The old band back together.
"No fella (I imagine he said fella) it's legal, it's OK, €50 and we'll be back in 5 minutes, my brother will give you the keys, what one do you want?" The kid said, pointing at the brand new cars parked behind a wired fence.
€50? Bit pricey. Call it heat-induced paranoia, but I had a suspicion that the wire-cutters in his friend's bag, mixed with the other kid looking around every 10 seconds meant that this wasn't going to be a Ford approved transaction. The best kind of transaction.
A couple of years back whilst living in Spain, I was hanging out with two friends, Mike and Tanya, in the cheap Erasmus haven of Montaditos bar. As a long night was coming to an end, we were discussing how we needed to travel more and make the most of our location. 1 hour and 12 luke-warm cervezas later, it was decided that the next morning we would try to hitch hike from our temporary home of Madrid and head towards Morocco, seeing how far we could travel in the few weeks Mike had left. (He wasn't terminal, he had to go back for exams). (He died 3 days after*).
I'd never hitch-hiked before, so I was interested to find out how it worked. I had heard a lot of stories from hitch-hikers over the years. Some that made it sound like the best thing in the world, others that made out that you would certainly be kidnapped by at least 4 truckers a day. I was excited to find out which one was true. I'd brought a bag of frozen peas with me just incase the latter was more frequent than anticipated.
We began by getting a gigantic multi-seat box car, or bus, to the outskirts of Madrid, and rummaging through recycling bins (ladies, don't shove) to try and source some form of cardboard to make a sign with. After about 20 minutes of doing this in various bins we decided to ask in a shop instead, as by this time we looked quite homeless, and started getting the classic "you poor souls" stares from some older people at a cafe.
After a few pitiful broken Spanish attempts at asking and speaking in English slightly louder than usual, the shop owner understood what we were doing and happily gave us some cardboard to scribble our direction on, and even advised us where the best place was to begin our journey.
We got to our start point by using good old HitchWiki, which at that time had guided us perfectly to the best spot to hitch south. On later occasions, it turned out to be a lying harlet of a site and had once got us stuck in a ill-placed shrub hanging above a petrol station.
We got our (severed) thumbs (on a stick) out at the slip-road which led onto the motorway, and Tanya took the sign to attract attention. For some unknown reason, more cars seemed to stop when Tanya held up the sign and walked a few meters in front of us, as opposed to when me and Mike tried. I think something about gorging on bargain meats and having a post skip smell lingering around wasn't the most appealing thing for a driver. Surreal.
Something about leaping in the back of a vehicle with someone you've only known for 2 seconds is a bit daunting. But daunting in a good way. I found that this was one of the best ways to meet people that I'd ever experienced. You can't really escape conversation when you're sitting in someones car, so you are thrown into a friend-like scenario.
Knowing that your time with the driver is very limited means that you can talk about anything without feeling like you have to 'ease into' risky conversation. Chances are, if they've picked you up, they're in the mood to talk about something more than the weather or how well his tyres grip the tarmac.
The man who picked us up, a musician (oooh!), whose name I can't remember, was driving about 20 minutes down the motorway to see his parents in a nearby Pueblo. He kindly offered us a lift and we took it. Any form of distance covered was a success, so we were thrilled to have moved on from our slip-road squat* so quickly.
I was a little nervous about jumping in the car, but as we entered I was informed by Mike that he always carried a flick knife in his right sock, so that put me at ease. I should point out that he never used it for anything else other than cutting up sausage, cheese and cardboard, and the occasional drifter when his 'urges' kicked in. Bless him.
When we got dropped of it wasn't the most ideal location. In fact as we were soon to learn, we weren't even allowed to be standing there.
After hours of pacing up and down the motorway like spritely young pan-handlers, a car in the distance finally stopped for us. 'Finally!' we thought, surely this is going to be our cradle back into civilisation.
No (In Spanish).
To be continued...
*Mike is still alive and well, and is now overseeing the construction of the 3rd largest book-binding store in Moscow. Kudos.
*A former alias I used to go by during some of my darkest years. The DVDs still haunt me.
Photos by Tanya Kartash