The alarm rings and I wake up, first thoughts being “Am I kidding myself here? Are people going to pick us up? Do people even do this anymore?!” The pessimistic affirmations of my peers start to take a bit of a grip on my spirit, and the alcohol from two nights previous still rattle around in my head. Remember kids – alcohol is a depressant.
6:00 AM, our first lift arrives. This will take us all the way to the M25. From there, we’re on our own. Or so we thought.
The nerves are tamed with the funny sight of a dog in the car in front of us. It’s head starts to elevate at a slow pace, as if it’s playing a game of “I’m on an elevator”, which causes us to piss ourselves with laughter. This dog’s trick never seemed to stop and, due to a right turn, we would never find out whether or not it did.
We arrive at Thurrock services, where our breakfast, a roadmap of Europe and some Crayola marker pens await for us to add to our inventory. We head over to the petrol station, where we meet another couple of hitch hikers; Dego and Del.
“Ooh Maidstone – that place is a nightmare,” Dego warns us. “I once got stuck there for 15 hours.”
Fuck. 15 hours!? I don’t usually “do” pessimism, but it was starting to set in… Luckily Nick avoided the mistake of drinking alcohol over the weekend so he kept the optimism alive for us both.
I decide to approach some lorry drivers, but no luck. After an hour, we find a couple that are heading down the M20 who would be more than happy to drop us off at Maidstone – aka Hell. We swap details with Dego and hit the road.
The chap driving was a train driver on the Hull to Liverpool line, and his wife, a school librarian – who enjoyed sharing stories of how she scares the shit out of the students. They deliver us at Maidstone safe and off they went on their own adventure towards Norway.
After a quick wee, we find a spot by the exit of the services and petrol station and wait with sign in hand. After 20 minutes a Frenchman in a van stopped for us. “AWESOME!”, we thought. However, he could only take one of us over the channel, not deux.
The next guy to stop would be able to take us to Dover, however we were explicitly instructed by Dego not to hitch to the mainland from here as it was a nightmare, so give our excuses. We figure that if we keep up this kind of stop ratio we’d find someone who would be able to take us across the channel eventually. This isn’t so hard after all!
Three hours pass… Patience and spirits are being tested. I’ve never had to keep my head up high in this way before! Thoughts of being stuck at these services forever start to invade. It would be fairly shit if we had to spend the night here, especially as they lock the main area after a certain time. 15 hours stuck in the same place without overnight access to food and a decent toilet? Ouch!
Then a van passed, which had a middle finger coming out of it that just about skimmed my face. Then there was that lorry driver who decided it’d be fun to shout “FUCK OFF!” – What the hell are we doing here?!
Four hours pass. I decide to go on the offensive once more and approach some drivers; “Hi there, I’m really sorry to bother you, but which direction are you going in?” “Not yours I’m afraid!”
This is the point where you really have to fight some inner demons.
After around 20 minutes I notice a Belgian number plate pull up to the petrol station. I started staring intently at the driver as he got out of the car; a tall, slim man began stretching his arms far in the air, recovering from his long journey. This has to be it, I could feel it.
I approach with my usual opener…
He’s going to Calais… will he take us..?
My lowered emotional state turns to that of pure unadulterated glee. He parks up after filling his car with petrol, cleans the mess currently occupying our seats and lights up a cigarette. “My name’s Niko.”
I’m going to name my first son after this man.
After some chats, smokes and eats we hit the road. We’re already half way down the M20, and it turns out he’s taking the ferry at Dover, not the tunnel. This puts us at an unexpected turn as the previous couple told us they wouldn’t be able to take us on the boat, thus why we got dropped at Maidstone. Still, he was adventurous enough to give it a try. If we fail, we would be stuck in Dover for awhile.
P&O ferries, it turns out, don’t give a shit about the amount of passengers you take in your car. Just that they have passports.
They amend the number of passengers in the vehicle from 1 to 3 and we go wait around for an earlier ferry. Niko wanted to do some graphic design work that was coming to an end and wanted to be left alone. Fine by us!
The weather was beautiful and we could see Calais from our awesome spot on the ferry. I stood on the deck outside as the ferry moved full steam ahead and felt the wind fill my lungs. I savoured the feeling as if I’d never felt the wind before. It was only an hour or so ago I felt full of despair, and now this was happening. The road is full of unexpected twists and surprises!
Back in the car, Niko tells us he’s going to Antwerp and, as we’re making good time, says he’ll get us as close to Brugge as possible. This man is an angel.
Driving along parallel to the north coast of France, Niko shows us an artist called Milow on his iPod. He’s pretty big around Belgium, Holland and the US. The song is awesome, and it turns out Niko is his uncle (check out a song of his here - this is my favourite. He also did a cover of 50 Cent’s ‘Ayo Technology’.)
Traffic is easy and he drops us off at the edge of Brugge, with the Belfort tower just in sight over the orange tiles that layed upon the medieval-styled city. By the time we get into the centre it’s around 10:00 PM and the hostel I was planning on staying in was full. Kinda figures really… it was a long shot, but as always the universe had other plans.
We make our way to Charlie Rockets, a hostel with a very busy bustling bar downstairs. We get taken care of by a Turk called Leo, who delivers the good news that a bed is available… but it’s a private room that holds a double bed. We take it, but I warn Nick I want no spooning. For once the bar staff beat him to the idea.
After a shower, we head down and have a well earned beer that filled a glass the size of our heads. We spend the night sharing tales with other Brits, Germans, Canadians, Dutch, Leo, other local Brugians (that’s a word, right?) and a Columbian. Much excitement makes us plan to come here again tomorrow night.
The next day we set off to find a hostel slightly out of town that has a 6 bedroom dorm available. There we meet Cesar, an Ecuadorian with long hair and a love for football, and Juan-Manuel, a Uruguayan who educates us about all sorts of crazy fucking drugs we’ve never heard of before. We go our separate ways for the evening with plans to meet later.
“That’s pretty bitching I wanna do it now”
“In the hostel? How much? Sooo impressed you got there…”
A few texts from some of my good friends help keep the mood alive and fills me with a feeling of “HA! Told you so!”. These were the same friends who joked about being stuck in the middle of no-where and getting bummed by lorry drivers.
After THE BEST STEAK EVER we head over to Charlie Rockets and meet up with our new companions. We play pool, talk about the universe, the ego and consciousness. It’s a conversation that’s right up my street. I try to talk about this kind of thing with people from home and they don’t even get it and I meet these two strangers who seem to be more passionate than I am.
More beers, more travellers and the new chant “FUCKING A!” as we clank our beers together, I felt right at home. The two Germans from the night before join us as well as some girls that the South Americans got on rather well with, and before you know it we’re slurping on straws that lead to a colourful alcoholic shot. That was on fire.
We wake up the next morning and boy are we fucking hungover… I mean this thing was bad. We check out of the hostel and then attempt to hitch our way out towards Antwerp, followed by Amsterdam.
Don’t get wasted the weekend before your first hitch hike.
Don’t get wasted the night before you go hitch hiking again.
Don’t lock yourself out of a hostel and sleep on the pavement outside until the gates open in the morning.
DO make as many mistakes as you positively can.
As Cesar said during one of our conversations: life is full of up’s and down’s, like the oscillation of an waveform. If we don’t experience pain, how do we know what pleasure is? Much inner pain was experienced, but the high made it all worth it. Brugge is beautiful in summer.