Tuesday, 31 July 2012

Hitch hiking and various other pastimes #10

..I devoured the old Dutch couples sandwiches and was even offered hot tea (at a picnic?!) after which we were on our way again. We had exited the foothills of the Northern Pyrenees and were now in a more arid, hilly climate, where I spotted a multitude of vultures drifting upwards on the warm air upsurge caused by a small cluster of hills.

Hermoet and Ria weren't quite as glad as I was to see these magnificent birds but exclaimed none the less. After a relatively peaceful and uneventful drive, we reached the last services before Burgos, where our paths parted ways.

It was a warm, humid afternoon, and I quickly gathered my belongings and sought the exit, where I was in clear view of any cars approaching, with a completely empty car park at my thumbing disposal. Only 3 cars had passed before a white BMW sports car wound down its window, revealing Ysia, a sunglass wearing, short business man, returning to Madrid after doing some form of audio translating work near Burgos.

I clambered into the low car and off we sped, with air con blasting and Homer Simpson directing us from Ysia's iPhone. It was my first lift in Spain and it couldn't have gone any better, we talked at length about many subjects, mainly in Spanish, with my confidence building as the car surged on towards the capital.

Luckily he also spoke English quite well, so if I was lost for words, he would help me out and vice versa. We drove through desert-like terrain, until the road squeezed between two mountains, where snow still lay, and there was Madrid, its few skyscrapers pointing the way to the centre with many kilometres of suburbs sprawled out below them.

Even though Ysia was a Madrileno, he confessed to not even barely knowing the city, such was its vastness. Consequently we drove around the ring road fruitlessly looking for a service station. He had already taken me all this way and was now headed in the opposite direction to his house, so I jumped out at the next petrol station I saw, without a clue where I was in relation to Madrid or to where I wanted to be.

I flew my sign for Andalucia half heartedly, knowing it was more than a long shot. This is where I met the kind young man who gave me the money for the metro...

So the gig with Erick was interesting to put it one way, it turned out to be some slightly overly happy Christian R&B soul cover gig, which would explain Ericks kindness earlier in the day. But I had a place to be, with some new people and some overpriced drinks, while they played covers of Wonderwall with a Christian twist.

All the religiousness was admittedly a bit much for me, with every other lyric being 'Believe', so I believed I would leave after the gig and turn down an offer to sleep on a band-members couch. And out into the busy night I burst, the streets being even more crowded than in the daylight. I walked past the plethora of prostitutes and the hoards of homeless, toward the train station, Atocha, where I thought I might be able to get a few hours sleep before getting the train as early as possible.

Atocha was shut though, Madrid's homeless problem means that it would become their hotel had it have been open through the night. And it was indeed a homeless person who came over and started talking to me, some fellow from Portugal, who was drunk. I was in a strange mood, so I went along with it, he said he'd take me to the bus station, but it was he wanted a ticket, which I wasn't prepared to do. I told my name was Raul for no reason, then left him and got directions to the bus station, a good 25 minutes walk from the train station.

I was hoping it might be open so I could sleep a bit, but most of the homeless people had the same idea, however it didn't open til 5. I found this out from David, a long haired chef from Granada, who was waiting to get the metro to the airport and fly to Seoul, where was going to be living for a year.

As we had 3 hours to pass, me and David had a great conversation, delving into everything, including travel (he had lived all over the world, including various places in London), drugs and how strange a place Madrid is. He shared his hashish and we had a very pleasant if not slightly chilly time.

Come 5 o clock, we exchanged emails and entered the bus station along with the majority of Madrids unemployed and homeless. I gave in to the beggars again and gave some guys nearly 4 Euros, most of which he plunged immediately into a Bandit. I ate churros, avoided a horrible little pervert in the toilets and got the hell out of Madrid for only 16 Euros...

Monday, 30 July 2012

Hitch hiking and various other pastimes #9

..They had managed to get a ride with a business man heading South, at first it seemed as if he was willing to go the 100km out of his was to take us to Toulouse, however we eventually found out it must have been a lost in translation affair, as he was headed towards Biarritz. Lauren was a peculiarly interesting guy who sold bus seats internationally and spoke 4 languages including Basque. The two lads from Yorkshire were lovely chaps, and it was a delight to have a bit of company.

