Portugal – Cadiz – Gibraltar – Barcelona – Pula/Croatia

Two weeks ago I left Colos in the Portuguese countryside to cross southern Europe and to travel about 3200 km to join the Yaxwe hack/geek meeting in Pula (Map of trip – no routing for Slovenia and Croatia unfortunately). Here are some hitch-hiking impressions:

I started on a Monday, Simon and Jenny gave me a lift to a small road leading to the motorway towards South Portugal. It took me around 5 hours of walking and waiting in boiling heat to make it to the motorway some 20 km away. My conclusion: Either there is a law in that region that forbids picking up people from the road with a penalty of at least one year in prison or hitch-hikers regularly kill drivers and their co-drivers around there. Very weird, I never had this before. Thanks to the friendly philosophy teacher that hitch-hiked all over Europe in the 70s for picking me up. Once I got to the motorway a friendly toll station person tried to convince me that it is forbidden to stay around the small parking next to the ticket machines (for people without a car). He mumbled something about private property and calling the police. The police? Is holding up a sign with a town name a crime now? “Well, obey the orders of your corporate master and go and call your mummy!” — I thought, very happy to have found a place with some long-distance traffic and said “Call whoever you like, I will stay right here.” — A few minutes later indeed a cop car arrived to the crime scene and two sun-glass wearing sheriffs (nice riding boots with spurs, boys!) jumped out to send me away. I walked a few meters across the bridge and did my thing there. What a waste of energy, and hooray for the privatisation of the public sphere. Non-paying members not allowed, sorry. I stayed for another two hours until a nice young lady picked me up and gave me a lift to Faro.

At the petrol station on the motorway I met two young vegan hitch-hikers from Poland (Hello Maria and Krzysztof!), with no hurry at all. Just being around them calmed me down visibly. We were sitting around the tables near the truck parking having dinner for a while when a Brazilian truck driver asked us where in Spain we want to go (I had asked him before, but he said he would rest for a while). All three of us went with him to a petrol station a bit north of my destination Cadiz that night. In my experience bad luck in hitch-hiking is usually balanced out with a portion of good luck right afterwards. When you are just about to give up at a spot after sunset, hopelessly far away from your day’s destination, a car will pull over and bring you all the way. Call it the Benn law of hitch-hiking if you like. πŸ™‚ After having a nice wash at the petrol station bathroom Krzysztof and me stayed in the huge empty loading space of the truck for the night.

The next morning the truck driver dropped me at the last petrol station before Cadiz and the second person I asked, a backpack traveller currently working as a salesman for a medical equipment company, brought me to Cadiz centre after showing me some smaller towns along the way and explaining me about their history. There I quickly found the flat where my Schwerin friend Patrick would host me for the next three nights. Beach, party, beach, party. Hello friendly flat-mates!

Thursday around noon I started hitch-hiking at the only road leading out of Cadiz. After 10 minutes a cool surfer dude with long blond hair and stylish sunglasses in a new van brought me to the next town. There I stood another 10 minutes until another medical equipment salesman gave me a lift all the way right to the gates of Gibraltar. The big rock was just there, so I thought I’d go and check out the monkeys living up the hill. As soon as I walked across the airport runway on the road leading into the city — they really have limited space at this British “overseas” territory” — I found myself in a small entirely English signposted Disneyland with Fish&Chips, Royal Mail post boxes, prices in Pounds and lots of British ex-pats and even more tourists. I walked up the rock a bit on a steep road. A woman in a car coming my way slowed down and told me “You are a brave man” in a strong British accent. Well, that’s my name after all. πŸ™‚ I walked to Monkey’s den to be almost bitten by wild macaques with sharp teeth that were trying to get into my backpack to search for food, turned back into town, back over the runway and continued my trip towards Barcelona.

While walking along the beach road towards the national road leading up to the motorway I held out my sign every now and then. I had not realised that the older person parking on the street, doing something in his car boot and blocking my way had actually stopped for me, so his friendly invitation was a nice surprise. He took me to Marbella, a town some 50 km up north and dropped me right on the motorway. Oh dear, trying to hitch-hike on a slip road in the south of Spain — I am doooomed — I thought. But people at the coast seem to be fairly used to hitch-hikers, so I was back on the road in about 15 minutes. A young black man that had been frying steaks in Hamburg for many years dropped me at a petrol station just outside Malaga. Man, I really don’t have a clue if it is cool to say black person, I simply don’t know many people with other skin colour. Gee, the sound of that. I am making it worse, am I? I found this enjoyable little flick while researching and had a good laugh. Anyway, there I was at this petrol station, sun going down, people only going either to the airport or some “other direction”. There was this nice young man even offering me money to pay for a train or bus. I said I was fine with money and that it is my choice to travel this way. He smiled and drove off. One or two hours of asking every single driver later — attention, Benn law striking again — a young German-Moroccan business man in a fancy car accepted to give me a lift after a small chat while fueling his car. It turned out that he is not only going my direction, but all the way up to Barcelona (1000 km), if possible that night. Bingo! After 7 hours of fast driving on empty roads he got too tired though and decided to look for a hotel. He dropped me at a petrol station past Valencia, 300 km to Barcelona. The parking was packed, there were many people just sleeping all around next to their cars, mostly coming back from northern Africa. So I chose a spot next to another hitch-hiker, safely putting my bag between a tree and myself.

