Backpacking Without a Pack

photo: samaritaine terrace

Besides rain, the reason for Samaritaine's empty
terrace is that it is closed.

Highlights From Going, Going, Gone

by Ric Erickson

Paris:- Monday, 19. April 1999:- Last week, Natasha the backpacking world traveller, finally fetched up on my doorstep after coming slowly here to make Paris her 34th stop on a round-the-world trip. Without being too diligent about it, she is featured in this issue's only article.

Having her visit has reminded me of a time I tried 'backpacking.' The difference was I didn't actually have a formal backpack and I certainly didn't have a 'railpass' of any sort.

When it started to rain in the middle of summer, the guys who had talked me into taking the ditchdigging job, suddenly decided it would be a splendid idea to spend the winter in Crete. It was very cheap there, they said.

Ditchdigging in the rain is really boring as well as annoying and Crete was described as some sort of paradise, so I wasphoto: rue st andre des arts pretty eager to go along with this idea. I already had a sleeping bag and all I needed for going on the road was a piece of rope to tie it together and give it a handle.

On the Friday night that we quit, we got paid off at the ditchdigging company's offices in Schwabing in Munich. It was never any trouble to find a reason to celebrate and the company's accountant decided to help us out. About two in the morning we were washed up in some dump near Nordbad, in what I always thought of as 'left' Schwabing.

By then, the accountant was telling us about his career in the SS. He was good at wearing the uniform, but he was not too good at the job he was supposed to do - this is a story - so when he got 'fired' from helping to occupy France - his pre-war vacation country of choice - he got sent to Dachau, as an inmate.

He got out on 'good behaviour' by agreeing to go to Russia when that started up; but he didn't like it any better than France even through he'd never spent holidays there before. So he went back to Dachau. Near the end of the war, he got another 'early release' in order to defend the fatherland and he did this for a couple of weeks until there was nothing left to defend.

Since we expected to leave for Greece in the morning and were a bit over-tired anyway, two of us went off to the flop in the attic of a new apartment building with no doors. The accountant and our other guy decided instead to go to Dachau to do a little nighttime 'sightseeing.'

When we saw that our guy wasn't in the attic the next morning we went looking for him. At the accountant's place, his wife was very distraught about her husband's condition - which was not good on account of the parked car he'd hit in north Munich. She didn't know why he wasn't in the hospital.

'Our guy' was in the hospital. When the emergency services arrived at the scene of the wreck, they tagged him for being in a coma.

When we found him in a ward full of old geezers drinking beer and eating really good sausages, he told us they'd mixed him up with another incoming casualty, and had given him a concussion diagnosis. When he asked for a cigarette, all the old geezers made a big fuss about the concussion, and they didn't offer to share any of their beers either.

What he did have, he said, was a really sore back. He didn't tell the doctors about it because he didn't want to stay there forever.

Back at Wedekindplatz, we talked our pal's indefinite stay over and the English one decided to hitchhike to Athens right away as he was hot to get going.. As soon as he was gone, I met a Dutch guy who had a car and intended to go to Athens. Then he met a Swedish girl, and she wanted to go to Crete. I made a deal to pay for gas.

At the hospital I finally got a doctor to look at our guy and he saw right away he didn't have a concussion; probably because, after four days without beer, he seemed normal. This left the other guy who has been miss-diagnosed on entry - they had had their names switched - but we thought they would get him figured out eventually - unless he was getting all the beer and sausage he wasn't supposed to have.

At 10:00 on Wednesday we were all in Wedekindplatz, ready to go and the Dutch guy showed up with his 1949 VW, with the full set of band drums on the roof. We all got in it somehow - remember my guy's bad back? - and drove to the Yugoslav consulate and got visas.

When I found out about the slipping clutch, I insisted on being the driver for the Brenner Pass andphoto: louvre, wet as ducks we got over it, just barely. Most of the rest of the way was downhill, which was good because of the leaky gas line, and the few gas stations in that part of the world.

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