We were dropped off with some haste in a small petrol station on the outskirts of Bordeaux, where we flew signs for Toulouse and Spain to no avail. We did however receive half a dozen tuna sandwiches and some bottles of water from a car full of young sportsmen. Strange positive experiences like this happen often when travelling, whether this is because you see more places and are therefore statistically more likely to find them or whether the positive nature of your travels attracts positive actions of others, I do not know.

After 5 or 6 hours, I willing to try get a few hours sleep round the back of the petrol station but we decided to stick it out for a bit longer. A Romanian coach pulled in and having nothing to lose, we gave it a shot but the person we thought was in charge said no.

In a peculiar turn of events though, an old guy asked us where we were going etc in Spanish and I told him as best I could, he then went to ask the driver for us again, and this time he accepted. One of my new found companions had his doubts about boarding the coach at that time of night, but I figured it couldn't be any worse than spending the night there, so we stuffed our backpacks in the trailer and followed the co-driver onto the packed coach.

I squeezed myself in next to an old Romanian guy who smelled just like the land I assumed he worked on. Soil and onions.

We got dropped off about 10km from Bayonne, in a moderately large service station with some quite exquisite seating areas amongst the tall pine trees and sandy ground under foot. We gathered out belongings and decided it was we camp out for the night and try hitch in the morning. By the time we had set up the tent and nestled down in our respective sleeping bags it was past 3 o clock and setting the alarm for half 6 was always a bit ambitious. We slept in in till around 8.

I awoke to yet another misty morning, unable to see the service station on the opposite side of the road, but we were in good spirits, despite the fact that we all knew getting a ride with all 3 of us was highly unlikely. After an hour or so trying the sign for Spain near the exit, they decided to go try on the forecourt, whereas I stuck out the sign technique for a bit longer.

It wasn't long though till I returned to the petrol station, feeling slightly glum about being so close to Spain but not being able to get there. At one point I was considering trying to walk to the coast and follow it down as far as I could, but I was eventually glad that I didn't make that rash decision, as only 15 minutes later I was cruising down the motorway in the back of a Dutch Lexus with Hermoet and Maria, who were on their way to an apartment in the Algarve.

Luckily James and Tom didn't hesitate in telling me to take the ride, for which I was very grateful. My Dutch came in handy when asking them for a lift as they didn't speak much English and probably wouldn't have taken me otherwise.

They were a typical older Dutch couple, very neat, precise and by-the-book, but we held some good conversations, as much as you can between a young hitch hiker and an elderly couple on a comfortably arranged holiday. They must have warmed to me however, because instead of dropping me off at the border as I had asked, they were willing to take me another 200km into the North of Spain, near to Burgos, where I was going to try head directly South, direction Madrid.

To them, I may have represented a substitute child or grandchild, as they treated me with parental kindness from the start, possibly due to me speaking their language. They had prepared alot of food, all neat and in it's own special place in the hamper..I have found the Dutch people love their organisation on both a small and larger scale, an inherent trait of a country where you live shoulder to shoulder. Biscuits, krentebollen, juice drinks were all passed to my back seat on the journey.

As if this wasn't enough, they insisted we stop somewhere for a picnic, and naturally I obliged. I returned from the toilet at the services in the middle of nowhere, somewhere in Northern Spain and found a veritable feast laid out on the marble seating area, picnic blanket and all...

Wednesday, 18 July 2012

Hitch hiking and various other pastimes #8

..When I popped my head out of the dripping tent, the sun was just coming up over the trees, but it wasn't going to dry my tent any time soon, so I packed up and headed back to the roundabout. It is definitely a strange feeling; waking up and within 10 minutes standing at the side of the road trying to mentally coax people into stopping for you.

45 minutes passed quickly with the rush hour traffic zooming on by, white van men peering, other trying to pretend I don't exist. Cristophe was the person who stopped for me and took me for 20 minutes down the road to a large industrial estate with a lot of traffic passing through; it appeared to be a sublime spot, however and hour and a half of nothing but the cold wind chilling me proved otherwise.

I went to the petrol station to eat and had chosen a lovely breakfast when I realised I didn't know or couldn't remember my pin number. Things were going from bad to worse and my rumbling stomach wasn't helping matters, so polished off the emergency chocolate and headed back to my hitching spot. Suddenly a car stopped and out stepped Benoit, a friendly police officer who lived in Valenciennes but was going to work in Paris for 4 days. He was extremely kind-hearted and eager to talk, just what I needed after quite a miserable 12 or so hours.

