A bit more hiking and contemplating… to the Pont de Diable which stretches over the Hérault river. The sky is pressing down today. It wants to rain, yet somehow it doesn’t. Instead, the air is becoming ever more humid, feeling almost solid and laborious to breathe. My weather app tells me lightning is only 8 km away. Please get over here dear storm, so we can get it over with and clear the air!
I went on a hike today after school to contemplate what to do… The little villages and surrounding landscapes were a bit distracting though. They were so gorgeous, I had to keep interrupting my thoughts to take a picture. Horrible.
At this moment in time, I really have no idea how to continue my Wonderweg. The only thing that seems clear in these puzzlingly unclear times is that I won’t find employment any time soon.
3 of 4 weeks here in Montpellier are already over. My French didn’t improve nearly as fast as I’d hoped it would during this time. I am wondering if I should sign up for one more month of language school to do it right and invest as much work and time as I possibly can?
On the other hand, the Spanish border is only about a week’s hike away from here. It’s immensely tempting to get back on the trail soon and see where it will lead. Then again, the trail won’t be going anywhere. I don’t need to rush.
Weather is another consideration. The rainy season will be starting here any minute now. However, the further south I’ll hike, the warmer and drier it should stay…
Money is another thing to think about, as it will run out soon… even though I always keep everything as low budget as possible…
My hike today surely did not bring me any answers. But it was a beautiful afternoon. The clouds were hanging low, the air was heavy and sensuously humid. Almost as I remember it from when I lived in my homes in Hong Kong and Macau. The landscape… as you can see… was a feast for the eyes. I am exhausted now, satisfied, happy, and as clueless as I was this morning.
We hiked through a forest of vocabulary and grammar again at the Alliance Francaise in Montpellier. I was exhausted after. It’s only a few hours each morning, but my brain needs to get used again to studying… and to actually retaining information.
Besides learning and opening my mind, I do enjoy collaborating with my classmates. Usually, when I’m working backstage for a show, I am immersed in an international team, a show family. I love connecting with all those people from a myriad of backgrounds, listening to their thoughts and experiences on a daily basis. I miss it with all my heart. At the school now, we are only working together in the classroom for a few short weeks, but it’s still heartwarming to connect with people from other cultures again.
The four of us come from all corners of the world. Harry is British and lives in the UK. Nadja is Brazilian and lives in France. Sangee is born in Nepal and lives in India. Every day, we discover a bit more about each other’s world and its fascinating.
Sangee, especially, inspires me a lot. He is 24 years old and a monk in a Buddhist monastery in India. He told me that up until a few years ago, they focused exclusively on religious and spiritual studies in his monastery. But, due to their culture, every now and then, a monk who is the oldest son in his family has to leave to take care of his parents. Those who did in the past, entered life outside the monastery completely unprepared and clueless. Thus, Sangee’s monastery now makes sure to teach their monks as much as they can about the outside world. The monastery provides classes for them in the sciences, history, geography, and other subjects. And, their elders encourage the young monks to travel the world and study cultures and languages. In this way, if they ever have to leave, they will not be entirely lost in the “outside” world.
Sangee already speaks Buthanese, Hindi, Nepali, and Tibetan. Recently, he has travelled through England and has studied 4 weeks of English. His grasp of the language is already phenomenal. This is now his 2nd week of French. Without any prior knowledge, his French is about the same as mine even though I know far more vocabulary since this is my 3rd atttempt at learning the language.
Sangee and I have many wonderful conversations during our breaks. Also, through our exercises in class, all of us learn a lot from each other. Today, for example, Sangee told us (in French!) about the Indian human rights movement and about Babasaheb Ambedkar who campaigned against social injustice towards the untouchables.
I have to say, besides loving to learn from each other, Sangee also reminds me of my life and travels around Asia. His soft-spokenness and calmness, everything about him, reminds me of how much I love living there. It triggers an ache, a longing, as well as a feeling of happiness in me to be able to spend a little bit of time with this lovely, inspiring man.
