‘There you’ve got another poor fellow,’ do I hear the man saying who’s cycling past me. He’s talking to his wife who is cycling steadily behind him. The village I just passed I have seen two bikes standing at the only café which was surprisingly open as well. I choose the budget option and have lunch in the shadow of a tree, just before I need extra power to cycle uphill to Laon. This man and woman are Geert and Janna, and become my neighbours at the campsite in Laon.
Because my bicycle has a little sticker from the shop where I bought it, it is recognisable to Brazilian André, who bought his bike there too. He and his wife Karla are on a worldtour as well and are shooting parts of film to make a movie about cycling. They want to make cycling a more daily habit of the Brazilian local, who are usually taking the car. Hopefully their movie will be the beginning of a creation of cycle paths. Their roads seem to be blocked and packed constantly, so here we are, three Dutch cyclists who are willing to talk in front of their camera. I am, surprisingly the first one. And since I am very used to camera’s, thanks to the close cooperation between Edwin and Eva from Pasta Media Productions, I feel no nerves. I just go for it, as a natural, I am a professional now, aren’t I? Well, obviously not. It is Janna who has to reminds me that I try to raise money with this cycle tour. Oeps…. We need to have a second take. It takes us half a day of filming and talking and it is great to do, us cyclers: Brazilian André and Karla who’s shooting us from out of the bushes, Geert and Janna, past the age of seventy and visiting their daughter in Paris. And me, who’s carrying a lot more at her own than Karla, with a mere 16 kilogram.
Laon is a heavenly town, seemingly historically rich with beautiful architecture. The only architecture I get to see is the mega hyper-market Carrefour, ridiculous large and very American and I don’t like it a bit. I have to leave my bicycle outside for a long time since I can not find anything quick in this large, overwhelming supermarket. I can’t find what I need (a lighter) but I do come in a lovely conversation with Janna and Geert, just like we’re at the local grocery store while we get bumped over by French madams who’re in a hurry….
My most important task in Laon is having a rest and eating. Or actually, it is eating only. Rest is rare. A simple life on the bicycle takes a lot of time, at least it does for me now, maybe I am not accustomed to it yet? I cook delicious nutritious meals and drink a lot of tea. When I cook and have a look around me I do find myself surrounded by food, encircled by pans, knifes, cups and bowls. I am aware that later on in Africa I will talk very different but for now I finally have eggs again and dried figs, sour pineapple and dripping butter. I even go to Mc.Donald but only to use wifi. The luxury of having an own notebook is a curse as well. (Sorry that I can not reply all of you, with 140 new e-mails it’s rather diffecult)
From Laon I start to cycle to Paris. I feel like wanting to cycle, it seems to be addictive. You come to get to places where the caravan or camper also is pulled to, but I did it on my own power and that feeling is quite great, an achievement already. Even when it’s raining, having my periods and can’t find a camp spot, it’s still good enough. The first night I manage to find a camping: one with five stars, where I have to pay two and a halve times the day price of a dog (€ 5 because I asked for discount with the letter Marijke and Jacques from the organisation Focus on Education made for me). The English seem to be having real great time here, ‘Back to the Real Eighties’ must be the party rule here, the place swirling with wooden high heels, short tops revealing the rather fatty bellybuttons and, of course leggings are a hit. Somehow I feel out of place. There’re even two Indian gentleman who are camping, the ultimate integration and I do look at them as how they would look at me would we be in India. I take a weekly dose of toilet paper with me and start the rainy Sunday with two croissants, butter, La Vache Qui Rit cheese, a chocolate croissant, two bananas and a litre of tea.
The route which I cycle is from a detailed booklet. On some days I cycle up to 70 kilometre, which is quite a lot, I think, especially in these hills. I rather would like to call them mountains, but really, they are just hills. Beautiful, green rolling hills full with agricultural farms and little villages with a complete lack of shops and bakery’s. All been taken over by the large hypermarkets. ‘Ou est le Boulanger?’ is my question to a local old farmer in a small village where there’s only an old crumbling castle. He speaks fast and sentences in full French -what else had I expected- but I did understand quite well: ‘No bakery’s, nothing of that. Maybe in the next village but probably not. Better try the next city.’ And so I start to eat my old bread, while starting to rain, having to change my clothes and shoes and worst, in front of three dogs coupling, one in front and one in the back… I have had better breakfasts before.