He enquired as to whether I was hungry or thirsty,  to which I honestly replied that I was both, upon hearing this he offered me 2 slices de pommes and a can of drink. Bliss! Although I was hesitant to accept, he would have it no other way. We managed to hold a decent and varied conversation for the 300 km to Paris, where he dropped me at a huge service station. I grabbed some waste cardboard and scribbled a sign for Bordeaux as Benoit had suggested. I positioned myself at the exit and sure enough, the size of the services led to me acquiring a lift within 3-4 minutes.

A small German lady wandered over and said she could take me as far as Saints, a small place 75 km  north of Bordeaux. Naturally I obliged, and before long Angela and I were negotiating the Parisian ring road and consequently the French countryside past Tours, a beautiful white, pointy city, past Poitiers and over numerous large rivers, the names of which escape me. Angela was kind enough to let me try and sleep in the back of her van but I could only manage a paltry 25 minutes before I was back to ogling at the wondrous countryside.

After some confusion as to where Angela was headed and where I wanted to go, I got out at a small service station somewhere north of Bordeaux. As I waved Angela off, I heard a familiar accent drift over the parking lot. Two lads got out of a car and we exchanged pleasantries, they were from Leeds Uni and were doing the organised charity hitch hike to Morocco, coincidentally they had arrived at exactly the same time in the same services. I splashed out on some more overpriced long life plastic food and hadn't even finished the squidgy baguette before they shouted me over..

Monday, 16 July 2012

Hitch hiking and various other pastimes #7

..Backtracking to my arrival in Calais, after an uneventful crossing in mostly mist and then arriving in the port to be greeted by beaming sun on the beach. I stepped off the ferry feeling about hitching down towards Bordeaux and after some minor deliberation, found what seemed to be 'the' hitching spot, judging by numerous scrawled messages on the back of the nearest lamppost.

I had what I though were some good signs to get me out of the port area, but even though the traffic was thick, both with truckers, holiday-makers and locals, not a single soul made a small gesture of kindness until a couple of hours later. Even then, the young French man who had picked me up only took me 5 minutes down the motorway, as he was going elsewhere thought I might be able to hitch from the hard shoulder.

He stopped the car in the divide between the junctions, with traffic passing at 70 miles an hour on either side. I manoeuvred myself onto the side of the highway heading back around past Calais, spotting a sign for Rennes and getting my hopes up. Naturally nobody stopped, as was to be expected, so I drudged for a mile or so on the hard shoulder and reached a roundabout on the outskirts of Calais which looked quite promising, however yet again it was proving to be nigh on impossible.

I left the roundabout and trekked down the side of the highway for another 2 miles approximately, with truckers beeping and policemen staring. Eventually I ended up in the dead centre of Calais and was losing faith in escaping this town by nightfall. I checked at the train station for a ticket to Bordeaux, but left as soon as I found out it was above 130 Euros.

After eating the majority of my emergency chocolate, and as I walked through the desolated, run-down industrial part of town, I felt an extreme sense of loneliness, the one you only experience abroad in an unfamiliar environment. I decided I would have to return to my hitching spot, after walking a huge circle of around 10 miles, but my luck was still running low. The sun was going down slowly and it seemed probable that I would be sleeping under the flyover or in my tent, which was still wet from the Dover dew.

Just as I was about to throw in the proverbial towel, a kind-hearted lady called Veronique puller over and I hopped in without waiting to hear where she was headed, I simply wanted to get out of that place. She was, in actual fact, headed to a city called Valenciennes, alot more Easterly than I would have liked but hitchers can't be choosers sometimes.

In my broken French we managed some reasonable conversation, she was a very normal lady, a teacher in Calais and hadn't picked up a hitcher before as I understood. I was very grateful for the ride and got that lovely feeling of movement after being stationary for quite some time. To have the miles flying by so quickly in moderate heat and comfort is something I won't take for granted again, that is for sure.

Once again it was hard to communicate a good place to part ways and I ended up at a tiny service station somewhere near Valenciennes and a small town called Orchies. After an hour or so my initial enthusiasm wore off, as it does when you get a ride but are stuck because of said ride. The sun set spectacularly over the small truck stop and it got cold quickly. I ate some nuts and raisins for a bit of a morale boost. That didn't last long though and like the flow of traffic my chances of getting out of the petrol station were dwindling.

