Category Archives: Hitchhiking

The Fun Is In Doing It

Robino hitching to Berlin

This photo above is of me hitching to Berlin in 2010, taken somewhere along the German highway. I was hitching to Berlin to help organising the third edition of the European Hitchgathering. I am republishing it for a photo-challenge of The Hitchhikers Handbook, a website that’s been around for a year now.

Actually, I have taken quite a few hitchhiking photos of people who I’ve hitched with. I made a gallery of some of these hitchhiking photos I made, which even were part of an exhibition, but unfortunately it isn’t available on its old location.

I’ll promise to republish these photos soon here on my blog. For now there is only my hitchhiking set on my Flickr account, dating from 2008 already.

Worth The Wait

The cars go about their own lives, the people in the metallic boxes do not see me and just follow their own routes. Unconcerned about this guy who smiles kindly to them and waves occasionally. “What does he want from us?” their eyes seem to say.

Some wave back, bringing their hands up to their shoulders and shrug, but the only ones that actually do stop are locals who have nowhere to go but who are kind enough for a chat. “He probably needs help,” is what they think.

There are times when you are totally surrendered to a situation. That you know there is nothing else to do but to wait and to do nothing. Nothing. You can only do nothing to change the situation. Feeling pressure is futile, it will only make the situation harder to digest. Pressure only stays in your head, making your thoughts repeat in circles. To resign myself and fully accept the situation as it comes to me, is the only option I have to stay healthy, and positive.

Also on this day, while waiting to cross the border to France and my last rice cookie is behind my teeth. I chew it slowly until it has disappeared fully. I think about eating more. The roadhouse in front of me, next to the petrol station in the Catalan Pre-Pyrenees twenty kilometers before the French border where I have been now for nearly 24 hours, is about to close in some hours.

Shall I just go in and ask for some food? No, I decide. Last night they already gave me a baguette with cheese and a large cake that I used for breakfast. If they would like to give me more, they will offer it to me, as they know I am here, and what I am here for.

I slept well. A wonderful night I had and I look back, full of satisfaction. I arrived here at the end of the afternoon after some fantastic days but I could not find a car to pick me up. Behind the petrol-station in a small wood was the perfect piece of land for my tent. Moreover, it was full moon and thanks to the light that a full moon gives, the view over the mountains and the river that flows towards Barcelona, had been great.

Now I am walking back and forth the rest-area. I’ve been awake for more than eight hours now and I don’t think much. Instead I do my walking meditation: I put my attention to the movements of my body and my breathing. Rest settles over me like a warm soft blanket and the trust remains, that everything will be fine, even though people ignore me and my almost empty belly.

While walking I leave the luggage behind at the outlet of the pump and decide to sit on the rocks in front of the restaurant, without illusions. I keep myself quiet, am not even sticking my thumb up anymore. Until I suddenly see two guys walking towards my luggage, inspecting it, picking up my bag, and starting to walk away with it. I laugh at this interesting situation: would they like to also take me if they know I belong to that luggage?

Unfortunately not. They excuse themselves in French. They thought that the luggage was left behind by the motorcycle club who had just been here. “But maybe you can take me across the border?” I ask. They say that our roads are not the same and leave me standing behind, puzzled a bit. They drive away with two French cars. In the second car I see a free spot, besides a beautiful girl smiling at me and who gives me a curious look. Another story that is not supposed to become one, I say aloud to myself. And I sigh.

Then after half an hour a Dutch car arrives. Let’s check the state of solidarity, me being from that country as well. He goes the other way. “Otherwise, I would definitely have taken you,” the man says kindly enough and sincerity speaks from his eyes. So I will have to hold on, but for how much longer? Will I sleep here another night, but this time feeling hungry?

More than one hour later, yet another Dutch car arrives, this time with a caravan. Is this it then? Is this my ride? Will I finally be crossing the border? A woman gets out of the passenger door and walks into my direction. Beside the caravan we have a chat. I explain to her who I am and why I’m here. And this is when the miracle happens: she is fine with bringing me across the border, “If my husband is so too”.

And he is, although they “normally don’t take hitchhikers”. I hardly know the joy I feel, after nearly twenty-four hours of waiting and I walk back to the woman, telling her the good news of her husband agreeing, and she looks at me and says: “We first wanted to have dinner at the restaurant. Would you like to have some food too?” How could she tell?! I hadn’t even old her anything about my way of traveling, apart from the hitching.

Half an hour later I’m in the car with them, cheerful and with a happy belly. In the end they decide to take me to their holiday-home further into France, situated within an incredibly beautiful rolling countryside, while during the ride I share stories about my journey without money, and living with what people give me. I will not forget their response: “Perhaps others think so, but for us you are not a bum. What you do, more people should undertake. “

The next day, after some local wine, nice conversations and a good night’s sleep, they put me on the road in direction Toulouse, and they give me some bread for on the road. I also get a jar of peanut butter to go with it. Peanut butter, how much I had been looking forward to you in the past three months! How I have been yearning to have your taste in my mouth and your energy in my body! So yes, everything does come your way, and the peanut-butter was definitely worth the wait.

