the whole thing. Only now that I have knocked down boundaries do I feel a sense of home. I, all of us in fact, was not made so robust and capable to box myself/ourselves in. And in one of those awesome moments of pure synchronicity (there are no coincidences), I opened Thoreau’s Walden (read it) at random and this was the first passage I came across, with which I shall say farewell for now (and please donate, those of you that haven’t, it will mean so so much to me) :
“The very simplicity and nakedness of man’s life in the primitive ages imply this advantage at least, that they left him still but a sojourner in nature. When he was refreshed with food and sleep he contemplated his journey again. He dwelt, as it were, in a tent in this world, and was either threading the valleys, or crossing the plains, or climbing the mountain tops. But lo! men have become the tools of their tools. The man who independently plucked the fruits when he was hungry is become a farmer; and he who stood under a tree for shelter, a housekeeper. We now no longer camp as for a night, but have settled down on earth and forgotten heaven.”
Filed under: Bolivia, SOUTH AMERICA | Tags: alapaca, baby alpaca, back packing, backpacking, Bolivia, chewing coca leaf, chola wrestling, coca leaf, coca leaves, cocaine, death road, erin griffith, la paz, llama fetus, markets in bolivia, route 36, salt flats, SOUTH AMERICA, things to do in bolivia, things to do in la paz, traveling in south america, travis harwood, witch's market, witches market, yungas road
La Paz is home to rough-around-the-edges attractions like Chola Wrestling (women beating the crap out of each other), Route 36 (a gringo coke den), and a famous Witches’ Market hawking dried llama fetuses and spells for fertility. Surprisingly (or not?), the Witches’ Market is the most Disney-fied of the three. Don’t get me wrong, this market has got some weird, weird shit. But overall, you won’t find the lawless craziness you tend to expect out of Bolivia here. In fact, for Bolivia, you’ll feel quite safe.
This is, after all, the country that offers rides down Death Road (Yungas Road), a treacherous mountainside path with a one mile drop, and tours of mines in which each touring party blows up his or her own dynamite. A tour of the country’s breathtaking salt flats may result in an alcoholic driver or a loss of ones luggage. An overnight bus ride takes you past burnt wreckage of countless buses that could have been yours. But at La Paz’ Witches’ Market, you don’t have to worry about those elements of danger.
The Witches’ Market is basically several blocks of stores with a handful of stands in front. They sell your typical touristy alpaca gear–supposedly handwoven sweaters, hats, blankets and bags, leather purses, trinket-y jewelry, and other various South American novelties. It’s all so cheap that one needs to show restraint to avoid looking like the ultimate SA backpacker cliche, clad in head-to-toe alpaca.
One also needs to listen carefully, as the sneaky saleswomen will often mumble “baby alpaca” when pointing at a sweater or hat, but they’re actually saying “maybe alpaca.” Meaning, it may be alpaca, but it may not be. Lame trick, I say. Either way, don’t pay up for anything.
And while fuzzy wool sweaters and socks are nice for La Paz’s freezing nights, this is the majority of the Witches’ Market’s offerings. Only a small handful of stands sells the crazy shit you’ve come here to see, and admittedly, that small amount of shit is indeed crazy. You can buy the carcass of a llama fetus, dried with fur or without, as a good luck charm. They aren’t exactly good for those of us trying to pack light, and I’m not exactly sure one could safely cross into the States with one’s llama baby, but, you know, its nice to see some genuinely witch-y stuff. Other finds include creepy masks and various spells offering beauty, luck, money, sex, fertility, less jail time, revenge on enemies, etc. Most of the spells are a packet of weird plastic trinkets, glitter, and maybe some pieces of food, with lots of dried herbs, which you throw into a boiling cauldron and stir (seriously).
You also can buy yourself a cheap bag of coca leaves with the alkaline “enhancer” but don’t expect the sales ladies to show you how to chew it. (Read up online, alternatively just stick a wad of the leaves in your mouth with a tiny piece of the alkaline and chew very lightly.) Yes, its what they make cocaine from, yes, its legal, and no, its not much of a drug experience. Yes, it helps with altitude and appetite, and yes, it tastes like soggy crap. Just, you know, don’t try bringing that back to the States, either.
By: Erin Griffith, Photos By: Travis Harwood
Filed under: EUROPE, France, Switzerland, Uncategorized | Tags: backpacking, backpacking in Europe, europe backpack, Marine Conservation Society, MCS, the gloaming, trek
Paul Holder August 17 at 5:15am
Haven’t got long, as need to check out of hotel in about an hour and lots to do. I am in Geneva, have been since Saturday morning. Much cooler here and raining all the time. I managed to cross France in 30 days, covering 555.82miles. Mental.
