The alarm rang at 5 am and I had a shower (who knows when the next time will be) and then made one sandwich for the stomach and six for the road. I woke up
The alarm rang at 5 am and I had a shower (who knows when the next time will be) and then made one sandwich for the stomach and six for the road.
I woke up Thibaut and he gave me a sweater to keep me alive throughout those windy days that give stupid hitchhikers in middle Europe a hard time in March. Then he drove me to the highway entrance that his family in a joint discussion had concluded would be the most suitable for me. It was still completely dark at 6 am and I realized that sunrise was about one hour later here than in Germany. Which means that yesterday I hitchhiked 1/24 of the globe! (Which is quite easy to do on a Northern latitude.)
So in complete darkness I started thumbing at 6:20 with a sign saying “Suédois vers BORDEAUX”.
3 drivers stopped, all offering short rides. But since the accumulated intelligence of the Marguet family had stated this was the best place in Southern Paris I declined the rides. After 36 minutes, car number 68 insisted on knowing a better place so I got in. I got a little bit cautious from the guy being so eager to take me to a better place, but he looked too old to be dangerous. Or perhaps he had a gun to offer me? No, the only thing he had to offer was the place where A10 to Bordeaux separated itself from the other highways. “The police will take me if I stand here” I told him and felt that it was his moral responsibility to take me back where I was or to a better place now that he had said he would do so. “Ok, I’ll find a better place” he said, and drove down the autoroute.
Poor man; as you might now the autoroutes cost money in France, meaning that there aren’t as many entrances and exits on the way as in other countries. It was 30 kilometers to the next place, Rambouillet. On the way he asked if I had a phone so he could call his wife and tell that he was getting late, but I said I had none. It was a lie, but it costs me fortune to call with my cellphone outside Sweden and I didn’t want to spend a fortune on having him calling his wife telling her that he was on a roundtrip to Rambouillet to leave a hitchhiker that he had tried to put on the naked highway.
7:20 I stood at the entrance from Rambouillet. It was bright now, but cloudy, and I ate the chips that Thibaut had given me. A nice salty second breakfast. By the way, John Cleese has written a long and witty text in which he lectures Americans on how to speak proper English. I disagree with Cleese on the letter “U”. The English language is so full of unnecessary letters that just make it hard for everyone to spell it correctly. Abolishing the stupid U:s from words such as “color”, “favor” and “neighbor” is a good step towards a decent spelling system. I also disagree with that chips should be called “crisps”. The whole world says “chips” so Cleese has to live with it. What he calls “chips” is not worthy of being human food anyway. (Why did I hate french fries? I had them for dinner 15 years later and they’re the best!) Chips are not good food either, but at least it’s not called food. It’s called “snack” and now I ate it since it didn’t fit into my backpack.
After 48 cold minutes (less cold thanks to Thibaut’s sweater) car #56 stopped. It was a young man who was working at the next peage (pay station) and he took me there. It felt good to arrive at the peage with the blessing of one of it’s workers. But they never mind you staying there, as long as you stand before and not after the peage for some reason.
I don’t like standing before the peage though; you only get one lane of cars. So I stood after the peage and waved my thumb to everything the autoroute could offer. It was cloudy and 8:30. After 16 minutes car #441 stopped. It was a woman in a small truck. But after a short while she realized that she was not going in the Bordeaux direction, so she apologized and let me off. As I walked back towards the peage a highway maintenance van came slowly against me. When we met they stopped and told me to get inside. I complied and sat down on a pile of tires. When any kind of representatives of law and order approach me I always try to be as polite and obedient as possible. “Oh, I see. I am very sorry, I will not happen again.” It is a strategy that has served me well so far. After picking me up they started backing back to the peage. It took ages. Then they let me off there, telling me that I could stand before and not after the ticket machines. I wasn’t 100% sure they said that though, so to be on the safe side I stood after the peage. Then the van came back, they rolled down the window and explained it to me again. Now I was 100% sure.
I stood by the left-most ticket-machine since I didn’t want to stand in the middle of the traffic and I thought that perhaps the autoroute gentlemen wouldn’t appreciate that either. Only trucks passed in the left-most lane, and quite a few of them were Spanish, so I decided it was time for a longshot and subsituted my old unreadable Bordeaux-sign for a new clear “SPAIN”-sign. I choose the English spelling since it had fewer (and thus bigger) letters, since I was uncertain of the French and Spanish spellings, and since an English sign would make me look like a foreigner and people are always nicer to foreigners than to their own nationals (as long as the foreigners don’t try to live in their country).
