I'm going to keep this short.
We'd been canoeing for less than two weeks when I finally noticed the sticker on the side of the canoe giving us a firm safety warning. Even at that early stage, it was hilarious in the light of what we had already been through. However we agreed not to blog about it until we were safe from any canoe-related accidents. Having now been walking for nine days, I think we're probably safe canoe-wise.
My thoughts are in brackets.
Paddlesports can be very dangerous and physically demanding. (After 136 days canoeing across Europe I'd like to thank the Mad River Canoe co. for this accurate warning.)
The user of this product should understand that participating in paddlesports may involve serious injury or death. (Again, true. Not sure how many canoes have traversed Europe's biggest river shipping routes, been out at sea, carried across a firing range and dodged a few lorries though.)
Observe the following safety standards whenever using this product:
- Get paddlesports instruction from a licensed or certified instructor. (Jimmy spent a couple of weeks canoeing in Canada and likes to go for short paddles with friends and family. I spent 10 days, mostly hungover, having a go in his family canoe before we left. That's surely license to canoe for four and a half months.)
- Obtain certified first aid and rescue training and carry first aid and rescue equipment. (We do carry a first aid kit, and we did use it when I had that well known 'paddlesports' injury of watch-strap-sunburn. Also, when our cat jumped over board we both were prepared to go in after her if she couldn't swim.)
- Always wear a nationally-approved flotation device. (We did do this, just not on any thing that looked swimmable.)
- Always where a helmet when appropriate. (I'm currently sporting an Afro if that counts.)
- Dress appropriately for the weather conditions: cold water and/or cold weather can result in hypothermia. (I had to buy a rain coat in Austria - about 80 days in - because I hadn't seen the point in bringing one with me.)
- Check equipment prior to each use for signs of wear or fail. (We often compared who felt more tired.)
- Never paddle alone. (They probably forgot to add that it's ok if it would make a really good photo.)
- Do not paddle in flood conditions. (That rain which forced me to shell out on a rain coat also partially flooded the Danube. Safe to say, we were flying downstream.)
- Be aware of appropriate river water levels, tidal changes, dangerous currents and weather changes. (Erm unfortunately being at sea in mid -November probably falls under the dangerous currents label.)
- Scout unfamiliar waters: portage where appropriate. (Did this one: portaged through back gardens, under bridges, around hydroelectric power stations, over small mountains and for 50km along a Bulgarian a-road.)
- Do not exceed your paddling ability: be honest with yourself. (Speaking for myself, I can honestly say I was and still am shit at canoeing.)
- Consult your physician prior to beginning paddle training. (We did have a farewell party.)
- Follow manufacturer's recommendations for use of this product. (So we went and did something that has never been done before.)
- If additional outfitting is added to this craft, use manufacturer's approved materials only; do not impair entry or exit access. (We replaced the seats in a German campsite. Only thing was, after making a hash of it, the front seat survived for about 90 days being held in place by tape.)
And so on. (Don't worry Mum and Dad, my canoe days are over. Probably.)
There comes a time for all of us, a sad and woeful time, when we must say goodbye to those we love. On the banks of rivers and the shores of the sea it has been no different for our famous canoeing duo. Our boys, now trekking through clouded peaks and harsh terrain, have had to face the most distressing of losses. They have had bonds broken, friendships crushed, heart strings torn apart, all in the name of adventure.
First we had sunglasses, pair after pair. On the untamed river Loire our lads donned eye protection in the fierce sunlight. But the partnership of face and glasses was not to last long. James lost white rimmed beauties to a soft patch of grass on the river bank and, having borrowed Nathan's lesser spectacles, they too were left in an anonymous part of Loire-side scenery. Thus, with eyes tortured by glimmering sunrises, new spectacles were purchased and carried with care. It was not until a seventh country was entered that these glasses met their match. The dark shades that had protected James's eyes for over one hundred days were lain to waste on the floor of the tent from the crushing blow of his buttocks. Of brittle plastic, they were no match for this human force. A sad end indeed.
If the loss of three pairs of sunglasses was not enough to make you shiver than how about the loss of hats, one more in number? First a sandy colored number which stood no chance of being remembered on the Loire given its chameleon sensibilities. Then, far later, a winter hat that was taken by the trees on the shore, left to provide for a chilly passer by. The last two hats, I'm sure you wonder, what happened to them? Two baseball caps that sat astride our famous gentlemen's heads, were taken in their prime and ravaged by nature. It was on that well remembered day, when boys met tree, tree met water, and canoe met a sudden sinking, that these two other hats were forced from their owners. Taken by surprise, our canoeing heroes capsized their vessel and lost their hats to the river.
It was not only a hat that was lost at this tragic time. A t-shirt, grill and fine blue shoes found themselves on a river bed, beyond the grasp of our boys. They were mourned, with dignity, for some time but, as is always important to remember, we must, eventually, move on.
The Loire was also the sight of a large loss and one that left scars for the remainder of the voyage. Outside the fair city of Tour the vessel, by which our pair crossed the entire continent, was pillaged and abused by suburban children. The list of stolen items is too long to recall and to particular to matter at this later stage in life. A tent, sleeping bag and solar charger, where a few members of the lost team and are forever remembered in the hearts of our paddling pair. The stolen items of tour, etched in the minds of our great adventurers and now scattered across France via underground criminal networks. Chilling.
A grill was lost unnoticed, rarely used but always cherished. A pen-knife met the same fate, left resting on a village wall after fulfilling its apple slicing duties. It's distracted owner was pulled away by the interruption of a road user. Alas, this distraction proved to seal the fate of the penknife which never returned to the cosy pocket where it belonged.
Sunglasses, hats, penknives and shirts, these are mere items, you may think, these are not friendships that have been broken. Though such an assumption would be a mistake, there are, perhaps, more serious tales of loss to be told. First the fleeting friendship with Cat. Cat, a cat, had a closeness with our canoeing pair that is unimaginable to most. Their togetherness was no longer than a ten minute canoe journey, which Cat ended voluntarily, yet it seemed a lifetime. Cat loved boys just as boys loved Cat and as she swam to shore tear drops rippled across the waters of the Danube.
Another true bond that was broken was that between Nathan and his lucozade bottle. It had been a long long friendship, a bottle he had as a child and grew up alongside, a family heirloom (perhaps). But as the winds rose in the Danube gorge, waves began to beat the boys in their canoe and the Serbian weather got he better of them. Pulling the boat from the storm the pair watched, in horror, as a large wave crashed upon their vessel and dragged away the bottle. Yellow and blue, bobbing in the water, the lucozade bottle sat just out of reach in a lake to dangerous to enter. Nathan had to watch, chilled to the bone, as his long term companion was stolen by the waves.
Then, of equal value and an equally painful loss, was the sponge. A mighty sponge that cleansed Dora and wiped down her scratches and bruises. The sponge that was kept loose in the boat and was much talked about since it had travelled for so long without being misplaced. It's time, however, came at sea. The precise date is unknown, but the sponge could not finish the expedition, just like the others before it. It was a sad but inevitable end to its journey. A sponge, cut short in the prime of its life.
