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Review: Castlegar’s Renate Belczyk’s book Our Trip Around the World

An experience in living by two young women from Germany after the Second World War

Local writer Renate Belczyk’s book caught me by surprise. Given its title Our Trip Around the World (Rocky Mtn Books, 2020), I thought it might be a travelogue. Though it is that, it is also an experience in living by two young women from Germany after the Second World War. They packed an immense amount of living and exploring into the years 1948 through 1957, most of that concentrated in 1955-1957.

Their travel, beginning by cycling to Italy at age 16, was travel that touched every small town and various people along the way. They learned new languages, developed sporting skills, and took in what the countries gave them. When you read this book, you realize you’re following two innocents abroad, roughing it, and finding ways to survive on the go in an age before mass-tourism.

When the two German girls, Renate Hicks and Sigrid Hirte, began their journeys, they traveled all over England and France and Spain. They each had a one-speed bicycle, and they each hitchhiked or did nanny and chambermaid work to get by. In 1953, they bought three-speed bikes, an immense move forward for their travel plans. As Renate says, “I have never been so proud of any vehicle I bought as I was this new three-speeder.”

If you had missed this sentiment early in the book, that wouldn’t matter as there are many clearly ecstatic moments to read about. The book is worth reading because of its intense joie-de-vivre, its love of the land, and the details learned about people along the way.

The two young women began their serious travel in 1955 when they traveled to Mexico to use a relative’s place as a jumping-off spot. And as the book shows, they take jaunts off to places like Teotihuacan and Oaxaca and visit ruin upon ruin. Meeting people, they travel off with them to other sites. In fact, every weekend they go somewhere — and often during the week, too.

Joining a Mexican Mountaineering Club was an important decision because this gave them access to climbing trips, skills training, and social gatherings. They had done some rock climbing, but now they prepped themselves for such giants as volcanoes Popocatepetl and Iztaccihuatl. In all, they probably climbed most of the known climbing mountains in the middle of Mexico.

They hopped into Guatemala and back, and then spent much of 1956-57 in Canada canoeing and cooking twice at an outdoor camp at Yoho. They did a lot of climbing before moving back to Montreal for awhile.

With visas to Japan, the two women took off again for Tokyo, and in a few months they visited every major island and stopped in every little town along the way. As they proceeded in Japan, they became celebrities — their pictures and stories were in local newspapers. They loved it all, and then when Matzuo Motors loaned them new motor scooters, they were in transport heaven, or would have been with better roads.

After weeks in Japan, the women made a beeline for other countries they wanted to visit. They had a good time across northern India visiting the Taj Mahal and all the major monuments. But the places they liked the best were the high mountains and valleys in Nepal and Katmandu. Something drew Renate’s spirit there for certain, because she has traveled back many times in later life.

They arrived home in Frankfurt in 1958 after visiting several more countries. After a brief visit, Renate went back to Canada, met climber Felix Belczyk in 1960, and on the same day as her friend Sigrid married in Germany, Renate married Felix. Amazing!

The book is loaded with 50 black and white photos which complement the narrative. These are 1950s photos of climbing, glaciers, mountains, and climbers, among them a lovely photo of Renate when she was young and exploring the world. The book is infused with her personality and that of her friend, Sigrid.

Find Renate’s book online at Amazon or phone the author at 250-365-5134.