I find it difficult to have this conversation with most people. Just say the word ‘hitchhiking’ and people will start screaming out their opinions – mostly hardcore, unchangeable, bone-deep opinions.
You get the yes-folk and you get the hell-no-folk. There doesn’t seem to be an in between option here.
Let me just say that I understand the argument from both sides. I like to think that I’m a yes-but-proceed-with-caution type. We’ve all been brought up being told not to talk to strangers and to under no circumstances get into that van, even if the creepy dude offers you candy. I understand that we do unfortunately live in a crime-riddled society. But when did people start believing that every person surrounding us has less than honourable intentions? Somehow it has become hardwired into our brains that thou shall not trust thou neighbours. I guess for the most part this keeps us from doing stupid shit, so that’s good. But it also keeps us from doing some pretty epic stuff as well, so that’s not so good.
I’m pretty stoked to have an open mind that allows me to engage in back-and-forth’s. I don’t mind my opinions being changed – in fact, I think it’s necessary. If you had to ask me a few years ago if I would consider hitchhiking my immediate reaction would have been to suggest seeking some professional help, because you sir are clearly insane. Ask me now though and I’m like yeah cool, when? Where are we going? Let’s make a plan! I think this way now because of my own personal experience with a thumb and an open road. But, unfortunately, I am pretty much the only person in my family and circle of friends holding the yay-hitchhiking philosophy. Everyone else now thinks that I am the insane one. I don’t mind so much what they think of me, I would just appreciate to be able to talk to them about my experiences without a lecture on safety. I know about safety. I’m not daft. I keep my wits about me. I just choose to believe that strangers are capable of holding good intentions in mind rather than a pick-axe under their seat and fantasies of dismembering me. If I pick up on a creepy pick-axe vibe though, you better believe that I will be out of that situation in no time. Thanks but no thanks, you’re not heading in my direction. Sayonara, señor. And I probably wouldn’t do it alone. I like to think of myself as a rather adventurous soul, but I’m not that brave. I definitely believe in safety in numbers. So, don’t worry mom – I’ll make sure to always have a sidekick. And some pepper spray just in case. You can breathe now.
Anyway, without further adieu, I would like to share a bit about my first hitchhiking experience. This one 48-hour period was the game changer for me. It was completely spontaneous, probably not very well thought out, and oh so epic! Let’s set the scene: I was out enjoying a cold one on a Thursday night when my phone buzzes. I had just received a text message informing me that my new passport was ready for collection. The excitement! The possibilities! I wanted to cross a border right there and then just so I could get my first stamp in the little green book. So, it was suggested by my drinking companion that we do just that. Not right then of course, but that weekend. I thought it was a joke. Where would we get the money for a cross-country trip? Drinking companion pipes up, “we don’t need money, we can hitchhike”. And just like that it was decided. Early Saturday morning we would set off for Namibia (the closest bordering country) with our thumbs, our passports, and a tent.
We would need to travel 679km to the border on the Saturday and then 679km back by the Sunday evening, relying solely on the good graces of strangers, in order to make it into work bright eyed and bushy tailed on Monday morning. Challenge accepted!
If I recall correctly we caught a total of 14 rides over the weekend, with the longest wait in between rides lasting probably around 2 hours. I was blown away by the variety of characters that stopped for us; ranging from an elderly couple, to college students, to truck drivers, to a police officer, to a reggae-pumping dude that had just finished a cycle race. Shout out to all of you guys for trusting us enough to let us into your cars/bakkies/trucks! (Trust goes both ways in this game.) Each of these lovely humans had one thing in common – they claimed to have never stopped for a hitchhiker before. We must have been giving off a good vibe, I suppose. Or we were just peaking people’s curiosity. Either way, we made it across the border and into Namibia in time to set up camp, reward ourselves with a well-deserved beer and go for a dip in the Orange River, all before the sun set on Day 1 of Mission-Get-Passport-Stamped. Early the next morning we packed up and headed for the Border Post, hoping to catch our first ride home from there. As we were sitting down to a breakfast of nuts and dried fruit, wondering if we would make it back home that day, a truck driver offered us a ride. And so we set off back to Cape Town. We made it back into town (after a few moments of “dude, we’re probably not going to make it, time to let work know”) as the sun was setting on Day 2 of Mission-Get-Passport-Stamped. And, by the way, the whole weekend cost less than R100 each. The only occasion that money changed hands was for biltong and a camping spot. Mission accomplished!
But then, low and behold, my just-went-on-an-adventure bubble of happiness was shattered by a bombardment of “what the hell were you thinking” and “you could have died”. There were even a few tears shed. I love my people for caring about me so much, really I do. But a high-five and a listening ear as I enthusiastically retold my story would have been nice.
So, what I ultimately want to know is this: what is the general consensus out there? Where have people hitchhiked before – with either smooth sailing or a few hiccups along the way? I don’t see the world through rose-tinted glasses; I know that bad things do happen. This is why I’m on a hunt for some real-life stories like my own. Helpful hints, places to avoid, funny stories – I want them all!
Hitchhiking – Yay or Nay?