Snakes in the lakes, Plums in the slums – 21st July

Skinny dipping at sunset

 ‘Red next to yellow, kill a fellow. Yellow next to black, venom lack.’ This little serpent is black all over, with no yellow or red. And she quickly slithers past us to a quieter spot. Still I’ve never seen our group of sweaty cyclists so hesitant to plunge into the cool inviting water of a lake at lunchtime! It’s 2 o’clock and outside of the shade of these trees the sun is far too oppressive to do anything, let alone continue the 50 kilometres of mountain cycling ahead.

Since crossing the border from Germany to the Czech Republic the cycle paths have changed. The flat well-marked routes have given way to steep gravel paths which wear away my brake pads within a matter of hours. Like many of us I am reduced to pushing my little bicycle downhill as well as uphill. A wise decision judging by the bruises and bandages on less fortunate limbs by nightfall.

The scenery is breath taking. ‘I could quite happily spend a week cycling the route we’ve taken today,’ muses Zack as we pass towering rocks which jut out impressively over the path way above our heads. There is a small doorway leading into the rock. A hobbit house? No, it’s a toolshed!

As we finally leave the forest at sunset, we pass a palatial building with wooden cabins in it’s grounds, occasional broken panes in the windows and a solitary Ford Fiesta at the end of the driveway. The grand, steep roofed houses which populate the Sudatenland region are a sharp contrast to the empty industrial units which lined the way here. Crumbling reminders of Soviet times are replaced with buildings which tell a different story.

‘After the War, the Germans and German-speaking Czechs were expelled from the Sudetenland.’ Explains our host over an ice-cold Kofola – a well-loved Communist counterpart to Coca-cola. ‘Houses and land were left to ruin.’ The project we are visiting is testimony to this fact. The cherry and plum trees are overgrown and bear sour fruits. But they are still good for conserves. We are indulged in several generously sized jars of homemade jam on our departure.

As darkness takes over, we are treated to a spontaneous one night film festival. First a documentary about Wagonplatz culture, introduced by the film-maker (and biketour participant) Matteus. It is well-timed given the location – the cherry orchard has a kitchen and communal living structures, but residents sleep each in their own ‘Wagon’ – a truck, trailer or caravan. We gain a valuable insight into a way of life often slurred by mainstream media but which offers a a very particular freedom – a relationship with nature and community less imposing than bricks and mortar. A mobile community not so dissimilar to our own…

Our next film is yet more challenging in its subject matter. As some exhausted cyclists drift towards their tents, we are treated to a viewing of a documentary on ‘Fuck For Forest’ – a participatory pornography collective with an ecological focus. The Berlin- based group invite individuals to share their bodies with each other and with paying online audiences. All donations go directly to radical ecological grassroots groups in the ‘developing’ world. At first, enthralled by the colourful characters involved in the project, we are invited to question the logic behind the group as they travel to South America to share the five hundred thousand euros they have raised with indigenous communities threatened by deforestation. They meet a mixed reception…

The final film begins – Isabella Rossellini’s ‘Green Porno’: an exploration of sexuality and gender in the animal kingdom. But with a long journey ahead there are few Ecotopians left standing. As I head for bed I can see a handful lying in their tents on the other side of the projector screen straining to read the subtitles backwards.

Bellies are full from the sumptuous meal improvised by the people living here. But there is an occasional grumble in my own as I fall asleep. One too many sour plums!

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