Thumbing it up

The French army usher us on to a large, air-conditioned tour bus. They are speaking French so fast that we cannot follow it and listening to Britney Spears on the radio at the same time. The camouflaged uniforms look out of place against the plush seats.

Our phrase book, full of such useful questions as “can you prepare a meal without shellfish?” and (inexplicably) “have you seen a group of Australians around here?” has not prepared us for this moment.

One of them turns, and smiles weakly at us. Another sits with his hands on the wheel, stony-eyed.

“Bordeaux?” He asks.

I nod.

“Bordeaux, s’il vous plait”.

No, we are not under military arrest; that would be far too reasonable. We are hitch-hiking to Morocco. My flatmates, when I informed them that rather than revising for finals this Easter I would be doing a sponsored hitch to North Africa, fixed me with a questioning look.

Hitchhiking gets a lot of bad press. Urban legend has it as a sure-fire way to get dismembered, and every summer the press report a lurid variety of attacks. And yes, it is risky; for every car that stops, you must make a snap judgement about the sanity and intent of the driver. But it is also incredibly fun. People generally pick up hitchers if they have hitched themselves and they will go out of their way to help you.

One woman in France gave us her home phone number and invited us to spend the night with her if we had trouble getting a lift; she promised that if we gave her a ring, she’d come back and pick us up. We were almost willing the drivers not to stop so that we could go and stay with Catherine when a small red car pulled up, three hours after we began waving frantically at the sparse traffic outside Le Mans. This was Dorothea, a jazz singer from Tours.

She was just one in a line of brilliant lifts; there was the French executive, blasting Dolly Parton out of his sleek BMW, who dropped us off in the red light district of the nearest town. We wandered through a maze of X-rated video stores and neon SHOWGIRLS signs with our rucksacks and cardboard signs.

We were picked up in an industrial estate in Bayonne by an artist who is just beginning to paint again after having two small girls; she drove us down to the Spanish border and told us her life story in broken English. We crossed the Spanish border with two English hippies in their van full of peacock feathers and amethyst crystals. Their dog Ferra sat on my lap as we went through border control.

Days of hitching are long and full of chances; in Tordesillas we sat by the roadside for the best part of four hours, baking in the sun and watching the empty road with tired eyes. We were miles out of our way, getting close to the Portuguese border instead of heading south to Algeciras, but the sudden, wild elation of a car pulling in erased hours of aching and waiting. As well as lifts and secrets, we found little hidden nooks of places, far from the tourist trail and opportunistically discovered.

Just inside the Spanish border, two Basque separatists offered to drop us either at the next service station, or a nearby beach they knew. Unsurprisingly, we opted for the beach and spent the afternoon taking naps in the sand and paddling. The next day we found ourselves in Burgos, a beautiful medieval city ringed with stone walls. After that was Bilbao, which we reached as the sun was going down and, after checking our bags at a one-star hotel (we had become, by this time, connoisseurs of cheap rooms and shared toilets) explored the city at night along the river, lit into an artificial twilight.

We reached the southern tip of Spain after a week on the road; in the ferry port it actually felt unnatural to pay for transport. We had travelled over 1,135 miles on good will and luck, and raised about £700 between us for LINK Community Development.

So who picks up hitch-hikers? Well, the answer to that question is everyone from the French army to English hippies; mothers, bohemians, businessmen, students.

People like us.

### Warwick Hitch: What’s it about?

The Charity Hitch Hike is organised by Link Community Development, a registered charity (Charity Number: 1048007) in the UK. Link Community Development’s works are based mainly in Ghana, Uganda, Malawi, South Africa and Ethiopia.

The organisation believes that by giving children a chance to education, it is possible that they can escape from the vicious cycle of poverty. The Hitch Hike is Link’s largest fundraising event in the UK. This year, they aim to raise £350,000 from the event alone to enable Link to sustain its development in Africa.

Hitching the entire 1,600 mile journey, to the coast of an entirely different continent, Africa, is a true feat of achievement, an unforgettable experience that will always remain in your heart.

The shortest Morocco hitch ever took lasted just 36 hours, the fewest number of lifts is one, the most money ever raised by a single hitcher was £3000 and celebrities accosted by hitchers include Ewan McGregor who was filming movie ‘Black Hawke Down’ and Argentinian footballer Juan Roman Riquelme who gave two hitchers a lift in his Porsche!

A total of 90 participants from Warwick took part in the event last year.


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