I came to Kruger National Park to chase lions and rhinos, and I
The biggest surprise was how quickly
I came to Kruger National Park to chase lions and rhinos, and I
The biggest surprise was how quickly
For years I’ve dreamt of becoming a pro wrestling superstar, smashing chumps over the head with chairs and flexing my glistening muscles for my adoring fans. But I’m lazy and usually hungover, so I’ve never bothered to make my dream a reality. Fate, however, decided that
hammering big, sweaty blokes in the ring pummeling idiots in the squared circle was my calling and so, by pure chance, I ended up as a wrestling legend. This is the epic story of how I became the Heavyweight Champion of Portugal.
I spotted a poster for Centro Treinos Wrestling taped to a pole while I was drinking in downtown Lisbon, and decided it’d be a laugh to rock up and see the show. I followed the directions on the poster, keeping an eye out for a grand arena fitting such a renowned organisation, but when I arrived at Maria Pia Sport Clube it was the size of a Polish shithouse. Loud gangasta rap music was playing inside, so I finished my beer and raced in.
The ring was set up in the middle of a run-down outdoor basketball court, with a dozen or so curious onlookers scattered around. When I swaggered in to take my seat, the fans rose to their feet and started cheering me, so I hammed it up and flexed my guns. With my chiseled physique they obviously thought I was one of the wrestlers, so I played along and slapped high-fives and took selfies with my new fans, until I felt a spirited tap on my shoulder.
I turned around to see a huge, scary-looking guy snarling at me. He had a shiny gold belt wrapped around his waist, fancy tights on his bottom, and was obviously furious that I was stealing his spotlight.
“Yo gringo,” he spat. “Why don’t you sit down before the Champ makes you sit down?”
When I didn’t do as I was told, the brute pushed me to the ground, leading to a round of furious boos from the audience. I was shocked, hurt, and angry, but knew there was no point in fighting back against such a monster. I grabbed a cheap cup of beer, sat back and dried my tears as the champ introduced himself as ‘Pai Grande’ Leo Rossi.
The first couple of matches weren’t too bad, and I actually had a great time sitting out in the sun and watching people fight. The first contest had some creepy masked dude named Symbiote punching on with a handsome, long-haired fella who the two ladies in the crowd (both morbidly obese and lacking in teeth) were going gaga for. After that was some weird intergender match where another masked duded named Red Eagle kicked the shit out of some sheila called Claudia Bradstone. It ended when Symbiote raced in to beat the crap out of them, setting up a tag team main event classic for the ages: Symbiote and Rossi vs Eagle and Bradstone!
Then some cunts came out and waved their Star Wars lightsabres around for 45 minutes. Their toys must’ve had flat batteries, because they didn’t light up and they had to make the noises with their mouths. I was hoping Darth Vader would rock up and behead hem, but ti wasn’t to be. They didn’t seem to know what they were doing and it had nothing to do with wrestling, so I drank heavily and ended up furiously banging on the club’s only toilet door. After what seemed like an eternity, it flung open and an obviously annoyed Rossi stumbled out, bringing a putrid stench with him.
“I thought I told you to sit down and shut up, amigo,” he snarled, before pushing me into the toilet and slamming the door, trapping me in there with the crawling smell of his diarrhea.
I finally busted out during a match between some big-titted stunna and a dweeb called Nelson, and when that was done Rossi and Symbiote sauntered back out. The bullies were talking shit and acting like tools, and when Rossi saw me he almost lost it. They had a hard-hitting encounter with their opponents that spilled out onto the basketball court, and when Rossi dragged his victim near me, he told me I was next. I wasn’t going to hang around and wait for that, so I grabbed my folding chair and brained the bastard with it.
Rossi was furious! With blood pouring down his head, he chucked me into the ring and screamed that he’d put his championship on the line against me. The crowd roared as I took him down with a brutal DDT, but he popped up and hit me with a wicked senton bomb. I gave him a blistering Samoan drop, but Rossi hit back with a sickening sidewalk slam. I wish I had photos of this, but as you can understand, I was a bit busy. After half an hour of blood and beatings, I chokeslammed him onto a pile of thumbtacks and then made him tap out with a Boston crab. The referee handed me the belt and I was chaired into the streets of Lisbon by my supporters while Rossi wept in the gutter. Finally, I had fulfilled my destiny.