The first week of school at the Alliance Francaise is already done. It was fun and tough. Frankly, I am far more exhausted now than if I had hiked all week. No rest for the wicked, though. This afternoon and tomorrow I’ll need to write several articles. Then, on Sunday, I’m planning to explore the countryside around Montpellier. After so many metaphorical steps nurturing the “wonder” side of my journey, it’ll be nice to “wander” again and see blue skies. A plus tard, bon week-end, et rester en sécurité mes amis x
It’s time to share a map again, now that the third leg of my journey is done: from Grenoble to Montpellier. It was a mix of hiking and traveling by car, since during the last week I was lucky to be able to catch up – and catch a ride – with a couple old friends.
All-in-all, I have now been on the trails for almost 2 months, hiking from Brugg in Switzerland towards Portugal. So far, I have covered a distance of 500 km. 100 km were trains and cars. 400 km were tackled entirely on foot. Three days ago, I finally reached the Mediterranean Sea at Saintes Maries de la Mer. A real highlight of my journey!
Here some random observations and practical thoughts so far:
Feet: are ok now, but… oh boy. I can recommend to anyone who has spent years living in flip-flops like I did, to do a lot of smaller hikes before embarking on the big one. My feet took ages to acclimate to being in closed shoes again, all day long. Also, the heavier your backpack, the more strain you put on your knees and feet. Knee problems can easily be avoided by using walking sticks. But, the feet feel the heavy load all day long. This is one reason why I am strongly considering leaving behind even more of my stuff. I am at 12 kg now, but would love to bring it down to 7 or 8 kg. Will need to see what to do…
Gravel paths: the worst!!! So many hiking trails have gravel on them. I’ve come to hate those paths. They absolutely kill my feet. No matter how thick the soles of my shoes are, after a few hours I can feel every single sharp rock.
Water: is a real problem when you hike through the Swiss and French Jura regions in summer. I brought a water filter but was never able to use it, because all creek and river beds were completely dry. I ended up depending on the kindness and close proximity of farmers. In Switzerland, where everything is closer together, this wasn’t so much of a problem. In France, the distances between any settlements and farms are much farther apart. Sometimes more than a day’s walk. Additionally, many small restaurants along the way are currently closed due to Covid19. For the first time in my life, I experienced what it feels like to be thirsty and to be afraid, not knowing where the next drop of water will come from… and when. It all got a bit better once I came through the Rhone valley and the Massif de la Chartreuse. But, since it’s a very hot summer, the water situation remained precarious throughout.
Walking alone: overall no problem. Each day seems to just fly by. After a few hours my feet start hurting and I need to take a break. But, ten hours of walking pass by so fast, even with pain. Which is something I need to be consciously aware of. It’s better to pace myself and not do too many hours in one day.
I haven’t listened to any music yet. I love the sounds of the wildlife all around me and of the wind gently, or sometimes not so gently, blowing through the trees and over the meadows. And, I enjoy my own company.
However, what I do struggle with is my homelessness. If I did this hike knowing I have my own little home base to return to somewhere, I would feel more at peace. As it is, I do not know when and where I’ll find my next job. So, I also do not know when I’ll have my own little private space again. I miss having an actual home. That’s why, sometimes, I wonder if I should have bought an old car, so at least I’d have a home on the road. A little mobile space that’s mine. But maybe that’s also something I need to learn: to be ok without that.
In essence, camping has so far never been a problem, but it has been stressful nonetheless. I am the kind of guy who loves to have his little quiet sanctuary somewhere to retreat to after a hard day’s work. And, somehow, a tent in which I always have to anticipate people, deer, cows, wild dogs, etc. disturbing me, just doesn’t quite measure up.