What remains? You ask. What other souls were lost at sea? Well, there was Dogger, of course, a friend whose final moments were captured in a previous blog. A dog above all dogs, a sidekick to our Paddlers on their dangerous days at sea, a mighty animal of the wild. Dogger is not to be joked about, he is missed like a fruitcake misses a cherry, like a fat child misses chocolate, like a moth misses a light bulb. He is forever in the hearts of his owners.
The greatest loss of all, and the final loss, goes without saying. The friend who has always been there, the companion to our boy since day one, the soul who led our boys to where they are today: Dora, the ultimate loss on this great adventure.
You might well infer that this blog tells of the end for Thierry and Pepi. While, as ever, you'll just have to wait and see ... You're actually probably spot on. (Saying that, if anyone does fancy commissioning a final few chapters just get in touch. Seriously. My co-writer could do with a job.)
The final chapter begins with a slow pan across a sorrowful scene. I'd add maybe a sunset and then some dark clouds rolling in for dramatic effect. And Pepi, melancholy and lonely as ever, stares in silence. And Thierry, headache feeling worse than ever, cannot believe what he sees.
Dora is being strapped to a 4x4. Thierry and Pepi have never been more than colleagues to old Dora and they are shocked to see her in such a compromising position. Lyrita, having lain low since Pepi's rejection, is lying even lower now. She remains locked to the canoe and it is clear that this evil nemesis has lost her chance to paddle at sea. The flag has been untied, the water bottle holder has been unclipped; the continent-crossing team has been disbanded.
Morosely, Pepi mourns the tasks which he once moaned about. No more pulling against downstream currents. No more directing down the Danube. No more splashing at sea. While Thierry recognizes that his life will now change, he sees it as an opportunity for something other than mood-setting alliteration.
Thierry assets that he and Pepi are still capable of sandwich-making in the middle of nowhere and can find plenty of other uses as land-lubbers.
Thierry sees himself as inevitably useful and at one with his master. He could be a walking stick. He, despite his slightly wooden characterization, could become a fighting man to face stray dogs. At worst, with his experience in shipping he could carry some luggage? Pepi, wishing that Thierry would find a way to make a point other than via repetitive sentence structure, just wants to be loved.
Luckily, Master Wilkins and Master Warner can put an end to the anxiety that you're inevitably feeling on the paddles' behalf. Thierry and Pepi are to become mementos.
As the masters march through mountains they recognize the beauty and hardship of their paddles. They merely wish to commemorate their faithful servants.
Master Warner envisages Pepi as part of a table: embedded whole down the centre of an oak master piece. Pepi's melancholy mood would be the perfect setting for thoughtful conversation after dinner. Master Wilkins envisages Thierry sitting on his wall: looking down on Master Wilkins, taped forehead a lasting reminder of the tested but unbroken bond between man and going-moldy-bit-of-wood.
So there you have it, an anti-climax if ever there was one. Two young explorers in a foreign land complete their quests and retire, with one guaranteed food nearby and the other guaranteed an unbelievably good-looking view. Happily ever after.
If only it was that simple for all of us.
• Dear Mum and Dad
- Dear Mum and Dad
• I hope you are well.
- This postcard is all about me from now on.
• We have had a great week this week in difficult conditions.
- This week has been a bitch but we still managed to get somewhere. Huh, ya, we're pretty awesome.
• Though we did a bit of walking, we had some good hours at sea and met lots of local people who were very friendly.
- We climbed a bloody mountain before finally getting on the sea and trying to hold our nerve against massive waves. Then we got arrested by military police. The locals laugh at my attempts at Bulgarian, but I'm persevering.
• Now we're resting and visiting the town.
- I slept until noon and now I am on the hunt for food, lots of food.
• We are staying in a great campsite, it looks over the sea and has decent security.
- We are camping on the edge of a massive cliff and the forest is so thick I might lose the campsite myself if I'm not careful.
• the sky is wonderfully clear at night.
- I went for a wee in the middle of the night and it was very scary.
• Bulgaria is, I think, one of my favorite countries so far and I will be sad to leave.
- We've been traveling for so long I cannot remember which country was which. I do hope they let me go, I've had a lot of interaction with border police.
• My arms ache a little at the end of yet another long week but it is all worth it to look back on.
- Am checking myself in the mirror, I hope to god I am getting bigger. Hope your noticing how good I look in the photos on the website.
• Looking forward to seeing you soon.
- I hope you're preparing for my imminent arrival with a massive party, a big meal, maybe some TV interviews, that sort of thing.
• Wish you were here
- Thank god you can't see the shit we get up to.
• Lots of love
- Lots of love
- James Warner Smith. Paddler, explorer, world first expeditionist, part time outdoors model, full time comedian.
James has been diagnosed with what is commonly called CTCS, or, to be more precise, Canoed The Continent Syndrome.
James wakes at 5.10 every morning. He has breakfast sitting in the front room in the dark with a head torch strapped to his forehead. Despite his mother's protestations, he always eats cereal and uht milk out of a tin mug.
James spends the morning writing job applications and watching television. He swaps between the two every hour, moving from one end of the sofa to another. At these swapping points James walks into the garden and urinates. He enjoys taking photos of himself working on the sofa in various locations around the house. Every half hour he has a swig of water. After three hours he has a banana.
At lunchtime James makes himself sandwiches. Without fail he uses half a loaf of bread, half a tomato, beetroot, cheese and ham along with a mixture of Nutella and jam for what James likes to call desert sandwiches. James eats on the floor. He makes his sandwiches using a wooden paddle as a chopping board and then eats the sandwiches off of the same paddle. He refuses to use any utensils other than a pen knife.
James spends the afternoon continuing his job applications. Unfortunately he has not had much luck so far. He writes in a curious mix of French, German, Slovak, Hungarian, Serbian, Romanian and Bulgarian which employers struggle to decipher.
James likes to take a break in the afternoon. He sits in the garden and stirs coffee granuals into cold water using the nearest twig that he can find. He enjoys having an apple with his cold black coffee.
In the evening James likes to be in bed before sunset. He must have someone make his dinner for him and he will only eat it out off a tin plate. He then walks around his bedroom looking for a good place to set up camp. It does not take him long to find a flat bit of carpet. He puts up his two man tent and, somewhat disturbingly, is in the habit of laying out two sleeping bags.
James sits in the tent and makes notes as to where he got to with the sofa and other key events in his day. He marks on a map the journey he made on the sofa. Every three days he writes a blog about his experiences. He composes a tweet about his day and instagrams some of the photos he took of himself earlier. He sometimes calls his girlfriend but he does not allow the conversation to go on too long because at 8pm James must go to sleep.
The doctor predicts that James' CTCS syndrome should be over within 160 days or so.
Outside of Galin's guesthouse I awaited our tv interview. It was a big tv interview, a bit like Jonathan Ross but in Bulgarian and the host would be female. When I say host, she was an interviewer and didn't have her own studio like on the Jonathan Ross show. It would be an interview, street side, to give it that gritty and more realistic feel. Furthermore, the TV channel was a bit smaller, a bit more local. But in all other respects it was much like being on the Jonathan Ross Show.
