Guest post: From sea to city: hitch-hiking in France by Joel Hindson (teaisfortravel)
In this week’s guest post… new contributor Joel Hindson is hitch-hiking in France and is on the arduous road to Paris. So let us join him, as he encounters a variety of weird and wonderful companions and demonstrates the worth of persistence and refusing to give up against all the odds…
Sunlight hadn’t yet touched the French port town of Roscoff. A salty sea breeze was thinning the dense mist, revealing blue slate roofs, granite façades and wooden crates of pink onions dotting the roadsides. Passing up Roscoff’s charms for a 250 mile adventure of tarmac roads and lifeless service stations, I was perched on a rubble verge, the D769 rolled out in front and behind, eagerly offering myself and my cardboard sign, Vers Paris SVP :), to every passing car.
My first lift was a well-meaner. Middle-aged Philippe, with his bald crown and substantial gut, was adamant that I would be jumped by thugs the moment I reached Rennes. Touched by his kindness, I decided to humour him and look for tickets at the train station. He parked, spent 15 minutes fathoming the complexities of the ticket machine and ultimately offered to pay for me. €69 – no chance. Money wasn’t the reason that I was hitchhiking across France.
We said our bon chances and, still engulfed in the exhaust fumes of his rusting Ford, I turned to the traffic of Mourlaix for salvation. Rain-clouds were streaming in from the English Channel. For the next two hours, drizzle dampened my mood as car after indifferent car passed me by. Wagging fingers, stern looks, apologetic smiles, laughing couples. I imagined how I appeared to those on the other side of the wind-shields: naïvely optimistic, stupid and careless, dripping wet and wind-beaten but still grinning from ear to ear.
A compact, old Peugeot skidded to a halt, still on the roundabout. Horns blaring, I heaved up my bag and dashed over to the unwinding window.
In a flurry of cigarette smoke, fast-food debris, and car doors that didn’t shut, I soon found myself on the other side of town, on an even lonelier stretch of road. Emoline and Jacques were students – a hitchhiker’s best friend. “I cannot take you far,” Jacques had apologised, “but I hitchhike a lot – I take you to a better place… Yes, yes, hitchhiking in France is very good – easy! Don’t worry about the door”.
Emoline climbed out with me, and we waved goodbye as Jacques disappeared round the bend. Emoline, it appeared, was also mid-hitchhike and her route took her past Paris! Naturally, we joined forces and, with a female on my team, the lifts came flooding in.
In the back of Hélène’s sparkling yellow Mini Cooper, on the road to Rennes, I struggled to keep my eyes open. Watching her neatly made-up face and tight brown bun in the rear-view mirror, I couldn’t help but notice how much her immaculate little car and its tidy interior was a reflection of herself. An avid Anglophile, her favourite topic was the English language, followed closely by our culture and people. I kept my opinions to myself and fought back the tide of drowsiness as the soporific heat was cranked up.
Soon, we were once again trudging along dual carriageways and scurrying across motorway on-ramps. Hélène was long gone, and we stood on a vast roundabout. A burning sun had crept up on us and, as we stood holding our sign in the mid-afternoon heat, I counted no less than five hitchhikers coming and going at the same spot!
One happy soul disembarked from his driver’s car, and trotted back into Rennes. Another solo female hitchhiker, with a flowery dress and vivid red hair, settled down on the roadside to eat her lunch, giving us thirty minutes to get a lift before butting in – strict hitchhiking protocol. Then, to our dismay, a pair of burly men with full beards, weary eyes and lethal sunburn arrived. They had been trying to hitch to Paris nearby for 24 hours, with no luck and no tent. Dragging their feet, they headed back to Rennes to find a ride on covoiturage.fr – broken men. A third bearded man, smothered in a thick coat of sun cream, followed them, having also been trying for 6 hours. It wasn’t looking good.
After an unsuccessful 45 minutes, Emoline decided to change her route. She bade me goodbye, scuttled across the roundabout and, within 10 minutes, had found a lift to Angers. Moments later, red-head ran around the corner, shouting something about a lift – “come quick!”
I tossed my backpack into the boot and leapt into the open back seat. Twenty-five year old Dan spoke English fluently but, on the 10 minute drive, his attention was focused exclusively on the beautiful girl in his passenger seat. This suited me nicely. I gazed out of the window as we shot past the flat, grey outskirts of Rennes to the Cesson-Sévigné service station.
The day slowed down to a crawl at the next roadside. I could feel the beads of sweat rolling slowly down my back as the heat of the afternoon sapped at my strength. I would have taken any lift. Even from the stoned guy who had a tendency to pause mid-sentence and stare into nothingness – unfortunately, he and his drooling Alsatian had errands to run, so he promised he would return in a few hours if I were still there. I silently hoped I that would not be.
When I climbed into the blissfully-air-conditioned people carrier, after an hour in the scorching sun, I felt extremely self-conscious of my sweaty, smelly, out-of-breath self. I offended even myself. But mother, father and daughter welcomed me to their ranks and carried me for a cool 100 miles. To be welcomed into a family car was truly touching, and was a first for me. I chatted to the little girl, who was studying a fairly intimidating ten A-levels in a French school in Austria, and spent the rest of my time resting, absorbing the fleeting, sun-flecked landscapes through the window. The father didn’t utter a word in my direction.
At a service station past Le Mans, I had hardly put my bag on the ground when, to my amazement, a colossal ten-wheeler truck rumbled up, hissing and creaking under the weight of its hidden cargo. The head of a hairy, topless truck driver appeared above me.
“Paris?” He asked, with a thick German accent.
Minutes later, I was in my element, sitting snugly on a cushioned, suspended seat, with enough leg room to shelter a small family, soaring above and beyond the legions of fickle cars that littered the road. It was my first time riding in a lorry, and the feeling was unbeatable. My German driver spoke no English or French, and I spoke no German. We managed to glean odd facts from each other – names, homelands, destinations – but mostly we sat in contented silence. He gave me some water to enjoy, and a pen with which to write, and a pinecone for I’m not sure what.
Before long, we crested a hill and saw all of Paris laid out beneath us. The sun was setting in the rear-view mirror and the journey’s end was rushing up to greet me. In central Paris, my German friend stopped in front of some traffic lights to let me out. The Parisian rush hour started getting angry when the lights turned green, but he just shrugged and passed me down my backpack. Then he shut the door, held up a hand in farewell and rolled onwards into Paris. I held my pine-cone and waved goodbye, before setting off into the darkening city to find a bed for the night.
Written by: Joel Hindson
Joel says: “I’m a very English Englishman who has just finished a degree in Music, but doesn’t really want to get a job. Trips like the one described above have helped me realise that I’m a little bit of a thrill-seeker, totally addicted to adventure. My future is very up-in-the-air, but travel is the name of the game, and I’m also trying to find my way (slowly) as a travel writer.”
visit his blog at: teaisfortravel.wordpress.com