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04 June 2011

Video!

(Sorry to any readers in Germany, who can only view the video through a youtube proxy website due to stupid copyright reasons)

I would also like to thank the following sponsors: Linda Bowen (£25), Liz Speed (£10), Adeline Rush (£5), Vicky Saxby (£5), Deb Cahill (£5) and Wendy (£5) as well as my mother for collecting the funds from these lovely people.This extra cash has pushed my total to £610.37, but any last minute donations before the closing date on the 15th of June are more than welcome. Just click here.

07 May 2011

Hitchhiker's Guide to LCD Hitch

Along our travels through France, Spain and Morocco, there were several things we learned and felt were important enough to pass on to others about the LCD Hitch to Morocco. I wanted to provide helpful information in this post for any future hitchers to read and hopefully as a result will find the whole ordeal a lot less confusing than we did. Here are a number of important things to remember:



1) If there was one thing that frustrated us the most during the long periods of standing in a lay by, waiting for someone to stop for us; the gestures and expressions of the drivers that drove passed consistently confused us and it was only after many hours of seeing these signals and trying to interpret them that we think we eventually figured out what most of them mean.
 
The shrug: “I simply can’t be arsed to pick you up, I have no valid excuse and feel slightly guilty about not helping you. Perhaps also you are in a particularly crap place with nowhere suitable for me to pull over.”
 

The finger wag: “I would never pick you up because I wrongly believe that hitchhiking is illegal, or that you look like serial killing rapists.”
Pointing down: “I’m staying in this town or not travelling very far at all and due to my lack of concern for the environment, decided not to walk. Nevertheless I’m not going far enough to help you.”

 
Pointing in another direction: “I’m not going the way you want.”


Numbers (one or two fingers): “Assuming I’m not swearing at you, I mean to say that I can only fit this many hitchhikers in my car.”

 

Palm upward, pinching all four fingers against thumb: “I have a full car already.”


Smiling / Laughing: “I’ve never seen a hitchhiker before and find what you’re doing to be novel, but I still won’t pick you up.”

 
Look of traumatic disbelief: “I’m a miserable old bag that finds what you’re doing to be stupid and inappropriate. Young people out enjoying the world; honestly, they should be living a tedious life like I have done!”


Thumbs out: “I’m a dick taking the piss out of you and even if I did stop for you, which I absolutely won’t, you would be incapable of tolerating my company anyway.”

 
Complete ignorance: “I am most likely driving a BMW or similarly prestigious car and you are beneath me. I wouldn’t make eye contact or stop for you even to avoid running you over... well, maybe, but only because you would get blood on my bonnet and I’ve only just had it buffed with hot wax. You look like a poor person and mean less than nothing to me, just like speed limits and red traffic lights.”



2) When it is time for you to cross the English Channel or the Gibraltar Strait, remember: all of the staff aboard the ferry hate you. If you’re wearing your LCD Hitch T-shirt, they will be contemptuous of you the very second they lay eyes on you. Think about it. Every year, about a thousand of you cretins cross their path and far too many hitchers before you have asked for free tickets, tried to blag other free stuff, been unaware of proper procedures, asked for favours such as announcing over the PA that you need a lift from a passenger (like we did) and they are not cool with any of it and the excuse "But it's for charity!" just doesn't fly. They have a menial, easy job and they want to avoid making it any more taxing for themselves at all costs and won’t mind being incredibly derisive or rude to you.



3) You may have considered using internet cafés along your trip. What you probably won’t have considered is that in France, Spain and Morocco, they use a ridiculous alternative keyboard with the AZERTY layout instead of the QWERTY layout that you are used to. Basically, just assume that if you need to send a message to someone, it will take three times as long to type it, because you need to keep searching for a missing letter, or get confused about why the exclamation mark has a key all to itself, but the widely used full stop requires you to jab “shift” and “semicolon” together and the “@” symbol requires “shift”, “alt” and “0” all together, or some such shit.