With this in mind I looked both ways down the road for the film crew and truck. Before me stood our woman, with her microphone, and a guy, with a camera. With no sign of any make-up team (they must have been late) I ran a hand through my hair. It was ok since I had showered that morning and was ready for the big appearance. I was looking great, like a young George Clooney who had been growing his hair for five months and lived permanently in sandals.
And then we were ready, Nathan and I. The black and white clacker fell and the camera started to roll. The woman gave us questions and we gave her answers. We gave answers long enough to provide a beautifully articulated and flowing interview, yet short enough for the translator, a third man who had arrived on the scene, to remember and repeat back to her in Bulgarian. He was a good translator. I think.
As conversation flowed back and forth, with short pauses for the translator to work his magic, the interviewer smiled at me. She knew I was a natural. I knew I was a natural. I am a natural. While Nathan talked, I glanced into the camera lens, flashing an 8 million strong audience a glint of my hazelnut eyes, and then I was back answering questions, knowing I'd left those at home hanging on my every word.
"Why Bulgaria?" She asked, "Do you like Kavarna?" She asked, "How did you come up with the idea?" She asked. As I said, it was just like being on Jonathan Ross. The translator repeated my answers and I wondered if the lighting was alright. Did my baby blue t-shirt enhance the appearance of my glorious tan? How well did the camera capture the way the evening breeze rustled my hair?
Before I had time to ponder any further, the interviewer had turned away to face the camera and was wrapping up her work. She asked, finally, whether we planned any future adventures. Nathan said no. I said yes. We all laughed. I laughed for slightly longer than the others, grinning my teeth and throwing a sideways glance into the camera lens. The camera loved me. The woman signed off her report and I offered an ending wink.
After the interview we briefly towed the canoe down the road, displaying the object of glory on its shitty wheels and flexing our biceps. I showed my wooden paddle, the camera man moving slowly up and down. But already the interviewer's mind had moved on and the camera man grew restless. The interview was over and my magnetic captivation of their audience was already caught on film. They had what they needed, so they left.
Unfortunately this is kind of true.
When checking out of Hungary we were quiet and polite. When the patrol boat beckoned us over we called the officers sir. Once inside, we were intimidated by the building and we sat quietly while our passports were checked. On being allowed to leave we thanked the border policeman profusely and shook his hand.
In Serbia we were on our guard. We walked past the barking dogs and held our heads high as we entered the building. When we were asked to pay for the right to canoe in Serbian waters we agreed only after converting the sum into pounds and only then on the condition that we could have two receipts. When we were offered a coffee from the machine and use of the Internet while we waited, we were suspicious and made use of the facilities offered cautiously.
Checking out was daunting, but we walked around a busy port and repeated that we were trying to leave Serbia until we had all of the relevant documents stamped.
In Bulgaria we felt more at ease. We walked along the town promenade in the general direction of the border control until an officer ran out to intercept us. Once inside the building we were relaxed. We took turns at declaring ourselves captain. We took our bags off and changed our shoes to something more appropriate for the weather. When the time came to leave we asked the man if he knew of any good hotels and if he could keep an eye on our canoe because we were staying for the weekend. We felt thoroughly mistreated not to be given coffee or at least a cup of tea.
When it came to checking out the service was a bit slow - apparently its often like that on Sundays - but we eventually found the main man and watched a weather forecast from the comfortable vantage point of his office sofa.
In Romania we had expectations. We walked up to the guard dog and told him to be quiet. When the Border Policeman poked his head out we hailed him in English while sauntering straight past him and onto his boat. We told him what we wanted and when his superior on the other end of the phone didn't understand we took over the phone call. While we waited for someone adequately important to arrive we sat on his sofa and watched Kung fu panda. Eventually we were given a coffee and we took some photos of his map because it didn't look too shabby.
Checking out took a while so we made our cheese and cucumber sandwiches in the harbor office so we had something to wash down some very sugary coffees. The young man didn't even take the hint when we asked if there was a good patisserie nearby.
When we entered Bulgaria for a second time we had grown nonchalant. Ok, it wasn't a border checkpoint, but we're busy men. We got the bemused border patrol to call up the checkpoint and send a minibus over for us. It took a while, but eventually we got the canoe in the back and had them drive us over to the office. Unfortunately, they forgot to give us coffee, but time was getting on anyhow.
We've only got one more border left to cross and, to be honest, if the Turkish Police don't offer us dinner, a tour of the local sites or at least a glass or two of the finest local beverages we'll be very disappointed.
I return you now to our two heroes on their voyage across Europe. The two waterway warriors seek, on their journey, local company and to connect with nature. Such a connection, deep and spiritual, they found briefly in Bulgaria.
The tale of the cat debacle in Bulgaria has already grown in glory. It is a tale best told by the cat itself but, alas, the cat is modest and quiet in its new found fame and also dearly lacks aposable thumbs. But that day on the banks of the Danube, our two strong canoeists were confronted with a cat that made several things clear: It liked the boys, it liked the canoe and it was keen to stay with both.
Buoyed on by previous boaters who had cruised the Danube, our lads took enjoyment in the company of the cat and, given her willingness, they placed her gently in the bow of their canoe. But as paddles dipped and sploshed in the glimmering blue water, the cat had a terrible realization. She didn't like being out on the water at all.
And so it was, just minutes after leaving the shore, the boys came to recognize their cats distress. No one, of course, likes to see a friend in distress, and as time passed the boys realized they could not hold back their cat forever. With arms ready to aid and overboard plans in place, the boys watched as their feline companion jumped for the water. As all cats do, she landed on her feet and quenched any fears by displaying a strong swimming technique.
Shortly the cat was at the bank, damp, but content to be back on dry land, she looked back at the boys. There on the water were the two heroes who had cherished the short love of that chance encounter. So fleeting, yet so pure. An engagement with nature that would live forever in their memories. They called a last goodbye to their friend and wiped tears from their eyes.
With this unforgettable experience at the forefront of their minds our heroes now find themselves in Romania searching to replicate what they once had. So it is with hearts leaping that, from nowhere, the hardy canoeists find a trail of paw prints in the sand alongside theirs. It is an arduous day, awash on the shores of the Black Sea the pair are struggling along with all their worldly belongings. Inch by inch, foot by foot, they cover the terrain. They lift, they haul, they drag their gear as waves crash around them. And there, close behind them, is Dogger.
Dogger is small, sleek and black and extremely timid on meeting the famous duo. Though timid, he is equally inquisitive and sticks close to the canoeists as they skirt the coast line. It is there and then, in their first ten minutes together, that Dogger decides he is in it for the long haul. He likes the boys, he likes their aspirational journey, and he wants to be their friend.
In return Dogger is loved and appreciated. He is talked to, he is patted and, once clear that he does not intend to leave, he is taken in as part of the team. Cold, curled up and shivering by the side of the canoe, Dogger is given peanuts and water and the feeling of security.
By the end of the next hour a true bond has been created. As the boys trudge on, Dogger skips along the sea shells in a happy dance and loops from one canoeist to the other.