Diary fragment 3th of June: having my periods, it’s raining and it is very cloudy. Ten degrees colder. Not ideal. But okay enough. Eating and camping is not too good now. But well… almost in Paris. I landed in Rally. Far before any camping and have developed a rash. It’s irritant and a bit painful. And I am having my periods. No shower. Am tired. And again it will be late. I cycle only 4.5 hour a day but are busy for a complete day. Thankfully I have found a dry spot. I camp in an old farm which is restored beautifully. My tent can dry here. I have no Always (hygienic towel) with me because I use the cup (alternative to hygienic towel and tampon), but without nature nor toilet it’s quite difficult. Am hungry, it’s already 21.12 o‘ clock and still have to eat. I never get to bed before 22.00. Anyway, this is a real test, a training, very primitive.
I’d chosen an old farm being restored where I could sleep the night safely and dry in a barn, because there’s no camping anywhere near. It’s a pity they’re not inviting me to use their toilet, so I have to find some bushes further down in the street and in the night I just use their compound…
And yet I enjoy it all. The usual things you do without giving it a thought, I now and then have to do in phases: using the bushes as toilet, eating along the route, brushing my teeth in the woods, as cleaning the cup, easy enough in a well grown forest. It’s cold in French, yes, but what else can I do except enjoying it all? The route is fabulous, leads me through thick grown woods where not a trace of fear is to be felt. Slacks bare naked and those with a house on top of their nakedness move slowly over wet tarmac, me kneeling close to them to capture the slimy animals. I move again over my saddle, the rash is itching, the sort of pimples a bit painful but my bike full steady, without a noise, my knees without a doubt doing their best. I’ve got life! And this is part of it! As the same slack I move upwards in the surroundings of Pierrefonds, chunks of pure chocolate providing me instant energy, just before I have lunch in the woods. The descents sometimes so steep I need to stop and catch my breath. But then, when I feel the castle of Pierrefonds is about to appear, I’m thinking: ‘It can not possibly be that beautiful as is written in my booklet, I have now seen so much, castles too, this is OOOOOOOHHHHH…..’ I scream in wonder! The castle of this little town is swirling above anything else and I feel like a cycling fairy figure…
The day that I would cycle into Paris I had imagined different. I had imagined it to be a sunny, warm afternoon where I would peddle slowly and stepping off the bike every now and then to make some photo’s. The reality is that I am tired. The guidebook advises to enter the city well rested and fit because it would be a case of ‘survival of the fittest’. I enter Paris just before I repaired a flat back tire (tires € 50 a piece?) and have cycled already 70 kilometre, yet 20 to go. I am fit nor fresh. But as soon as I enter the city I feel she got a firm grip on me and again I get instant energy, together with a merengue, a fresh one that is, my sugar level hitting the sky. Off I go! Along the river the route takes me right to Place de Bastille and then it’s up to my own map reading knowledge.
Not a single moment do I make a mistake or get the wrong way. As a soft sword I swim through soft butter. Remarkable, isn’t it, swords can not swim but yet I feel one; heavily loaded I enter this elegant city, without arrogance I let myself be taken by the traffic and stop each time I again find myself on a big roundabout. I read the map, orientate and move further until I am at the right door. Fast and smooth, fresh and fit. There, right at the door where Dominique is living, a dead end street in the centre of a huge city. A city where whole families are living under dark, cold bridges, nothing less than India. A city where people are living on the street. Where a woman scolds and kicks at her dog because the poor animal being afraid of a skateboarder. The faces of the Roma, trying to make some sort of a living. Most road builders or security men in shops are black Africans. French is also about using the eurocents where I automatically round it off. Cycle paths are appearing out of nowhere and quit where it is apparently not useful anymore. Paris has very good cycle paths though: the bus lane. But the most remarkable view is bakery after bakery after bakery. Shops in abundance.
