Zhulien Lambrev

The Caverns of Tautavel

I’m swimming in the lake of Tautavel, going up to the canyon, between the caves. The water is really cold and there are a lot of fish; one of them, about my size, is swimming down under along with me.

There are voices. Many of the caves are habitable, even now. This is the home of one of the first civilizations in Europe. Big packs of Stone Age men once practiced their ancient arts and lovemaking all along this rock solid fortress.

I get out of the water and dry my body with an old towel. Barefoot, I walk carefully over the sharp shells and rocks. Don’t know how long I’ve been swimming but the dusk is already around.

My personal sleeping place is a cave right above Tautavel’s measuring station. This is my home for now. The law says that I cannot live there, but it would be hard for the law to climb the fifty meters up to my cavern. The path is thorny and dangerous for those desperate enough.

Massive groups of hippies gather around the lake, lighting fires and cooking food. The amount of international travelers is astonishing. Thousands of stories from all around the world are told. Sometimes orgies take place just below my small living space.

Eyes follow me as I walk away and a voice is calling something. 


My boss, Jacque, is the friendliest guy ever. I was the first person to go ask for a job one week before the start of the grape picking season so he asked me to stay in his place and keep him company.

His girlfriend, Sophy, is living in a beautiful house on the next plateau—about ten kilometers from Jacque’s winehouse. All the relationships in the Perrinees are complicated. Jacque and Sophy alternately engage in cruel fights and strong sweet-sour lovemaking and don’t really mind using me as a witness or live shield.

Just three days before the rest of the work crew arrives, I feel like I cannot stand this ridiculousness. This is probably my punishment for getting too uninvolved with people. Why have I to look at a sixty-year old grown-ass French couple completely naked, throwing forks at each other?! All the free wine and cheese, even the panoramic view, cannot compensate for that! Nothing could!

The crew is finally here. Three guys from Polland, a Belgian girl, a couple from Spain and a whole loud family from the Ukraine. Jacque holds a meeting to get us drunk and explains that, since we will work without contracts, we all are going to be his cousins if we must face the authorities. We all agree despite that only four of us speak French.

The bucket with grapes on my back is about one hundred kilos heavy and it is my duty to carry it up the hill to Jacque’s minivan. My position requires the heaviest work in the vineyard, but I’m completely happy with it. After couple of hours my legs are dead, but my eyes are unoccupied, so the view is all mine. Also, the wine Jacque sells for an incredibly high price sits waiting for me in the corner. I sip it through a plastic tube, along with a bag of figs.

Bus House

One night spent under the bridge in the south side of Perpignan’s roundabout is enough to make me sick. Never-ending rains and winds make the hitchhiking unpleasant. Nobody took me in yesterday afternoon so I had to spend the night under the bridge, sleeping in a terrible tortile position in my wet sleeping bag and dreaming of being inside one of the yellow lights of the working class houses one kilometer away. There is a good possibility that no one will take me in again today and it’s hard to blame the drivers. I look like a scarecrow in my waterproof clothes and huge backpack.

Finally the rain stops minutes before noon and I’m taking desperate measures—stripping off my raincoat off and putting on my most ‘official’ shirt. This, an essential trick of the experienced hitchhiker, to have at least one piece of clothing that makes him attractive or at least normal looking.

The wind is really cold but after only twenty minutes a minivan stops for me. Inside I meet Laura—professional circus acrobat and her intimate friend Maria—professional cool person. They are both coming from Narbonne doing the same thing as me—wandering around and soon to be working in the grape fields.

They agree to leave me in Girona, but after only an hour of driving, two joints and a kilo of chocolate Laura tries to convince me to go with them in Barcelona.

“Dude, you have to come and see my bus house—and meet my friends! We can all go to the Grenada caves. And the three of us can totally go to Morocco after.”

She is talking a lot and I’m dead tired but cannot say no to this picture already in my head.

“Yeah, ok, you got me at ‘bus house’. Now just let me just close my eyes for a second.”

Zhulien Lambrev

Zhulien Lambrev worked as a journalist from 2007 to 2011 and then spent the next couple of years hitchhiking across Europe and Asia. He worked part time jobs and wrote as he traveled. It was completely his choice to be homeless for this period of time which he recounts as “a wonderfully harsh time that supplied me with tons of friends!”