It is with extremely heavy hearts, then, that the later actions take place. Rounding a corner our heroes are confronted by their growing nemesis: the border police. Perched on a cliff in their dark green four by four, two men call down to the canoe and summon its owners. There, on broken shells and shiny wet rocks, a friendship is torn apart. The police take our heroes on an unplanned path and a path where Dogger is not welcome. He looks on as his friends and their belongings are loaded up into a van, with the trusty canoe sticking far beyond the open back door, and he sits with new men he does not know and does not trust.
Inside the van sit the two boys, clutching the canoe as they are rattled around over bumps and cracks in the rutted road. With their faces pressed against the window, breath slightly fogging up the glass, they watch, sullenly, as Dogger grows smaller and smaller in the distance.
Last week we passed day 118. To repeat, 118. In a couple of days it will be November. To repeat, Movember. We've canoed from the Atlantic to the Black Sea and we'd like to share our mustaches with you.
Any comments as to which one is the more impressive ( ie. visible) we'll be gladly received.
You have heard of Wilkins and Warner-Smith, Warner-Smith and Wilkins. Well tonight they find themselves on the shores of their final waterway. Tonight they are set down just 44kms from the coast of the Black Sea. That is 44kms from having canoed across the continent of Europe. That is 44kms from joining the great explorers of the last century. Scott and Amundsen, who raced through the arctic, Mallory and Irvine, who scaled the worlds highest mountain, and now, on the verge of similar success we have Warner-Smith and Wilkins, who canoed the continent.
Not set on completing Europe, but planning to head all the way towards Asia, Wilkins and Warner-Smith still have some time left of their famous journey. And, this month, you have the chance to be involved! You have the chance to join Warner Smith and Wilkins as they go for glory. Two men, so strong they have paddled for 118 days, so brave they have fought upstream currents and pounding waves, so heroic they can write about themselves in the third person and so tireless on their mission that they will stop at nothing, these two men are waiting for you to partake in their journey.
This month you can be an adventurer too with WEETABIX! For all of November you can collect tokens from the back of our cereal boxes and build up your collection of Warner-Smith and Wilkins memorabilia. On each box of WEETABIX you buy, turn back the top of the box and cut out your W&W token. With 2 tokens you can get a model fishing-rod, 4 tokens gets you either two paddles, the model cat, or a model dog, 6 tokens allows you a Warner-Smith or Wilkins figure, and with a full 8 tokens you will be awarded a model of Dora the canoe. Why not start collecting now and by the end of the month you could have the whole set!
Remember, this is your chance to hop on board the canoe and join the ride! Use the model fishing rod to search for fish on the Loire or an improvised weapon to battle the fearsome dogs in Romania. Make bathing fun with your model of Dora in the bathtub and watch how she really floats! You can re-enact dramatic capsizes in France or cat-overboard drills in Bulgaria, you can watch Dora rock in waves or circle dangerously around the plug hole.
However you decide to use your toys and however you decide to spread your tokens, make sure you don't miss out on your chance to join WEETABIX in celebrating two of the greatest explorers of our generation. Warner-Smith and Wilkins, Wilkins and Warner-Smith, the names on everybody lips. They are about to make history and you would be a fool to miss out!
(Starts 1st November 2013, only on selected packs of WEETABIX)
The saga continues. I know that every single reader of the alternative blog will have been struggling with the wait since we last left the paddles fighting temptation in Serbia. And so, Mum and Jimmy's Mum, I'm going to finally put you out of your misery.
The paddles did survive that Serbian night with all the stoicism you would expect from two pieces of wood. Pepi arose in the morning and let his jealousy wash away like water under the 'friendship' bridge between Bulgaria and Romania.
And so the paddles continued their grand tour of Europe. They splashed for 150 strokes on each side and switched. They acted as chopping boards and then held sandwiches of cheese and tomato, ham and cucumber. They leaned against walls and guarded rucksacks while their masters drank gritty Serbian coffees.
Then the wind picked up. The waves were tearing at the canoe. But while Master Wilkins' voice broke and Master Warner wept, Thierry and Pepi simply got wet a little higher up the handle than they were used to. While their masters thrashed and fretted between pointed cliff faces and towering waves, Pepi and Thierry wondered what the fuss was all about.
Then the Masters decided to make a quick exit from the bubbling waters. Master Warner perched knee deep in the waves by the canoe while Master Wilkins leant down from higher rocks - Thierry appreciated his own Master's subtle attempt at self-preservation here.
First the bags were passed up and thrown to the rocks. Then the barrels were passed up and thrown to the rocks. Then the phone holder was passed up and lovingly placed in a safe crevice.
Then Master Warner noticed Thierry. Thierry was having a nice and foamy, if a little chilly, mid-morning bath. But Master Warner noticed Thierry floating and panicked. Master Warner respected Thierry as a cherished paddle. Master Warner saw replacing Thierry with Lyrita as unthinkable. Master Warner groped for Thierry, passed him to Master Wilkins, who duly threw him onto the rocks.
And, at that moment, in a similar way to how other main characters manage to have moments of crystallization midway through a second sequel; time stood still for Pepi.
Pepi was floating and scared. Pepi had never learnt how to swim- he is a paddle after all. A water bottle had already drifted off. It seemed that Master Warner had forgotten his faithful servant. Pepi realised that he would never be loved in the way that Master Wilkins loved Thierry or Master Warner loved the replacement iPhone he had to fork out €200 for after the first one got water damage on a rainy day in Frankfurt. At that moment, as the water rose, Pepi was ready to float away.
But then Master Wilkins, acting with the skills of observation habitually demonstrated by bloggers talking about themselves, noticed Pepi's suicidal stance. He shouted to Master Warner. Master Warner threw Pepi directly onto the rocks.
And so Pepi was saved. The great journey continued: more strokes were switched, more stale sandwiches were assembled, not very many more coffees were watched over.
But a change had come over Pepi. Since his cliched moment of crystallization he had become melancholy. He liked leaning on trees in his spare time. He felt no more lust towards Lyrita. He kept trying to discuss the meaning of life with Thierry. He always wanted to be 'at one with nature'. While Thierry thought that a slight change in perspective was understandable as the paddles made their way through the beautifully unspoiled lands of north-eastern Bulgaria, he worried for his brother.
And so the saga potentially continues. Like a film that did surprisingly well initially but might now be being over-stretched, its not clear whether Pepi has reached a new equilibrium. Is there more of this tale to tell? Has Pepi settled for the quiet life? Does Thierry still get headaches? Has the author forgotten Lyrita?
You'll just have to wait and see.
As we camped illegally on the Bulgarian border the other night, I got to thinking. And I thought, being here is pretty much just like being back in Leamington Spa, those days we spent 'training'.
You see after a long day where we'd got past the four guys at the giant hydro electro dam - the guys talking in quick Serbian with one of them tapping a gun he had holstered at his hip, and then after that the border police where we went back and forth getting our documents signed and leaving the country. After all of that stuff, we were camping in Bulgaria but hadn't actually checked into the country yet. We didn't have our passports stamped and so we kept low, tucking ourselves under some trees on the banks and talked quietly all evening, hoping no one would find us.
