The Battle to Poitiers

Continued

The Business Talk

I had constantly been told that hitchhiking in France was typically easy……
Now I wanted to punch the person who said that!

To reach Poitiers, I had been standing on the side of a crossroad north to La Rochelle for two hours at least and already went to pee twice, as I drank too much water to prevent myself from possible dehydration. It was hot……

A piece of cloud moved over my head. I knew from deep in my heart that it was the God of Good Weather for Hitchhikers covering me. The traffic was perfectly thick. I was just in front of traffic lights with a perfect strip for stopping. The terrain looked open and the weather should cheer me up. Why nobody stopped? I had no idea…… Nearby there was a tree, pregnant with flowers and thick leaves. A mocking bird perched on it and started tweedling. I knew that it was mocking me.

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When Francoise picked me up, I was a bit exhausted already. It was about 2 PM. He was in his early 50s or late 40s, with some gray hair and was dressed very casually. From the status of his car I judged him to be an easy going guy.

Francoise: You know, when I was younger, in college, I took a Chinese lesson.
Me: So you speak fluent Chinese! Great! Why are we still talking in French? Let’s speak Chinese. I will start….. Just kidding.
Francoise: Haha! I forgot most of them and only a few words linger on. I picked you up because you know what?
Me: So I can teach you Chinese?
Francoise: No no no. I thought you might have friends dealing wines from France to China. I am going to Saintes to attend a course, a business course to teach us about wine dealing. If you have friends, we can collaborate!
Me: Eh…… Let me think. I do know a guy who is dealing wines from Bordeaux and Porto to China. I might really put you into contact with him.

This was not the first time that someone came up to me simply because they thought China promised a great business opportunity. When I was walking along the beach in Makarska, Croatia a local real estate businessman stopped me and invited me for coffee and lunch and even sponsored my trip to Dubrovnik simply because he thought I could talk with the Chinese ambassador to Austria about investing in Croatia. I tried but nope, it did not work out.

It was fascinating how travelers of different looks and nationalities are perceived in different parts of the world. When I was traveling in South America, since China was so far away from them, most people really thought China was the same as Japan, developed, strong in high tech and produces much anime. When I was in Australia and Canada, people thought I was a local and had rich parents buying villas in Melbourne or Vancouver. When I was traveling in Africa, people thought I was working for one of those Chinese infrastructure companies and would call me boss and ask if I had a job for them ……

Francoise drove me to the center of Saintes and invited me for a coffee, over which he further talked about the business opportunity. We exchanged contact and said goodbye. I toured the city within 20 minutes. I asked in the tourist information office about the best spot to hitch a ride and they referred me to a road at the northern edge. When I got there, I found the road was in maintenance, thus all the cars had to pass very slowly. That was just perfect!

Seriously, there were a continuous line of vehicles flowing in as it was rush hour. However, I still waited for one hour before a tall French girl named Margot stopped. That was essentially the first female driver I had in France. One more car drove me to a small village in a rather desolate part of France. I sat in the middle of the road for 15 minutes and did not worry about getting hit by a car, because there were not any.

However, the sun was too strong, so I moved my ass from the scorching asphalt and started to walk around. I stretched my legs and arms. I was trying to devise a dance which would concentrate the good energy in the universe and promote my chance of getting a ride. Yes, from a serial hitchhiker I was trying to turn into a choreographer.

I also considered stripping, as it was repeatedly proven a most effective way to get rides, but the sun was too intimidating…….

I knew of guys dressing up like girls just to get rides. There was this huge Polish guy who looked like Rubeus Hagrid in the Harry Potter movies. He had a huge beard and explosive hair. A glance at his face would freeze your blood. Imaginably, as Toby the ‘criminal’, he tried creative ways to get rides. He rolled two scarfs into two balls and put them under his T-shirt. Then standing on the roadside he turned his face so the drivers could not see his face. Then he sexily thumbed up. When drivers approached. they just saw her curvy figure and striking boobs and thought ‘Oh she is hot!’ Before they knew they already stopped. Then this dude slowly turned his face to the road in a stylish fashion, revealing his huge beard and crazy face.

It must be quite sexy.

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One guy stopped! Obviously my magical dance worked! However, when he was locating Poitiers on his navigator, he found out that he had gone the wrong way and had to turn back. No, the magical dance did not work. It simply malfunctioned.

Life was hard. In 732 AD, the grandmother of Charlemagne battled the Muslim invaders in the Battle of Poitiers. Now after more than one thousand years, here I was, battling my way to Poitiers.

When a shining car finally stopped, I thought I won the battle of the day. Nope, he was only going for less than 10 km. I got in the car anyways. That was a French dude working in Dusseldorf in western Germany. After spending much time in Germany, he returned home in Southern France for holiday. He was experiencing serious back culture shock. That was right! The culture in which he grew up now shocked him. He said: ‘You know, I never noticed before that the French are so WILD!’

