Tuesday, 8 January 2013

Heading South(er)

My next destination was Grenoble.  I was to visit one of my oldest travel friends; Virginie, who I met in Texas in 2009.
I hitched there from Zurich in about three rides.  During the longest ride, music was playing on the radio and I sat back, satisfied with myself;
"Wow, I understand every word in this song.  I'm doing so well with my languages!"
Then I realised it was in English.

My time in Grenoble was great.  Virginie and her parents spoiled me with attentiveness, laughter, and great food.
One day, her mum took me to the hairdressers whilst Virginie was at work.  Nobody there could speak English, so explaining why I had a massive naturally grown dreadlock was impossible.  They all had a minute each looking at the state of my hair, then finally the hairdresser cut it straight off!
Virginie and I had some good nights out together, had a trip to the mountains, and even went to my first ice-hockey game!

I hitched to the Ashton's farm, after a quick stop in Lyon, and it took forever!  I started super early in the morning and was still going when it was dark.  Standing under a street lamp at a péage on the outskirts of Toulouse... no chance, I thought!  Yet, I was wrong again!  I was picked up by a man in a van heading to a town very close to the Ashton's farm.  He was a theatre and film actor, and most recently was the voice of a fox in a children's film.  Yes, I got to hear all the voices of cartoons that he had ever done, it was hilarious!  It was pitch black outside, so he insisted on taking a de-tour to take me all the way to the front door of the farm.  What a kind person!
Me and Squeeky!

I spent a good few days with my favourite English/French family (and animals).  The biggest shock was that Squeeky (the one day old baby chick we bought and hand-reared) had turned out to be a giant cockerel!

Katie dropped me off, this time with a little more confidence, on the road towards Spain and I was hitching again, this time towards Barcelona.  I went the long way round, apparently, and didn't touch a highway once, only country roads through the French and Spanish Alps.  This made me a little nervous a few times, as I sat on the side of the road in blistering heat with not one single car going past.  Well, sometimes there was one single car... lucky for me each one picked me up!
My longest ride was with a man called Johan.  He filled me with drinks and chocolates.  He shared his own travel stories with me.  We sang at the top of our voices to Spanish songs.  He really was the happiest man in the world.  When he dropped me off just outside Barcelona he gave me fifty euros; I refused with determination, but he wouldn't take no for an answer.  I felt like crying when he left but I can't really explain why.  It wasn't the money, it wasn't the act of giving it to me, it wasn't all the nice moments during the ride... it was his happiness and his desire to help me and make me feel happy.

I arrived in Barcelona a little later and saw an old woman begging on the street.  I gave her the fifty euros. She kissed my hand and pointed to the sky as though I was some angel from heaven, but I did it for no gratification.  That money was given to me by somebody who wanted to help me.  I felt like it would have better use in her hands.  I felt happy about it yes, but not because I felt like I had been kind but because I had passed on that happiness that Johan gave me.
My host in the city was Enric.  He was a great guy with a really good idea of what Couchsurfing is about.  We shared some nice meals and easy conversation and he even let me stay one more night even though he would be away working.
On my last day I joined in with a motorbike group heading to Tibidabo; the mountain with the famous cathedral at the top.  It was very nice, but the most enjoyable part for me was riding up and around!

Valencia was my next stop and I was hosted by a wonderful man named Adolfo.  He was brand new to Couchsurfing and had joined, first and foremost, to practise his English.  He took me out for tapas one night with his friends.  They all tried so hard to speak to me, and with that came the laughter and embarrassment for each others level of English.  One of his friend's was disabled; he had fallen over whilst skiing just a year before and was now paralysed from the neck down.  Adolfo explained how it affected them all so much, that this had happened to their best friend.  I could see they were all very strong people and even stronger friends; it was very inspiring to see.

Whilst strolling around nearby Adolfo's place one day, I found an animal circus being set up.  I looked around at everything; tigers in tiny cages, elephants with removed tusks, bulls and ostriches sharing cages... it was all awful to see.  I went to see the show on it's opening night and was even more horrified, especially when the tigers were frightened into place by the crack of a whip and the elephants were lead into standing on top of each other.

During the interval a man walked around the audience with a baby tiger in his arms.  He held it by it's collar and swung it around each time a new family wanted their photo taken with it.  FLASH! next. FLASH! next.... All I could think was how soul-destroying it would be to be born into the world and all you know is being thrown around by men and a big flash in your face every thirty seconds.
After the show I asked if I could have a job.  I thought it would be a good pursuit to join them and find out how it all really works, even find out what they think about what they are doing.  The answer was no, but it was worth a try!

I had no particular place to go next, but I had a hope that I could make it to the ferry to Morocco in one day.  How wrong was I?!  I hitched all day and into the night, making it only around 450km to some random town.  It's train station wasn't open during the night, so I went to the police station where they offered me a bench in a warm room.  Sounds... strange, but it was all innocent!

I set off early the next morning and every town that I made it to was impossible to hitch back out of.  The highways in Spain are so complicated!  I ran out of patience and decided to walk along the motorway with my sign sticking out.  After three hours of walking, a huge lorry came to a stop in the middle of the road.  I ran as fast as my blisters would allow me.  He was Moroccan and on the way home.  Luck, at last!
His place on the ferry was only for the following morning, but it was my seven month anniversary of this trip that day, so I decided to try to make it to Moroccan soil that night. Hitching on a Sunday night onto the ferry was practically impossible, so I paid the passenger fare.  That is cheating in my books, so it shows how desperately I wanted to get to Morocco for that day!

I made it! That initial idea turned into a plan, then turned into reality!  What a great feeling!

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