And there, I thought, that was just like in Leamington. That time where we canoed up to a oil drum barrage across the river Avon and a sign that read "National Trust. No Entry". We pulled the canoe over the barrage and paddled through anyway. Heads low and paddling quickly, we glided past the front of an old Manor house where a couple looked out the window at us in surprise. Quickly through, we hauled the canoe over the barrage on the other side and paddled away. There, just like here, we were in the thick of it out in unauthorized territory. On the river Avon, just like the banks of Bulgaria, we were hiding from the long arm of the law - the National Trust.
Now it's true the river Avon was a quiet country river and here in Bulgaria we've got tankers. Most emphatically was the day we paddled into Mainz in Germany and had to cross the fast flowing Rhine at one of its busiest points. There were tankers moving in both directions and one performing an overtaking maneuver in the centre of the river. We surged across the Rhine as smaller leisure boats zipped around us churning up the water further. And, as we thought we'd made it to the other side, a cruise liner moved out from its moorings on the shore sounding its horn loudly. A man in a clean white hat stood at its bow, yelling at us and shaking his fist.
That, right there, wasn't overly dissimilar to Leamington either. Sure, not on the Avon. But on the canal in Leam I distinctly remember a man at the stern of his boat shouting at us. He shouted us over and as we drew up to his boat he asked us what we were up to. "Sounds mighty good fun!" He said and wished us luck on our trip. As his canal boat moved past we rocked in the wake that rippled from its rear as it adhered to the careful 6mph speed limit. We sat for a while to let the water settle as it rippled against the canal bank. Pretty dangerous stuff really.
And that rippling is a sound I've grown used to now as I sleep each night by the water side. Tonight I'm here on an island in amongst a network of confusing sand banks. To get here we had to check our maps regularly to ensure we didn't get lost. Checking the map for the fifth time, I realized that Leamington had sort of been the same.
There was this day where we tried going upstream on the river Leam. Although there were no real islands and no branching channels to confuse us, with the only real way being straight on; we had nevertheless been out for almost half an hour and were in a world of bother. We didn't know exactly where we were. We stopped in the shallow water and I clambered up the bank. I peered through the thick hedge and turned to Nathan.
"Can you see anything?" He said.
"Yeh", I replied.
"Yeh, you know the Leam Rugby Club?"
"The one the bus goes past? Where they always have that car boot sale?"
"Yup. We're just by that."
So there we are, canoeing the continent and canoeing in Royal Leamington Spa are not too dissimilar at all. We've even got dogs here! I remember a night on the Serbia/Romania border where they howled and howled for ages. And I remember the countless e-mails I had from people telling me to be watchful of stray packs of rabid dogs. I remember getting a big old rabies jab thrust into my arm as the nurse said, "careful, lots of dogs in Romania." Ha! I thought, yeh, but there's actually a lot of dogs in Leamington too. And there were. There was one day on the canal when we saw four dogs being walked and I reckon one of them might well have had a limp. There was also this small blonde woman walking two dogs and then one, this chocolate brown Labrador, growled at me. And it growled for a while too, so I reckon its a possibility that he might have had rabies.
So, there you are. Leamington kind of has it all. Come to think of it, it seems mad I'm even out here! If you want to experience canoeing across Europe, just visit Royal Leamington Spa. It's pretty much, almost completely, exactly the same.
When the Serbian border control wanted to know who was captain, there was only one man fit for the title. By the time the captain's name was demanded in Bulgaria... We had agreed to take turns.
The captain should enjoy the following privileges during his tenure:
1. The Captain wears the thermal socks. The First Mate, known as Mate hereafter, gets cold feet. Mate can wear his thermal socks if he really wants, but Mate should be prepared to be the last one in the canoe and thereby get his feet extremely wet.
2. The Captain pays for coffees, opening his wallet and thereby winning the smiles of foreign waitresses. Mate sits meekly and pretends he's got a text on his phone - which is actually turned off.
3. The Captain never does the washing up. Mate must do the washing up. Washing up must be done in daylight and therefore first thing in the morning or immediately after dinner. Washing up involves Mate getting very cold hands and back ache - it's the canoeing-the-continent version of scrubbing the decks.
4. Captain jumps from the canoe like an explorer and surveys the wilds of Eastern Europe for a camp spot. Mate holds the canoe, usually incurring splashes and surveys the wild insects on the bottom of the canoe.
5. Captain sits in the back of the canoe, with a watch and a map. Captain decides where to go and when to stop. Mate feels disorientated. Mate wishes he had bought a new watch. Mate decides to become an EU politician and campaign for signposts on all rivers.
6. Captain writes the daily tweet. Captain puns, flirts with the world and steals Mate's funny jokes. Mate doesn't understand the concept of social media, modern culture having been thrashed out of him by hard labour (paddling).
7. Captain carries the shared toothpaste and shower gel in his wash bag. Mate sponges down the canoe. Mate wonders how much weight is really being saved by having only one toothpaste. Mate wonders what shower gel is for.
8. Captain takes jaw-droppingly good photographs and instagrams them to the delight of family, friends and German canoeing enthusiasts. Mate is the subject of Captain's carefully choreographed images. Mate must eat lunch in beautiful but extremely awkward spots, incur blindness through being forced to continuously peer wistfully into sunsets and even smile happily when Mate is actually feeling really hungry.
9. Captain sleeps soundly in the tent, on the 'good side' complete with a waterproof porch for his clothes bag. Mate puts the tent up. Mate sleeps on the 'bad side'. Mate almost died the other night when stepping out of the 'bad side' for a midnight wee and forgetting that the bad side was actually on the side of a cliff. Mate survived.
10. Captain writes the blog. Mate just wrote the alternative one.
(The author would like to sadly stress that the above privileges are purely fictional. Unfortunately, being designated as 'Captain' by border control doesn't hold much weight in the canoe.)
Pierre is a short and scruffy looking man with greying floppy hair that flaps in the warm breeze. He slumps his chubby body into a wooden deck chair stretching its fabric low to the ground. At his side is perched a fishing rod with a line that stretches far out into the river Loire. Pierre uncorks a bottle of red wine from the valley of St. Jean de Losne a few kilometers away. He drinks the local red straight from the bottle, despite having three plastic glasses in the small bag he carried down the river bank with him. It is 11am and by 12:30 Pierre is onto his second bottle, the same wine from the same region. He has moved to check his fishing rod only once and then reclined on the sand rather than resume his position in the chair. By mid-afternoon Pierre is snoring loudly as the last remaining quarter of his wine lays in the sand next to him spilling out and staining the grains. A fish has tugged at the end of the rod since just a few minutes after it was checked those hours ago but its fighting does not wake Pierre. Catching fish is low on Pierre's list of priorities. Splashing loudly past Pierre on the shores of the Loire are two boys in a green canoe. Despite their jovial racket Pierre never wakes from his heavy slumber.