In Lyon, I went to see Lyon vs Monaco: first game of the season: Dire match, but good experience. Was 33degrees centigrade the day I left Lyon, and nearly fried to death first couple of days. Then 4 days in the Jura mountains. Hardest thing I’ve ever done but totally totally amazing and humbling and somewhere I will be again. One night slept in a mountain refuge hut 1460m above sea level, with a very odd but kind family. Made a huge fire outdoors, shooting stars, Ricard. Unforgettable.
Badly hurt right knee, had to descend into Geneva walking backwards a lot of the way to take weight off it. A lot of knocks and sores now, but entering another country has put plenty of wind in my sails.
Have not been able to get maps I need, so have one map of Switzerland’s main walking routes that I hope will get me across. Want to enter Germany in a fortnight.
I must go now. Some pictures added, though not all. PLEASE donate what you can. Went over a grand over the weekend, which is amazing, but still a long way to go – don’t make me start a name and shame campaign.
Paul, Lord of the (in)Sole x
Filed under: EUROPE, France | Tags: alienation, backpacking, charity, donate, eco, europe, France, fund raising, lyon, majesty, Marine Conservation Society, modernity, owl, rural, trekking, urban
Paul Holder August 6 at 12:45pm
Hello people of earth,
I am in Lyon right now. Took about five days to walk here, and am now a bit over 435 miles into my trek.
Lyon looks like it could be pretty ace. Mind you, I’ve spent most of my time since arriving here at lunchtime in a laundromat (had to sit in nothing but a towel, because everything needed a clean), and this here internet cafe. Still, I figure that if I get all the bits and pieces done today, I can have a proper day off tomorrow for the first time in over three weeks. I realised this morning as I was walking into the city that in twenty three days, there has only been one day on which I have done no walking with my kit. I am probably made from adamantium by now.
So yeah, Lyon is tres belle. Loads and loads of bridges and water (the rivers Saone and Rhone converge in the middle of the city). Also it is the gastronomical capital of France, so I aim to find something unusual for dinner tonight, like moon rock sorbet. Going to do some proper sight seeing tomorrow. There are Roman remains, amphitheatres etc, plus I really want to go to the Lumiere Museum, and Antoine de Saint-Exupery was born here, so hoping to see some original Little Prince drawings.
This past week has been a bit of a tough one to be honest. This is largely because I had to walk on road the whole way here from Clermont-Ferrand. Often they were busy A-road style affairs, and the first two days was pretty much one long and torrential thunderstorm, so I spent it getting soaked and dodging cars. Longed for the peace of the forest again. Kind of takes the romance out of it. Also, I got quite lonely this week. I think this came from being in civilised areas a lot. It’s strange; when I’m completely alone in the woods or up a mountain, I feel fine. It’s only when I come down into the towns and cities and stop walking that I begin to get anxious, lonely and feel a bit ridiculous. My energy level has started to dip, and I had a couple of really rough days, where I was running on nothing but determination. Having to put a second new notch on my belt was a bit demoralising. But for all this, I know that there are better times ahead, and I’ll be leaving Lyon at least partially recharged.
So what can I say about the landscape of the past week? Well, to be honest, because I’ve been following the roads, which almost always follow the path of least resistance, it has been pretty bland. I passed over two low mountain ranges (Monts du Forez and Monts du Lyonnais), crossed the Loire, and went through a few picturesque little towns (Thiers especially is worth a mention, though it felt a bit like The Prisoner – I couldn’t find the road out!).
I suppose there’s only two incidences of particular interest. The first was on Wednesday evening (4th August). I got to a village called Ste-Foy-L’Argentiere and really had no energy left, so searched around for somewhere to camp. Found a park and was about to pitch when I noticed two guys watching me. Instantly knew that something was amiss. They came over and asked if I was going to sleep there, I said yes and they got pretty vocal about it. They then went and sat on a bench in front of me and just stared at me. I didn’t want to give up my ground, so I decided to sit there for twenty minutes to see if they’d go away and also to give myself time to think about my next move if they didn’t. I thought if it got nasty, my walking stick Balderic would even up the numbers. However, I didn’t know my exits and whether they’d call in more people if a confrontation arose, so in the end I decided I’d have to leave. It was getting dark by now and there really wasn’t anywhere else to pitch in the village, so I went to a nearby bar and asked if there was a hotel in the area. Turned out the only place with rooms was a run-down bar on the other side of the village. When I got there it was closed, but I saw a light on so I knocked on the door and an incredibly fat, incredibly hairy man opened the door. He showed me up to a room with no lock, there were wires hanging out the wall, and the neon light outside my window flickered. It was a bit like staying in a Tom Waits song. Still, in three weeks that was the first problem I’ve had finding a place to put up the tent, so that’s pretty good going. Things like that are bound to happen. There will be difficult situations, but in a way, I enjoy the challenge. And increasingly, I’m adopting the Billy Pilgrim maxim: so it goes.