4) Another horrible thing you may not be prepared for. In spite of the fact France is a wealthy, westernised, first world country; their toilet facilities are not. All three of the foreign countries you’ll be hitching through will require you to squat over a hole in the ground in a way that feels humiliating even though no one is watching. At least in France and Spain they have toilet paper. In Morocco, you need to either bring your own, or use your hand like the locals. Most hotels and hostels will still have the good ol’ westernised “throne toilets”, though. Another pointer in Morocco involves mandatory tipping of someone standing at the entrance to the loos. If you leave the toilet at a fast pace and don’t make eye contact with them, you’ll probably get away with not paying, but if they do corner you, only give to someone that actually looks like a cleaner, because I was convinced half of the “toilet attendants” I saw were probably just some guy that realised it was a good way to make money for nothing.



Nat and I enjoying some "free" mint tea.

5) Be wary of hospitality as you make the transition from Europe into Morocco. During your travels through France and Spain, you’ll most likely be offered a place to stay or a free meal every now and then, so once you get to Morocco, it’s easy to still expect to be able to trust people like this. However, things are different in Morocco. If someone invites you to their home, introduces you to their family, provide you with a slap up meal, they are probably trying to gain your trust so that they can con the crap out of you.

The most common scam you may encounter: If anyone implies that you’ll be shunned in certain parts of the country unless you are wearing traditional Moroccan clothing, you should be instantly sceptical. You can get away with wearing the same clothing you do in England, with perhaps the exception of a bikini, in all but the most rural, conservative areas. Even then, just wear longer, baggier clothing and you’ll be fine. If you do plan on buying some Moroccan clothes anyway, buy them from a shop, not these con artists who will try and charge huge amounts from you. Remember that even the highest quality Moroccan robes should cost you no more than 200 Dirham.



6) Lastly, when you get to Morocco, you may have left little time for yourself to enjoy the place. We saved some time and money by using night coaches to travel between the cities we wanted to see, instead of travelling during the day and paying to sleep in hostels. Just remember that none of the coaches have toilets on board, so be sure to go before you leave to avoid embarrassing situations. You should also bear in mind, the duration of the excursions that you may want to go on when you get to Marrakesh, particularly the trips into the desert, which usually are at least two full days due to the driving time to get you out there and back. Trips to see the waterfalls and valleys in the Atlas Mountains take one full day.



So there we have it. Armed with this knowledge, your Hitch should be less frustrating than ours. I wish all future hitchers the absolute best of luck. Also I wanted to mention, thanks to the donations of £5 from Mr Isaac Ray and £32 from Baa, Sharda, Dilip and Aan of the Davé family, while I was off on my Hitch, I've now raised a tremendous £555.37 for Link Community Development. I'd like to thank you guys for your generosity. Anyone that would still like to donate to this very worthy cause can still click here to do so.

30 April 2011

Tuesday 26th - The Final Day

I heard Aguet come in last night, so was unnerved to find she wasn't here when I woke up and she'd taken all of her stuff while we were asleep. Nat spent most of the morning convincing me to go off on the excursion and leave her to find the sisters, even though I was concerned that I wouldn't be back in time for my flight. I'd wanted to spend my last day with Aguet and Nat whom had spent the last week driving me crazy and keeping me sane, respectively. Nat may have been unhappy that Aguet and I were leaving today and she was staying and that I seemed less concerned than when I thought Aguet would be the last of us to leave, but I explained that Nat can take any rapist or murderer in a fight and she would be fine. I already miss her endless sarcasm and mean sense of humour.

I went on the excursion with Allegra and Katherine, two hitchers I'd met last night and some other random tourists, a French couple who kept to themselves and two elderly British women on holiday who were quite cool. On the three hour trip out, we had to listen to the driver's CDs. Moroccan music is not good music. The waterfall and valley was an awesome place! We toured around the area for a couple of hours and grew insanely jealous of people who got to stay in the camp site there. The girls went swimming in one of the pools for a while, I hid in the shade like the pale, soulless ginger that I am and we got plenty of photos of the falls and the monkeys inhabiting the area.