It was probably getting on for 10 o'clock by this point and my luck shifted, a lady who spoke very good English said she could take me a little bit further down the road, only as far Orchies, but I jumped at the opportunity. She probably only gave me a lift out of pity, which is understandable, I probably looked quite a state by this point.

I exited at a roundabout just off the main road and bode her farewell and thanks, then flew a sign for the A1/A2 towards Paris. It was late though and it was doubtful I would get a ride. I decided to set up my tent just off the roundabout, thankful to have some relatively flat ground after Dover's incredible slant. It was cold and damp which made for another uncomfortable nights sleep, where once again I probably only got 3 hours or so.

Saturday, 14 July 2012

Hitch hiking and various other pastimes #6

..As it was getting darker by the second, I set up camp hastily next to a small tree on top of the great white cliffs. The terrain wasn't good but it would have to do. The slant and the grassy mounds made for an uncomfortable nights sleep, with the cold accompanying the evils to amount in only an hour or two of sleep.

I awoke groggily and with a sore neck at 6.45, packed up my soaking tent with numb fingers and trotted along the edge of the cliffs in a thick mist that barely allowed me to see the harbour.

'I now found myself suddenly in Madrid, a ridiculously large city, I was lost before I even entered the place. The past two days have been a complete blur, everything has flown past and it looks like tomorrow I will be getting a train to Granada, at a price of 69 Euros, which is very steep for someone on a budget like mine, even though I keep giving change to people in various places. Some would say I waste but I hope I was genuinely helping them and that in the long run, some form of Karmic presence might return my naivety/kindness. However, if there is anywhere in the world one would think Karma is lacking or any spirituality at all, it would in a sprawling metropolis like one I find myself in.

It has been quite a while since I have been in a city, let alone a foreign one and it is without a doubt very frightening and a definite shock to my overly tired senses. So many people! All of them rushing about their lives, it seems quite the opposite to the intimate nature of hitch-hiking. As I write, I break a smile to the people who stare at my intrepid scribbling, perched scruffily atop my backpack. My smiles are yet to be returned. While I am in the city however, I must describe on smile that was returned, after my unplanned arrival in a petrol station on the south west of this place. I stood wearily at the exit of a petrol station, without a clue where I was headed or an inkling as to which direction I wanted.

A passing driver pointed out my blatant mistake of flying a sign for Granada/Andalucia when facing into the city centre. My defence is that tiredness and stupidity are a match made in heaven. Me standing cluelessly on the outskirts of the city makes me wonder and gawp at how many people are going about their lives here and I cannot get my head around it one bit. It makes me think of a song by and artist my girlfriend showed me.. "it's so hard to go into the city (this bit was true for me by itself), because you want to say hello to everybody". For example a women with a skateboard just walked past, presumably for her son or possibly daughter, and I wanted to tell her she had made a good choice, but by the time I looked back up to pay a small compliment, she was gone.

This leads me all to explain why I am sitting on my bag in front of a graffiti'd wall in a strange district of the city. Well, next to the trendy shops which crowd my views and near the grates leading up from the subway, spewing out hot air on which discarded wrappers float up, up, up, there is a small bar called 'Bar Intruso', outside which there is a small group forming, and I can only presume that these are the anticipatories for Erick, the guy who helped me get here and is singing in said bar tonight.

I can only hope he hasn't been and gone already, this however, seems unlikely, as Madrilenos prefer to start late with their nightlife. In the haste of things I seem to have left out a vital fact, the young man who pointed out my cartographic mistake earlier was enough to lend me 1.50 for the metro, where I met Erick. Luckily, I also seem to be in a moderately nice part of the city, with most of the passers by being trendy young people or slightly older people with bags full of designer goods. And so, as darkness slowly creeps up on me in the Spanish capital, I must bag up my journal and scribble my down from the past 2 days another time. It could well be on the train tomorrow...'

Friday, 13 July 2012

Hitch hiking and various other pastimes #5

..I tried the roundabout and the carriageway into Maidstone, predictably to no avail. I thought things might take a turn for the better at my next spot of choice, at the top of the road going out of Maidstone towards the large roundabout. I had a good sign, which was written on a discarded wine box whilst munching my selection of nuts, seeds and raisins, and what I thought was a decent spot. My insticts were wrong though and I seemed to get more blank stares in this spot than anywhere else.

