Monday, 30 July 2012

Another side to Voldemort

Every single time I hitchhike I am completely surprised when somebody stops for me, as if it has never happened before.  I grab my backpack and run towards the vehicle and for those few seconds I'm filled with excitement, wonder, freedom.

That's one good reason to do it. Another one is that you can travel everywhere for free. But the biggest reason is the people you meet along the way. The risk you feel is completely flattened when you are met with the generosity and kindness of this stranger who owes you nothing but wants to help you with everything.


After being settled on the farm for so long, this risk felt a little bigger than usual. Five minutes after Katie and Luc dropped me off, my faith was restored and I was running those few steps towards my first ride north.

It was a French guy (I can't remember his name). He spoke a little English but when I tried to explain that I had been working on a farm he had no idea what I was saying. So the noises came out:
"Baaa"
"Oink oink"
"Naaayy"
Then I ran out of noises for the animals they actually had so I did a "Mooo!" just to amuse him.

He dropped me at a péage outside Toulouse and was so worried about me crossing the motorway that he walked me across himself.  I stood with my "Paris" sign for almost two hours in the sweltering sun without one person stopping. I sat down under a tree to get cool then a woman came up to me with a baguette and some meat all wrapped up. I said thankyou a hundred times then before she had even left a man approached with a map showing that he was heading north. Who knew that sitting under a tree would get me places? Apparently it does!

I got comfortable in his lorry, ate my food and then found out his name... Voldemort.
"Voldemort??!!" I shouted.
"Nein, Voldemar." He replied
Sounded the same to me but apparently it had no T.
He was Polish. So we spoke German. I know that makes no sense, but that's what happened.

For the rest of the day we very slowly headed north, taking massive detours into countryside towns to pick up various loads. We were a little team; he drove and I map-read.

At 8pm we stopped for the night at a service station. We sat at a picnic bench drinking beer whilst he cooked dinner. Voldemar's speciality: asparagus wrapped in ham with creamy vegetable soup on top. That night he let me sleep on his bed in his truck whilst he slept in the passenger seat.

The alarm woke us at 5am and in no time at all we were on the road again, making much more distance than the day before. Every station that we stopped at, Voldemar would ask other lorry drives if they were going further north than he was. Not any lorry drivers though, he said he only trusted the Polish to take care of me. By mid-afternoon he had found somebody going to Belgium: his name was Gregor. He was young, energetic, funny, and spoke perfect English. The radio played full-blast for the entire trip and we sang along at the top of our voices.  At 11pm we stopped at McDonalds and he bought us two cheeseburgers each.

An hour or so later, Gregor had found a replacement driver... Polish of course; he had strict instructions from Voldemar to give me to only the Polish.  His name was Paul and he was heading into the middle of the Netherlands.  By this time i was hitching in the middle of the night for the first time in my life, and I felt perfectly fine.

Paul's phone rang and it was Voldemar with a message for me:
"Tell her I'm so proud of her for getting so far."
I'll tell you what; in the Harry Potter books they completely miss out how caring Voldemort is don't they?!"

All the trucks usually stop driving at night so Paul couldn't find anyone going to Amsterdam.  We stopped at a service station and he didn't dare to leave me alone.  I told him that I had done this a million times before all around the world.  That made him smile but didn't reassure him enough, so he stood with me until I found my next ride.  Two dutch businessmen heading towards Rotterdam.  A short ride later I was now hitching in a taxi into the centre of Rotterdam.  (Now there's one to add onto my list of achievements!)

It was 3:30am and I was just 75km from Amsterdam.  So of course, this is where it all went wrong!  I stood for about three hours in one spot, only a taxi offering to take me for eighty Euros, and a car full of teenagers stopping to tell me they hated Amsterdam.  I started to walk, following the signs towards the motorway and after about three miles it became apparent that I had been stood in the wrong place that entire time.  For the majority of the walk (bare in mind I was carrying 18kg worth of my life on my back), I was toying back and forth with the idea of stealing one of the many bikes that weren't locked up.
"Right, just get the next one you see."
"Ok not that one, but definitely the next one."
I'm proud to say that my morals got in the way of stealing, no matter how much I was hurting.

Just to level out the good/bad balance in the world, I illegally hitched on a motorway slip road.  It took literally two seconds for someone to stop for me: a tiny Chinese couple.  I spoke to them for almost five minutes then fell straight to sleep.  I woke up some time later with the man quietly saying:
"Ok we here now!"
I apologised for falling asleep and they just giggled in reply.

I had finally made it!
The longest journey I have made so far in one go: over 1295km in 46 hours.
High five for me!
And for Voldemar!