After a short time a trucker told me to get up. He had so much stuff in his shotgun seat that I had trouble getting in so he assisted me by pulling in my backpack. Unfortunately I had attached my open bag of chips to the backpack so now he got all of it over himself and all over his cabin. I apologized and struggled to close the door behind me to allow him to continue through the peage without frustrating truckers piling up behind us. My cellphone rang and it was Thibaut who called to check on me just as I covered a trucker with his chips the way winter covers a sprouce with snow. I didn’t answer the call since I had to apologize to Tiego and sort out where he was going and where I was going and you know those crucial sentences that begin every ride. He was going to Portugal. And I could join him all the way. Excellent! Lucky day lucky day!
Hello Spain! Goodbye Spain!
Tiego spent the following 10 or so kilometers or so throwing chips out of the window. I apologized repeatedly. Then he stopped at a service area to have breakfast. I decided to take a short walk and he told me to back within an hour. An hour for breakfast? Yes, Tiego wasn’t the kind of person that grabs just anything and throws it down his stomach. Nope, he neatly laid a tablecloth on the flat area of the dashboard and put up bread, butter and ham. He turned on the gas stove (that had prevented me from entering smoothly) and cooked himself a yummy breakfast soup. I have never seen a trucker so careful about his breakfast.
As I walked around randomly on the service area Thibaut called again to see how things were going. “I don’t believe you” he said. Yup, Paris-Portugal one way, for a total price of one bag of chips. That’s cheap. Cheaps. Chreasps.
After breakfast we set off for Spain. I just leaned back and enjoyed life. Tiego was 23 years old. Two years ago he had had a job which took him to various places in Europe, including one sweet summer month in Nyköping, Sweden. The job had something to do with “bricks”. With the intersection of our different vocabularies we couldn’t come closer to the true nature of his job in Nyköping than “bricks”. But he had had a good time in Sweden. Including a girlfriend to whom he gave me the number and asked me to call her when I came back and say “Hi! Tiego sends you his greetings!”. I will call her. But it will be strange.
Somewhere before Bordeaux he left the autoroute and went on a local road through cities. I supposed that he was going to load something but he didn’t. We passed a place full of cute hitchhikers. They were a big group of boys and girls, standing in pairs with some 10 meters in between and with very big signs on which they had written so much stuff in different colors that it was hard to get it all. But they were going to Bordeaux. I waved to them through the window but later I thought that I should have shown them my “SPAIN”-sign, both to say: “Hi I’m a hitchhiker too and it works!” and to show them that a sign has to be quite concentrated in its information since the driver only has one second to read it.
He stopped at a parking area in a beautiful little forest with disgusting toilets in it. I helped him refill the water tank while he cooked lunch. Tiego isn’t the kind of trucker that just grabs something edible and throws it down his stomach. No, he turned on the gas stove and started cooking a pork stew. It took the whole day. We stood for ages staring at the pot, hypnotized by the steam coming out from an ingenious little spinning cylinder. When the stew was finally done he put it aside and started boiling the rice. I saw the sun hang low on the sky and was wondering if it was possible to reach Porto in time if travelling with this Portuguese gourmet. When the rice was done – or rather when it was almost done – Tiego had also got a little bit stressed and we ate half the stew and all the rice in about 7 minutes, then we did the dishes, folded the table and the table cloth and jumped up in the truck to continue to Portugal.
At 8 pm he had to finish driving for the day. Trucks usually have to rest at night. That’s why you should sometimes leave your truck well before sunset if you want to travel fast. But although this trucker was cooking five-star-meals now and then, I felt he was a safer bet than going out in the unknown waving the thumb again. And it was a very cozy parking spot, with lots of truckers getting ready for the night. We sat chatting for a while (to the extent we could), painted a sign saying “Porto” (since he wasn’t going to that particular city) and then we brushed our teeth and went to bed. He brought his valuables into his bed and told me to do the same, saying that there were highway burglars out there, boldly breaking into truck cabins at night. So I put my game next to my pillow, aka Thibaut’s sweater. I tried to balance my glasses on my bed light but they fell down into his bed. “Ey my friend” he said and gave them back.