Not only an abundance of shops, also warm cares and being spoiled. I dare to lean against it and do enjoy. Dominique is a man I met in India, just a few years ago. While my paratha was being snatched by a monkey, soon after Dominique’s toast was stolen by another. We’re now enjoying the same kind of experience, the one of food and each other’s company. Fresh baguettes with honey, baguette Viennoise and especially for me each morning a croissant. I get my litre tea served in an original Indian teapot. We drink aloä vera drink and eat goat cheese a year old. Fresh figs and raspberries and crème fraîche and all that in front of a personal altar on a table from Ikea where above is beautiful old golden frame is hanging. A frame where the original Mona Lisa has lived in…
A guest and a fish stays fresh for only a couple of days…
Dominique knows the city as no other and he takes me along. We experience a wonderful show of nature when we meet the Eifel tower. It’s covered in thick clouds when I see it, or actually, don’t see it. I only get to see the whole tower when the heavy monsoon rain starts to hit the centre of Paris. And we’re right in it. As a true gentleman, and Dominique is doing justice to the French manners, he hold the umbrella so I can take some photo’s, as a real tourist’s supposed to. He takes me to corners unknown to most, except when you’re a resident of the city. We see the Roma working, the Tamils rather not –me listening to their lovely accent-, the German girl dressed ridiculously beautiful and the French madamme’s being business lady’s. We use the metro system as much as I have ever took, I only have to follow Dominique. How easy.
We’re in search of fuel for my Primus stove, searching a bandeau for my growing hair, underwear to put in an Always (hygienic towel) when I need it. We’re in search of beauty products and find an Yves Rocher shop. I am amazed how well we get along, how pleasant it is to be spending almost five full days together, even though the line above this text –coming from Geert- may suggest something else.
From Paris I start a more direct route towards Spain, which has changed since Dominique had a closer look at it. Instead of going over the Pyrenees, I now plan to go past them. I follow the Michelin map from my father, sometimes very short rides over busy N-routes, I quickly discover the nicer and more quieter D-routes. Soon I even discover the beautiful, scenic route along the Loire river. The following five days I cycle through cities as Orleans and Blois, big yellow marks on the map. Gerry, a woman I met on the cycle repair-course in Amsterdam, gave me the Santiago de Compostella route and this is what I follow. Except when I try to find a bakery, therefor I need to get into a village, where I never succeed. Either there’s no bakery or it is past two o’clock so it’s closed. Nice. I am again forced to have a poor lunch: chocolate croissant, dried figs, pomelo and some fig cookies. While eating at the gate of a little church Raf is walking towards this same church. Unmistakably he must be a Santiago de Compostella pilgrim. He looks thoroughly travelled but fresh, carrying a heavy backpack of 26 kilogrammes! Both are impressed by each other and the following hour, or more, we keep asking questions and take time out for each other’s adventure. When I see him my skin gathers lot’s of goose bumps, a real pilgrim he is!
Even though I am tired and in need of a day of rest, I am not very much looking forward to have a day at a campsite in rain, so I cycle 5 days in mostly rainy weather. I have said, when I started this trip, not to want to cycle more than three days in rain. But now I find it no problem. It certainly is no fun to camp and try to prepare food in the rain. But having a look at the Michelin map and discover how much on my own power I have moved southwards, is a very encouraging fact. Sometimes I do get to bed without food, mostly because I feel no appetite for my belly’s already floating from too much white bread. It always pays the morning after. The morning in Chouzy-Sur-Cisse I prepared wild rice with fried raisins, chilipeper, ginger and garlic. When I fry the aubergine I keep the rice warm in my sleepingbag. A litre tea and some fig cookies after, et voila…
In a meanwhile I started a little experiment and that is to quit shaving. Just to give it a try. Maybe because of this experiment I start to develop a rash again. And having this while being in a supermarket, trouser full with grease, boots covered in mud and itching my crotch, I can guarantee it is everything except charming. As soon as I enter Amboise, pitched my tent, I run to the shower and off it goes. In Blois, a city with pharmacia’s and even bakery’s, I found a cream against this and with two day’s rest and some sunshine I will be fine in the end.
And if it’s not fine it’s not the end yet : )
Cycled up to now (Amboise): 989 kilometre
Average speed: 15 kilometre a hour
Much more photo’s to see in the Dutch post…