Travel: Bitchhiking from Morocco to Germany
Ronja Lustig dispels the noise around women hitchhiking alone...
I am quite fond of hitchhiking alone, even though lots of people tell me that it’s a stupid idea for a woman travelling by herself. Nonetheless, my longest non-stop hitchhiking journey started one bright morning on a very empty road, 2.500km away from my final destination and the next bed. Needless to say, several challenges awaited along the way… and so they began in Chefchaouen, the blue city of Morocco's Rif mountains, from where I would reach the ferry port of Tanger around midday.
Challenge #1: Hitchhiking a ferry.
Cars buying their ticket on the ferry terminal are entitled to free extra passengers. Unfortunately, no-one believed me saying this, especially since I was trying to communicate in something only vaguely resembling Spanish. A French-speaking member of staff tried to help me and pointed me towards his manager passing by. When he realised that I didn't have enough money to buy a passenger's ticket, he told me to fill in a disembarkment form and go through the police controls. However, relief at this point would have been precocious: at the entrance of the ferry, I was still asked for the ticket that I clearly did not have. I ended up in front of the actual manger, a guy with sunglasses and a false smile. The captain joined us. Another round of explanations ensued. Then followed by a long moment of embarrassed standing around with the repeated sighs of "What to do with this girl?". The issue was that my passport had declared that I'd already left Morocco, so they couldn't just let me go. Ultimately, the captain uttered a curt "follow me" and brought me into the ship's passenger area, where I tried to make myself invisible until we reached the shores of Spain.
Landing in Spain, I asked for a ride amongst the car drivers, and was able to find a woman about my age, alone in a big car, who immediately agreed to drive me along the coast for the next 770km. The ride was filled with profound discussions about her life as a Spanish national having grown up in Morocco, accompanied by jazz music and an Andalucian barbecue she invited me to. Before leaving me at a petrol station on the highway, she waited to ensure I was safe. Coincidentally, my next ride was with - of all possible people - two Moroccans. They finally brought me through the night and the drive left me in Tarragona.
Challenge #2: Crossing Spain.
Now, I believed I had to face the real reason behind Spain's bad reputation among hitchhikers. Fortunately, I was picked up by an Australian resident and then a huge Sri Lankan family, who were heading back to their home in Switzerland. As I to start getting used to longer waiting times between lift, I found myself constantly chewing on a thought: what if being more affluent meant having to be more to be afraid, and therefore affluence leads us to losing trust in strangers?
I got stuck on a beach in Barcelona until two French musicians brought me to Perpignan, where I ate chocolate pudding to regain my forces, thinking (and hoping) that now would be a good moment for something nice to happen. And it did. It came in the form of two cheerful women who shared my taste for languages and their car took me up until Montpellier. They left me a pack of biscuits, which I learned to savour during the night that was to follow. An amazing lorry driver took me close to Lyon and let me sleep in his cabin while he was taking a break. Still half-asleep, I stumbled into the frosty night, determined to find someone quickly. I did find a Senegalese lorry driver who took me for a little while before leaving me at a highway restaurant next to a petrol station. It was nearly two in the morning. A bad time to be alone.
Challenge #3: Getting through the night.
I was cold and I'd been on the road for two days now without getting my fair share of sleep. The station was remarkably empty, and the few people I met were either wary or unfriendly, or both. At around 3a.m., I asked the guy behind the restaurant counter whether I could stay in his café. He agreed and gave me a cup of hot chocolate, letting me sleep until his boss arrived at 6a.m. So at the crack of dawn, I was on the parking site again, oscillating between restaurant and petrol station, to no avail. A young lumberjack was friendly, but not enough to allow me in his company car. The next person said the same, but in a considerably less nice way. So, I scuffled back to the petrol station, with an irrationally aching foot and drained by exhaustion. At around 7.20a.m., I reached breaking point. Silent tears left my eyes, since now there was nothing more I could do. Just then, at this moment, I heard the wonderful sound of an engine slowing down behind me. It was the lumberjack. My day was reborn.
Challenge #4: Aberrations.
Four hundred and sixty kilometres away from my destination, I was now confident of arriving soon. But, to my surprise, I had an uncalled for tour of the French countryside, which was enhanced by the tons of lovely people who crossed my path. From a toll station, someone picked me up, claiming he'd never taken a hitchhiker before, but felt strangely compelled to do so just now. He was a policeman who immediately joined in the chorus of worry I'd grown accustomed to, especially in France: "You know, especially today, with all these terrorist attacks…" Remarkably enough, I managed to persuade him to look at it from a different angle: the more we are afraid of others, the more we are making public spaces unsafe, since people in trouble won't be able to count on the help of others, of strangers.
I went on to tell him that I'd just left Morocco, where I had found an incredible culture of caring for others. Suddenly, his eyes turned all bright and he sputteringly told me that just now, he was on his way to the airport, from which he'd fly to Morocco, the birth country he hadn't seen in 15 years. I behaved as if I'd just found a long-lost relative, and asked him to pass on my regards to the city of Fez, a place I'd been to only days ago.
In the afternoon, I reached Colmar with the help of a driver who spoke Alsatian, a strange language resembling old German dialects with a hint of French. There, I stood for another hour, until someone brought me to the motorway entry, where it was only seconds until an Italian choreographer picked me up to take me to Strasbourg. It was around half past six when I finally joined a dear friend who'd waited for me the whole day. In her home in Kehl, the German counterpart of Strasbourg, I took a thoroughly hot shower and slept for eleven hours; thousand stories swam in my head and I saw them all from the eyes of a woman who had just reached home.