Hiking the GR10 trail in the Pyrénées

France, Walking

We hiked the GR10 in June 2016.

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I don’t like climbing mountains. I think of it as macho: the egoic human wanting to conquer the peak. Don’t get me wrong, I love long distance hiking, and I have done my fair share of hikes. But I don’t feel the need to climb a few thousand metres high.

So I wonder why I am here, why I have chosen to walk the GR10, a trail that spans all of the Pyrénées, from west to east  – a whole 900km of up and down. It is, of course, because I want to be immersed in beauty. And surely you don’t get much more beautiful than the Pyrénées.

“You’re a vegan? What CAN you eat?!” – More hiking & hitching in western Europe

France, Germany, Hitchhiking, Walking
"Where the hell are we?!" I say, as I look at the map

“Where the hell are we?!” I say, as I look at the map

I like to think I’m a good map reader. But sometimes – fairly often, actually – I look at a map and my mind goes completely blank. I can’t work out where the hell I am.

Chris and I are in the Pyrénées. We need to stay low: there’s thick snow once we get above 1400 metres. So it’s also important not to get lost, or we might find ourselves camping up on a mountain ridge in a snowy blizzard, completely unprepared.

But, of course, we get lost. There’s five different trails, some bigger than others, all branching off in different directions.

On the road with Nicol and Albin

France, Hitchhiking, Walking
Hitching the Atlantic coast

Hitching the Atlantic coast

La Rochelle! The city that I have always wanted to visit since my school French class, when every character in the text book either lived in La Rochelle, worked in La Rochelle, or went on holiday in La Rochelle. A bright blue kingfisher darts through the park and the streets are calm and quiet.

We set up camp, perched on a sand dune next to the Atlantic ocean on a freezing, icy night.

Camping in the frost on the freezing coast in Châtelaillon near La Rochelle

Camping in the frost on the freezing coast in Châtelaillon near La Rochelle

HITCHHIKING OUR FIRST TRACTOR!

HITCHHIKING OUR FIRST TRACTOR!

Nicol et moi, happy on the road

Nicol et moi, happy on the road

Hitchhiking in France is, of course, easy, and once again, female drivers stop regularly for us. I think it’s the only country I have been to where the drivers don’t say, “You’re hitchhiking? It’s dangerous!” Each driver has a different life and a different story. One woman is pregnant and moving house; one driver, Abdel, offers us a job in his vineyard; Brenda has a brain tumour and is on her way to the hospital for a scan.

So far, Nicol’s been a perfect travel companion, but now she faces the ultimate test: a few days of walking in the French nature in the pouring rain with a heavy rucksack on her back, sleeping in a leaky tent in the middle of winter! We walk the GR64 hiking route to the Dordogne river and the rain lashes down on us. Nothing phases Nicol, and we laugh hysterically as we walk through a farm and sink into a mixture of cow shit and mud and the poo seeps into our socks.

Shitty shoes!

Shitty shoes!

Nicol, looking surprisingly   awake after a cold night in the tent

Nicol, looking surprisingly awake after a cold night in the tent

Aaaah! France!

Aaaah! France!

Castelnaud on the Dordogne

Castelnaud on the Dordogne

Nicol having a break

Nicol having a break

La Roque Gageac on the Dordogne

La Roque Gageac on the Dordogne

After a couple of days of being cold to the bone, we arrive in Cahors, literally covered in shit. A woman asks me if I’m ok and offers to buy me a sandwich from the bakery.

We have persuaded my friend Albin that he really wants to take us on a roadtrip in his van named Coco, and he picks us up in Cahors. We travel just 15km and Coco breaks down.

After a few hours, the van is fixed and we travel along the river Lot in the Causses du Quercy region. Albin looks out of the window as he drives and constantly waves his arm in the air, gesturing for us to look at the view. “My garden!” he says with a big grin, proud of the country that he’s from.

We follow the vallée du Célé and travel through the gorges de la Cère and gorges de la Luzège. The scenery is magical – sometimes it feels like we’re in a fairytale.

"Today is a terrible day," Albin moans as we break down.

“Today is a terrible day,” Albin moans as we break down.

Nicol and Albin with Coco the van, in the perfect sleeping place  on the river Lot

Nicol and Albin with Coco the van, in the perfect sleeping place on the river Lot

Nicol, Albin et moi

Nicol, Albin et moi

This place actually exists! The Tour de Merle

This place actually exists! The Tour de Merle

Nicol et moi, on the top of the world at Saint Pantaléon de Lapleau on the  Gorges de la Luzège

Nicol et moi, on the top of the world at Saint Pantaléon de Lapleau on the Gorges de la Luzège

Collecting spring water!

Collecting spring water!

Nicol and me at the Viaduc des Rochers Noir

Nicol and me at the Viaduc des Rochers Noir

Our few days on the road together are spent with a lot of laughter and also a lot of (mostly lighthearted) bickering, as the three of us learn to share Albin’s tiny house on wheels. “ORGANISATION!” Albin exclaims to us at every opportunity. For Albin, organisation means switching his bags of belongings to the driver’s seat when he wants to sleep, and back to the main part of the van when he wants to drive.

