Most drivers pick you up for conversation or for an interesting experience to add to their day. Some pick you up just to be helpful, without much desire to talk. Occasionally, although quite rarely, you get a driver who picks you up and has absolutely no intention of communicating with you, nor do they seem particularly pleased to help you. They simply pick you up as if it is their duty. Then off you go. In silence. Such was the case when we left the farm.
At times, the weather is your best friend. The sun shines and the world is great. At other times, it is not. Standing on a deserted road, it started to rain and I pulled the covers over my bags and a rain jacket on myself. I hate wearing rain jackets. They get humid and trap all your heat inside. We opened warm beer and sat drinking them in the rain until someone stopped. At this point, you have to empty the remains of the beer as it isn’t polite to climb into a car with an open beer. Then you have to subtly slip the bottle into your bag (littering is bad) without the dregs spilling. If you’ve ever spilt beer on your clothing and smelt it later, you’ll know why.
A drunk Latvian man told us we should start working and catch a bus. He then slammed 5 Lats (around £5.50) into the other hitcher’s hand and walked off laughing. Shortly afterwards, another drunk Latvian man tried to help us by showing us the map on his phone. Unfortunately he was so drunk and his eyes were so bad that he couldn’t see the screen. He didn’t seem to understand how to operate his phone and an hour later, we were still sitting in a bus stop, sheltering from the rain and being offered moonshine. It burns. The man thought I looked like one of the characters in Pirates of the Caribbean (his eyes were really bad) and he asked us to help him develop his jazz music writing software which will make him rich. We said that we’d e-mail him and arrange it later.
Wet, and worn out from talking to drunk people, we called our old Riga host and he said that we could stay again. I sat up with him drinking amaretto and chilli-honey vodka until I couldn’t sit up anymore (even to watch Charlie the Unicorn). Somehow he left the house at 6 am; I was still drunk when we started hitching at lunchtime! It was a difficult day of hitching and made worse by some bad hitch etiquette. When finding a hitching spot, find a place away from hitchers who have arrived before you. Standing at the entrance to a bus stop, another hitcher comes and stands halfway down the bus stop. In an hour, one car pulled into the bus stop and then swerved out again when it saw the third hitcher. Three guys is a lot to fit in one car. Pissed off that the guy wasn’t getting the hint, we walked down the main road for a kilometre and managed to catch a ride. It was difficult to get more rides and soon we were dropped in some dead end town by a friendly guy with a mullet who bought us ice cream. We’re standing, waiting for a ride when HE appears again. The bad etiquette hitcher. He says hi to us, and walks ten metres away from us and starts hitching. Pissed off would be an understatement. He is practically standing next to us, except that he is standing exactly where a car would choose to stop if it chose to stop for us. It made it impossible for us to catch a ride. We grab our bags and walk back down the road to distance ourselves from him, but he doesn’t seem affected. More drunk people turn up and before we realise how drunk they are, we are following them to a new hitching spot, away from the other hitcher. One of the guys tells us he is a truck driver (no chance in his state) while the other one throws up in his hands. The second one was so drunk that he could barely walk. They invite us to join them for a swim in ‘their’ summer house before the really drunk guy shakes hands with the Irish guy I’m hitching with. At this point, one regrets not packing hand sanitizer. Fortunately I wasn’t that one.
After turning down the swim and their moonshine, we watch the two guys wander over to a nearby summer house that hasn’t been locked and start swimming in the pool. We pretend that we can’t see them when they try to wave us over. Shortly afterwards, two more drunk people turn up. This time much younger. The girl speaks English and has hardly any teeth. They unsuccessfully ask us for cigarettes and money without leaving. Sensing hostility, it takes lots of time to shake them by using French which they don’t understand. We were grateful to see them leave and desperate to get away before they returned. They said they would be back after visiting the town and that we could stay at their house. I am pretty sure that they didn’t have a house. As if some kind of secret camera joke, a police check point gets set-up about 100m down the road from us. We don’t expect a ride soon. Contrary to expectation, the first car to get pulled by the police, also pulls over for us. Inside, a young boy offers me black-currents and translates for his parents who don’t speak English.
Hitch Gathering 2012 is an event organised online in which hitchers from all over the world meet and stay on a farm somewhere near a small village in rural Lithuania. It is an annual event started in 2008 and the name of the village for 2012 is Ambraziškiai. It has a population of 153 people and the farm is 3 km down a dirt track from this village. Pretty rural. But the world is small. As dark encroaches, an Estonian, en route to Calais stops for us. He already has one hitchhiker in the car and over 2,000 km more to drive, in order to reach his 7 am ferry. He works in England. He wass beyond friendly, offering us biscuits and water, and soon we were telling him about our destination. Say hi to Julien, he says. A few days earlier, while travelling in the opposite direction, he had picked up one of the organisers of the event.
Deja vu: the experience of thinking that a new situation has occurred before. Sitting in the Estonian man’s car, checking maps in the dark, we are about to get out of the car and walk to the road that we need when an overwhelming feeling that I am experiencing this for the second time washes over me. It is accompanied with a feeling of dread. This happened before and when it happened, something very, very bad accompanied it. I leave the car, thank the man and start marching, unsure about why. All I know is that I need to leave that place. The feeling follows me down the road and then all of a sudden, it disappears as quickly as it arrives. Nothing bad happened. Nothing bad will happen. Just for a moment, fear had me. With no way out of a situation, you deal with it, you react, you overcome it. You feel better.
Eleven o’clock at night, picture this. Two guys are walking down a rather deserted road in total darkness, still over 40 km from their intended destination. As the occasional car passes, they flash their miniature LED light in vain. The fields are overgrown and not good for camping and they don’t have any food other than pasta. Their gas ran out two days previously. After walking several kilometres, they are ready to stop for the night and sleep anywhere. They even try to flag down a passing taxi, but it doesn’t stop, not here. Hope lost, victory conceded, a curve ball is thrown. A car pulls over. Disbelief. I jump into the air in delight and we run to the car, happily bundling in, no matter where it is taking us. It is a family. The parents and their 22 year old daughter. They can’t take us all the way to our destination because it’s hard to drive in the dark. The mother only stopped because she thought that we were two girls. In this situation, I am grateful that the guy I was hitching with had long hair. Within a few minutes, they have offered us a bed for the night and the option of a ride in the morning.
More than gratefully, we accept. We are driven to a summer house, far from towns and welcomed with a selection of breads, cheeses, and meats. I apologise about not eating the meats, explaining that I am a vegetarian. We enjoy showers and comfort after a severe lack of both. In the morning I am greeted by the wonderful view of fields and a lake. With the daughter, I swim across the lake and once again, life is really great (another uninformative adjective, like good). We are given delicious pancakes with milk that has been left out in the warm so that it has turned and curdled (you can’t do this with pasturised milk, it has to be fresh from the farm). It tastes really good. As do the pancakes, honey, and everything else that go with them. After breakfast, we are sped on our way to the hitch gathering where we would find people with ukuleles and life stories longer than libraries.
I am very grateful for this welcome experience and the amazing hospitality that we recieved from strangers. It’s another little symbol of hoping to find goodness within humanity. Like batman, I like to believe in this.
Even when life seems challenging, don’t be surprised if it changes quicker than you can imagine. When it’s bad, hold tight. When it’s good, embrace it.
It’s more than a little bit exciting.