I lost the belt in an armwrestle with a vagrant later that night, but I had become the most feared wrestler on the planet. Every man in Portugal wanted to shake my hand, every woman in Portugal wanted to shake my penis with her mouth, so I could no longer stay in Lisbon. I fled to the airport and hopped on the first place to my nearest safe house… a little shack in the south of Brazil, where I knew someone would be waiting to look after me…
The medieval town of Sintra is less than an hour from the heart of Lisbon by train, and is home to a really cool castle, so you’d have to be a complete Wally not to go out there. The town itself is situated in a lush valley, with the ancient monuments perched high up on the cliffs surrounding it. There are Thai tuk-tuks to take you to the top (but, sadly, no Thai ladyboys to take you to the brink of orgasmic bliss), or else it’s a pleasant walk up the hill. The trail winds along cobblestone streets and through centuries-old villages, all to the sounds of birds singing.
Castelo dos Mouros was built by the Moors (Dudley, Mandy, Roger and Billy) in the 10th century to defend the city against evil, bible-thumping Christians, but these days has been overrun by Chinese tourists. It costs eight Euros to visit, so I waited until the guard was looking the other way and snuck in. Shit, no wonder the bloody Christians conquered the place so easily!
IT’S HIP TO BE SQUARE
Portugal once suffered from the highest rate of drug abuse in Europe, so back in 2001 the government decriminalised Persian Rugs and saw a massive drop in the number of people wandering around with needles in their arms. You wouldn’t know it from walking around Lisbon’s many scenic town squares, though, because they’re absolutely crawling with crack-peddling cretins, deadshits and low-lifes.
It’s a shame, because the architecture surrounding the squares – Praça do Comércio being the most prominent – is stunning, with beautiful old buildings running up the surrounding hills and impressive statues gazing proudly over the city. It’s kinda hard to soak in the historic ambiance when some fuckwit in a fedora is trying to sell you a bag of cocaine. I’m always one to make the best of a bad situation, so I grabbed some magic mushrooms and a handful of Viagra tablets off a scummy-looking little bloke, and spent the night wanking myself off while watching episodes of Powerpuff Girls back at the hostel. Good times!
PUNK IN DRUBLIC
Grab a few dozen cheap cans of Super Bock from a shop, find a park without too many vagrants in it, quaff the booze, argue with a dog, pass out in the sun, shit yourself. It’s one of Lisbon’s greatest cultural experiences!
1. I FORTE THE LAW
Lisbon doesn’t have a spectacular harbour like Sydney, Hong Kong or Woy Woy, but it is on the water, and has a few things to offer those who are after a stroll along the agua. The 25 de Abril bridge looks a bit like that one in San Francisco, but hopefully not as many people commit suicide by jumping off it. Maybe it’s because the bridge is next to Santuário de Cristo Rei, a statue of Jesus that looks just like the one in Rio. I like to think the big fella has a quiet word with anyone feeling blue enough to end it all.
A short powerwalk along the Tagus River reveals the enormous Padrão dos Descobrimentos, a 52-metre-high monument to Portugal’s history of exploration. It was finished in 1960 and boasts 33 statues of famous Portuguese explorers, all of whom have funny names. It costs five Euros to climb to the top, but I didn’t because I got distracted by a chick with big tits and forgot to.
The best thing to see along the waterfront is the 500-year-old Belém Tower, which was originally built defend the city before being converted into a place to imprison homosexuals. Once it became obvious that the homosexuals quite enjoyed being locked up in a dungeon with dozens of like-minded individuals, they were all drowned in the river and it was converted into a regular prison, with only a three percent drop in the amount of gay sex.
2. BOUND FOR GLORIA
Lisbon is really hilly and the Portuguese only have little legs, so they built a bunch of funicular railways to carry them home after loading up on bacalhau and vinho verde. The most famous of the three remaining funiculars is the Elevador da Glória, which was handily located just around the corner from my hostel (which was very handy for getting home after drinking my body weight in cheap supermarket beer).
Gloria was opened in 1885 and rolls a few hundred metres from Baixa up to Bairro Alto. It costs three Euros to head up or down, so it’s best to buy a transport day pass for six Euros and ride the bloody thing all day long. The best part is that when you get off at the top, you can dance around like you’re in the opening of Full House.
3. BLISTER IN THE SUNSET
There are few things more enjoyable than smashing ice-cold beers while watching a glorious sunset in an exotic city. Alright, maybe watching the Raiders beat Manly 50-0 in the grand final with an endless supply of free beer and meat pies at hand would top it, but you get the point. Lisbon is an ace place for watching the sun go down because it faces west over the ocean and has heaps of stunning lookouts.