I gave up and wandered into the meadow behind me, where I explored an abandoned house before heading back to the roundabout. Cursing after a half full energy drink emptied its remaining contents onto my shoe and trouser leg, I had had enough. I started the arduous slog in what was a very warm day, towards Maidstone centre. A passing cyclist remarked that it was a 2 or so mile walk. And a very unpleasant one at that.

I was headed towards Maidstone East railway station, where I was determined to catch a train to the coast. After some deliberation, I purchased the ticket to Dover for £17. Looking back I would have liked to have asked for directions to a nearby service station but at the time I was just desperate to make it to the fabled white cliffs. The train changed at Ashford International and then passed through Folkestone with some lovely views of the 3 and 4 storey coastal houses and glimpses of the cliffs that were to come, accompanying my reading of Patrick Leigh fermor as he crusied down the Rhine amidst castles. Upon arrival in Dover Priory, I headed towards the town centre and a supermarket to gather some supplies. A pear, a nectarine, 1 baguette, some biscuits and a tub of chicken spread contributed towards distilling my hunger.

Another 25 minute walk took me to the ferry terminal and just before I got there, I spotted a fellow hitch-hiker. An instant bond formed even though I had no sign or otherwise to suggest I was thumbing...A scouser. He had no money for the ferry, the poor guy had been there since half 10 this morning. By this time it was half past 5. I bode him good luck and we parted ways. When I arrived at the travel-service centre I was dog tired and sat down to rest and eat my homemade sandwich.

I had noticed that the majority of people I have met on my 2 day journey down to Kent have asked me if I am meeting friends over in Spain and are generally shocked when they recieve a negative response to their query. Could it be that a childhood filled with moving from house to house, from country to country, making friends and then abruptly ending the friendship has made me more of a solitary soul than others? I think this is very possible, although I do not seek solice, on the contrary I very much enjoy others' company. Having said that, I met a young lad from Dover who had just purchased a one-way ticket to Calais, for the next departure and got talking to him. I couldn't help but overhear his conversation with a friend of his who had turned up and had tried to persuade him to stay in Dover and asking about what was up with him, how come he was leaving.

I later found out that he had the notion that there was nothing here for him in Dover and he had packed some Lucozade, a suit and 300 quid and was headed to France to try get a job. He was a kind-hearted young chap, perhaps not the sharpest knife in the drawer but I felt for him and commiserated with his circumstances. It was good to see somebody throwing caution to the wind and trying something new. Even though he might be a bit naive, I hope he will manage and I offered him the advice to try head to Italy as he spoke the language to a certain degree.

He thanked me for my advice and we exclaimed that we may meet in Calais the following day. Him and the Warwick charity-hitchers left to board the 18.30 crossing, leaving me alone once again. I asked the lady behind the desk whether I had to purchase a ticket now and whether the services were open through the night. her response was no to both, so I headed out to find a suitable place to pitch my tent, climbing up past the flyover to the top of the spectacular cliffs as the sun was setting rapidly behind Dover Castle, lighting the clouds with a fiery orange glow. I took a few pictures and continued my search..

Thursday, 12 July 2012

Hitch hiking and various other pastimes #4

Sean was a small, gingery truck-driver who had also travelled a fair when he was younger and was eager to tell me the in's and out's of trucking. It appeared as if my lack of success in the truck-parks could very well be the dreaded insurance and the fact that the lorries are on the road 8+ hours a day makes the insurance iffy to start with...adding more people to the equation skews it even more.

Feeling on top of the world after finally getting out of the ghastly South Mimms services, I invested in an overpriced tuna sandwich and wolfed it down in the sun at Thurrock services. I walked past and greeted a Scottish guy who was hitching somewhere up north, but his reaction seemed semi-agitated so I left him to it, wandered further down the exit road and stood on the middle divider.

There were hoards of vehicles heading past, both lorries and cars, and once again I was in top spirits. Peculiar thoughts and passing comments are a source of constant amusement whilst trying to win a ride, but I find my prejudices still surfacing, presuming certain people will most certainly not give me a ride and raising my hopes when a 'suitable candidate' drives past. It seemed a lot of truckers were willing to take me, however they were also going the wrong way unfortunately. A young guy in a Mercedes saloon drove past me on the other side of the road and asked me where I was headed, however he was going direction Milton Keynes. Not long after that he drove past again on my side of the road and said the best he could do was to pick me up in an hour and a half, after he'd been to his office. He explained his eagerness to help me out; he himself had hitch hiked throughout Canada a couple of years ago..