Jean-Paul sits in a fold out camp chair with a pocket in the left arm where he perches a glass of white wine, vintage. He runs a hand through his black hair that's slicked back from his forehead. Jean-Paul has a dark mid-life goatie to accompany his midlife crisis and fishes from the edge of a cycle path that skirts the local canal. The canal is of the old type, narrow and no loner used by commercial vessels. Despite the canals width Jean-Paul has invested in the most expensive fishing rod he could find which is a good 8 meters in length. Jean-Paul has the rod firmly in his hands and it extends out across the canal to where the line drops sharply into the merky water. Furthermore, Jean-Paul is not peterbed by the cycle path that runs along the opposite side of the canal and the many other fisherman who sit along that side. He fishes, with his great rod, for the fish on the far side of the canal where, for sure, they are bigger. While Jean-Paul fishes he is passed by two boys in a green canoe. The boys laugh out loud at the length of Jean-Pierre's rod, so unnecessarily long that it is in danger of poking someone's eye out on the opposite path. Jean-Paul overhears their laughter and feels emasculated, despite his deep pride in the expensive fishing rod he owns.
Herman is in his late 60s and has invested in a boat. It's a good boat that was sold to him at a fair price and he has plenty of fuel stocked beneath the wooden seats that run around its edges. On a calm day Herman is not adverse to enjoying the pleasant river Danube and fishing for its inhabitants. Herman takes his gear and heads to his boat safely moored to a wooden jetty. Climbing into the boat he turns up his collar and pulls a flat cap low to keep out the cold. Safely in his boat Herman baits his rod and casts the line into the water. Herman waits. Above him on the bank Herman hears a rustling and, turning, spies a fellow fisherman casting into the water nearby. Herman continues to wait. Herman does not untie his boat, Herman does not pull the rip-cord on the yammaha engine. Herman sits in his boat, tightly moored to the jetty, and watches his fishing rod. Out in the river two boys in a green canoe pass by. Since they are out on the wide river and Herman is moored beneath trees with his hat pulled low he never spots the boys. But he feels safe by the shore, tightly moored to the jetty.
Girtrude is an outgoing and friendly woman who stands on the banks of the river Main in red waterproofs that are several sizes too big. Her husband is a regular fisherman and uses it as a frequent excuse to leave the house. Given it is the weekend Gertrude has both the time and the curiosity to have a go herself. As she fishes two boys in a green canoe paddle past and stop on the opposite bank of the river. They sit and relax, munching on apples and sharing raisins. The two boys look across and watch Gertrude as she struggles in her cumbersome clothing to cast the line. Gertrude is not a natural it seems. Gertrude can't fish. Under the pressure of the watchful boys, who make no effort to move on, Gertrude tos and fros between casting the line into the ground at her feet and getting the rod caught in branches behind her. Gertrude is embarrassed and Gertrude is an embarrassment to the sport of fishing.
Martin is a serious fisherman. He takes himself seriously and he takes the sport seriously. In fact, fishing, for Martin, is not a sport, but a way of life. Martin has invested, over the years, in no fewer than 14 fishing rods and, though by now he could easily have bought a boat and a long net, he continues to throw his money at new rods when he has the chance. Martin has a shaved head but wears a woolly hat to keep his ears warm. Despite the top spec rods the remainder of his gear is a mismatch of expensive gadgets bought online and other tools he has made himself in his run down workshop back home. Martin has been dropped at his fishing spot for the night by a friend and had to walk a kilometer to get there. After a painstaking hour to set up all the rods, Martin is there for the night. Wired on strong coffee he's drunk from his old green flask, Martin is twitchy and alert, bouncing from rod to rod checking each for any signs of movement. At one point in his 24hr session two boys in a green canoe pass by. The boys are close to his lines, almost 10 meters away from them and Martin shouts and grumbles at the pair. He ignored their friendly waves with the deliberate gesture of crossing his arms and making wide eye contact. As the cold closes in and the sun starts to go down Martin strikes a match and lights the campfire he has spent time making while he waits for fish to bite. Martin shuffles back into a small shelter made from sticks and removes a rusted alarm clock from his bag. Martin sets the alarm clock to 5:15 and places it on the floor beside him. He'll be up another long while now with the coffee pumping through him but Martin knows that if he falls asleep the alarm will wake him. He'll safely be up and attending to his 14 rods before sunrise.
To commemorate our passing 101 days, in no particular order we have listed just some of the magical conversations the canoe has bore witness to:
1. How far we have come
2. Dogs and our love for them
4. Postcard recipients
5. Poos, farts and our general digestive states
6. Nipple conventions in society
7. International shipping
8. Affirmative action
12. The impression we make on the people we encounter
13. Remembering the different locations we've eaten lunch
14. Running, running and more running
16. Rating mutual female friends on who you would rather
17. What we want for Christmas
18. The hypothetical consequences of a plane crash landing in our vicinity
19. The media reaction to the publication of the Canoeing the Continent novel
20. The necessary components of the perfect cafe
21. Jimmy's perspective on marriage: 'the pinnacle of happiness'
22. Private education
23. Retelling our strategies for the locks overcome
24. Potential alternative blogs
25. What happened in our respective novels the previous night
26. The inadequacy of our 'training' in Leamington Spa
27. Lord Elgin and the Elgin marbles
28. The gameshow era and, specifically, The Generation Game
29. Global warming
30. The relative social status of rowers and canoeists
32. Political interference in religion
33. Jimmy's time in the Combined Cadet Forces
34. Comparing the social etiquette in football and rugby
35. The Tour de France
36. Games consoles and our ineptitude
37. Dora's future
38. Nathan's experience as a customer service assistant in Boots
39. How to eat a roasted chestnut
40. The weather
41. Our experiences playing rugby at school
42. The most recent General Election and our voting preferences
43. Tales of banter from school
44. Our extended families
45. Nathan's experiences in job interviews
46. Jimmy's Grandfather
47. Masculine women and feminine men
49. The BBC
50. Jimmy's Canadian adventures
51. Poor quality of nudists seen so far
52. The meaning of life
53. Luke Parry's World Rickshaw Adventure
54. Nathan's snobbery regarding book choices
55. Morality and the concept of private property
56. That Jimmy's feels one particular ex-housemate was a tosser
57. The importance of networking
58. Nathan's experiences on Vacation Schemes
59. What we're having for dinner
60. Hair cuts
61. Jimmy's girlfriend and her daily travails
62. Justice and UK laws
63. Luke Augustas and the TIBS News website
64. The relative value and importance of wealth
65. The business structure of the Warner-Smith family farm
66. Places we could realistically see ourselves revisiting on a canal boat
67. The struggle to grow facial hair
68. The French language
69. Dreams and specifically girls who have appeared in our dreams
70. The day our belongings were stolen
72. Personal identity as an idea
73. Alice Clough and her Ramble to Rome
74. How to get home
75. The societal value of inheritance
77. How well we're doing
78. Pork and its dominance in European supermarkets and our canoeing diet
79. Our experiences of being very drunk
80. Which route we should take
81. Ways of winding up sporting opponents
82. Birthday presents
83. Keynesian economics
84. Whether we would choose to permanently reside in the place we are currently canoeing
85. Progressive taxation
86. Shooting game
88. Where we should camp
89. How much we are eating
90. Things which will have changed upon our return home
92. Parental influence on our tastes in music and The Beatles specifically
93. How well we each slept
94. Jimmy's experience of working a ski season
95. The University of Warwick
96. Cyclists and cycle touring
97. German culture
98. Nathan's exploits as a footballer
99. The most inconspicuous body part for a canoeing the continent tattoo
100. That time we fell out of the canoe and into the Loire
101. How far we still have to go.
150. I tap it tiredly into my phone. The phone rings twice and then I'm connected to the automated voice of a woman. This woman informs me that standard phone charges may apply and that, for training purposes, calls may be recorded. There is no 'may' about it, standard charges will most definitely apply and these standard charges are enormous, outrageous, you may say. And by 'may', i do say. They are outrageous.
