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Patrick Roberts

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Cats' Adventures & Travels 16


the backpacking cat

Laetitia and Guillaume with Kitty

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In late September 2008 Laetitia and Guillaume (William), a young couple originally from Bordeaux in France, set out from Miami in Florida on an expedition to walk some 9000 miles (14,400 km) through 13 countries to Ushuaia in Tierra del Fuego, Argentina, the most southerly city in the world. They planned to take 3 years on the journey, travelling entirely on foot and living on just 1 euro a day each (about 85 pence or $US 1.35 at late-2010 rates), believing that money did not 'buy happiness'. They would be meeting all kinds and classes of people, and would share their adventures and experiences with the world by photos, videos and a blog. A film was in mind when the trip had been accomplished.

A feline companion joins the trek

Kitty in Guillaume's backpack Kitty snuggled on Guillaume's neck Just a month into the journey, while walking on a busy road near Baton Rouge, Louisiana, they came across a female tabby kitten, not more than a couple of months old, apparently abandoned by the roadside. Taking her up for her own protection, they thought to find a family to look after her and leave her with — but within 24 hours she had captured their hearts and become part of the expedition. The kitten, named Kitty by Laetitia, seemed to bond well with the couple, and despite some initial difficulties and misgivings, she became an integral part of their lives. For much of the time she rode on Guillaume's backpack, where a small umbrella was rigged up to protect her from the sun and rain; even so, it was so hot in parts of Mexico that they had to travel only in the evenings and early mornings. Kitty seemed to be enjoying her travels, often moving up onto Guillaume's shoulder for a better look at what was going on, and not at all shy about meeting strangers or seeing unfamiliar places.

Kitty with her own little sunshade Kitty crashed out People they met were generally amazed — after all, as Guillaume put it, a globe-trotting cat is not found on every street corner. Her presence helped in making people decide to welcome them. Guillaume said that while he expected all kinds of difficulties on his journey — cold, heat, shortage of cash, difficulty with so much walking — he had never expected to have a cat as companion! Clearly she needed some extra financial outlay for food, and veterinary care if needed, as well as fees for paperwork at some frontiers, but presumably these did not come out of the meagre daily allowance.

William and Kitty alone

Kitty - favourite spot Guillaume and Kitty in Guatamala In early September 2009, after less than a year on the road, Laetitia returned to France; we don't know why. The couple had previously decided that if one of them withdrew from the expedition, for whatever reason, Kitty would remain with the other, so she continued with Guillaume. He said she was quite distressed for about a week, meowing a lot and apparently missing Laetitia, but then settled down again and their routine continued much as before. Kitty loved her spot on the backpack — after all, she had effectively grown up there — and it's where she slept through the afternoons. One ritual that had to be observed was a cuddle with Guillaume every morning before they set off: otherwise she meowed until she got one! Guillaume found that she did not like other animals of any kind.

Later news

Resting - Kitty and Guillaume Cuddles - Kitty and Guillaume Later updates on the journey were hard to find, but it appeared that Guillaume reached Colombia and made quite a lengthy stop there. He was working on a social programme in a small, poor village, helping elderly people who have no government support and live in unsanitary conditions. He wrote of opening a small business that would enable people to gain a bit of autonomy. In June 2010 a blog said all was well and that he was still in Colombia, in Cali, earning a little money with a view to continuing his journey. A separate report said he was starting up a video production company and had already produced several short films. Kitty had been spayed, so that she would not come on heat and there would be no kittens; and each evening he was taking a walk with her on his shoulder so she didn't lose touch with this means of transport.

The last information found was from August 2010, when Guillaume reported from Santander de Quilichao, still in Colombia, that Kitty had been featured on Animal Planet on the Discovery TV channel, that a new website was coming — and that he and Kitty would 'soon' be recommencing their trek. We will keep a lookout for further information.

Is Kitty safe?

Kittyand Guillaume Concern was expressed in comments made on the internet about the advisability, even the morality, of taking a cat on this kind of journey, with its various risks and hazards. Guillaume was quite clear that Kitty was free to leave at any time, but she chose to stay with him, and pointed out that she had a far better life than was likely if she had not been picked up from that Louisiana roadside. She had all the necessary vaccinations, was well looked after — in fact, had put on weight since being spayed — and he was sure, after living in close contact with her for two years, that she was happy, and he knew when she was not. The intention was that when the expedition had been completed and they reached Ushaia, she would return with him to France.

The home site for the journey is Turn of the World (note that at the time of writing only the French section is functional), and a YouTube video shows how photography was achieved while on the move. From Guillaume's AmericaByFoot channel, more short films featuring Kitty are available, some made by himself and Laetitia, and some by news channels in various countries reporting on the expedition from as far afield as China; a few in the list are unrelated to the trip, but scroll through to pick out the Kitty-related footage. There's also a Facebook page.

Update, May 2013

Backpacking cat Kitty sketched with Guillaume, 2012 Backpacker Kitty, 2013 News of Kitty and Guillaume has been scarce for some time, but more recently there have been some posts on their Facebook page (link above). It seems they still aren't travelling at present, but whether they intend to in the future is not clear. For now they remain in Santander de Quilichao, in the Colombian department of Cauca. In August 2012 there was a nice sketch of the pair, with an excellent rendition of Kitty (left); a short video clip dating from December 2012 showing Kitty — who has grown into a fine cat — sleeping on a desk and then waking up when Guillaume greets her; and in March-April 2013 a few images were added of Kitty relaxing in a hammock.

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Our featured feline at the head of the page is Socks, pictured in 2003 surveying his 'estate' in the early morning sunshine. Affectionately known as Soxy, he blossomed from a thin and hungry stray into a substantial and handsome cat who loved life and company, and his gentle ways endeared him to many friends. He is now no longer with us, but you can read more from his human companion here.

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