If you’re looking for really authentic travel experiences, make friends. There are several ways to approach travel and maybe you’ll try all at different times, depending on the season, how far your finances are stretching, if you want to be in the city or deep in the countryside and what sort of social life you want.
I want to put in a good word for house-sitting. I’ve been lucky and had a few by word of mouth, the friends’ network. A month was ideal, enough time to get to know the locals, explore the nearby villages and do some long walks, usually with a dog attached or leaping through the undergrowth to chase a deer or wild-pig.
There’s house-sitting sites too. Google House-sitting and you’ll find a few. Like WorkAway, there’s a joining fee but they seem to be well regulated.
You need to be self-contained and obviously, a good level of responsibility is a plus when someone leaves you with their animals, garden and worldy possession. What you get is usually a gorgeous house to stay in rent-free, some instant pets and often fresh garden produce. I’ve managed chickens, turkeys, geese, cats and dogs, weeded and watered gardens and cleaned a swimming pool (my least favourite thing: add chlorine, pump won’t work, scoop up dead bodies).
One gig was an offer from a woman who picked me up when I was hitching in Spain. ‘Oh, so you do house-sitting,’ she said. ‘I’m off to Thailand for a month, would you like to look after my house?’ So it goes, you never know what opportunities come when you’re open to them.
I do. Especially if it’s highly nutritious and comes for free.
It’s part of the beauty of travelling to wild places… the hunt and the gathering of berries, nuts and fungi.
Follow the fruits of the season. Cherries, mulberries, blackberries and plums, figs then walnuts and almonds. It’s not an exhaustive list and there’s a whole range of plants as well. (List to follow on my next post)
And then there’s fungi…
Take a guide book and double check with an app or a pro local with experience in mushrooms and discover the delicious options. The gorgeous orange ones I photographed are called Lactarius deliciosus or Saffron MilkCap and they are truly divine cooked with garlic.
And I want to add that making japatis, unleavened bread made from wholemeal flour and water and cooked on a campfire, is not only super cheap but also a great staple that goes with cooked food or salads. While technically not wild food it’s an ancient art that’s worth rediscovering.
I just checked the population statistics for January 2018 and there were 52 people in this village. Evidently that was on a good day… so far I’ve seen five in the street, but not all at once.
I’m here to keep the plants alive and walk the dogs while the owners are away. I’ve learned to walk. Big time. It’s twenty minutes up a mountain to the next village (where I hear there are 25 inhabitants) and the capital of the region is an hour away on foot across a ravine.
Day 1: up the mountain to water someone else’s garden.
Day 2: up the mountain and across the ravine to meet a friend.
Day 3: up the mountain, across the ravine, stick out thumb, hitchhike to town, return by late afternoon with full backpack… collapse on couch.
“Breathe in, breathe out. This is a sanctuary. Take off your weary clothes and the shoes that no longer shield your soles from the grit of the journey. “
It’s another hot day at Laguépie in the south of France and everyone is hanging out at the river. The lifeguard has a steady gaze. There’s screams, splashing and laughter as this crazy, inflatable spaceship rock and rolls.
The local kids are smoking cigarettes in the shade, wrapped in each others arms or taking selfies while Parisian girls cluster at the edge and dry their long black braids in the sun.
We are all shapes and sizes, ages and backgrounds with the same language of laughter. We are residents, visitors, travellers and refugees.
Thanks to Val Johnson, for introducing me to some of the guys who have made it to France against enormous odds and found refuge in this small community. Val has been tireless with fund-raising, finding homes and resources and for encouraging diversity and inclusiveness. I’m also grateful to the people I met for their generosity and smiles. I wish everyone a future where peace and happiness is as simple as a day at the river.
The French know how to walk. Every Sunday, you can see clusters of friends or family making their way between villages after the Midday meal has settled. During the week there are clubs for the more dedicated. Large groups take to the paths that traverse the fields and the forest and work up an appetite for a three course meal with wine in the local hall or restaurant.
I’ve been lucky enough to join a few of these social events, to walk the beautiful countryside, to parley French with the locals and then raise too many glasses with the rest.
It’s not only black and white. The minor chords of grey that make the symphony complete and harmonious are playing in my mind. I have history here. Stone steps that leave an impression on the soft humous scattered about the earthy floor.
I am travelling light, treading lighter, carrying my creativity wherever I go.