The tone returns to the sound of ringing which is then cut off by Kate. Kate is a pleasant scouser who sits in a warm call-centre with a modern headset propped carefully on her clean long hair and who asks me through that headset how I may be helped. I tell Kate that I want to add a roaming bundle to my phone to save costs. Outrageous costs.
Kate, sadly, can't help. I need the accounts team, she says, and I will have to be put on hold. And with that I take the phone away from my ear and place it down on the large blue barrel filled with canned food that sits in front of me. I click the screen to 'loud speaker' and scratchy music crackles out into the darkness.
Together with Nathan I sit and wait as my phone call moves past the ten minute mark and the sound of Marina and the Diamonds comes to a close. I look beyond the phone and over the flickering campfire to the river that lies in front of me. Water pouring away into the distance like money flowing out of my bank account as every second ticks on my phone.
Midway through the next song I have come to enjoy the sound of music, something we don't often get to hear beyond our own beautifully melodic voices. Bobbing my head in the warm glow of the campfire my rhythm is stopped, this time by Adam.
Adam is also in a cosy call-centre, just a few seats along from Kate. Adam has heard that I would like to add a roaming bundle, to save costs. Outrageous costs. Methodically he takes my name, date of birth, the first line of my address and two characters from my password. The phone call goes over 15minutes. I'd like to buy a bundle, he repeats back to me. We agree that the chosen mission is for a bundle to be purchased and I specify that I would like the 10MB NON-EU Bundle. It's to save costs, I say, outrageous costs.
Adam asks me where I am going. I am going, I tell him, to Romania and Bulgaria but I am also currently in Serbia and need the non-EU bundle. He pauses. He tells me he just needs to look up the EU costs. This week I passed two border control stations, one in Hungary and one in Serbia, where passports were checked, bags probed and papers were signed. Adam helpfully tells me that Serbia is indeed not in the EU. I thank Adam and his timely research that confirmed, no, I'm not in the EU. So the bundle I need is a non-EU one.
Passing 20 minutes, we settle on the 10MB NON-EU Bundle as the most suitable one for me, the one I called twenty minutes earlier with intentions of adding. I even had a feeling back then that the 10MB NON-EU Bundle was the most suitable one for me. It was good, of course, for Adam to confirm this. I'm in Serbia? He asks a final time. Sitting on a life jacket shuffled close to the campfire, on the beach of a small island on a large meander of the lower course of Europe's second largest river I say that yes, yes I do believe I am in Serbia. You would struggle to find someone any more in Serbia to be honest.
And I'm going to Romania? He asks. Yes, I reply, and Bulgaria. Which first? He asks. I'll be on the border. I reply. You cross the border? He says, confused. No, I will be on the border, I am traveling quite specifically along the border between Romania and Bulgaria. Ah. He pauses. He tells me he needs a second to look them up. The second lasts almost a minute as my phone blinks the time at me like money ticking down on a gameshow.
Adam returns to the phone and asks again which country i plan to enter. i tell him, again, that I will be on the border between the two countries. It is also no matter, I say, since they are both EU. Another pause fills the phone. From my spot on the Danube i hear Adam tapping at a keyboard. Ah yes, he confirms, they are both in the EU so your charges are the same in both. Then, after a teasing build up, he says, but you're in Serbia now, right?
Adam tells me that it is fine if I travel along the border. Thank god, i think, that Adam like the EU has my back. Adam adds the bundle to my phone and tells me I now get 80% off 10MB of data when I'm not in the EU, saving me costs. Outrageous costs. Adam asks me if I'd like anything else.
He can't offer a bed, a warm shower, or an extra duvet. He can't wash my clothes or dry my tent out. He can't change the temperature or bring back the good weather. And he can't give me back the phone bill just racked up from that dragged out non-EU call to Adam, himself, the man now pleasantly asking if he can do anymore for me.
"No thanks, if the bundle is added that's fantastic", I reply.
I hang up the phone and place it back in the hard sealed waterproof case that clips to the side of our canoe. I stoke the fire with some driftwood collected by my feet and I look out at the sunset from my spot on the empty island. I am in Serbia, right? A laughable question.
The blog post entitled 'Pepi the paddle' ended with the words, 'wait and see' and this, finally, is your chance to see.
So when we last left you Thierry's skull had been cracked open and duly bandaged while Master Warner had vowed to cherish Pepi. Since then, the burden of being a paddle has become no lighter.
When Thierry felt his forehead bend on that rocky crevice, he feared the worst. That night he left Master Wilkins' tender caresses for the infamous hands of Master Warner. Pepi had already told Thierry of how other humans called Master Warner by a double-barreled name, supposedly in deference to his double-barreled approach to life. Lain down across the knee of this tyrant, Thierry had braced himself for the punishment that his lack of fortitude seemed to have incurred.
"Crack!" Then, the sound of tearing.
Thierry had heard the noises but did not feel the pain. He had proceeded to panic, wondering into how many pieces his soul had been shattered. Then, Thierry had felt a firm, but soothing, pressure; he could relax his knots... He was still alive!
And he was being taped up. Round and round the tape had gone, hiding Thierry's tragic flaw from the waves to come.
The next day Thierry felt on top of the world. Master Wilkins now treated him even more daintily and Pepi wore his silver bandage of agri-tape like a badge of honor.
At first Pepi was delighted that his twin was repaired. Although Pepi stands a good inch taller than Thierry, Pepi was the younger of the pair and had always looked up to his vaunted younger sibling. But, as time went on, Pepi began to wonder if Thierry's recovery had done him a bad turn.
While both masters now lavished care and attention on Thierry - checking his tape and only guiding him in one direction - the vows undertaken by Master Warner slowly drifted from his forethoughts. This lack of love of which Pepi fell foul began to manifest itself in Pepi's appearance and demeanor. Grey streaks began to appear over Pepi's previously shiny scalp. Pepi brooded for weeks and weeks. Finally, deep in a Serbian forest, Pepi hears a voice
"Pepi. I can give you what you want Pepi. Come to me Pepi. I know you want to be valued as the remaining Canadian paddle."
Pepi looked around. It was the spare paddle talking.
Dark and knowing, with died jet black hair and a face made up with red lipstick; this femme fatal reclines on the side of the canoe. This tittilating temptress is as artificial as paddles come and is nothing short of cheap. She is to be used only in an emergency and the cable ties that bind her to the boat speak much of her ill repute.