Miradouro de Santa Catarina and Miradouro Santa Luzia are great spots, but the best I found was the snappily-titled Miradouro da Nossa Senhora do Monte. The name means ‘Our Lady of the Hill’, and it’s easily accessible by wandering through the Graca district’s labyrinthine alleyways until you either stumble upon it or die of starvation. Situated in the grounds of an ancient church, the view is tops, but the best thing is that there’s a bar serving nice big jugs of Sagres (and some overpriced food, so bring a bag of chips). By the time the sun finally disappears, you’ll be so smashed they’ll have to roll you back down the hill!
Lagos is a disgraceful Nigerian city where the kids walk around with AK-47S, the prostitutes are overflowing with AIDS, and every second person is an internet scam artist (hi, Prince Bobongi). So rather than risking my life by going to that Lagos, I went to the Portuguese version, which turned out to be a particularly pleasant place to spend a week.
Lagos is one of the major destinations in the world famous Algarve region, and more than 5 million sunseekers from around the world descend upon its glorious beaches every year (alright, I made that number up because I couldn’t find any figures on Wikipedia). Sun, sand, surf and sandwiches are all available in this Portuguese paradise.
I stayed a bit out of town at the Ocean View Hostel, which I liked because it’s cheap, has a nice pool, and serves cold drinks. It’s also located close to Praiha Porto de Mos’s blue waters and the spectacular cliff walk that leads up from the sand. Unless you’ve got money for a helicopter or something (and I barely have money to wipe my arse) this is the best way to see the Algarve’s rugged coast.
The town centre is grouse if you’re the sort of person who likes to drink good food and eat good beer while watching stunning Euro ladies saunter past wearing next to nothing. If you’re the sort of person who prefers to slam your cock in a mouse trap or lip sync to Milli Vanilla in front of the bathroom mirror, you might want to try somewhere else. Lots of the bars are aimed at visiting Poms (and priced as such), but there’s a great party vibe pretty much every night of the week. I got so hammered on Sagres and cheap Portuguese boxed wine that I stripped down to my boxer shorts and got caught drink driving. I’m a bloody idiot.
Being a seaside resort town, there’s a pleasant waterfront area that looks out over about a billion dollars worth of yachts. About the closest I’ve been to riding a yacht was when I dry humped a yak while I was in India (he never accepted my Facebook friend request, by the way) but the waterfront is still a cool place to stroll along. There’s even a little stretch of sand called Praiha Batata, which means Potato Beach, and is the best name this side of Eggs and Bacon Bay.
Forte da Ponta da Bandeira was built in the late 1600s to protect the city from sea snakes, and it’s still in pretty good shape. There’s a museum inside that has all sorts of information on Portugal’s marine history, but that sounds boring so I didn’t check it out. Apparently it’s still used to imprison local sex pests, perverts and rapists, so I made sure to go easy on the nude selfies whilst in Lagos (that noise you hear is about 50 girls from Tinder calling, “Bullshit!”).
Being a touristy sort of place, there are shitloads of activities to do, but I didn’t bother with any of them because I was either too drunk or too hungover all the time. But here are some delightful photos of other idiots having fun in Lagos. Look how much fun they’re having!
The fella in that last foto is Dewey, a loudmouthed Yank who I had the extreme misfortune to share a room with. As well as masturbating regularly and enthusiastically, he jabbered non-stop about shit I couldn’t care less about. The only thing I remember him saying is, “It’s funny they call this place Lagos, because I have the lagos dick in town!” I hope he ended his trip in the rape fort.
My girlfriend is Brazilian, so whenever I do something stupid and she starts yelling at me, I don’t have a clue what she’s saying because I don’t speak Portuguese. It’s always “small penis” this and “useless fucking dickhead” that, which makes no sense to me because I don’t understand the language. So, in an effort to strengthen the relationship, I left the epic mountains of Switzerland and headed to the home of the Portuguese language and Portuguese fried chicken – Portugal!
My first stop was the port(uguese) city of Setúbal, which is about an hour south of Lisbon by bus. The actual city is a bit rough and working class, and smells like a fisherman’s finger, but the plentiful coffee shops, seafood restaurants and bars scattered along the cobblestone streets give it a somewhat bohemian feel. Try the choco frito, it’s grouse!