Recap Portugal Trip

Yep- that's me walking

Oh Portugal. How much I loved hitching, cycling and hiking on your roads, your dunes, and cliffs. Wild nature, and wonderful people. Amazing hospitality and what an experience to do all this without money! Just going around the bars and restaurants asking for left-overs, and many times the food would just appear right in front of me. Eating fruits of trees and finding veggies all along my path, and people inviting me over.

From North to South, literally from the furthest border to the most opposite side, by walking and hitching and staying over in Vila Nova de Cerveira, Viana do Castelo, Porto, Espinho, Mira, Coimbra, Talasnal, Tomar, Lisboa, Seixal, Alcácer do Sal, Carvalhal, Sines, Porto Covo, Vila Nova de Millfontes, Almograve, Odemira, Zambujeira, Azenha, Odeceixe, Rogil, Aljezur, Sagres, Salema, Lagos, Silves, Benafim, Vilamoura,  São Brás de Alportel, Tavira and Vila Real de Santo António.

Highlights are numerous, and I am still writing my stories. But one of my personal favourites was Vila Nova de Millfontes, the second town on my unplanned hiking trail. I arrived in the morning, after walking for 6 hours by moonlight over the highest dunes I had ever seen. Coffee and breakfast was given by a nursery, and lunch was provided by some Bulgarians with a restaurant. But my path was blocked by a river and the bridge was far, and I wanted to cross in a more traditional fashion. So I decided to wait at the harbor for a local to bring me across by boat, which happened, without much waiting involved. His ex-wife was Dutch, and so he liked me. My first time hitching on a boat!

Crossing the river

Recapping my experience, I finally had time to publish my photos. Not all of them, as I lost half of my photo-collection after being deprived from my computer, money and phone in the beginning of my way. But that reality was not as bitter as it may appear, as that triggered a set of events that changed my perspective on life tremendously. Ah, where life brings you when you simply surrender and trust!

Roaming Around Portugal

Green hills, spectacular sunrises and sunsets, smashing views over cliffs and dunes, great food and a wonderful culture. I thought I was going to be here for two weeks, but Portugal already has got me going for eight.

I was on my way for the Third European Hitchhiking Festival but I got stranded in the north of Portugal, just over the border with Galicia in Spain, for my own private festival: a weekend of learning, re-finding myself (after a couple of really intense hitching-days) and getting inspired by new experiences and understandings of life.

And that understanding is what kept me going for the past 8 weeks, having experienced some of the most beautiful rides in my life, and the warmest hospitality. I also went on an exploration of nature here, as I followed a hiking-trail for about seven days along the coast in Southern Portugal. It was wonderful to be away from people for such a long time and to be so close with nature.

Ever since I arrived in Portugal I also have lived with zero money, receiving food from restaurants, snackbars and people. Sometimes you don’t even have to ask, and it just appears in front of you! I have been very greatfull to learn how traveling without money works. And I can assure you: it ain’t the easiest way, but sure it is the most rewarding.

Somewhere in Portugal

Hundred-and-fifty people and amazing fun in Paris two years ago, just over a hundred in Odesa last year (a lot harder to get to, see video) and non-stop hitching adventures. The ones gathered are hitchhikers, first-timers and hardcore travelers. Nice reunions of friends and contacts, of people who share-alike.

Both times I helped (un)organising the events. And this year again I do my part, setting up the website hitchgathering.org and helping out with communications and outreach.

I am not so much of a scouter and both last years the location of where to meet was pretty much left to the last minute, literally. And again for this year, we have no clue yet where to meet, except for “somewhere” in Portugal. Fantastic, and perfectly alligned with a hitchhiking attitude.

It ain’t easy for people to embark on quite a big trip to Portugal if they never hitched before, and especially if people have to hitch through Spain (which can be a bit of an adventure). So there is a challenge for many of us to inspire and motivate them.

Travel Without Papers

What’s the single most important thing to bring when traveling – except your sense of humour and (not) knowing where you’re going? A passport, right? Now that’s what I forgot before going to Berlin to attend a pre-meeting for the 2010 edition of the European Hitchgathering.

I traveled in Europe without identification before and was hold at the French-Spanish border (“open borders?”) while the border-officials were checking my story (which they couldn’t – but I got released anyhow). So I know traveling without papers can be done.

But Germany is another challenge. The highways are filled with German cops and they pull over anyone that looks suspicious: a foreign license-plate, an interesting looking cargo or your profile. And if you’re with no papers, you are asking to be taken in.

