Thursday 19th August, Puy Guillames, France.
As I type this, I'm sitting on my backpack outside the entrance to Vichy railway station, in central France. Pink Floyd's "Learning To Fly" is playing on my little laptop, it's 2:30 p.m and I have another hour to kill before the bus to Puy Guillames, my destination for tonight. I find myself reflecting on the morning's train journey, and for that matter my journey thus far, and how my travels recently have been very different to when I set off hitchhiking up the Alaska Highway almost fourteen momths ago, full of excitment and anticipation for the unknown. They say that life is a journey, not a destination. Well, lately there has been no joy in the journey. This morning's four hour train ride from Marseilles was a total non event, four hours of my life that gained me nothing. It would have been time more constructively spent if I'd been able to sleep, but the train seats were obviously designed to prevent passengers achieving anything resembling the level of comfort that would allow sleep, with headrests that forced your head to jut out at a rakish angle from your shoulders. I sat and stared blankly out the window, mainly to avoid the young French couple who insisted on demonstarting their national pride by French kissing in the seat opposite me. We sped noiselessly through fields of corn and sunflowers, past small Provence villages with picturebook babbling brooks spanned by tiny stone bridges. An old farm truck trundled through a distant field, overloaded with its bright red cargo of freshly picked peppers. I couldn't have found it more boring if the train had no windows at all.
A year ago, such a scene would have filled me with excitement. I would have had my then new digital camera out of its pouch the entire trip, straining to capture the rural charm of the region with countless through-the-window shots, the vast majority of which I knew wouldn't turn out. But now I just sit in a daze, camera safely sheathed, falling into a sort of suspended animation until we reach our destination. The destination has become everything, the journey is now just a unavoidable nuisance between destinations. What has changed?
Am I getting tired of moving all the time? In two weeks time, I will have been away from home longer than on any of my previous trips. I've met so many people that they sometimes become a blur, and I can't remember who told me what. Am I getting jaded and bored? Surely there are people who would dream of taking a train ride through the Provence countryside. Am I just getting old? Is it homesickness, homesickness for a 'normal' life, where I have a circle of friends, a place to call my own, a car, a routine? Routine? *shudder* Is it because I've been travelling on public transport lately instead of hitchhiking? When you hitchhike, the journey is never just a case of 'getting from A to B'. It becomes and experience in itself, in many cases moreso than the arrival. But somehow I just don't think it's fair to hitchhike in a country where I don't speak the language- hitching is a two way deal, and surely it's a bit rude to jump into a car and say "Je ne parle pas Francais" and just sit back for a free ride. Maybe some of my recent experiences have changed the way I look at things? Those of you who read between the lines may have realized that I met someone recently who I want to spend more time with. Is that it? Am I lonely? Is it to do with being reunited with my brother and his wife and their gorgeous children, my first brush with 'family' in over a year? Or has this been a slow gradual change that I haven't noticed until now? Whatever the case, it leaves me a little confused. Tomorrow I will be in Paris, spending the weekend with someone very special. After the weekend? I don't know. In three days time, I could find myself headed north, south, east or west. In a way that's kind of exciting in itself, but it's also a bit disconcerting, even for a bum like me. One of my mates back home emailed me to see where I think I'll be in November; he's thinking of taking a holiday and meeting up with me. I had to say not to count on me being anywhere in particular in November. That's still three months away, and I don't even know where I'll be at the end of this month. By September, I could be on any of four different continents, and right now I wouldn't be placing bets on which one it will be.
I don't want to give the impression that I'm not enjoying myself. In fact it's quite the opposite. On a personal level, the last couple of weeks have been some of the best since I left home. But that's on a personal level, not on an 'interesting webjournal' level. The battery's almost flat on my laptop now, and the bus can't be far away. I'll have to leave the rest till I reach Danielle's place, and can charge the battery. But before I go, I'd like to pre-empt a couple of emails with a couple of apologies. To anyone who feels the urge to write to me and tell me to wake up to myself, that I don't know how good I've got it, and that I should be happy that I get to ride a train through Provence while other people have to go to their nine-to-five, my apology is "I'm sorry. I don't get your point. You think because I'm travelling, that my emotions get left at home with my electric toothbrush?" In fact as my friend Amy has been discovering, emotions- the highs and lows- seem to be often amplified when you're travelling. To anyone who feels compelled to chastise me for being 'unprofessional' in my 'travelogue', my apology is "I'm sorry that I ever gave anyone the impression that I'm trying to be professional."
Now, on with the show. Today is the first cloudy, drizzly day I've experienced since May. I'm in a tiny village near the town of Puy Guillame, in the mountains of central France. I'm staying with Danielle, a French lady who I met in Ait Benhaddou in Morocco, and her partner Mike, from England. Danielle and Mike have lived in this village for over ten years, and they've been renovating their home- an old stone farmhouse- most of that time. It's now finished, but Mike is just making a few changes ready for the winter.
Danielle and Mike are great travellers and we had many a story to swap, Danielle relating to me her impressions- good and bad- of Australia, and the three of us comparing our very different experiences from travels in Mali. Danielle and Mike travelled to Mali decades ago as part of a 25 000 mile drive in a specially fitted Landrover. If you're new to The Savage Files, and you haven't had a chance to surf around the site, my stories from West Africa are here:
Danielle chastised me for just making a one night visit, and I wished I could have stayed longer. However as I explained to her, I was sandwiching the visit with her in between a week with my brother's family in Marseilles, and a very special weekend in Paris. She forgave me, and she and Mike and I talked and laughed and drank red wine and ate tasty soup with homemade bread, and when it was time to go to bed I slept like a baby under a cozy duvet.