A month living in a yurt, driving 8091 miles through seven countries and the discovery of German tinder.
Around March, we begin to entertain the prospects of a summer to remember and we excitedly pester friends to book flights and frantically order festival tickets. The air becomes a little warmer and the sun reminds us of the careless summers of our adolescent years gone by. But for me, I saw no adventure in prebooked plane tickets and I didn’t crave the hippie festival scene. So on the 22nd of June, I began my drive from Chester to Petersthal, where I would visit ten German cities over ten days and live in the Bavarian countryside for a month before driving back to England via Italy and France.
On the outward leg, I drove just under a thousand miles in Rupert (my car, whose well-being diminished every hundred miles) with a friend, a couple of pocket German dictionaries and a tent. The freedom of the road never got old. We had a carefully thought out playlist; a careful balance of funk and groove. We’d wake to the same sweet sun and drive into the city of the day and having rinsed it of what it could offer a one-day tourist, we were back on the road.
There’s a foreboding discomfort which comes with this hectic desire to see all one can with hardly a moment to breathe, to reflect. Before we were ready to part with this carefree fun, I’d left my trusty car-bitch at Munich airport and was heading west into the mountains of the south. A thousand miles of questions poured through my mind as I drifted from heart-racing excitement to the uncertainty of an unfamiliar place. What would the family be like? What would happen over a month? As I shuffled my playlist, my heart and Rupert raced along the autobahn. Over every rolling hill, the beauty was conflicted with the pressing climax of what ten days had rolled towards: The final city of my trip and my home for the next month.
Rather foolishly of me (or adventurous as an optimist might say) I hadn’t fully read the advert properly and therefore wasn’t completely sure what work I’d be doing for the German family. Upon arrival, I realised there were no children to look after, so I could rule out au pairing. It rendered me a dazed mix of excited and confused when they told me I’d be helping to build a Mongolian yurt. This feeling furthered when they told me my bedroom was a yurt. A yurt five miles away, on a hillside and with no trace of civilisation. Just a ton of cows.
As I fell asleep that night, alone on a hill and nestled under several blankets, I asked myself, why would someone pay to come and live in one of these wooden contraptions? The German couple had decided to build these huts as a tourist attraction for walkers to come and stay in on their travels. With no electricity, no running water, no creature comforts at all, only the fierce winds to wake you and the earwig infestation to creep you out, I questioned the motif for such a “holiday”.
In the morning, the sun stirred me and I creaked along the wooden floorboards to the door of the yurt. As I sat and ate my Müsli, I saw a little clearer the peacefulness of the place. The Austrian mountains rolled away in the distance and the Rottachsee lake glistened beneath. I could see the traditional German farmhouses and I could hear the cowbells ringing through the hills. After the buzz and bustle of the cities I’d seen, I’d woken up to a moment, a rare one we experience, where words escape you. You sit, and you breathe and you think how lucky you are to be here and to see this.
Over the next few weeks, I worked with the couple. On sunny days, when the mountain air was cool, we’d collect wood and work on the flooring of the yurt. My German improved, I got on very well with Christine and Mario and I was trusted to use power tools (a definite highlight). I wasn’t missing home yet or the comforts to which I was accustomed, preoccupied with new things and new people. Sometimes, when they had a job to do, I’d be left to my own devices for a day or two. Those were the loneliest days. Having done my jobs, I would cycle around the hills or lie by the lake but I love people and had begun to miss them.
Despite liking my German family, it’s a peculiar environment to live in such close proximity with complete strangers for whom you’re doing a service. I’m not sure whether my German restricted the expression of my thoughts or perhaps there were never any tremendous conversations to be had. So, when I met a seventy-year-old Irish neighbour and she asked me so heedlessly if I’d heard of tinder, I couldn’t help but laugh. Although I’d judged tinder quite callously before, I thought this as an acceptable opportunity to meet some local young people and I justified it as such. The following week I met up with Felix, a student in the nearest city, Kempten. Apprehensive at first, the next two weeks trebled in enjoyment since I had a companion with whom I could enjoy the beauty of this place. I remember a quotation from Into the Wild, Chris McCandless laments that “happiness is only real when shared”. Debatable and circumstantial, yet at this time and in this place, these words rang true.
During my last few days in Petersthal, I felt the end draw closer. Unlike the journey to this place, where I hadn’t given myself I chance to get attached to a city or a person, a month in this paradisiacal place had given me a taste for what life can be like. Now, in my youth, I’m ready for experiences and explorations, that’s all I crave. It’s difficult to actively reflect and think about the choices we’ve made and the ones that lie ahead. People race around the world, trying to figure out who they want to be. If any person wants to “find themselves”, I implore them, by all means to pick up a backpack or to book a flight, but earnestly, I advise: take a pen, take some paper, think as you do and challenge yourself along the way. We all want to enjoy this life and relish in the fun we have, but to reflect is to figure out where we are and, as cliché as it sounds, who we are.