The second thing is pretty hard to explain. Yesterday after lunch, I was walking along a pretty remote country road when I happened to look up and see a bird flying really unsteadily towards me. I ducked out of the way and it landed with a thump in the middle of the road. It was an owl. I don’t know much about owls, but it was definitely from the gigantic side of the family. Seriously, its wingspan was about the same as my arms. It just sat there and I just stood there, and we were staring at each other, probably both unsure what to do next. I took a step forward and he started hopping away, trying to take flight. I realised he was injured, but didn’t know what to do. Do the French have something like the RSPCA? I couldn’t just leave him there. A car came whizzing around the corner and I waved it round frantically. And all the time, the owl sat there, his neck twisted around in that hideous way they are capable of, with those huge unblinking orange eyes fixed on me. He kept on trying to fly, until he hopped off the road into the thick undergrowth of the embankment. He was completely stuck. Every time he moved, he just dropped further down the steep embankment, until soon he was beyond my reach.
But still, he looked at me. I felt dumb and useless, like when you’re making stupid noises at a baby and its just looking at you, and you suddenly realise that you are making stupid noises and start to feel a bit of a plum. In the end I just turned and left. The whole incident probably only lasted five minutes, but for the next couple of hours my head was thick with blue fog. Seeing such a majestic creature hobbling along like that was so pathetically comic, and knowing there was nothing that I could do, well I don’t think there have been too many events that have sucked the joy of life out of me so rapidly. Last night I dreamt that the owl laid eggs in my hat.
Sorry if this all sounds miserable. I am still really happy and definitely know I have the Right Idea (cheers D-Rob). In a week I should be in Geneva, though the small matter of the Jura Mountains stands between me and Switzerland. I can’t believe that I’ve nearly walked across the whole of France!!! It’s a real buzz in the base of my pants just to think of it. Also, please chip in a few quid when you get the chance. I’ve nearly raised a grand so far, which is close to halfway to my target. And please do send me messages, on here and by text. It makes more difference than you’ll ever know. Sorry for the tone of this message, I’m sure I’ll be full of it again next time I get in touch.
Filed under: EUROPE, France | Tags: backpacking, backpacking in Europe, backpacking in france, charity, donation, environment, environmental charity, France, Marine Conservation Society, trekking in french, UK charity
Paul Holder July 24 at 7:44am
After eight solid days of walking I reached Limoges yesterday morning, notching up 195.71 miles in the process, which I am amazed by ! Aside from a few cuts and a million stings I am faring pretty well and really happy . I went south from La Rochelle to Rochefort, from there heading east through towns of Saintes, Cognac (where, as we all know, milk comes from), Angouleme, Rochechouart, and about a million sleepy villages.
The weather for the most part has been sweltering, cloudless skies and unremitting sunshine, which made it really hard work given that for the first few days I was crossing open countryside (sick of sunflowers and hay). Then on Wednesday I had to walk in the most torrential storm I’ve ever experienced. Thunder was literally shaking the ground ! Last couple of days have started getting hilly and east of Limoges it gets higher as I enter the northern foothills of the Massif Central. Anyways, a brief summary of the goods and not-so-goods so far:
- Feeling of complete unbounded freedom
- The immense calmness that comes over me every time I enter a forest
- Flat open countryside as far as the eye can see making me feel like my mind goes on forever
- Sleeping under a tree not even in a sleeping bag in a churchyard, looking up at clear night sky and feeling closer to the MAGIC then I ever have before
- The River Charente and my love/hate relationship with it
- My new found love of the morning
- My new found fondness for insects (my only companions)
- Washing under one of those massive water jet things in a cornfield
- Seeing loads of wild deer
- Creeping into the grounds of a castle at night and pitching the tent next to it
- Staying in a Gites (B and B) that was stupendously gorgeous and having supper made for me by a sympathetic proprietor, who also charged me much less than the going rate
- Lying next to a lake in the evening sun and feeling awesome
- Singing ‘All By Myself’ at the top of my lungs
- The bread – nobody does it better than the French
- Sweating/dehydration – I’m drinking on average 6 litres of water a day and still thirsty ALL THE TIME
- Loneliness – only sometimes
- Having to take 10 mile detour because the bridge gondola thing I needed to cross was shut
- Losing my self inflating ultra lightweight very expensive sleeping mat on the third day
- The lousy footpath markers – sometimes all you get to follow is a faded red mark on a tree surrounded by thick foliage
- Getting lost and having to hack my way through dense foliage that went over my head for 2 hours
- Getting barked at by every dog – strangely demoralising after a while
- Having to sleep in a bus shelter with a hedgehog trying to get at my food
- The lumbago – oh the lumbago
I’m all good. I think I pushed it too hard this first week or so. Realised I’m being too goal-oriented and not giving myself time to enjoy. Will slow down once I hit the mountains for sure. Trying to not think of home so much too. I keep having imaginary conversations with some of you.
