Hitchhiking from Lisbon, Part 2.1: Le Camping-Car Magic

If you have ever been in a camper van whilst the driver takes a hit on a bong going 100km an hour, and not feared for your life, you are a braver man than I.

Atlas correspondent Eden Flaherty pushes on, hitchhiking his way out of Valencia with the hopes of reaching France. Continued from Hitchhiking from Lisbon, Part 2: From Cuenca to Valencia

We headed out of Valencia on what has probably been the most cliched day of the trip so far. By this I mean we hit all of the things that you would expect from hitchhiking through Europe.

The day began with a quick bus ride out of Valencia to the small town of Sagunto. We then took to the narrow streets that headed out of town towards the motorway service station. These quickly turned from arid wasteland to cactus-lined paths, and finally we found ourselves wandering through the orange fields of Valencia, with the sound of crickets filling the air and the afternoon sun keeping us at a slower pace than we would have liked.

We got to the gas station after a harder than expected trek, and were greeted by a large chain link fence. Wandering the perimeter we eventually found a spot with a high rock and, in true hitchhiker style, threw our bags, then ourselves, over the top. It’s funny how your perspective on things quickly adapts to new surroundings or situations. We found ourselves discussing the relative qualities of the gas station we arrived at, from the size of the carpark to the variety of licence plates coming through.

(Note: If you decide to hitchhike through Europe, try to learn how to read the different licence plates. E for Spain, F for France, etc. It will help you immensely both in terms of the language to start with, and which rides are more likely to pick you up.)

We didn’t have to wait long before a behemoth of a campervan pulled up, and we got chatting to the young French couple driving it. They were heading to Perpignan, which was good enough for us, so we grabbed our bags and got in. Camper vans, however, are a slightly different experience to a normal ride, as these people are not only inviting you into their car, but also into their home, however temporary that might be.

With the five of us in the car only knowing a handful of words in each other’s languages, we got by with a strange mix of all of them, as well as hand gestures, and of course Google translate. But, this ride was to take us the roughly 600 kilometres across the French border, and seemed perfect.

When hitchhiking, you are expected to be able to entertain the driver with stories from your travels and your life, but there is also a very good chance that you will spend a large amount of your time listening to the stories of others. This means that you discover more than you usually would about people.

All in all, this was probably one of the more bizarre rides we had got so far.

The occupants when we entered were as follows: A young, shirtless man in a baseball cap, his even younger companion, and another girl with a vacant look and braces. They had the obligatory bongs, and a couple of them started taking hits as we pulled out of the station onto the highway.

Perhaps that should have been a warning sign, but I find that you learn to be a little more forgiving of people and their vices when you interact with so many, in such a short time.
The layout of the camper means that there is little to no interaction between you and the driver during the ride, so the only time we got to talk to the young couple was during the breaks. Luckily, what should have been a six-hour drive turned into a 12-hour drive, as we leapfrogged from one gas station to the next, drinking coffee and watching bongs go round. So, we had plenty of time to try and get to know them.

It transpired that the man of 24 was a business owner, and a stoner in the most classic way possible. You could tell that he took his hobby more seriously than his job, but this seemed to be working out for him. His companion was a girl of 17, and they told us happily that they were due to be married — and she believed she was pregnant.

Perhaps I am right, perhaps I am wrong, but I am certainly judgmental, and this scenario just didn’t sit well with either me or my companion. But rather than bail, we stayed with the ride, and throughout our journey discovered more and more. As I mentioned already, in a campervan you have the opportunity to sit in the back and kind of observe the people in the front, and as I did, all I saw was a young couple singing songs together, happy. I can’t help but believe this will be short-lived. But in that car, in that moment, that was happiness untouched.

These were probably the most hospitable people we had met so far; at one stop, they shared their lunch with us, at another they bought us coffee, and throughout the whole journey, they never stopped laughing or smiling (yes, you can put this down to the vast quantities of pot, but it’s worth noting that the majority of people weren’t smoking). There was even a moment when they offered us the last of the hot water to take a shower. I don’t know if this was a hint at us being on the road too long, but I like to think of it as simply a kind gesture.

As the time ticked by, it got to nearly 1am and we were still not even at the French border. But the curtains were closed, the lights dimmed, and we lay down to rest as the van shot along the highway. I was awoken at one point by the young fiancee preparing a bong, and as I watched with suspicion, I realised that this was going to be one of those unavoidable moments during hitchhiking that something really stupid is about to happen. Luckily, all unfolded without incident, but if you have ever been in the back of a camper whilst the driver takes a hit on a bong at 100km an hour and not feared for your life, you are a braver man than I.

I woke again when nearing Perpignan, and once more showing their hospitality, they offered us a bed to sleep in and even tried to buy us dinner. It was 6:30am, but we were alive and in France, and after a tour of the house, including the very impressive growroom we were to sleep next to, we finally got to bed.

Their kindness did not end there. In the morning, after chatting and smoking over a much needed coffee, they refused to let us leave without taking a sleeping bag for the colder French weather. With gifts, some reservations, but certainly new friends, we headed out to Montpellier. They give a good name to stoners everywhere, and certainly forced us to think about some of our preconceptions when it comes to the unorthodox.

Continue reading part 2.2

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