Sologne Bourbonnais. Paul Ray, a backpacker with a 40,000 km backpack

As an 83-year-old, Paul Ray gives us his best memories of a world tour that began in the early ’90s. After 2 decades of hiking, he now travels the world in a motorhome.

I started traveling in 1964 with a classic trip to the Balearic Islands before visiting Romania twice, in 1967 and 1970, not to forget a trip to Morocco in 1969; I wanted to discover countries“, Explains Bourbonnais, a native of Yzeure and resident of Thiel for several decades. As an 83-year-old, the former financial adviser today admits he would challenge himself at the time, just to test his limits. In the early 90’s, he decided to discover new horizons … on foot and with a backpack.

Hiking at high altitude

He clearly remembers his first hike in Morocco in 1990. His goal was to reach the top of Mount Toubkal, the highest point in the High Atlas south of Marrakech. With a group of 5 or 6 adventurers. They set off with guides and mullets to reach the top (4,167 meters). Bet won before a new challenge the following year with the Golden Triangle in Asia, a mountainous region on the border of Laos, Burma and Thailand.

There he will suffer, but will manage to stay the course through a forest of unimaginable dimensions in the land of opium. After days and days of walking under difficult conditions (humidity up to 90%), he will end up discovering the village of the Akha tribe somewhere at the end of the world … crossing paths with drug smugglers armed to the teeth.

The Bayaka pygmies

In 1993, Thielois traveled to the Central African Republic and did not yet know that the adventure would be the most significant in his entire life. With about ten people supervised by guides, the group spends 3 weeks in the jungle and discovers people from another time who live in autarky and feed on white green, raw or grilled larvae, bats and chimpanzees. “I tasted their food; it’s not that bad“, he admits. Holy expedition nevertheless in a dense forest, where the trees can reach 60 meters, and where the light of day does not filter or little. The life expectancy of the pygmies does not exceed 35 years.

4 times Compostela and more challenges

The adventure was less risky in 1997, the year of his retirement, which he celebrated with a 48-day journey between Le Puy en Velay and Santiago de Compostela. This time he has to travel 1,700 kilometers alone. “For me, it was just fun. Being alone is often a need for me, every day was 8 hours of walking and 35 to 40 kilometers traveled. We meditate, we reflect, and finally, the person we discover is ourselves!“, Recognizes Bourbonnais.

He will renew the experience in 1999 from Arles (13) and in 2002 from Vezelay (89) for distances corresponding to his first raid, before in 2008 he extended the distance from Geneva via Le Puy (2,000 km). But its challenges are many and varied. As proof of that, in 2000 he set out with a group of 8 on the Anapurnas tour of Nepal with guides and porters for a unique 3-week hike. The expedition crosses the Thorong-La Pass, the highest pass on the trip to the Himalayas (5,466 m).

The following year, he climbed Kilimanjaro in Tanzania. “We were six, accompanied by guides and porters; at the top there were then walls of 7 meters of snow, which is no longer the case today“, He wants to clarify. That same year, he will add 272 kilometers to the counter by traveling the Stevenson Trail from Monastier-sur-Gazeille in the Haute-Loire to St-Jean du Gard from the great volcanic plateaus of Velay to the Cevennes via Mont Lozère (1669 m), almost a formality for our Thielois tractor.

Another significant expedition in January 2005, when he decided to go to Sri Lanka after the devastating tsunami. “I would leave for 3 weeks to do humanitarian work and help with reconstruction. I brought 63 kg of products needed for purifying water and treating diarrhea. I’ve seen things that are hard to imagine and that can not be told“, he admits.

In 2006, he boarded the Via Francigena. Neither more nor less than a 1,400-kilometer-long walk between Arles and Rome via Montgenèvre (05), Turin, Milan. There he will suffer from the rain, a companion of 3 weeks, which he would have done well. To his credit, Paul Ray will have added the trip to Mont Blanc in 2008 with a group of friends from Yzeure: 10 days and 360 km from Contamines-Montjoie and then passing through Italy and Switzerland.

The last hike is from January 2010. More than 70 years old, it is in Algeria in the southern mountains that he starts at almost 3,000 meters altitude in the Hoggar massif. We are in January and at night the temperature drops to -10 ° below the tent fabric. Physically too hard for the Bourbonnais, who will still hold on to the last and promise themselves not to come back. For the past ten years, he has continued to travel the world in his motorhome.

In 2020, he is stranded for more than 3 months in Morocco because of Covid. Most recently, he has traveled to Croatia, Slovenia and Italy.

From 1eh May he sets sail for Corsica, a region where he has already been many times. This time, direction Calvi, Bastia and Cap Corse. In September, his project takes him to Spain; the adventure continues: good luck Paul!

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