A definite link between all the generous souls who have picked me up is their previous travel experience and consequently their love of travel. It would seem the openness of voyaging and the new experiences it brings, makes individuals more aware, responsive and willing to help, perhaps having experienced the generosity and hospitality of other aids this cause. Either way I was very grateful to all those who gave me a seat in what is usually a private space.

After the young guy sped off with my thanks having been said, not 2 minutes later, an older gentleman in a red Mercedes, a real luxury car, pulled over and said he was going to Maidstone via the M20. I obliged, he popped the trunk and I slid down and into a lovely interior of leather and polished wood. The incredibly reclined seat in which I found myself instantly seemed to soothe any pain I might have from carrying my backpack. Phillip, my chauffeur as it were, was delivering said car to Maidstone, he then proceeded to tell me that often when he has delivered a car and needs to get to his next destination, he becomes a hitch hiker himself, albeit a slightly more professional, business-like one. Using the special registration plate which was secured in the window, people recognised him as a professional driver and extend their generosity his way.

It was an absolute please to sit in this beautiful modern piece of German engineering, hearing it tick through the automatic gearbox and listening to Phillip's tales of his days working as a photographer on a cruise ship all over the world and how different hitch-hiking is in Africa (Botswana to be specific). It seems a friend of his managed to pay off a mini-bus purely by picking up passengers on his way to work for 2 years.

Phillip was following his sat-nav and before we knew it, we had arrived at the junction where the M20 towards Dover turned East whereas Phil was headed into Maidstone itself. Had I have known this at the time I would have asked to join him. He hastily dropped me at the side of the dual carriageway and I walked back up towards the M20 on ramp, sign in hand and feeling optimistic. However upon arrival at said junction it was quite clear that it was a terrible thumbing spot, being on a bend with no place to pull over and vehicles travelling over 50mph. After a scramble uphill to get to this spot, I stuck it out for a short while before throwing in the towel and searching for a better spot.

Wednesday, 11 July 2012

Hitch hiking and various other pastimes #3

Tuesday 20th March 2012 (start of spring)

After a chaotic nights sleep, perhaps having got 3 hours of shuteye I arose at 5 am to try catch the first truckers leaving. No such luck however, and by half past 7 I was back at the main building, where I met Steve the Tramp again and his mysterious blue eyed dog. He told me his story, how he'd had his home and possessions taken from him and had hitched to Wales and was now heading back to Essex. He enquired as to how long I'd been on the road and my paltry one day seemed particularly meagre compared to his month long stint. I gave him the £2 change I had, he would need it more than me, I guessed.

It got to roundabout 10am and Steve seemed to have left, whereas the Hong-Kong/Warwick charity hitch-hikers were still at that cursed place. I began to lose my patience at this point. I knew that hitch-hiking is a game of chance but to be stuck in a grey industrial looking, bleak, bland service station isn't quite what I had in mind when I set off. Although, saying that, the majority of my time has been spent in such services.

I took a walk towards the enormous motorway roundabout looking for a town or something but it was dual carriageways and motorways all around. To add to my despair, I waited for a bus to take me to some obscure little train station but even that didn't show up.

The comedy hitching factor was also attempted; using a large wooden square I wrote 'Dover M20, Anywhere but here', whilst stood on a stretch of busy industrial road. A fair few people acknowledged me and bode their apologies which almost came as a relief amongst the ignorant scowls of so many a British person.

I then went to try acquire some hot water for tea and if that failed I would have been at the end of my tether...However, things didn't work out too bad in the end. I didn't go for my free hot water, instead I had a surge of optimism, which I had predicted could be the case due to letting some angst out in these pages. So I went to sit directly outside the entrance to the main building with my M20/M25 Dover signs, feeling a tad sorry for myself, and within a few minutes a friendly guy said he could take me a bit further down the M25.

Hitch hiking and various other pastimes #2

It seems Tony also slipped my mind, telling me and enquiring about recent events, and about how some people are just 'mental' and you can never tell who. His prophesized homeless lady also turned up and sat next to me as I was engrossed in Patrick Leigh Fermor's epic wandering through the lowlands of Europe.

