0634 Hiking with a Veteran Hobo (Ita 099—new)
Latte Travel Blog› entry 59 of 92 › view all entries
After Grimaldi, I’m hoping to continue hiking along the coast, but I have to climb up to the coastal highway which fortunately has a walkway along the side-- even through the tunnel! I happen on another tiny village tucked around a bend which had a little park with a couple hobos in it-- so I decide to skip it and play my set somewhere farther up the road. I’m not afraid of them, I just don’t feel like hanging out with hobos.
A bit further down the road with a decent view of the shoreline I pull out my guitar and play my set. Then I see the three hobos approaching, who pause and make some appreciative comments about my music. I take another look at them-- there’s one older guy who’s clearly a hard core hobo who hasn’t had a shower in quite some time.
This makes me curious, so I decide to tag along with them to find out. The old guy’s name is Freddy, and yes, he’s hard core-- but not your typical wino loser who could never hold a job. He’s a former Navy man who once travelled all over the world on a British warship. Then, when it was time to end his career, he decided to just destroy all his identity papers and wander around Europe with no money and no identification. He’s been doing that for the last 13 years.
I’m suddenly very, very intrigued about this hobo. This whole breaking free from civilization concept has always fascinated me. I’ve even tried it myself a couple of times-- lasting at the most a couple of weeks.
He tells me about how he was first inspired about the hobo lifestyle. “When I was a boy in Scotland, my mother would always give food to the passing hobo, and I always knew someday I wanted to be like them... Then, after the navy, since I had stopped communicating with my sister, I did have any connections with my family”
“Do you have any children?” I asked.
”Not that I know of”
The other guys laugh, “oh that’s just what we need! A couple little Freddys running around! Imagine if you ran into some kid who calls you ‘Papa?!’” We all agree that it’s for the best if Freddy is the end of the line.
Then my attention turns to the other younger fellows. There’s a Czech fellow who doesn’t talk much, but plays guitar pretty well, and a French guy, Malcolm, who also has a fascinating story. He’s 18 years old, he was studying “Prepa” which is a French special school for bright kids to help get them into the best universities. But he also had that itch to break free from the chains of civilization. So he packed up his bag and left... and for the last couple of months has been hiking across Europe.
Malcolm hasn’t quite broken free from the trappings of society, He still wears expensive hiking shoes and has a 50 degrees below zero sleeping bag. But when I think back to when I was 18-- I hadn’t even spent a single night out all on my own-- this guy is really my hero.
We talk about accepting our mortality... about accepting death... about whether or not he’s going to end up like Freddy or eventually reintegrate into society and this all just be an experience he tells people about... We talk about the movie “Into the Wild”-- Malcolm feels that it’s a bit pathetic that the guy wimped out in the end. He should have just accepted what was really a very natural end to the journey of breaking free from society: a solitary death...
I never thought I could learn so much from a guy half my age.
We stop in a little green area by the side of the road outside the city wall. Freddy is having trouble walking, so they decide to stay the night there. This really is not my style, camping out in a park in view of people passing, but I figure it will be a good cross-cultural experience. I’m a little worried that we might get busted by the cops-- especially when Freddy starts yelling at a dog that’s barking on the other side of the wall, but no cops show up.
Freddy notices that I don’t have a blanket and insist that I use one of his. “I can’t stand to see a man sleep in the cold without a blanket he tells me”. It’s a peculiar moment... me, a professional otherwise respectable man of society accepting a grimey blanket from a half crazy hobo-- which means he’s going to be pretty cold tonight. It’s the most unselfish act anyone has shown towards me in a long time.
I don’t know if I’m ever going to be able to look at a hobo quite the same again.