One amazing thing about hitchhiking is that you get to meet many different people along the way. You could be with someone who is struggling to make ends meet in one ride and a rich man with a sports car in another. Everyone has his own story, which you would slowly discover throughout the ride. As I hitchhiked my way from Kunming in southern China to Barcelona in Spain, I met hundreds of people, each interesting in his own way. And if you were wondering, no I have never met a bad person, not even once! Rather, these were the people that I have encountered instead:
1) The talkative
Most people that I met while hitchhiking were great conversationalists! They were eager to share about their culture, food and music as well as hear more about mine. Strangely, everyone seemed to be interested in whether I had a wife. When I told them that I was 25 and still single, you could see the horror on their faces! It was also interesting to hear their opinions on governments, the police and the economy. Surprisingly (or not surprisingly), it was hard to find someone who praised his government or police force. It seemed like every politician was plotting against his very own people…
2) The foodie
I thought I was the only one who loved to eat. Nope! Through hitchhiking, I ate so many different types of food that I never knew existed. Locals know their cuisine best and many drivers would invite me to try their favourite dishes. I had an amazing mala hotpot in Sichuan, China, something I would have never eaten on my own. A driver in Kazakhstan shared horsemeat with me and I was invited to a wonderful barbeque in Kyrgyzstan. Sometimes the drivers would invite me home and their families would prepare a delicious spread of traditional dishes. Nothing beats home-cooked meals prepared with love and kindness.
3) The road-tripper
Whenever a car pulls over with young people inside and amazing music in the background, you know you are in for a road trip!
“Would you like to go on a day trip with us?”
“Sure, why not!”
The thing with day trips is that you never go where you planned to go. Once I was dropped off 300km away from where I wanted to go. On another road trip, I arrived at my destination a few days later as we had a multi-day tour of the area. Through these trips, not only did I discover new places that I never heard of, I also made some amazing friends!
4) The extra-miler
The core value of hitchhiking is simple: going somewhere that the driver happens to pass by. However, many drivers go the extra mile to take me where I wanted to go. Once, a driver in Kyrgyzstan drove an extra hour and a half from his house just to take me closer to the starting point of my multi-day hike. He drove his small car on a non-existent rocky road and stopped a few times to cool down his overheated car. At each stop, he would run to the river to collect a bottle of water, pour it onto the car’s heat sink and wait for the car to cool down. I wanted to get off and walk, but he insisted to drive me to the end of the rocky road. After an hour and a half, he dropped me off and turned around. For me, it was the start of my hike. For the driver, it was another hour and a half of bad roads and a smoking car.
5) The silent
“Hello! Do you go to this place?” I asked.
The driver nods and beckoned me in. In a hurry, I open the door and sit in the front passenger seat.
“How are you? What is your name? Where are you from?”
The driver smiles at me and says “John”, then points his index finger downwards before continuing, “here”. This marks the start of many one-word conversations with the driver. Once, I travelled more than a thousand kilometres with a man of few words. There was not much to do but stare at the endless flat plains, listen to the slow music and sleep the time away. Despite the lack of conversation, the driver was a really warm and nice person. He bought me food and water and gave me a pillow and blanket to sleep in the car.
6) The smoker
When you are bored and sitting in the car, you cannot help but notice the white fumes coming out of the driver’s cigarette. I try as much as possible to avoid the white clouds, but sometimes it is impossible given the limited degrees of movement while seated. Each time the driver lights a cigarette, I pray that he winds down his window so that the fumes can dissipate. Once, I was in a car with four die-hard smokers and I was on the middle seat. Throughout the 3-hour journey, none of the men wound down the windows. The air inside the car started to fog up from the fumes and it was choking! I was amazed at how none of the men desired any bit of fresh air throughout the journey…
7) The drunk
I usually try not to take the cars of drunken people but I did so once as I was rushing to get somewhere. There I was, with two drunken policemen in front and their drunken friend sitting at the back with me. It was 9pm and pitch black outside and these guys were going at 130km/h… Everyone was tipsy and singing really loudly. The guy behind was really drunk and he started to hug and kiss me on my forehead and cheeks. I resisted but did not get angry, as I wanted to be polite. However, it seemed like the guy wanted some response, so he got a little annoyed at my nonchalance. He grabbed and threw my glasses on the carpet then punched me in the face! I was appalled and I complained to the driver in a polite way. Thankfully the driver responded and threatened to throw his friend out of the car if he continued misbehaving. He stopped being violent, but continued kissing me at random intervals…
8) The sexual predator
This is probably the only problem female hitchhikers would face – the perverts. For us men it is just really hilarious to actually meet one. I once met a truck driver who would moan at every pretty woman he saw on the street. He taught me the strangest of words from his language and described the sexual experiences he had in his truck! Since he began driving a truck, he has crossed dozens of countries and had sexual encounters with women from all of them. It was strange, but he analysed the similarities and differences of the women from those countries. The weirdest moment was when he began showing me pornography on his phone and thereafter watched pornographic films while driving! Sometimes you just wonder how desperate some people could be…
9) The rich
So once in a blue moon you will meet someone who is very generous. Once I met some guys on a road trip and they were planning to stop before the city I wanted to go. Eventually, they decided to travel an hour more to where I wanted to visit. As they were unsure of the traffic rules, they were fined about USD175 along the way. I was shocked not just by the amount, but also by how the guys were just laughing and eating peanuts while the police officer tried to operate the credit card machine. Once we reached the city, the guys brought me to a fancy restaurant and we had so much food and countless glasses of whiskey. They then went to a 4-star hotel and got me a room there as well. We had an entire night of whiskey and cheese and it was really crazy! The guys never looked at the prices, never checked their receipts and just signed whatever that came their way…
We come from all walks of life, and hitchhiking was an excellent way for me to meet these different people. Many people told me that hitchhiking was dangerous, but I have never met a single danger in my six and a half months of hitchhiking from China to Spain. Contrary to popular belief, most people in this world are amazing people. It is probably easier to get into a car accident than meet a bad person while hitchhiking. So let us not fear everyone we see just because the media tells us to. Rather, give this beautiful world and its people another chance!