Covid19 considerations: I always have my face mask in my pocket, within easy reach. As soon as I get close to too many people at once, I put it on. For their protection and mine. In Switzerland, social distancing rules were followed in some places and not in others. Some people wore masks, some didn’t. It seemed to be different in every single farm, village, and city I walked through. In France, the preventive measures so far seem to be in place everywhere. Most people seem to be quite disciplined when it comes to wearing a mask as well, even out on the street. I am surprised the numbers in Southern France are going up so much, because everyone I see is being so careful.
Horse flies and tics: I just really hate them. So far, thankfully, I have found every single tic that was crawling around on me before it latched on. Grrr. Tenacious little buggers!
This is all I can think of right now. I’ll stay in Montpellier for a little while. It’s just too beautiful here to leave quickly. And, after so much forest and nature (which I love) it is great to feel so much vibrant city life and culture around me (which I also love). More about the next steps in tomorrow’s blog post!
Here a few heartfelt thanks:
Big thanks to Maggi and Abel for picking me up close to Avignon. Thanks for letting me stay at your place for a few days! It was so peaceful and I loved our conversations! Thanks Lionel for driving so many hours just to come see me. I loved exploring Uzes with you and was glad we had a chance to catch up after so many years. Thank you Ute and Jim for giving me a ride to the Camargue. How awesome that we had a chance to meet and then hike for a couple days together through the beautiful Camargue! From now on, every time I hear someone burp loudly I’ll think of those strange flamingos, of the weird sounds they make, and of our bird watching adventures! Mylena, how awesome to meet you upon my arrival in Montpellier. What a great day! I could have continued forever. And thanks so much to Evelyne at Villa Stella. Thanks for sharing delicious fruits and coffees with me and for inspiring me with great conversations.
And, thanks to all of you who read this, for being there. Writing these posts is as much a means of letting friends and family know how I am, as it is a means for me to not feel so alone on the road and stay connected with the people I care about and with the world in general. Thanks for your support!
A bientot xxx
Still in the Camargue. I could easily stay another few weeks here. I feel like I’m getting more sensitized to the local flora and fauna. With every hike, I’m spotting more little plants and critters. Today, Ute, Jim, and I went to the protected area ‘Les Sentier des Rainettes’.
I now have a new favorite plant, called “Saladelles” – Sea Lavender.
Apparently, as the grass dries out during summer, sea lavender takes over and begins to bloom everywhere. We saw whole fields of it at the nature park, buzzing with dragonflies. Beeeaaauuutiful!!!
I didn’t sleep much in the hotel last night, but it was peaceful lying awake in the dark, watching the lightning through the skylight in my room.
Waking up, I took it easy, had a real coffee, and read a book. A few hours later, I went outside, had another coffee, and attempted to have lunch. Which was harder than I thought due to a whole group of incredibly pushy doves. This is just two of them, sitting on the plates that had been left on the table right next to mine. The doves ended up squabbling so much over all the pieces that half of the dishes and cutlery crashed to the floor. Then, they tried to grab food off my plate as I was still eating. They succeeded in stealing the cake I had looked forward to for dessert. But, the cheese baguette was and remained mine!!!
I’ve thought a lot this past week. About life. About being homeless. About all the uncertainty. About what I am doing (not entirely sure…).
I’ve thought about my trip. And about how to continue. Whilst my feet and mind were moving in tandem, I realized something. It’s no coincidence that I love being a stage manager. Apart from feeling at home backstage and enjoying the challenges of battling with the unexpected, I also love structuring, planning, and scheduling. It seems to be in my blood. So in a way, without noticing, I’ve stage managed my hike as well.
Then, there is plain old stubbornness. Sometimes, there are two trails, and I actually like the other one better. Yet, I feel the need to keep following the E4 Long Distance Path because I said so. Keeping my word to the point of masochism. There is ambition there as well, and personal pride, and my German perfectionism. Somewhere along the line, I’ve gotten way too serious and overly relentless about this. Way too concerned about following the trail rather than experiencing the journey.
Amazing, how an extreme endeavor like this really does bring us closer to ourselves and shows us more clearly who we are.