Sorry I’m crap at describing stuff. Please send me messages and texts and whatnot because it gets real lonesome at times. About to upload some pics. Sorry for quality, or lack of. Oh and people of Wales, your brothers and sisters in France need your assistance. So far I have seen only 7 sheep in the whole country. Act now before I have to get Geldof involved .
AND PLEASE DONATE www.charitygiving.co.uk/paulholder – was very saddened today to see no one else has chipped in since I left La Rochelle. Seriously, when I’m walking and it gets real hard, thinking that some good will come out of this ridiculousness keeps me going. Even just a couple of quid each will spur me on.
Love you all, except those I don’t
Filed under: EUROPE, France | Tags: backpacking, backpacking in Europe, charity, donation, environment, environmental charity, Marine Conservation Society, UK charity
Paul Holder, July 15 at 3:03am
So I’m off! In about an hour I will be taking my first steps. I spent all day yesterday stomping around La Rochelle looking for butane canisters, which I could not take on the Eurostar. But alas there was none ANYWHERE. After seven hours I saw some in a dark corner of an out of town supermarket I had walked to, but it was the wrong size for my primus. Furthermore I did this all day all over town march in flip flops and they have rubbed away the skin under the straps. Wounded before I’ve began! So I’ll be starting without the ability to cook. Hopefully I’ll find some en route. If not my foraging skills will come into play a lot sooner than anticipated!
Aside from the above kafuffle, La Rochelle has been ace. Yesterday was Bastille Day, so everyone was in the mood for getting pissed and having a good time. There is a massive music festival going on in La Rochelle right now. By that I mean that literally every bar, square, street corner and promenade has music and dance on/in/nearby. It’s truly amazing and really infectious. I wish I could stay a bit longer, especially as Charlotte Gainsbourg is here on Friday. Yum. They definitely know how to throw a party here, though I have stayed devoutly sober throughout. Kind of. You’d probably like it here if you’re not a dick.
I’ve uploaded some pictures tho they’re crap because I have never really taken any photos in my life, it always seems to strike me as an afterthought. I’ll try not to miss the good stuff.
Today I will be walking southeast about 20 miles to Rochefort. IT will be the only time I walk beside the sea, which saddens me right to the bottom of me boots. All inland from here. I hope they have butane in Rochefort, though I doubt it. It would melt the cheese.
Will be in less lengthy touch when I can.
I am one very enthralled
Filed under: England, EUROPE | Tags: backpacking, backpacking in Europe, Beer, charity, donation, environment, environmental charity, hangover, Marine Conservation Society, newt beer festival, newt beer festival 2010, rum, UK charity
Paul Holder, July 11 at 9:25pm
Just a quick shout to say thank you to all of you again for all the support, be it monetary, wisdom or just a hearty back pat. I leave for London in a few hours. Staying overnight then Eurostar first thing Tuesday. I don’t know if spending two days at a beer festival, refusing to sleep and living off a diet of rum and bad pork was the best way to go about preparing, but nonetheless that is what happened and now I am on the cusp and will just have to go with what I have. So that’s a heavy rucksack and a hangover.
Please don’t make me do this a thousand times:
£630 so far, which is 25.2%. Good work. Please give what you can, else I shall throw myself into a ravine in despair.
Anyway, thank you and take good care of yourselves. Everything has been amazing and I wouldn’t change a thing about anything that has happened, or is about to happen.
I will be in touch when my overinflated ego tells me that you are missing me too damn much.
Love and Wonder