Showing utter disregard for my hastily and spontaneously-made plans, after blogging from Barcelona last week I decided to, in fact, not spend another night in that fine city. For two reasons: One, I went to the adjacent city of Badalona in an abortive search for a new set of Vibram FiveFingers shoes. I ended up walking 8 km out of Barcelona and decided I had gone too far to go back. Two, I had, after blogging, spoken with my cousin on FB chat and said I would endeavour to hitchhike to Milan by the following Wednesday (19 Oct … today). Since hitchiking is not an exact science but a grind where luck and persistence are your best friends, I decided that to make good on this pledge I had to get back on the road ASAP.
I was taking a bit of a gamble pledging to make it to Milan in 7 days. So, like another famous gambler, for a taste of your readership, I’ll give you some advice…
You got to know when to hold ’em…
As stated, persistence persistence persistence. A whole day of no rides can turn around real quick with just one lift if that person happens to be going the same way as you. But you cant win if you dont play. Therefore every coffee break, every pee break and every grocery break involves a certain level of strategy; youre taking yourself out of contention for a ride so you want to wait for breaks in traffic or slow times of the day.
i.e. For whatever reason sunset is a really good time to get a ride, but after dark rides taper off pretty quick. So if I have to pee and I’m on a busy road I will hold it for a good half hour until after it is dark because I could miss a good many potential rides in just that few minutes I am indisposed.
Know when to fold’em…
Police are a constant reminder that I am perhaps not living the most legal of existences. I guess overall hitchiking is illegal but only the Spanish traffic guys gave me any trouble for it; In contrast, when I went to a police station in the south of France for directions they seemed positively enchanted by the prospect of me thumbing a ride all the way to Milan. Once I got to Italy, I was warned by a helpful Italian dude (I held on to my wallet the whole time) that hitchiking was illegal. This, compounded by the rep of Italians and their police for corruption, made me wary of being caught with my thumb out by them (“How much money you have, Signor? Si? What a coincidence, thats what the fine for hitchiking is…payable directly to us of course”).
In general, I would say I am not as alert to the presence of cops as a criminal of my stature should be. I typically dont spot cruisers until I am in plain sight with my thumb out and they have already seen it. In these situations I quickly fold my thumb away and look away. Noone has stopped me yet so maybe discretion when breaking the law is an adequate substitute for abiding the law in Europe: At least try to make a secret out of breaking the law and the police will respect the effort.
Know when to walk away…
When heading into “La Joncquera,” the border region in Spain just before France, I got picked up by this Moroccan dude who spoke no English and was kind of crude i.e. honking at pedestrians and making rude gestures at the hookers (I forgot to mention the hookers last time, but brothels dominate the Spanish and French countryside and usually every one of them, while discreetly tucked away in a field, has one or two girls scantily clad on the road enticing truckers and travelers into sin. Its a crazy juxtapoition, the idyllic Iberian countryside, flecked with fishnets, make-up and of course, the clap).
Anyway, this dude was kind of unsettling but I figured that was perhaps just his way. Warning bells went off though when he stopped for two more hitchikers. Not travelers either, just this white trash looking couple who wanted a lift to the next town. In spite of the fact that this guy was allegedy going to take me 200km that I sorely needed after a slow start from Barcelona, I decided to err on the side of caution, jumping out and explaining to him that I was thankful but two was plenty. Onward I pressed the last two kilometres to France on foot.
Know when to Run…
After camping out behind a restaurant in the Pyrennese mountains my first night in France, I awoke to a chilly but clear morning and proceeded to hit the road feeling like my luck was on the up and up.. Then Michele (a dude) stopped for me. I got in the car and here is how the conversation went:
Me: Thanks for picking me up.
Michele: It is no problem but I dont go to Perpignan (my dest) only to S______.
Me: No problem, every little bit helps
Michele: Have you had breakfast?
Me: Naw, usually I grab something to eat when I get to a town
Michele: And you go all over France?
Me: Nope, all around the world
Michele: Ok, I see. Why not, instead of going to Perpignan cause it is far and it is till cold and early you come to my house just down the street and I make you coffee.
Me: (naively) You know what, I should be hitting the road, but yeah its my first morning in france, lets have an authentic French coffee. Thank you
Michele: (not sure I had caught his drift) So are you free?
Me: (Misunderstanding his meaning) Well yeah, I got as long as I need to circle the world. I only want to take six months though.
Michele: I see (pulling over) Here is where I turn toward my house. Let me explain. I am bisexual, I like sex with girls and boys. You understand what I mean?
Me: (Finally grasping the situation) Ah yes, si….I mean oui.
Michele: And you? You have sex with boys?
Me: Um no
Michele: You think about it or ever want to try it
Me: Um no, Im straight and I have a girlfriend.
Michele: Maybe you come back to my house and you try it and like it
Me: No, thank you. Im flattered but no thankyou
Michele: Questce que c’est?
Me: Im flattered…I appreciate you asking but not thanks. I think I should get out here.
Michele: Yes (asshole).
Me: (Getting out of the car) Thank you for the ride though
Michele: No problem and if you decide you change your mind and want to try you come by.
Me: I dont ttink so but thank you though.
After this bit of weirdness, things kind of normalized and I made pretty good progress in France, drank some good wine, and crushed some good cheese. It was a beautiful countryside and if I hadn’t set a deadline to be in Milan I could have easily taken more time there and done some swimming in the Mediterranean even. Next time.
Anyhow, I am at my cousin’s place for the next week or so which should give me a chance to put words on paper (internet) and express some thoughts and experiences that I have been lacking in opportunities to communicate for the past while. Should be a relaxing week, Hope I dont get soft.