Scattered throughout the streets are dozens of really weird statues, from dolphins to fat ladies and explorers to stuff I can’t even begin to explain. There’s even a gigantic squid escaping certain death in a searing hot frying pan, which I found kind of terrifying. If I’d known they possessed such emotions, I wouldn’t have eaten a bunch of the pricks for dinner.
There are some nice old buildings, and it can be pleasant along the waterfront, but you wouldn’t travel around the world to see it. The nearby national park, however, is absolutely glorious and well worth the trip.
The Parque Natural da Arrábida is home to golden beaches, blue waters, and steep, rocky cliffs. It’s not far from town by bus – I didn’t even have time to finish my can of Super Bock before climbing off at Figueirinha Beach. ‘Figgy’ isn’t the place to stay, because it’s pretty crowded and there are kids kicking soccer balls everywhere, so either jump on the free park shuttle to get further into the park, or get up off your fat arse and wander along the beautiful coast.
There are a few zesty tracks to wander along, but it’s best to just pick one of the quiet beaches and spread out by the water for a day in the sun. I like going naked, as is nature’s way, and nobody had a problem with that – I even received a few high-fives and a kind warning that “your sausage will sizzle if you don’t turn it over” from a local pervert. Just to be clear, I declined his kind offer to rub sunscreen on my old fella.
Honestly, these beaches are some of the best in Europe and it’s a top part of the world, with eagles soaring along the ridges and fish diving through the cool water. There are a handful of ancient ruins scattered around, and on a good day it offers some of the best coastal paragliding on the planet. It feels a lot like the Greek islands, which makes sense considering where it’s located, but it’s cheaper and quieter. Even better, this is Europe so there are chicks with their big tits out everywhere!
After a few days in Setúbal, I felt like I’d picked up enough of the local lingo to impress my girlfriend with my Portuguese skills, so I gave her a call while watching the blazing sunset.
“Ola, bebezinho,” I said smugly, looking around to see if anyone mistook me for a local. “Posso comer sua enguia? Faz um chapéu.”
“Are you sure you’re in Portugal? Because it sounds like you’re talking shit,” she replied, obviously using a regional dialect I was unfamiliar with. “Honestly, you’re as bad with languages as you are in bed.”
I’m pretty sure that means “I love you” in Portuguese 😍😍😍
THE LION MONUMENT
When bloodthirsty revolutionaries stormed the Tuileries Palace during the 10th of August Insurrection in 1792, more than 600 Swiss guards were slaughtered whilst bravely trying to defend the French royal family. In 1820, this truly moving statue was carved to commemorate their efforts. Whilst the throngs of Chinese tourists with selfie sticks take away from the atmosphere somewhat, it’s an important part of the city’s history. Plus, there are pubs nearby.
Moustachioed author/rhythmic gymnast Mark Twain is probably the only writer more revered by the literary community than myself, so it seems right for me to let him say a few words about this tragic beast. Plus, he’s dead, so there’s no chance of him suing me for plagiarism.
“The Lion lies in his lair in the perpendicular face of a low cliff — for he is carved from the living rock of the cliff. His size is colossal, his attitude is noble. His head is bowed, the broken spear is sticking in his shoulder, his protecting paw rests upon the lilies of France. Vines hang down the cliff and wave in the wind, and a clear stream trickles from above and empties into a pond at the base, and in the smooth surface of the pond the lion is mirrored, among the water-lilies.
“Around about are green trees and grass. The place is a sheltered, reposeful woodland nook, remote from noise and stir and confusion — and all this is fitting, for lions do die in such places, and not on granite pedestals in public squares fenced with fancy iron railings. The Lion of Lucerne would be impressive anywhere, but nowhere so impressive as where he is.”
I’m certainly not lion when I say it’s a must-see when visiting this wonderful city!
When a little Swiss bloke suggested that pilates is the number one thing to experience whilst in Lucerne, I assumed he was on the drugs. After all, I’ve been thrown out of pilates classes across the globe, so they’re nothing new to me. Then I realised he was actually talking about Mount Pilatus, and kind of regretted reporting the little bloke to the cops for heroin possession.
The big slab of rock is close to the centre of town and it’s a short bus ride from the main station to the base. There’s a cable car to the top that can save you an eight-hour round-trip hike, but it costs close to $100, so do what I did – wait till the attendants at the bottom aren’t looking and just hop on. Like beer, cable cars are even tastier when they’re free!
