This is a guest post by Timothy Horgan of On and Off the Gringo Trail.
Gear at the ready, I soldiered away from the Youth Hostel, away from the evils of comfort, comfort that had repressed my inner flame for far too long. I was done with it, done with these post-University blues and the lacking motivation I always felt. Man I was supposed to be travelling, and ten months had passed! It was true I’d done much awesome stuff, and lived those ten months out in high adventure. But it was also true that it had been accompanied by a slight depression, what could be thought as a post-Armageddon state after four raging years of University.
And so with these thoughts, I jumped the tram to the outskirts of Bordeaux. I was embarking on what was an effective loop, an in-depth expedition through the innards of France. And I’d refire that inner flame purely through physical exertion. I’d return upon the spires of Bordeaux in a month or so. Viewed on a map, the adventure came across as something quite symbolical. I had been racing through Europe, from England to Morocco. I much preferred the developing world but I wouldn’t have anything to do with it again until I’d sorted myself out. And so there lay the adventure, moving off the main tourist drag and taking a break before a re-initiation into the backpacker life.
And how was I to do this? I was going to walk my tits off. I’d camp each and every night, out amongst the stars in the rough. I’d hitchhike my way between the best trekking routes, along rural back streets and amongst the locals.
I was here in this little part of the world for God knows what reason. Perhaps that book I’d picked up in an English second-hand bookshop played a part: ‘Three Rivers of France’ by Freda White. It was ancient, a sixty year old travel classic, so classic in fact that the print I had was a reissue of the original text with outdated information on hotels from the 1950s. That wasn’t to bother though, for her witty prose more than compensated: she was steaming and bellowing with it. How can you not come down and see the south of France when she portrays things as such?
- In fact, the town is so serene that the doorway is apt to be occupied by a hen educating a brood of ducklings.
Ok, enough with Freda for now. What of France itself? No one would have thought that I’d be in this country for long but here I was. And it felt good; it felt promising. The French are, after all, at the heart of that most European of pursuits, the grasp for ‘Le Joie de Vivre’. For pursuits not in material gain nor in some sort of nihilistic booze-influenced farce. Ney, instead for a life with passion, where the simple joys and the more intellectual alike can be fulfilled in good health, where enjoyment if focused around the richness and pure vividness of experience. It was convenient you see, for so was I now.
And so there I was, standing on the outskirts of Bordeaux, awaiting a bus under a warm afternoon sun. It took me into the foothills of the river region, past an urban transition marked with ghastly industrial estate and Bordeaux vintages. I touched down in Libourne town and trekked my way away, waving off the last remnants of that horrific industrial brutalism. Now I’d come into wine district proper! It was a fair march to my first stopping place, the village of St. Emilion, now on a race with the afternoon sun as it sank to depths below. Amidst the vineyards lay fairytale manor houses, their slate turrets glaring splendorously in a rustic lightscape. I found a pumpkin and claimed it. And, to enhance the meal that lay in waiting, I collected a few chestnuts by the roadside.
The area was buzzing with the mood of harvest time, with aromas of crushed grape and brewing wine set against a backdrop of roses, smoke and sandstone. October beckoned, and with it came the 101 harvests of autumn. But moreover, along with Mother Earth’s bounty came the 101 colours of autumn. Along came her sideshow of deciduosity, of colours not only in transition from greens to browns but in reds, yellows, pinks and oranges vivid enough to suggest they’d been painted. I romanticised muy stay in the south of France as harvest tourism, with gourmet eating and bountiful variety as long as my eyes were kept alert and my fingers stealthy.
With a solid meal awaiting, I strolled up into St. Emilion a happy chap. And as I came upon the picturesque village, wonder took over. It was a medieval jewel, carpeting the sides of a deep salad bowl in the land. The castle’s keep and the church’s belfry overlooked it with parental care. And where most of the blanket of ancient structure served to accommodate the villagers, other stone monuments stood in proud ruin.
At an épicerie, O capped off my kit with a knife, newspaper, olive oil, lighter etc. Inside it a dirty hippy, stoned out of his mind, was wandering about and staring at people, causing the sort of havoc that only stoners can. Absurdly, with the formal attitude that so makes a Frenchman French, the shopkeeper addressed him as ‘Monsieur’ as he told him to go away.
I approached the shopkeeper with a few lines of Spanish. Whoops, wrong language. I’d only been in France for two weeks and it was a big deal switching tongues. I did it again and again (it really is difficult) and, with each muck-up, I roused the shopkeeper into higher levels of excitement. He started to pick on the other patrons, calling them Spaniards and talking to them in broken Spanish. The French are a strange bunch. And as for that hippy, how could I have not only been the only bum around here? Wasn’t this place for rich tourists and proud locals?
The sun descended below the sandstone, casting molten oranges and reds over a cloud-tiered sky. As glorious as it was, it compelled a sense of urgency from within. Where the hell was I going to stay the night? I blazed into the hills out of town, toward the little wood. It was the perfect little spot, notwithstanding the fact that I was visible from hills of wine-fields from all sides. Fingers crossed I’d stayed under the radar. The tent went up as night rolled in.
Exhausted, I got a kick of energy from a bunch of wine grapes I’d nicked. I started dinner with a fire. Mone wasn’t the only though; it was at that point I realised that the area was crawling with bums, workers for the harvest who were camping out in the open just like me. I got stuck into cooking my pumpkin on the coals with the pan I’d borrowed from the hostel. And what was dinner you may ask?
- French Style Baguette
Pumpkin Fried a la Rosemary & Garlic
Yum yum, but unfortunately I was exhausted, too exhausted to enjoy it.
Author’s Bio: Hi I’m Tim Horgan and I’m a slave to my own inner desire for exploration. After I finished Uni, I traveled around the world for 15 months. I’m home now and I really want to explore the deeper and darker themes of my experience. And I want to bring you along for the adventure.
Editor’s Note: All pics are provided by Tim.