Adiós Comfort Zone – The Highs and Lows of hitchhiking through Europeby Jakob Horvat, November 22nd 2016, Lisbon / Portugal
Eleven days after we had started our adventure in Vienna we arrived in Lisbon yesterday. Mission „Hitchhiking to Portugal“ accomplished. This first episode of the journey was tough and intense. It made us feel extreme emotions, taught us important lessons and feels so amazing in the end.
This first episode of my world trip has added a new meaning of traveling to me. I have realized on previous journeys that traveling is not so much about where I go but rather about the people I meet and the emotions I feel along the way. These emotions are diverse though and spread along a broad spectrum between extremes. And never have I felt such a variety of extreme emotions in such a short period of time. It feels like a new world has opened up that has been covered in the more or less predictable certainty of my comfort zone before. And although I´m a big fan of stepping out of this zone as often as possible, hitchhiking from Vienna to Lisbon was another level.
And suddenly strangers become friends. Regis invited us to his home for lunch and Ricard on the rocks.
What is hitchhiking through Europe about?
It´s about waking up in a new bed almost every day not knowing in which one you will fall asleep at night. Sometimes in a city you didn´t even know existed four hours before, such as Badajoz very close to the Portuguese border. Traveling this way is about meeting new people almost every single hour, even if I don´t feel like it. It´s about chatting up strangers in the most friendly way possible even though I feel like shit. It´s about dealing with plenty of rejections building up confidence with every single one. We have asked approximately two hundred people for rides and had been passed by a couple of thousand cars while holding cardboards on crossroads, dancing on roundabouts, sitting in the grass of airport exits and standing on highway-on-ramps. In eleven days we have covered 3.100 kilometers thanks to the kindness and open minds of 28 people picking us up. Some helped us a lot with bringing us from a remote place to the next busy gas station on the highway. Some others have spent hours with us in the car. Some became friends.
Trying to get out of Barcelona. Trying hard!
This is what hitchhiking is about
One of them is Regis Carel. He is working as a hotel manager and was just on his way home from a conference in Marseille to his family in Perpignan close to the spanish border. Regis´ job is to make people happy. He loves that. „It´s a show though. I am not always happy, you know? But bad mood is something for home“, he says. „You better have an understanding wife then“, I responded. We will soon get to know her. Regis invites us to his home in Perpignan. While the sun beats through the windshield I can´t stop being amazed about what is just happening. The sea to the left, a lake with a mix of salt- and freshwater to the right. Far away on the horizon the Pyrenees are completing the landscape as the warm autumn air is slowly giving way to colder temperatures. The beauty of the moment leaves me speechless. The car is filling up with the smell of warm baguettes Regis just bought at a bakery close to his home. Soon the ice cubes are cracking in the glasses on Regis´ terrace as he is filling them up with water and Ricard, the Ouzo of southern France. Un petit aperitif while his wife is cooking lunch for us. The heart warmth of Regis fascinates me. Two hours ago he was a stranger.
Hitchhiking is not always that amazing though
The hardest part is getting out of a city centre to a gas station on the highway. You can´t walk there unless you are suffering from serious suicidal tendencies. Hitchwiki.org is the Wikipedia for hitchhikers and usually tells you where the best spots are to leave a city from. Usually. Hitchhiking on early mornings of a weekday when people go to work is much easier than on weekends. After three nights in Barcelona we have decided to hit the road early at 6 am. It was a Saturday though. And we didn´t consider that people in Spain are not as accessible and open to strangers as elsewhere.
The hardest day by far was just about to begin!
When I was writing „Valencia“ on a cardboard in the Metro, I attracted the attention of a guy sitting next to me: „You´re going to Valencia? I´m having a BlaBlaCar going there right now. If you wanna join me, there are still two seats available. It´s twenty Euro.“ BlaBlaCar is the organized way of hitchhiking, you pay for the rides. „No, thank you, but we try it that way“, I said while pointing on the cardboard smiling. Seriously, that would have been too easy. Soon I should regret this answer. At the break of dawn we were motivated, greeting the first sunbeams of the day with a dance. There is something magic about old school Hip Hop music in the morning while standing on the on-ramp of a highway to Tarragona, southwest from Barcelona. We wanted to travel far today, make it even to Cordoba – may the hitchhiking force be with us. It was not! Seven hours later we have covered only forty kilometers. And got stucked for the second time of the day in a small town called Sitges. My happy smile has faded, my mood became worse and worse. And for the first time on this trip I seriously questioned the meaning of it all. Why the hell are we doing this? Why didn´t we take this BlaBlaCar to Valencia when we had the chance to? Why making life harder than necessary? After one hour on this roundabout in Sitges I just wanted to burn this fucking cardboard. I turned around and saw Martin sitting cross-legged on the asphalt, leaning onto a traffic sign. I wasn´t sure whether he was meditating or sleeping, but for sure he was not working on getting us a ride. That is it, I thought. That´s enough. I got angry about Martin, my dear companion, who was just dealing with this challenging situation in his own way. I got upset about the circumstances I couldn´t change. I got desperate about things not going the way I expected it. And I got irritated about myself not being able to deal with this in a more constructive way.
We took a break
In a bar around the corner we ordered bocadillos and beer. I don´t remember the last time I was resting my head on my arms on a bar. Sober. Soon I noticed the positive energy radiated by three ladies, probably in their early fifties. Their kindness was cheering us up, their smiles were stunning. The husband of one of them asked if we needed help with directions. We did. And wrote new destinations on new cardboards.
Three baristas and their great energy helped us out of our deepest low.
When suddenly Martin said something that I will never forget again:
„You know, Jakob, I just had to think about Dany, the truck driver from Romania who took you to Italy. He is working so hard that he won´t see his family until Christmas. Many people are struggling in life. We are doing quite well actually. Look what we are able to do here“, he said, pointing at our backpacks.
My eyes began to fill with tears
At the same time my smile became brighter and brighter. I had to laugh. First restrained, then loudly. I could feel goosebumps running down my body and tears running down my cheeks. I suddenly felt a kind of energy arising which overwhelmed me in the most amazing way. And so felt Martin. That was a magic moment. We both had this powerful insight which instantly made us feel grateful and humble. It hasn´t been often in my life that I felt so happy. Feeling such extreme emotions not only requires to leave my comfort zone. It requires to leave it far behind.
Soon we were standing on the roundabout of Sitges again. And got picked up after only ten minutes. When we got lost again two hours later our mood was slightly different:
The “Hitchhiker´s Temple” on a random roundabout somewhere close to Tarragona.
70 kilometers in 11 hours. No, hitchhiking is not always funny!
The first steps have been taken
We´ll take a break from traveling now for a couple of days and explore Lisbon. Soon we will start searching for sailors in Cascais who are willing to take us on their boats to cross the Atlantic Ocean. When I´m thinking about what lies ahead of us I´m tempted to believe that what we´ve been through so far was just the warmup.
The journey so far
Vienna – Graz (Leandro´s couch)
Graz – Milano („Hostel Ostello Bello Grande“ and Paolo´s couch)
Milano – Nice („Hostel Smith“)
Nice – Marseille (Bogdan´s couch)
Marseille – Barcelona (Mareia´s, Nuria´s and Lore´s couch)
Barcelona – Valencia („Home backpacker Hostel“)
Valencia – Badajoz (Hotel „Condedu”)
Badajoz – Lisbon (Lukas´ and Eva´s couch)
Money spent in twelve days
Accomodation: 96 Euro
Transportation: 50 Euro (public transport and two BlaBlaCars in Spain – yes, we cheated!)
Drinks, food and pleasure: 350 Euro