I’m not sure what the view from the top of 2118m Donkey Peak is like, because the weather was shithouse and it was draped in clouds, but there’s still plenty of fun to be had on the mountain. There are bars, ropes courses, and paragliding launches. On the way back down a crazy black man started chasing me and I had to hide in a small cave. Good times!
THE CHAPEL BRIDGE
I’ve been infatuated by old, wooden buildings ever since my nextdoor neighbour Mr Pringle took me to see
The Bridges of Madison County at the cinema when I was eight years old. It was difficult for me to see the film through my tears of shame, but it certainly left an impression on me.
Known to locals as Kapellbrücke, this structure is the oldest surviving wooden covered bridge in Europe, having been built in 1365, and is seen as the symbol of the city. It’s right in the middle of town, just a stone’s throw from the station, and can get really bloody busy. There are all sorts of fancy paintings in it, including a number depicting beheadings and lynchings and all that fun stuff, so psychos should be satisfied.
I would have liked to stroll along the bridge with my good friend Mr Pringle, but he’s currently enjoying his honeymoon with his seven-year-old Vietnamese husband, Tran, at Disneyland.
YE OLDE TOWNE
Lucerne is older than Hugh Jackman’s wife, and the historic heart of the city is really well preserved. I had fun pretending I’d found a time machine and had been transported back to medieval Europe, smugly swaggering around with iPhone in hand whilst the backwards peasants around me amused themselves with sharpened sticks and dried dog turds.
Then I started thinking about the black plague and what I could do to prevent it ever happening, so I raced around warning people not to fuck rats. I thought about World War II and started telling anyone with a little moustache that nobody’s impressed by mass genocide. I tried to warn the clueless Euros about the atrocities to come, but it didn’t work. Nobody appreciated my heartfelt pleas and eventually some locals threw me in the frigid Reuss River. Oh well, enjoy coughing up your intestintes and getting chucked in concentration camps, you ungrateful pricks.
THE LUCERNE GOLEM
Everyone knows that the Swiss have been involved in a brutal war with vampires for the past 4000 years, but what’s not so well known is the reason Lucerne has never been overrun by creatures of the night. It’s because of Plugg, who’s some sort of magical golem.
Legend has it that the vampires were about take over the city when the locals, out of sheer desperation, crafted Plugg out of mud and horse manure, danced around her a bit, and then sacrificed 683 virgins in order to bring her to life. Sounds like a waste of perfectly good virgins to me, but anyway, it worked. Plugg came to life, splattered the vamps, and has looked after Lucerne ever since.
I found Plugg beneath the ancient Musegg Wall and, magic vanquisher of demons or not, she wasn’t able to protect herself from my roving hands. I just hope no bloodsucking freaks snuck in whilst we were making out.
There have been three perfect moments in my life; watching Paul Osborne’s around-the-corner offload to Dave Furner during the 1994 grand final, seeing my girlfriend for the first time, and soaring above the unreal azure waters of Interlaken. But they say the darkest night is before the dawn, and that was certainly the case during my first solo paragliding trip through Switzerland.
Interlaken has dozens of launches, but I decided to head to th 1060m-high Luegibrueggli (know as Eggs by the locals) for my first flight – mainly because it’s easy to get to by bus from the middle of Interlaken. After 20 minutes scraping up the hill from town, and a brisk walk through the woods, I found myself in a tiny clearing looking out over the most beautiful lake in the world. I set up my gear, took a deep breath, and cruised out into the clear Swiss air.
It took me about five seconds to realise something was wrong. Very, very wrong. After narrowly missing a tree after launching, I realised my left brakeline was tangled, meaning I couldn’t steer the bloody thing and was being dragged dangerously close to town by the swelling valley breeze. I was a kilometre above the Earth with barely any control over my glider, a thin stream of urine dribbling down my leg and regret on my mind. I needed to use all my experience as a pilot to somehow drag my glider down to the green valley floor, and drop into the tiny landing zone. When i finally landed safely, I took a moment to scrape the fright shite out of my pants and reflect on how close I’d come to disaster.
As I sucked on a frosty can of Tell that night whilst watching the sun set over the Alps, I was still thinking about what had happened. I’m so proud of myself for having reached a stage of my flying that I can travel to a foreign country alone, find flying spots, check out the conditions and take to the air by myself, but I always have more to learn. Today’s lesson was patience – and to wear dark-coloured undies when I fly a new spot. The next day, I promised myself, would be perfect.
