I’ll start this blog off with a bang: by submitting various tales from my hitch-hiking adventures. But first, a brief summary of my evolution as a hitch-hiker.
Over fifteen years ago, I began my lengthy career as a vagabond wanderer, in the most conventional way possible. I toted around Lonely Planet guidebooks and followed them almost religiously. I first traveled internationally through Southeast Asia, a region which offers profoundly affordable and convenient travel options, and therefore rarely was placed in situations where hitching was necessary. Throughout my childhood I’d been warned, either directly or indirectly, of the dangers arousing from the endeavor, and found myself ambivalent about the prospect.
I simply didn’t need to do it, wanted to avoid the presumed dangers, was too impatient to wait for long periods for a ride I could simply walk to the nearest transit station and catch for a few bucks.
It wasn’t until halfway through my year-plus in Asia that I hitched for the first time, and that only aroused out of necessity and dumb chance. I was on a crowded inter-city bus, plodding through the less inhabited regions of Southern China, somewhere between Kunming and the Laos border, when the bus groaned and stalled, slowed to a halt, quite literally in the middle of nowhere. All passengers were summoned off the bus, and stood bewildered beside the barren highway.
There were four other foreigners on the bus: an Italian, an Israeli, a South African, a Brit, and myself – a broad mix of Western blood in the nether regions of China. We gathered together, wondering what the deal was. The driver was explaining the problem to the Chinese passengers, but none of us Westerners spoke a word of Chinese. Our attempts to inquire about our fate fell on deaf ears, until finally a fellow passenger who spoke some semblance of beginners’ English notified us that the bus was apparently beyond repair and we’d have to wait for a replacement to happen by and pick us up. The Chinese man explained that this could literally take several days.
After several hours our initially enthusiastic chats grew old. Even the deck of playing cards that the Israeli produced, which we played sitting in a haphazard circle on the side of the road, eventually bored us all. Passengers, both men and women, walked off into the surrounding forest if they needed to use the bathroom. The Chinese seemed less rattled than we were, as if such an outcome were a familiar part of their daily lives. But even they started to grow restless after awhile.
There were a few ramshackle huts scattered near the ailing bus, and after awhile a man emerged from one with a scraggly-looking mutt. We watched as he unceremoniously clobbered the dog hard in the head with a sharp stone. We all heard the sickening thud as its’ skull was cracked. The dog began convulsing, but was still whimpering and shaking. It was clearly still alive as the villager threw it over a live fire and began cooking it alive.
Our Chinese acquaintances took no notice of the fiasco, but us Westerners were appalled. We approached the man and began gesturing, trying to inquire why he hadn’t killed the beast before throwing it on the grill. The villager laughed nonchalantly at our frantic gestures, more engrossed in us than we were of our interpretation of his ‘brutal act’. A few of us took out cameras and began taking photos of the scene.
Chinaman smiled and posed in comical fashion, as the doomed dog continued to cook alive.
I heard its’ skin crackle in the fire, and its’ eyeballs began to turn white. The cook then began skinning the dog, as it laid on the open fire.
This incident strengthened our resolve to get the fuck out of there. One of my Western cohorts, an accomplished hitch-hiker, suggested we attempt the deed. I was in no mood to argue or reveal to the others my inexperience at hitching. I simply stood by as they stuck out their thumbs in a confident manner. I sat and observed the activity, taking note, unaware of the hitcher I myself would become in the coming years.
It didn’t take long. A large flatbed truck, its’ cargo bay mostly vacant, soon pulled over and waved us to hop on. I remember the adrenaline rush as I climbed the huge wheels and maneuvered first my luggage, then myself, over the flimsy wooden railing and onto the flatbed. We were soon off, into the country. We waved goodbye to our fellow passengers, and even the man who was still cooking the dog. Some of them, including the cook, waved back at us.
I loved that first hitch; the wind blowing my face. I was free to stand up and move freely around the spacious truck bed. I had a 360 degree view of the passing scenery. We continued our pleasant conversations and ended up spending several days together in the village we eventually ended up in, several hours later. It was a good hitch and now, nearly two decades after the event, I still remember it clearly.
However, in the coming years I still largely refrained from hitching. It wasn’t until Europe that I became a regular hitch-hiker. My subsequent experiences through Europe, Africa, Russia,
Central and Southeast Asia became some of the most exciting parts of my travels.
What I like about hitch-hiking is that the feeling of absolute freedom is more prominent, even though I’m well aware I’m at the full mercy of someone picking me up and taking me where I want to go.
I’m not constrained by time. If I want to get off, anywhere, I just have to ask.
I’ve met some interesting characters, too many to count. Among them some hard-core hitch-hikers far more accomplished than I, who’ve boasted they’ve never had a single bad experience on their resume. I’ve always found these claims very hard to believe.
Hiking experience is different every time.
Perhaps these hitchers just have a more optimistic outlook than me, and their definition of ‘negative experience’ varies far from my own. Or maybe they have really been that lucky. Regardless, I’ve found my own ‘bad’ experiences have been good in their own right, as I’ve survived them and now have good stories to share. Come on back in the coming days to hear some of these tales.
To be continued…
Attachment: China