Both of the twins had looked down on her from the beginning but now, with Pepi ageing and Thierry vulnerable, Pepi was no longer so resolute in his moral stance. If he didn't get together with Lyrita now maybe it would be Thierry who would seek to replace Pepi in the names of lust and greed.
Will both paddles survive the Serbian night? How long does either paddle have to live? Is Lyrita on the verge of breaking free? We'll just have to wait and see.
We've glanced back over the blogs here in CTCHQ and noticed that the reality of our situation is hardly coming through. There's some serious stuff that's gone awry and, on reflection, the blogs make this thing spin like a holiday. This is no holiday my friends, there you are sadly mistaken. It is not fun, it is not easy and there are things I want to complain about.
First up, and stretch your eyebrows folks because this one's a shocker, nobody makes us dinner. After a long day of canoeing there's not actually any hot three-course meals for us! Nathan has to make dinner. Nathan has to get food out that has been weighing down our boat and then cook it. Nathan doesn't even get a fucking oven! I'm not lieing to you now, we have to light matches and make flames and stuff and that's what Nathan cooks with. Sometimes, Nathan feels like a caveman. Then there's lunch time. At lunchtime our sandwiches aren't made. We have to do it all ourselves. From scratch. Even I have to chip in. In fact we do everything you have to do to make a sandwich apart from slice the bread. That's the only thing done. Unbelievable.
So that's number one. Next up, and you'll probably want to ring BBC news on this one, its quite muddy. You probably wouldn't think but in this massive river the water goes up and down a bit and the banks aren't at all clean. In fact, I haven't even seen a cleaner or anything once. Instead they are muddy, there's mud all over them, mud all over the banks. Today we got mud on our shoes and Nathan even got some on his hands.
Third little problem, this'll make your head spin, is the darkness. There aren't any lights. So every night, and I'm serious this happens EVERY night without fail, it gets dark. It's bloody annoying because then I can't see stuff. You get to around the same time every evening and it just gets darker and darker and then it's just black. I know what your thinking, I hear you, but I've already looked. I can't find a light switch anywhere.
May god strike me down if I'm lying to you, this fourth one is totally real. Someone keeps putting big dams in the water. I don't mean like a beaver or anything. I'm talking big bloody blockades across the entire river, made of concrete and stuff. So there all the way across and we can't canoe through them. Or over them. With The Lord as my witness, we have to actually get out of our canoe and walk around them. Walking! It's like no one said we were trying to fucking canoe here.
Fifth, and your probably starting to think I'm having a bit of a rant here but this one is the worst. No one speaks English. Well not no one. But most people don't speak English and the signs, Jesus, the signs are all in other languages too. It's not even a new thing, it's been like it since the start. It's stupid, the signs are there to help us, to give us information, but they make them so we can't even read them! They're all, all... What's the word? Foreign.
Ha. Here's another, and this one takes the biscuit. At night, when we go to bed, pretty often it's not comfy. We sleep with the underneath of the tent and a whole roll mat underneath us and still, still, sometimes it's not as nice as my bed at home. In fact, now I think about it, it's never as nice as my bed at home. It's like I'm sleeping on a fucking hedgehog. Nightmare.
I'm almost done now, I don't want to go on because its not meant to be just a blog of me grumbling. But. It rains. Now I knew when I came out here there'd be water. I got dry bags, I got over-clothes but that's because we're on a river right? Yeh, that's what I thought too. No one told me the water comes out of the freakin sky too! That's right kids, it rains and it rains LOADS. Probably at least twice this week I think. Maybe. And when it rains we get wet and not even our sandals manage to help. It still sends shivers down my spine just thinking about it.
Talking of shivers, it is freezing. And by freezing I mean well above zero degrees, but it's still really cold. Since France we've only paddled shirtless a few times and this week, since the very start, I've had to wear a long sleeve shirt the entire time. And that's not forgetting what I said about the rain, when it rains I even wear a coat as well. I can already see your jaw is dropping.
Now I could go on, boy oh boy could I go on, about how tired we get and about how much my arms hurt, but I don't want to sound like I'm moaning. Not too much anyway. I just wanted to say that it's not a holiday. There's stuff I never thought about and if someone had told me about these things beforehand maybe I would have wondered. Maybe I'd have looked myself in the mirror and asked myself if I was up to it. Because these things, these things I've spoken about here, are serious. They are crazy. They are unveliavable. But they are true.
This is the sorry tale of Honorúo the Hungarian, the Budapest resident who didn't know when to say no.
There was an Englishman and an Irishman, and, inevitably... A canoe. Well, there were technically two Englishmen but for the benefit of joking traditions we'll say there was an Englishman and an Englishman with an Irish girlfriend, or for short, an Englishman and an Irishman. So there was an Englishman and an Irishman and a canoe.
And, together, they canoed through France. And they canoed through Germany. And they canoed through Austria. And they canoed through Slovakia. And, eventually, they began to canoe through that mecca for canoeing puns, Hungary.
And there they met a Hungarian. And the Englishman and the Irishman said to the Hungarian, in true cockney style, "Mate, if you act as our guide for one day in the ravishing city of Budapest; then, for one day we'll feed your eyes with the sights of the Danube from our canoe." And the Hungarian agreed. Of course.
And they visited a Budapest bar. And they raced a charity 5k - Homorúo liked his running. And they bathed in thermal baths. And they watched an international basketball tournament. And they visited a Budapest castle. And finally the day was done.
And so they all set off in the canoe. Now, read carefully, because this bit is very important for the outcome of the joke. The Englishman and the Irishman just couldn't get their teeth around the language of Hungary. And, on hearing the name Homorúo, the Englishman and the Irishman asked if their new friend could simply be called Hungary for the duration of the day. Thankfully, Hungary agreed. However, in exchange he requested that the boys should be called England and Ireland so that they each had a fair slice of this naming cake.
And so England, Ireland and Hungary started upon the Danube's feast for the eyes. They canoed past trees and talked about global warming. They canoed past churches and they talked about religion. They canoed past a horse and Hungary talked about dinner.
And once the talk of food was on the menu, well, food tends to dominate any menu. In view of the extra weight of Hungary dolloped in the canoe, England and Ireland had decided to eat out that night.
And so England, Ireland and Hungary visited an all-you-can-eat Hungarian restaurant. They ate bean soup with smoked pork. They ate mutton stew. They ate cabbage leaves stuffed with rice and ground pork. At the end of each course the waiter would return and ask if the three young mens' hungers were sated. And, with national pride at steak, they ate more and more.
They ate mushroom and parsley soup seasoned with paprika; they ate roasted duck with apples, quince and marjoram, and they finished off with plum and walnut strudel served with vanilla custard and sprinkled with chocolate dust.
By now England, Ireland and Hungary were well and truly stuffed. In fact, they were each sure that if one more morsel passed their chops then each would be stuck in his plastic chair at the all-you-can-eat restaurant for ever. And then the waiter returned.
And he said, "Are you still hungry?" And, in unison, the Englishman and Irishman smiled. And, together, they repeated the words, "Are you still Hungary?"
And the Hungarian said yes. And with that Hungary was stuck forever. While the Englishman and Irishman left...
Still hungry for adventure.