Hitchhiking — generosity and adventure from Amsterdam to San Sebastian PART TWO ¨The Swedish Detour¨
Now it is Monday. After this unexpected and delightful sojourn in Burgundy, Bart leaves me at the peage (a place on the freeway where you have to stop and pay/get a ticket) and I have fun hopping about the three or four lanes I have to guard, showing everyone my sign (Lyon) and saying ¨Je Australie!¨ (I Australian!). The sun beams down and the south continues to entice. I learn a good hitchhiking lesson that it´s better to have a sign for a shorter distance (around 50 km is good) because people never realise that they can take you part of the way and that is helpful too, or that any service station is better than where I am now. My sign for Lyon is too ambitious. Eventually a young guy is heading to Macon and drops me at a big, comfortable French service station. A huge one. I wander around. Pretty chill. The day is young. Then I spot a hippy van and a woman with red, white and black skunk mullet approaches me. She knows the drill. She says her car is full but they are traveling with a friend who will arrive shortly and she can take me a way. They are heading (I later learn more specifically to a Kibbutz style commune) in the mountains behind Marseilles. Luckily for me, the second van that arrives — a beautiful, lived-in van driven by Helea — is too weak to make it the same route the first van is going in (up the mountain more steeply). So instead of only traveling towards Lyon I can go in the second van with Helea and another guy travelling with her until the road splits between Montpelier and Marseilles, a good slog.
I buy the three of us coffees and we head off, sitting side-by-side in the front seat of the old van. They had all been in Dijon at a protest against the destruction of a green space in the city, where some squatted houses were. The guy had been making a film about it. He is a film maker and liked to tell the stories of protest and dis-justice in France. We have a good chat, I tell him about Guerilla Kitchen and he tells me about a similar project in France Les Gars´pilleurs (our Epic allies!) and eventually he gets out and I can talk to the driver, Helea. She is a sweet woman. We sing along to punk rock and share our stories. She is nervous about living her first winter in her van at the Kibbutz. She is going to be working in the garden and building straw-bale houses there, at this community that has existed for 40 years. We part tenderly, and exchange details, so one day I can visit the commune.
Now I´m at another relatively large service station which lies before a big junction (Marseilles/Montpelier) and it is hard to find people going the right direction, let alone before applying the filter of wanting to take a hitchhiker. I spend time on the side of the station with the pumps with no luck. I spend time on the other side. I go back. I go forth. I buy a tin of mackerel and eat them with my fingers. Then I meet a friendly dude with his girlfriend and kids. He has longish black hair, and a glimmer in his eyes. A bit like that heart-throb Gael Garcia Bernal now I think about it. He chats to me, he sees me talking to drivers on one side of the station, then the other — we laugh at my game. I decide to pull out my guitar and serenade myself and the passers-by, ¨Montpelier, Montpelier, Je veux aller a Montpellieeeerrrr¨ I sing. He sits down in front of me, legs crossed. My only audience. He offers me a bag of bread and cheese and sausage and his knife. I think he wants me to have it all. ¨No I already have a knife, thank you¨ I say. Then I realise and break some bread off and make a cheese sandwich. I give him the guitar and he plays a song. He leaves and I say ¨Thank you, thank you!¨ I walk around playing guitar, bantering with everyone, trying to charm them all (why would you not want me in your car?), then a gorgeous young couple come towards me, smiling. I am filled with happiness and, still playing the guitar, I talk to them. They are heading towards Montpelier and gladly say I can come with them. They run to the toilet and I practically burst with joy.
Louis and Ioanina and their Amor fou! Crazy love! They have known each other only 6 weeks and are on their way for her to meet his mother, coming from his grandparents. ¨I´ve never felt like this before,¨ Louis says of his love for Ioanina. We are all so excited, sharing this time together, their love for each other and my less specific love for the world amplifying as we share our dreams for a better humanity. They drop me at a nice rest area near Montpelier and I am content. They would take me with them but ¨My mother´s apartment is tiny,¨ Louis says. ¨Not even big enough for us to stay.¨ I do not mind at all. The sky is clear and it is warm. Tonight I can camp here and enjoy some time to myself. Before I leave them, Ioanina is rustling in the back of the car and produces a pile of cookies and bread for me. Voila! Oh wow, ¨Thank you!¨ I had been wondering what I was going to eat (the apples I picked in Burgundy were running low). So sweet. It´s a fun game to play to not spend money until the very end, to not ask (except of course for the ride) and to let people be so kind and to share what they have.
I try talking to the truckies parked here to see where they are going in the morning, but they all say no — they won´t take me, and my perception of truck-drivers as unwilling ride-givers remains. No worries, no worries. I climb the hill to escape the sound of the freeway and enjoy the bush. It reminds me so much of the coastal shrub-land of Australia. Ahhh so long since I was in such an environment. So beautiful. I find an isolated patch of soft grass, and the sky looks so clear and non-threatening I don´t bother with the tent and simply inflate my little mattress (which I got for 1€ from a secondhand store in Amsterdam the day before I left :) ) I get in my sleeping bag and watch the stars, eating the bread and cookies recently received. The night gets very cold and I wake up and put on my thermals and wrap my scarf around my head — leaving only my nose exposed to the cold air and occasional gusts of wind.