The next morning the other hitch-hiker and all other sleepers were gone. After asking a few people I got a lift by a German couple right to the centre of Barcelona. First the husband said there would be no room in the car, then I saw them discussing and while driving out they pulled over to rearrange things to make some room for me. Thanks! πŸ™‚ She works for a big German Internet company that I am dealing with since my very first Internet years, so there was plenty of food for talk. In the centre I gave them a brief orientation and then walked off along the busy alley “La Rambla“, full of street performers and colourful mimes, some embarrassingly bad, some really good. By metro I went to the outskirts to walk up a little hill to visit my friend Javier at Can Masdeu, my favourite squat in Europe. Cadiz – Gibraltar – Barcelona in less than 24 hours, phew, Spain is big. From Can Masdeu I did little trips to town to visit Mariel, that I met through EYFA a couple of years ago and also to meet Sabina, who coincidently happened to be back in town herself. πŸ™‚

The following Monday I worked a little bit on my things and started travelling some time in the afternoon on Tuesday. While waiting for a bus to bring me to a petrol station north of Barcelona I thought I might as well hold up my sign with Girona on it. After 20 minutes an older guy who had just picked up another hitch-hiker a bit down the road stopped and brought us to a petrol station outside Girona, 70 km away. From there I got a lift by two older French workers coming back from their short holiday at the Costa Brava to a petrol station in the centre of southern France. There I got picked up by a highly energetic lady on her way to Cannes. All the way through France the first night, a great start.

The next morning a retired English engineer and former scout leader living in a farm house in southern France driving to take part in a runners race near Bologna took me half way through Italy. At another big petrol station I found a Slovenian lorry driver on his way to Ljubljana. When we drove off he started a CD with fast Serbian brass folk music – yes, I was back home! πŸ™‚ He dropped me at night at a petrol station past Trieste in the Slovenian countryside and drove off with loud horn-blowing to say goodbye. I tried my luck at a national road going down to Rijeka in Croatia, but put my tent up under a nice old tree near the road after a little while. I was in the mountains, so temperatures dropped to something like 5 degrees at night, brr.

The next morning I got woken up by the tractor cutting the grass around me. I went back up to the road and got a lift to a small village by a milk truck woman on her way to work. There was not much traffic, so I decided to have a nice breakfast with things I got at the local shop.

Beloved Ajvar, o thou orange vegan delight of peppers, aubergine and garlic, I did not realise how much I missed you! You melt on virgin white bread like a princess bedding herself on softest pillows. My life belongs to you!

Err, where was I.. Right, so none of the people liked to pick up a weird guy walking along the curvy road through wonderful hills and Alpine forests, so I walked on and on. A punk-rocker in his 40s coming back from picking berries and mushrooms with his mum drove me to the next town, showed me the social centre he basically grew up in, bought me a beer and gave me a lift to the border some 10 km away. Thanks, man! I crossed the border with a broad smile and stood on the other side for an hour or two until the pretty girl doing surveys on the cars coming through the border was off and gave me a lift to Rijeka. I walked down to the main road towards Pula, waited a little and a truck without trailer stopped. They are the best, accelerating like a sports car and a great view. πŸ™‚ He took the small scenic road through the mountains to avoid the Učka tunnel fare. On the other side of the tunnel a Romanian millionaire picked me up after a few minutes’ wait and brought me to Pula. Yes, Pula means something like penis in Romanian, get over it! πŸ˜‰ It is also the currency of Botswana by the way. How much is the Pula today? Can I pay with Pula? Hehe. During the trip he got a call by someone that offered him to give him back half of the money through some shady channels if he donates 250.000 EUR to his organisation. During the talk he mentioned that he was on his way to Pula, chuckled, and went on with fending off the guy on the other side. When I came to town I indulged in some more food delights and got Burek at the best place in Pula for it. I walked by the amphitheater, through the centre and up to the Rojc building, home of the Monte Paradiso hacklab. I stayed here a few months in 2004 and I am happy to be back.

What an easy and pleasant trip!

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