With great conditions forecast, I took the bus all the way up to the 1280m-high Waldegg (known as Eggs by the locals) launch. After quadruple-checking my lines, I once again launched into the beautiful alpine valley, and this time everything was absolutely perfect. I hooked into a thermal and climbed up into the clear, blue sky, as the magical scenery shrank beneath me. Dozens of other gliders were dancing through the sky and heading off in all directions, and I managed to cross the valley and play above the monumental peaks of the Andes. Finally, I was able to see what all the fuss is about when it comes to Swiss flying – and I was doing it completely alone.
After a couple of hours of the best paragliding imaginable, the wind picked up and it was time for me to head down, down, down to the ground. I spiralled towards Lake Thun, watching its crystal clear water rush towards me as I ended my ride. And then, just like that, it was over. As I packed up my wing and graciously accepted an ice-cold Rugenbräu from fellow pilot Hans, I looked up at those indomitable mountains and smiled as I thought about cruising over them. Paragliding is all about ups and downs – both literally and figuratively – but the apex of this wonderful sport surely exists in the pristine skies above Interlaken.
Switzerland is best known for reliable watches, multi-purpose knives, successful tennis players and its lively gangsta rap scene, but all I was really interested in during my visit was climbing a really big mountain and then paragliding into wild. So after bidding adieu to Hamster I headed straight for Interlaken, an adventure playground high up in the Alps that offers something for everyone.
Switzerland (not to be confused with Swaziland – if you’re not sure which one you’re in, just look around and count the black people) is about the size of your average Manly fan’s penis and has great public transport infrastructure, so it’s easy to explore. With some time to kill in Geneva before catching the train to Interlaken, I took a stroll through the buzzing city centre and along Lake Geneva’s lively waterfront. The mixture of history, culture and architecture makes for a stunning place to spend an arvo – shame there was a half-pissed Aussie ruining the authentic Euro feel of the place.
A few hours on a modern train brought me to the fairytale village of Interlaken, with it’s shimmering lakes, cute houses, thunderous mountains and swarms of Chinese tourists. Ignore the throngs of selfie-snapping shitheads and it’s easy to fall in love with the place. The sweet scent of freshly-baked bread and cakes wafts through the streets, and the sound of energetic music competes with bird songs for attention. There’s something beautiful to see on every corner, it’s easy to get around, and there are usually paragliders soaring through the air, so it’s pretty much a slice of heaven.
As the name suggests, Interlaken is in-ter-middle of a couple of wonderful lakes. The water is cold year-round, but slug a few cans of Quöllfrisch and they’re fine to swim in. There are dozens of hikes to take on, a couple of funicular railways that look like they’d be plenty of fun(icular) if they didn’t cost so much, and the opportunity to go bungy jumping, sky diving and jet boating. Whether you’re poor as a dog’s foot or have cash falling out your anus, there’s no reason to be bored in Interlaken.
A word of warning, Interlaken is more expensive than a Filipino mail order bride, and even a night in a bog-standard hotel costs as much as buying a three-bedroom house in Wyong. Luckily, there’s a cheaper option – the less-than-salubrious Balmers Tent Village. The beds aren’t comfortable, the toilets aren’t clean, and the whole shebang feels like its going to blow away in anything more than a gentle breeze, but at least it’s in the price range of your average drunken Aussie. The fact the old birds I was sharing my tent with brought me breakfast in bed each morning didn’t hurt, either (even if it left me wondering whether they’d been sucking me off in my sleep).
Interlaken is the heart of the rugged Bernese Oberland region, but there are lots of great little villages surrounding it, and they’re all worth checking out. I caught the train to Grindelwald – which is sure to put a grin on anyone’s face – and was astonished by how beautiful it was. The mountains are so enormous and imposing they even put the Andes to shame, and as the sun peeked through the clouds and shone off the verdant green pastures and eternal glaciers, I really felt like I was somewhere special.
There’s a cable car to the 2166m-high First summit, but it costs $90, so being a
work-shy deadshit budget-conscious backpacker I decided to hike it instead. It’s not a particularly tough trip, and the views are unreal, but it is pretty bloody dangerous. Not because of avalanches or rockslides, but because the path up the hill is shared with Asians scooting back down on go-karts. Our little Oriental mates aren’t great drivers at the best of times, and their skills don’t magically get better when hooning down the side of an astonishingly steep mountain at 150km/h.