She sat for a good 15 minutes cracking peanuts staring solemnly at me. The Thai lady who seemed to run the place kindly filled my water bottle while I bought an overpriced tea to keep me slightly warm when the automatic doors created draft. It was possible that I appeared homeless or that I was a runaway and she offered me discounts on their foodstuffs. But I had to decline, to take advantage is surely against the 'way of the road'. I didnt want to be overly gluttonous if I could help it at all. I also believe Starbucks tea-bags are made of plastic.

A phonecall with Sam while I am still in the UK was a very welcome surprise and I told her I was safe, fed and moderately warm. It was strange to talk to her, knowing I won't see her for 4 months or so. I was sure she would cope fine, I know I would have be welcoming a break from myself.

Although I was grateful for not having to brave the night in my tent just yet, the service station definitely made for undesirable sleeping conditions; drafty, bright and noisy, with a smattering of semi-suspicious persons dotted around. I had been advised to head to the lorry-park around 5.30am in order to try catch them filling up on fuel and then hopefully heading for mainland Europe.

I let Hanna (my first arranged CouchSurf host) in Calais know via text that I wouldnt be arriving that night, but recieved no reply. I decided to try acquire a lift further South, towards Bordeaux.

Tuesday, 10 July 2012

Hitch hiking and various other pastimes #1

Monday 19th March 2012

Got up early after my last night of comfort and security at home. Said goodbye to my parents and took my mums homemade bag, which will hopefully come in handy at some point.
Took a steady walk up to Woolley Edge services, passing primary school children and their fussy parents. An elderly man who was making the most of the deceptively cold days sunshine by cleaning his car-boot wished me well and I felt uplifted and positive about the journey I was starting.

After scoping out various spots and asking some truck-drivers, I stood right at the very bottom close to the motorway on-ramp. On the back of a nearby lamp-post I saw previous hitchers who had left their mark with various dates, names and symbols. It was at this point that Dave stopped for me, in a small white van and said he could take me to Derby, which I gladly accepted, having spent 2 or so hours at that place. Dave was a project manager for some form of sewage operation, but was retiring in May, after which he had a cruise to San Francisco and Alaska booked. He was a nice chap and well travelled. Was told that the 'Dover' sign nearly put him off. Luckily not.

Dave dropped me just outside of Derby, at what I think were called Trowell services and having said what he did, I was going to change my sign to London, but before I even had the chance to salvage some more cardboard, a small grey corsa had stopped opposite me. Once inside the small vehicle, I'd like to say I got talking to Alison (or Alexandra in Spanish apparently) from Little Hampton (between Brighton and Plymouth) but I think I hardly muttered a word. The quirky revenue and customs lady talked non-stop about ex-boyfriends, travels, formula 1 racing and other topics until we reached Toddington services, just before the M25.

It was lovely weather still, although slightly and I was enjoying my first taste of proper solo travels. I had been trying 3 different points at the services but to no avail. Enquiring throughout the truck-stop also proved fruitless. After an hour, possibly slightly longer, a polite young chap picked me up. His names escapes me...Mark or Paul. He said he had picked me up after seeing me stood there for a while. He was, like Alison, going home after seeing his mother over the weekend. He told me he was a contractor for security at various events, gigs etc. and was a knowledgeable guy with some good views. He had travelled through Europe in a camper van and had camped at service stations in France without a problem, which is promising. After some confusion with directions, maps and sat-navs, he realised he was headed the wrong way and dropped me off at the first services, those being the South Mimms services.

Having spent a good three hours there, I had met some students from Hong-Kong studying at Warwick University, doing a charity hitch-hike to Croatia, a true hobo who was as polite as you like, he went to sleep round the back of the services with his dog. I didn't know his name yet but his demeanour was quite amazing, I was very happy to have met a true roads-person. I decided to try seek him out later, see what stories he had and if he was willing to share them. I gave in to hunger after nibbling chocolaty things all day, and, this being a motorway services, had to settle for overpriced fast-food. However there was another surprise in store, albeit minor. The friendly Eastern European lady at KFC (where I have vowed never to eat again after an encounter with an eye-opening book) gave me free chips with my burger and departed to the greasy backroom after telling me that good people get good things. I thanked her and devoured the small greasy package, while noting how strange it is to see 3 uniformed police officers eating chicken and playing on their iPhones. Peculiar indeed.