Atlas correspondent Eden Flaherty pushes on, hitchhiking his way out through France. Continued from Hitchhiking from Lisbon, Part 2.1: Le Camping-Car Magic
In Perpignan, we woke up on the floor of some student accommodation, in pain, tired and with the realization that it was already early afternoon. This was the first time I had tried couch-surfing on the trip, and we ended up staying in a small room with a pair of students from Angola. Despite their friendliness, it was a very awkward night as there was little interaction between us.
We headed to a local gas station and were almost immediately told it was a bad spot. A couple of very quick rides bounced us around the city, and we eventually made it to a toll station next to the road we wanted to be on.
It was here that a truck unexpectedly stopped. When traveling as a pair, this is unusual as it is against the law for a truck to carry more than one passenger, and the drivers face a pretty heavy fine if caught. We ended up spending the next few hours drifting around the south of France, from Montpellier, to Nimes, and eventually to Avignon, with a delivery of twenty tons of ice cream.
This ride did not take us very far on our journey, but was certainly interesting as a little snapshot of the life of truckers in Europe.The driver was from Romania, and told us about little tricks of the road, as well as his feelings on the whole thing. Here are some of the things you might learn when traveling by truck:
- They have literally everything they need within about a two-meters-squared space. This includes a fridge, two beds, cooking equipment, and even an espresso machine. The driver proudly explained that he cooked full meals right there using recipes gleaned from Facebook. He even made use of the large steps on the side of the truck to store potatoes and onions. Ingenious!
- The stereotype that truckers and prostitutes go hand in hand is absolutely true. He explained the differences in prostitution across most of the countries in Europe, as we listened somewhat awkwardly. At one point, we trundled past a reflective jacket draped over a chair on the side of the road; he explained that this was a sign that there were prostitutes staying in the camper tucked just around the corner. Whether this is true or not, I am not sure, but certainly interesting that it could be so out in the open.
- There is a prevalence of illegal trucking. Most of this seemed to involve driving over their allotted hours rather than transporting illicit goods. He gave no opinion on the ethical and legal implications of driving off meter, instead running us through the different prices you get. In case you fancy a career change, our driver’s top tip was to avoid Rotterdam and try and get a gig in Germany.
As well as giving us tips for the road, the driver flip-flopped between loving and hating his job the entire time. A conflicted individual no doubt, and this was summed up when he suddenly said: “I know no one, I have no friends, only the road. I am like a lion in a cage.” Clearly lamenting the loneliness of his job, he suddenly changed gears again and told us how he had everything he needed right there in his truck, and on the road.
Eventually, it was nearing evening and we were still over 250km away from Lyon. Unfortunately, the driver’s time ran out, and we were forced to pull over at a truck stop with very little through traffic, especially from cars. After looking about, we accepted the fact that we were going to be spending the night with the four Romanian truckers we had befriended. From my bag, I pulled the standard bread, cheese, and tomatoes. As I took out the wine I had carried all day, a cheer went up. The driver we had spent the day with ran off to get glasses from his cabin, and make us a bed for the night. But, just as we sat down and pulled the cork, a couple who my companion had spoken to earlier came up and offered us a ride to Lyon. Shocked, and without even managing to take a sip of wine (something to be relished at this point), we once again grabbed our bags and made a dash for the car.
One gas stop, two cars, and three hours later, we were in the centre of Lyon. After a hike through the old town, we made it to a hostel for the night. Surprised at actually having arrived, and wondering how our friends at the truck stop were doing, we grabbed a beer and headed to bed.