Europe, Travel Stories

Homeless in France

I have nowhere to sleep tonight. Shit. I’m homeless in France. The reality of my situation sets in as I frantically weigh my options. It’s after six and I’ve just called every hostel in town. No room at the inn. No room at the inn for the entire week, in fact. I’ve sent a million and one couch requests and they’re all full, too. I guess this is the downside of southern France during festival season. I would go to the next nearest town but they don’t even have hostels. I try google searching for some cheap hotels but my computer and my phone are both about to die. I have minutes to form a plan. I quickly pack up my things and head to the  bus station. I think I remember seeing a McDonald’s on the way to Bayonne, surely with more time and a charged computer I can figure something out.
TheBarefootBeatI’ll be happy if I never see this place again!

   I settle in and order a double latte, I have the feeling I’m going to need it tonight. I finally find an outlet and keep refreshing my email, hoping for a couch to crash on, hoping for a miracle. Around 9pm I hear back from someone who says they have space for me. He’s working until 11 but afterwards he can pick me up. I have a place to stay after all.

Except he never shows up. They close the lobby and turn off the wifi. It’s after midnight and I can’t call him without a Skype connection. There’s no pay phone around and I’m worried if I leave we’ll miss each other. I wait another hour until even the teeny boppers start heading home. Shit. I pull on my jacket, smoke two cigarettes back to back, and do my best to wear my “I’m from the ghetto of Chicago- don’t fuck with me,” face.

       Luckily, there happens to be a night bus service in Biarritz.  I decide to try riding the buses back and forth until the train station opens at 5am. I’ll be off the streets and around people and maybe I can get a few hours of sleep. I take the next bus and get off at the last stop. It’s just me and the bus driver and he’s motioning to me in French. I have no idea what he’s saying but it’s evident that he will be parked there for the next hour until he turns around and goes back the other way. There’s no way he won’t notice when I get back on the bus an hour later. Shit.

Worse case scenarios start running through my head. I’m carrying everything I own on my back. My passport, credit cards, and most importantly, French dictionary are all with me. It’s in the middle of the night and no one is around. I try to think of what I would do or where I would go if I got robbed. All of the expressions I can think of to say are  coming to me in Spanish. I don’t even know the French word for “help.”

     I start walking into the night, not really sure what my next move is. The street is quiet and abandoned and thankfully, seems safe. I’m grateful now for no one being around to notice me. I walk further and see an apartment complex that looks like it has a big green space behind the parking lot.  It’s well lit and there are apartments all around but if I go down the hill some, I’ll be hidden from view. Guerrilla camping it is. Though I’ve never done this before it appears tonight I have no options left. I dig out my sleeping bag and set my alarm for 6am. I’ll try to wake up before anyone sees me and take the bus back into town in the morning. I start to feel quite pleased with this plan and think maybe I will get some sleep after all.

     An hour later I hear leaves rustling noisily, too close for comfort. I startle and climb out of my sleeping bag in a panic, ready to run if I need to. I half expect a person to come traipsing out of the darkness, but the noise just continues. I can’t see a thing. I no longer think it’s a person, but I’m not so sure it’s not a bear or some other large, wild animal. “Do they even have bears in France?” I make a mental note to research this later. I whistle softly a few times but the noise continues. I keep hoping this night will be over soon and I’ll think back on it as one of those funny travel anecdotes to remind myself when I’m older of how young and stupid and free I once was.

Unfortunately, at this point I’m thinking I’m more likely going to end up as some not-so-funny, tragic newspaper headline back home. I can just see it now, “Young American Woman Gets Mauled/Mysteriously Murdered in Southern France.” It will be very bad for French tourism and while my friends and family will be sad that I’m gone, part of them will feel a smug sensation of “I told you so.”

      I like the little spot that I’ve found for sleeping, but don’t feel safe sharing this space with the monster in the woods. It’s only 3:30am, several hours more before daylight. I’m exhausted, too exhausted to be worried or scared or to feel any other normal emotion given the circumstance. I walk on the road a bit further and luckily find another hideaway. This one is close to the road and to another apartment complex but it’s hidden by surrounding hedges. I try again for some sleep.

I wake up when I catch myself drooling on my hand and turn over. There are leaves stuck in my hair and something very near me smells like dog shit. I roll my eyes and groan. I drift off to sleep again and get a few hours of restless sleep. Soon I wake up to the sound of car doors slamming. It’s 5 ’til six. I stuff my sleeping bag into my pack, sincerely hoping I haven’t slept on a pile of poop, and walk to the bus station. The worst is over. Light will come, a new day has arrived, and I am safe. Thank you Jesus, I am safe. I take the bus all the way to the beach and watch the sunrise. 

TheBarefootBeat
These beautiful views almost make my horrible night worth it! TheBarefootBeat

Tractors are cleaning the sand and I see a group of homeless men all camped out together, just waking up. Though I might look and smell like a hobo today (okay, most days when I travel) I am grateful not to be in their situation night after night.
TheBarefootBeat
Experiencing it once was enough for me. I decide to take the next train to Spain where a nice, clean hostel bed will be waiting for me. But before I go, I’m buying a tent and a knife. You never can tell.

Have you ever found yourself in a similar situation while traveling? What did you do? How do you avoid getting into these predicaments? 

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4 Comments

  • Reply Pablo August 29, 2013 at 9:15 am

    haha Totally similar to my night in Albuquerque! Frustrating when you’re in it, but one of those times you can look back on and smile about. : )

    I want to plan a trip where I don’t have any obligations or plans to volunteer for at least a few months. Then I can go into the journey expecting that this will probably be a regular occurrence. Slightly different perspective that would make the idea of guerrilla camping seem like no problem.
    Pablo recently posted…A Colorado Ghost TownMy Profile

    • Reply Mariah August 29, 2013 at 1:48 pm

      Yes, I’m jealous of your gender when it comes to the whole guerrilla camping experience and traveling without having a place to sleep. I would totally be up for this all the time if people weren’t so lame. I tried to sleep one night at a festival in my tent alone and all night long people kept unzipping my tent and peering in at me. If I had one wish that night it would’ve been to be a man! Enjoy it my friend and the extra freedom it offers you on your adventures 😉

  • Reply Amanda @ Adventure Year August 6, 2013 at 7:37 am

    At least your story ended with a sunrise on the beach! I’ve never heard of guerrilla camping, actually, but I was wondering what would happen if someday I would have no place to stay. I don’t know if I would get any sleep because I fear I’d be a nervous nelly! I have to say, this is an excellent story to read though. 🙂

    Oh! And I have a similar “I went to school in the ghetto of North Philly- don’t fuck with me,” face. 😉
    Amanda @ Adventure Year recently posted…Book Shelf: Eat, Pray, LoveMy Profile

    • Reply Mariah August 6, 2013 at 11:53 am

      Thanks Amanda, glad you enjoyed it. I hope you don’t have to experience for yourself, though I have no doubt your ghetto street face is impressive!

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