“I want to teach you the life in a van,” Albin says to us. Life in the van proves to be complicated, and the simple act of opening the van’s door is problematic, as it involves a special technique. “You pull, you pull, and you push!” Albin demonstrates again and again. I finally get the hang of it on our last day together.

Despite some bickering, our days are mostly filled with giggling and singing, and we laze in the sunshine in the daytime and explore the incredible nature. Albin teaches me the guitar and Nicol the diablo, and as he’s a juggler, we spend many hours juggling. I discover that I have a natural talent for balancing a ball on my head!

On our final evening, we stop in a tiny village in the darkness, and Albin knocks on the door of a house to ask for water. A man called Dominique answers the door and invites us in for dinner. We are humbled by his kindness and we spend an interesting couple of hours cooking dinner and talking about each other’s lives, and Dominique tells me how he used to hitchhike many years ago. We chat about Jack Kerouac and both agree that the book On The Road is actually a bit shit.

This talent is going to make me millions!

This talent is going to make me millions!

The juggler

The juggler

Beautiful forest

Beautiful forest

France!

France!

In the fairytale nature

In the fairytale nature

Albin and Nicol with our host, Dominique

Albin and Nicol with our host, Dominique

Finally, it’s time to say goodbye to Albin and his van, Coco, and I have tears in my eyes when they drive out of sight. I feel so lucky to be alive, and to have been travelling with both Nicol and Albin – both very beautiful souls. Nicol and I continue onwards alone, hitchhiking towards Ardèche, through mountains of snow. We arrive at Françoise and Denis’s house in the mountains. As Françoise and Denis tell Nicol about their travels, I marvel at how inspirational my friends are: Françoise, who walked from France to China, Denis who studied Mandarin in China; and Albin, who gave up a conventional engineering job to become a juggler.

Like Albin, Françoise thinks that France is the most beautiful country ever, and we laugh as she plays us Jean Ferrat’s Ma France (My France). And after these last couple of weeks on the road, I’m inclined to agree with them that France is one of the most beautiful places in the world.

On the road!

On the road!

In the snowy mountains of Ardèche

In the snowy mountains of Ardèche

The dark, dark mountains of Cévennes

France

Chris and I are on the road in France. We visit Françoise and Denis in Ardèche, and Françoise and I reminisce about when we were lost in the mountains in Georgia, surrounded by fog and bears…

We are on our way to our friend Paul’s. It’s just a 27km walk on the GR44D hiking route over the Cévennes mountains. Easy! So we happily (and stupidly) start the long hike at 1pm with only four hours of daylight left. This hike has striking similarities to the last time I walked, and got lost, in France: like before, I have a map that Françoise and Denis have printed out for me off the internet. And like before, we are armed with chocolate supplies, a compass, an inability to speak French, and far too much optimism.

When The Seagull Ate The Sparrow: the road to Turkey

France, Italy, Turkey

I have left the Rainbow Gathering in Spain and I am in Barcelona, listening to Turkish music with my friend, Julien. I turn to him and say, “I miss Turkey. Let’s hitchhike to Turkey together!” A few days later, a spontaneous Julien has packed a (heavy) rucksack and said goodbye to his life in Toulouse.

We hitch through the French Alps and spend the night in a disused military base in Briançon.

Hitching with Super Hitchhiker, Julien, in the French Alps

Hitching with Super Hitchhiker, Julien, in the French Alps

We sleep in this World Heritage Site fort in the Alps

We sleep in this World Heritage Site fort in the Alps

An Irritating Itch in Condom: Two weeks in France

France

I hitch the channel once again with Peter, my regular lorry-driving saint. I am migrating south for the winter and am feeling more excited than usual: I am not doing my usual route through what my friend Arjun describes as the Ordnung countries, where everything and everyone has to fit into boxes within society (Germany, Austria, Denmark…)

I meet my friend, Conor, in France. He is on week-one of an overland adventure to Japan. Together we travel to beautiful Ardeche and visit Françoise, my travel-buddy in Turkey last year.

Conor and I travelling through France

Travelling solo, sleeping rough, and trouble with the police in Italy

France, Greece, Italy

I have been travelling with my friend Naomi for a week or two, from Belgium, through Luxembourg and into France. We continue our adventure down to the south of France. The generosity of the French surprises me, and it’s the only country I have hitchhiked where most of my lifts have been from women. We sleep in many places: a couple invite us into their holiday home at the Cote d’Azur, another woman feeds us in her mountain home….we sleep on the rocks of the coast, and on balconies of summer homes that are not yet being used. We carry on travelling through hideous Nice and the even more hideous Monte Carlo.

We arrive at night in the shady Italian town of Viarregio. A group of lads are sitting outside a bar, listening to dodgy r’n’b on their mobiles. They invite us to drink with them. Naomi jumps at the chance, sits amongst them and exclaims, “this is just what I needed!” whilst I sit down moodily and think, “this is the last thing I needed”.