Flashback to nearly 6 years ago, I had one of the most epic and amazing adventures of my life when I signed up for a hitchhiking trip from the UK to Morocco (Charity Hitch by Link Community Development UK), which takes place at most of the major universities all over the UK, and among the pre-requisites of participating in this charity hitchhike is that you need to raise over £350 on own initiative (otherwise you need to pay out of the pocket), and you need to have at least a male partner in the team. We would be tracked by the organising committee via us sending them SMS everyday to report our location etc. To make it more challenging, we only had 7 days to reach Morocco from the UK via hitchhiking, which at first seemed to us an impossible and daunting feat.
It wasn’t all smooth-sailing for me and my hitchhiking partner. On our first day, we took a train from Edinburgh to London, which we would then proceed to Portsmouth to catch the ferry to Caen Port, France (if memory served me right haha). Due to some technical error with the trains (what shit timing right), we had to stay put in Newcastle for one night and that means we had less time to complete the feat. Nevertheless, we pulled ourselves together and continued on to catching the ferry from Portsmouth. On the ferry, we were proactively (in other words, desperately, lol) asking around the passengers and scouting for potential drivers who would be willing to give us a ride. I seemed to have much better luck than my partner, managed to find an old couple who agreed to take us in. Anyway, once the ferry docked at Caen Port, we followed the couple to their car and off we went to the French countryside.
To be honest, throughout the hitchhiking trip, I didn’t get to see much of the touristy spots nor the big cities of the countries that we’ve been to except for the countryside and highway roads. We spent most of the time standing and waiting by the road side in blistering cold weather or under the hot blazing sun. In fact, when we were somewhere in France, it had been raining for few days, the weather was really cold, and my clothes and shoes were soaked through and I was shivering pretty bad :(
Language barrier was another hindering factor for us to get rides from strangers. But that didn’t stop me from trying, I jotted down a list of useful Spanish and French expressions in a notebook, and I tried relentlessly to get their attention, and patiently asking everyone at a gas station or parking lot. Most people just shook their heads and drove away, some didn’t even bother to stop for us; and surprisingly, all truck drivers that I had asked refused to offer us rides outright noting that it’s now illegal or against their company policies to pick up hitchhikers (what a bummer).
The language barrier also got us into some trouble on one occasion. It was a Sunday, and we were in the middle of nowhere in Spain, if I remember correctly, we were somewhere south of Tarragona, near to Amposta. Cars were few and far between and I suspect it was due to it being a Sunday or public holiday. At that time, we were really anxious that we would have to spend the night at a deserted-looking gas station. After loitering around the gas station for what seemed like an eternity, a car pulled over. A man (wearing make up and wig) rolled down the window and took a glance at me. Loud Spanish disco music blasting in the background, I politely asked for a ride to anywhere as long as they are headed south. To avoid any confusion, I showed him the map as well. He seemed to understand what I was trying to say and hesitated for a few seconds, and finally he said to hop on. It was quite a bizarre experience sharing a car with a few cross-dressing guys with full-on mascara and fake eyelashes, and the Spanish version of Jennifer Lopez’s “On the Floor” was playing on the car stereo in the background. And then suddenly the car came to a stop after what seemed like a 15-minute drive, and he just kicked us out of his car in the middle of nowhere. We were utterly flabbergasted that the driver actually dropped us in a small town called “Peniscola”after about a 10-km ride. We then desperately tried to look for any kind souls who would give us a ride, but it was such a small town, it was damn difficult to even spot a car passing us by. As the night approached, we felt like giving up and were thinking to look for a place to stay put for the night. Then, something miraculous happened. Out of the blue, a car pulled over and it turned out that two English-speaking tour guides were in it! What are the odds of finding someone who’s willing to give you a free ride at 8pm, and what more English-speaking guides who are headed to Valencia! We couldn’t have asked for more. That came timely because we were running out of time as we had already booked the ferry ride to Morocco, and we only had 1 day to make it to Algeciras.
Long story cut short, in the end, we did cheat a little bit (OK, we cheated big time), we ended up taking a 12-hour bus ride from Valencia to Algeciras, simply because we were tight on time, and on the other hand, we were simply tired and exhausted from all the hitchhiking. Boy, we were so relieved when we were able to catch our pre-booked ferry to Tangier; that marked the end of our hitchhiking trip and the beginning of yet another epic adventure in Morocco for the following 8 days.
If you were to ask me “would I do it again?”, the short answer is “No”.
But you were to ask me “Did I regret hitchhiking?”
No, I never regretted a single bit. In fact, it was one of the craziest and most adventurous things I had ever done in my life, I really learnt and grew a lot throughout the whole journey. I learnt that there are many kind people out there who are willing to help without asking or expecting anything in return even when there is a huge communication barrier between us. Body language, hand gestures and smile go a long way breaking those barriers down. This whole experience also taught me to persevere and not give up easily even when things do not go the way you wanted it to be.
I’m actually surprised that I could vividly remember the whole trip in such details even after 6 years had passed since the trip. I guess I really treasured every second and moment of this hitchhiking trip: from raising money by selling cakes in front of the library all by myself to waiting in the blistering cold for hours. When I looked back, I could proudly regale people with interesting account of my experiences and stories from this hitchhiking trip.
If any one of you are thinking about doing something bold and adventurous like hiking Mt. Everest or even something as simple as backpacking solo in Thailand, if your heart tells you to do so, don’t second guess yourself and just do it because YOLO (you only live once)!
Photo credits to Yee Siang Lim