When I made it to the top I looked out in wonder at the magnificent landscape in front of me, then got the hell out of there before anyone could ask me to join the search party for the half-a-dozen Chinamen who zoomed off the cliff to their deaths that afternoon. All in all, not a bad way to check out the Swiss Alps, but now it was time to fly over them…
Our time in Annecy flowed along like water down the majestic Thiou River. Hamster and I flew our paragliders over the Alps all day and drank all night with Marque, Gaz and the other legends, soaking in their knowledge of the sport and the surrounds. Our skills and confidence improved as we pushed our limits and tackled tough conditions with our new friends. But things could never remain calm with Hamster around. One night, while a silvery moon lit up the world, our sleep was shattered when Pierre, the owner of the hippie farm we were staying at, burst into our tipi.
“You fucked my scarecrow, you piece of shit,” he screamed, and when Hamster and I crawled out of our sleeping bags we could see that Pierre had tears rolling down his crimson cheeks. “You fucked my scarecrow so hard you broke him in two! Benoit will never be the same again!”
“You’ve only got yourself to blame,” replied Hamster, plucking straw from his underpants and dropping it at Pierre’s feet. “You’re the one who built it to look like the girl who works at the fish and chip shop down the road from my house. The one who smells like mackerel even on her days off and has the man hands. How was I supposed to resist?”
Pierre whistled and a posse of smelly hippies, their lentil-encrusted beards and fishermen pants flapping in the breeze, encircled us. Although emaciated from eating nothing but vegetables and legumes, they had a meanness in their Gallic eyes that told me they’d killed before (people, of course, not animals) and wouldn’t hesitate to do it again. One of the tree-huggers was carrying a large, intricately decorated gourd that he was ready to swing at our heads, so we threw a plate of sausages at them and escaped into the night as they recoiled in horror.
“Can’t we have one holiday where you don’t root a scarecrow?” I asked Hamster.
“I would’ve stayed home if I knew that was a rule,” he replied, picking bits of straw from his teeth. “Right, I guess we’re going to have to stay with Gaz, then.”
Gaz, or Gabrielle as his mother knows him, is a pioneer of paragliding and one of the most knowledgeable pilots on the planet. What this bloke doesn’t know about flying ain’t worth knowing, and he’d taken us under his wing. Each night, in a dark corner of L’Auberge Du Boucanier, Gaz would discuss the intricacies of paragliding with us, providing a flying masterclass as the pints of Kronenbourg slid down our throats. Each day when we soared into the skies, he’d watch us with eagle eyes to make sure we’d been listening. We thanked him by knocking on his door at 4am.
Gaz’s life partner Bernard answered, wearing little more than a smile, and ushered us inside. That night, as Gaz sipped Cognac from an ornate skull-shaped glass whilst his balls dangled between the spread legs of his nightie, we were told of the true history of paragliding. Only a handful of people will ever learn of the mystical beginnings of this magical sport, and it was an honour to be entrusted with this knowledge. I promised Gaz that I wouldn’t reveal anything that happened inside his house that morning, and I’ll go to my grave with the secrets he told me, but it’s safe to say Hamster and I now understand paragliding in a way few ever will.
The next afternoon, with our hangovers fading away with our excitement, we flew further than we’d ever flown before. With a more meaningful understanding of paragliding we soared deeper into the bosom of Annecy, skirting around the edges of the pristine lake with our new friends with us every thermal of the way.
A full lap around Annecy is around 50km, and it’s hard work because there aren’t a lot of safe landing options and the terrain can be difficult to handle. I’d like to say Hammy and I made it all the way around, but bad weather approaching meant that we didn’t quite go the whole way, but we were both proud of our efforts. It was great to undertake the journey with such a top bunch of people. By the time we touched down in Doussard and got on the cans, Da Hamsta and I were more than pleased with the time we spent in the blue, blue skies of France.
Doussard is a cracker of a town, and about as traditionally French as a croissant wearing a beret. There are winding cobblestone alleys, baguette vendors on every corner, astonishing views of the Alps and pretty girls on every corner. It’s not only a top place to go paragliding, or a great place to get really drunk, but it’s an astonishing place for anybody to spend a few lazy days.
Unfortunately, later that night Hamster was severely beaten up by a throng of French people who were sick and tired of his antics, and was left brain damaged and in a vegetative state. Fortunately, his wife and children didn’t notice any difference when he got home, so happy days!