Traveling from The Netherlands makes you suspicious, for no other reason than that. So, when we drove across the border I was unthrilled to see dozens of police. One officer stood in front of us. A look into the car, a break of two seconds… and we were cleared. Sigh, take a breath.

We drive through and laugh. The price of the car, a German numberplate and the fact it had a female driver, might have helped.

Though danger wasn’t over yet! She drops me at a small parking-lot just before Osnabruck. It is cold and few cars. An hour passes when a police car enters the parking and drives slowly into my direction, holding still at 70 meters. I hold my breath and then think of the story I would make up, knowing that German police often interrogates hitchhikers and do check papers, when just then another driver opens its window, offering me a 350 km ride.

Home Sweet Roads

Ever since leaving Amsterdam to the 789 hitchhiking festival in the Ukraine, I didn’t stop traveling and I hitched around 8000 kilometer. I was ready for a new adventure though and wanted to give HitchBiking a try, not with a foldable bike but with the new mountain-bike that I was given in Barcelona.

My goal was to arrive in Antwerpen within 2 days, and after a short stay, to bike the last 160 kilometers to Amsterdam. The first two rides were perfect and I got close to the border with France at around six in the evening, leaving Barcelona at two in the afternoon.

So why not bike across the border, as I was on a not-so-good hitch-spot anyway? I assembled the bike, got the wheels together, the seat back up and my bags on the new bike-rack, that I had bought especially for this purpose. Just 20 meters on the road, the unfortunate happened. I was in shock looking at the front wheel axle split in two.

F***

What else to do then dump it right there and stick up the thumb again? It felt like abandoning ship but some hours later I was way into France -  tired and cold as the temperature had dropped almost 15 degrees since Barcelona. I waited 20 minutes for my Moroccan savior. He picked me up, gave me a place to sleep and fed me with breakfast before putting me back on the highway the next morning.

Three rides later I was 1000 kilometers further, on the ring of Brussels, in the middle of the highway; cars passing by in the dark with 120 kilometers an hour. It was cold and rainy. As Antwerpen was just 35 kilometers further all I could do was think back to my bike. It was as if my bike was telling me: if you leave me on the side of the road… please, enjoy my sweet revenge…

But my legs were not as broken as the bike wheels. After inner consultations, I headed back some kilometers towards the airport where I  got quickly picked up to receive a home-delivery. The nice coincidence? The driver, from the Basque countries, studied and lived in the same small city as I did in England, and we even slept in the same dorm…

Starday (the name of the bike), I do miss you.

Magic happens when you allow it

It has been 7 weeks since I left Amsterdam. I was planning to be on the road for some weeks only, but events led me to keep on going. And now I am back (again) in my old home-town: Barcelona.

I keep saying it, but it keeps amazing me how wonderful it is to hitch through Europe. This time things were a bit tougher than usual, I have been hitching through the night, had to sleep outside several times in parks and petrolstations, but every time there was a beautiful spot or people to help me out. And one night I even had a cat to accompany me.

Also, arriving at your next destination is even more wonderful when it takes you 3 or even 5 days to get there. From East Italy to Barcelona, with a stop-over in Avignon (France) to pick up a friend, took me that long. But somehow the rides and drivers, and how fluidly it moves into each other is simply beyond imagination… when you allow it to happen

Happy Hitching!

Camping on one of the most touristic hot-spots in Europe, waking up, looking up and seeing the Eiffel Tower enlightened by the beams of the early morning sun. The first European Hitchhiking Day was an amazing success.

I am generally not so easily thrilled by gatherings as they ordinarily tend to be much of the same, but this event was very remarkable. As a hitcher, to be among more than a hundred fellow-hitching-creatures is simply beyond imagining.

I hitched together with Julian, while we were followed by a camera-team from the Dutch news (video) for the first two rides.

We were dropped at the Eiffel Tower meeting point just 6 hours later. Yet another 6 hours further we were with a hundred people who all had hitched from different parts of Europe. We played games, exchanged stories, made music and danced into the night, while camping just in front of the Eiffel Tower. Aah, life. (more photos)

The Art of Hitchhiking

Hitchhike to Paris on the 8th of August

Hitchhiking is a way of life, a gateway to randomness, trust and sharing. My first experience as a hitchhiker was 12 years ago and I still remember the four rides I received from Nijmegen to Amsterdam.

Hitchhiking will never stop amazing or surprising. Every ride is different, every road is new and every driver has something else to share. And hitchhiking will always remain. Some weeks ago, at the SHE-conference on hospitality exchange,  I was lucky enough to host around 10 hitchhikers in my flat… 10 (!). Imagine the crazyness of that.

But now something really amazing is to take place as around 100 hitchhikers are gearing up to join the first European Hitchhiking Day ever; on the 8th of August hitchhikers will be coming from different parts of Europe and beyond with one common destination: Paris. Don’t miss it, if you have the chance!