I need to take this opportunity and jump over my shadow. This is not the time for planning and structuring things. This hike is a time for me to enjoy, be spontaneous, change direction, change my mind, follow my heart, do what makes me happy. I don’t need to prove anything to anyone. Not even to myself. I don’t need to follow a specific route. And I don’t need to arrive. This is about the journey. It’s for me. And it’s for #step4circus. No matter what shape or form it takes.
So, I’m going to liberate myself ☀️
I‘ll start with “jumping over” the Vercors mountains. Yesterday marked 6 weeks of me hiking through mountains. Frankly, I’m a bit “mountained out” at the moment and need a change of scenery. I am craving rolling hills rather than steep ups and downs… and I’m craving ocean! Also, the Vercors mountains hold beautiful memories of a life that’s over… which at the moment will break my heart all over again…
Instead of hiking three more weeks south through the Vercors mountains, I’ll take a train to Avignon tomorrow. Then I’ll spend a few days near Uzes seeing friends.
And then… well… we’ll see 😁
I need to research a bit these next few days (There I go again. Relax Liam. Not too much planning). But, I am thinking to definitely move as close to the Mediterranean Sea as I can. Find paths that will get me close enough so I can jump into the deep blue sea every so often, but also paths that lead me a bit further away here and there so I don’t end up enveloped by masses of sunbathing tourists.
Onward and southwest-ward bound is still the general idea. But following my heart more and not forgetting to have fun as well along the way is the prime objective.
As a good friend of mine said a few days ago, “If you stop looking for the trail signs and instead go forth with your head held high and remaining in the moment, your journey will take you to the right place no matter where that may be.” (Thank you for reminding me, dear David!)
Yay!!! Made it to Grenoble with minutes to spare before the big thunderstrom will hit full force! Glad to be looking at it through a skylight rather than being out in the open. Time to rest those weary muscles and feet for a couple of days…
Looking at the horizon, this is the general direction I’m heading towards at the moment. Through the Rhone valley and then the Massif de la Chartreuse to Grenoble. By now, the trails have already led me away from water again. So I must be in the area of the Massif de la Chartreuse. Can’t wait for the next lake or river (the river Drome).
It’s been cloudy these last 2 days, off and on. And, this morning, I just managed to take shelter underneath a huge oak tree before a rain storm hit. But, overall, it is still hot enough so that a swim in a cold lake will feel like heaven…
The longer I walk, the more I think I won’t follow the exact E4 trail anymore. Well, sometimes I will, sometimes I won’t… As soon as I get close to the Mediterranean Sea (which will be in about 1-2 weeks), I will forge my own trail and rather navigate by instinct and by where I want to be… instead of following that one exact route. There are so many trails, after all…
Yesterday was a day of butterflies. They were everywhere. One thing I notice as I am hiking through these meadows and forests is that if they’re healthy there is nothing quiet about them. Everything buzzes, scuttles, and moves. Insects are everywhere. I haven’t seen this many ant hills since my childhood (and I’m ooold). Some of those ant hills are as wide as a person and at least one meter high. There must be a metropolis of millions in each one. On the trail, I can’t step anywhere without stepping on something. I just hope all those little critters are small enough, and the forest floor has enough give, so I am not crushing too many of them (Watch out for giant Liam!) Flies and bees are hovering and zooming all over the place. Oh, and I am rediscovering my grave dislike of horse flies. Give me a cute little mosquito any day. These horse flies are tenacious and their bite hurts like hell (grrrrr).
The beauty of this landscape is almost indescribable. I was thinking, will my photographs be able to convey how it feels here? But they really can’t. It’s the scent in the air as well. This potpourri of different grasses, leaves, bark, and dirt. It’s the perfect combo no perfume designer will ever even come close to designing. I wish, I could breathe more, breathe deeper, to let this wave of natural scent saturate me completely. Then, there is the sunlight hitting the foliage and blades of grass in different angles. And then, there is the wind, playing trees and grasses like instruments. Altogether, it is the perfect performance, the perfect composition. An opera for eternity.