In the morning I head down to the car park. It´s around 10 am, a good time to catch voyagers on their way, and I am relaxed and hopeful — today I will get to Barcelona! I approach a man in his car and repeat my now familiar French hitchhiker lines. He seems friendly, he is heading towards Montpelier and I can join him. Hoorah! Pierre! 52 years old. I jump in and he tells me of his amazing experience at school for a year in South Carolina when he was 17, about his year in the military serving for the UN Peacekeepers during the war in Lebanon, and his happy life working as a poultry vaccination/health professional for a big pharma/agriculture company. He is heading all the way to Pau, near the Atlantic, but first he has an appointment at a poultry farm on the way to Toulouse. Seeing how far he is going west, and feeling comfortable together, I decide that, really, I don´t feel like going to Barcelona now, as great as I know it would be. With Pierre it is a valuable opportunity to cross a few hundred kilometers west and then continue into Spain at the Atlantic. Straight to the magician´s den of Roberto in Asturias, and onwards to Granada and Morocco. I ask him if I can continue with him, and join him again after his appointment. ¨That´s fine¨, he says.
Pierre drops me in the town center of Castelnaudary and heads to his appointment. We agree to meet at the same place at 2 pm and I take my stuff with me and head to the supermarket. Confident he will return. I buy some food (fruit and canned sausages and lentilles — the ´sausages´ are definitely not much meat. The texture is the epitome of processed) and I head down to the canal to eat. Here I chill in the sun. I eat, enjoy a siesta, play guitar, and as I am leaving a man shuffles towards me and says ¨Hello¨.
Of all the places and possibilities, Bjorn — from Sweden — had parked his van just near me and seeing me sitting by the river, came to investigate. He was travelling by himself, living in his van, and heading to Spain exactly where I wanted to go. He had a back ache and was craving Marijuana to ease his pains. ¨Do you have any, do you have any?¨ he asks me. (I purposely didn´t bring any from Amsterdam, knowing full-well that there is plenty everywhere in the world, and I have smoked enough for the time-being). His back is sore and he wants someone to share the driving. ¨It would be awesome to go with you,¨ I say.
¨You¨re not gay?¨ he asks bluntly. I answer straight away ¨No,¨ to appease him because I really want the ride, when really in my head my answer is, ¨What if I am, do you think I would be attracted to an old man such as yourself?¨ One day I will speak these words instead of being such a coward.
He seems legitimate enough, strange and lonely, but undoubtedly an interesting character and a great prospect to share the driving towards Asturias. We chat and decide that we would like to travel together. ¨I hope you are here when I come back,¨ he says.
¨Definitely! I hope you are here,¨ I reply. We agree to meet at the same place shortly. He goes to get his ice-packs he had left in a supermarket freezer and I go to meet Pierre and tell him that I have this new ride.
I walk into town and find Pierre exactly where he said he would be. I tell him I have bizarrely met a Swedish man to continue with, and he says, ¨Very well, bon courage!¨ and I return to the spot to meet Bjorn. Ten minutes pass, twenty minutes. I get out my guitar and sit by the canal again. Thirty minutes. I have this horrible feeling in my stomach. Where is he? Probably buying some ingredients for our dinner I hope. No sign of him. A woman approaches me and asks if she can take my picture to share on the Castelnaudary Photography Facebook page. I agree. After an hour Bjorn still hasn´t shown up and I´m so confused. He was desperate for my company — where is he now? I don´t get it and my confusion is causing me a strange sensation. Thick! I can feel it. Then it merges with frustration that I could have continued with Pierre and had wasted that opportunity, and then on top of that I feel the desperation of being in a small town five km´s from the free way peage and I imagine it will be a real hassle to get back there to continue the voyage. Oh how the sensation is tangible, uncomfortable! I have gone from great reality, to greater possibility, to shit reality. Although of course it isn´t that shit. It is still only 3pm, and it ain´t raining.
I decide to abandon Bjorn. Maybe he will return later but he said he would only be ten minutes so I feel like something has happened and I have to look out for Numero Uno again! I walk back into town, looking for his white van, and I ask a man at a similar van in a car park if he is going to the peage. ¨Oui,¨ he can take me. Wow, what are the odds!? The first guy I ask. This is a good sign. I should get away from here. This friendly plasterer drops me at the peage and it is back to square one, minus some dissolved infinity path. The third car to go past is driven by a woman by herself and she takes me to the next service station on the freeway towards Toulouse. An easy get away!
I wonder if Bjorn is even real. There is no evidence to suggest he is. I only remember he was wearing a T-shirt that says LIVERPOOL in big letters, and the number plate of his white van is conspicuously black. He was shortish and had short blond hair, around 60 years old. I wonder if he was an apparition to deter me from some disastrous fate that the universe of continuing with Pierre would have taken me to? Or perhaps the path with Bjorn was the ´incorrect´ one and thus something happened to him to deter his reunion and voyage with me. Who can know? So bizarre to play the game of hitchhiking — I am so much closer to the mysterious workings of fate. Either I accept that everything works out for a reason (this reason) or that there are infinite multiplicities and they are probably majority good based on my experiences so far. Instead of meeting Vronie and Bart I could easily have met Pam and Tim (Hello Pam, hi Tim! Do you exist? Probably! Feel this tickle from an alternate reality that never quite came to fruition!)
The next service station is perhaps the hardest of my trip. Mostly due to the fact that today I have purposely and cruelly deprived my caffeine addicted brain of its hit for some stingy, stubborn reason. That clogged, cloudy feeling pulses through my body. But I push through to try and continue my voyage. I ask everyone if they are heading west but everyone is going to Toulouse and there is no good service station once I get there to continue west. A predicament. I ask for hours but no-one is bypassing Toulouse heading west. What to do, what to do? It´s only me, this is my life now. Eventually I accept I will have to go to Toulouse, and I get a ride with Bertrand, a friendly travelling businessman (the bread and butter of the hitchhiker!). ¨My insurance is void in this company car if I take hitchhikers,¨ he says. Then smiles. What a guy! Fuck the rules. He takes me out of his way towards the western side of the Toulouse ring road, right near the peage heading where I need to go.