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The Dark Shadow of Poitiers

He dropped me nearby a farmhouse where he had to make a turn. I smelled cheese. There were two possibilities. First, there was cheese in the big farmhouse. Second, I was hungry. Suddenly I heard the roaring of some massive machinery. I instantly threw a glance at the road. Nope, there were no cars coming. It was my stomach, a pretty heavy machinery.

I was hungry.

I did not wait long until a car stopped and a lovely young couple from South America took me. They were obviously of African ancestry. The man was from French Guyana and his wife from Guyana. There are three Guyanas, the French one, the English one, which we normally just call Guyana and the Dutch Guyana, which is more commonly known as Suriname. They were on their way to pick up their new car somewhere near Poitiers. They were in a great mood and we played the music loud like having a rocking party.

They dropped me at the outskirts of Poitiers. I went to a hotel to use the wifi. Apparently I was still about 5 kilometer from the city proper. I was thinking of running all the way to the city center and then jump into a fountain to have a quick shower, but no, that would be too crazy and I was hungry and exhausted like a piece of dirt.

I went to the bus stop. There was a young girl there, waiting for her bus. I started talking to her. She was thin and tall, a bit timid at first but soon turned out sociable.

She was working in a big flower shop nearby. She liked traveling herself but she never got the chance to travel much. She was studying in a city a bit far and during her summer vocation she had to work. The job market in France was not so promising for young people. We arrived in the city center, with its grand squares and churches. She offered showing me around and we had a coffee. There were hundreds of people sitting outside, on the Place de Notre Dame.

Me: How do you feel about life in Poitiers?
She: It’s quite chill. It’s not a big place and sometimes one get bored. I live with a flatmate and we even have a little garden. It’s not really exciting to me. I wish I could go somewhere else for work.

The lowering sun turned the clouds red like wine, spraying it over the roof of the white buildings behind Notre-Dame la Grande church, half of the town looked tipsy. I was excited and said an important word of four letters with very profound meanings — WOWO!

She laughed and said: Yes it’s beautiful. Sometimes I forget how beautiful this place actually is.

We exchanged contact and said goodbye.

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It was night already. I was roaming around the city like a ghost to find a place for camping. The best place would be a piece of flat lawn with some trees at the edge of the city. I walked through some dark downhill alleys, looking back from time to time. I felt somebody was following me. However, every time I looked back, I found nobody, or it was just too dark for me to distinguish anybody.

I emerged in front of the cathedral which was built by King Henry II of England and his queen Eleanor of Aquitaine. I know, you perhaps have never heard of them. Maybe this helps — they were the parents of Richard the Lionheart. Finally there was some light in front of the cathedral and I turned back again.

I saw a tall and stout figure, with long hairs and a wry hat following me……

Two possibilities, first, it was a secret female admirer who was just stalking me. Second, it was a male criminal who was after my precious camera and the few Euro I had. As the figure came nearer, the first possibility was promptly ruled out. Shit……

I felt my adrenaline level was surging up and I was ready to …… flee. All the hunger and exhaustion were soon forgotten. I then thought this situation over. ‘Attack is the best defense’ So eventually with a ferocious howling I was charging into him.

‘Wait! Wait!’ he shouted with a clear French accent.
‘What?’ I halted.
‘I am sorry. I just want to ask you if you are also looking for a place to camp.’

Under the street lamp I saw his countenance. His had a middle-sized beard like Che Guevara and was wearing a sloppy T-shirt. Most importantly, he had a backpack just like mine. I surmised that he was a fellow hitchhiker and took back my iron fist. (I know, I was a beast. WOWO!)

Me: ‘So where did you hitchhike from today?’
He: ‘Limoges in the southeast to here.’

We started talking and exchanging tips and anecdotes. His name was Etienne and he was from Toulouse. When even the moon started looking sleepy, we realized that we should really start looking for a camping site.

He: You know, I have never met an Asian hitchhiker.
Me: Guess what? Me either!

He laughed. Hitchhiking was way too far from the comfort zone of most East Asians, especially those who had never lived in Europe. To them, being on an adventure was never something attractive, instead was simply a scary liability.

He: I saw you and from your appearance, the size of your backpack and the fact that in such late hour you were still wandering around in the city searching for something I judged that you were a hitchhiker! Yes I was right! It’s much better to camp together than alone. At least we can watch each other’s back and share the meal. You know, happiness is only true when shared!

Etienne was absolutely right and he should be a detective instead of a hitchhiker.

Poitiers was split into 2 parts by the river Clain, one side flat and the other essentially a hill. The city center was in the relatively flat side. We were now walking towards the river. There was a swamp of reeds and the air there was fresh. We went to the river bank. It would be perfect to camp among the reeds. Nope, the best spots were already occupied by ducks, chickens and other birds. Even the few unoccupied spots were clearly marked by dog feces. ‘All taken I see!’

On top of the hill there was a statue of crowned Saint Mary holding a baby on a high platform and the whole structure was illuminated. After a long walk, we eventually camped just at the foot of Saint Mary.

To be continued

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