As we left, I was more and more concerned about the time. This was going to be a close one. I arrived back in town and power-walked to the hostel to collect my stuff, bumping into Nat on the way to my taxi. She'd just come from a rather awkward spa-treatment of some kind to say goodbye.

This is where the horrible begins. Firstly, I urge you to never ever ever book yourself a Ryanair flight, regardless of how cheap it seems, you will regret it. I would be incredibly happy for the airline to go bankrupt and for all of their useless staff to lose their jobs and die of the resulting starvation. I arrived at the airport and already know the drill; check your luggage and collect your boarding pass by showing your passport and booking reference at the correct desk. Only with Ryanair, you can print off your boarding pass at home and if you don't, they charge you €40 for the excruciating effort and tremendous resources it takes for them to do it for you. When deciding which of my luggage to check, I opted to take my tent on as hand luggage due to its more convenient shape and size, only to find that tents are considered to be deadly weapons aboard a plane. The idiot security guard kept telling me to go and check it, which it was now too late to do, but wouldn't let me leave it and seemed determined to make me miss my flight by only offering a single impossible option. Eventually, his boss told him he was a dick-head with all the common sense of a piece of belly-button fluff (at least that's what I hope was said, I don't speak the language) and permitted me the privilege of abandoning my expensive tent to the whim of some moron in an airport.

Livid with how my short time in the airport had gone, we then had to sprint across the runway, only just making the plane as they were closing the doors. On board the worst plane I've ever been on, I looked for things to steal that might even the score of the €40 they had earlier stolen from me, but the staff didn't have the wherewithal to stock up up on stuff for the passengers even to buy, running out of food and drinks as the trolley made it only half way down the isle. I sat for four hours, marvelling at the incompetence of the crew in their dealings with the other passengers, until the end of the flight when we were subjected to what I wasn't sure whether it was the most appalling, bumpiest landing of all time; or the mildest, smoothest aircraft crash of all time.

On the ground, we were taken aside by security, because as a black chick and an unwashed, unshaven, hoodie wearing guy that looked far too pale to be arriving from Africa, I imagine the woman thought she was in for a jackpot of a drug bust. I had to disappoint her by showing her my charity T-shirt. She didn't even bother searching us.

I hugged Aguet goodbye and sent her on her way to Cardiff. My coach to Manchester is in six hours, so I'll be spending the night in this bus stop.

29 April 2011

Monday 25th - The Hitchhikers' Dinner

By now, I'd been trying to sleep unsuccessfully on night coaches for three days, so when we arrived at our hostel in Marrakesh at 6 AM, we checked in and slumped into our beds until about 11 AM. We then rendezvoused with Aguet's sister, Adau, who is also on the Hitch and explored the town for a few hours. Nat and I tired of browsing the shops quite quickly and parted with the two sisters to search for excursions into the desert that we could set up for ourselves. In one twenty-minute period we kept bumping into other hitchers, so we had the idea of exchanging phone numbers and inviting them and any hitchers they find over the course of the day to come for a big group meal in the town square at eight-thirty this evening.

Later, we texted around a meeting place and waited for people to show up. Forty-five minutes later, there were about twenty of us all sat at a restaurant, swapping stories. It turns out that most of them had to resort to cheating over Easter weekend, which was reassuring to find that it isn't just us that are crap. Another reassurance was that it wasn't only us to fall victim to the expensive caftan with hospitality scam in Tangier. After paying for the meal, we all went up to the rooftop of someone's hostel to continue chatting and planned going on an excursion to a waterfall in a valley of the Atlas Mountains, as many of us had arrived in Marrakesh too late to have time for the trek out into the desert that would take two full days.

As the night wound down, Aguet went to help her sister Adau move hostels and Nat and I went to bed.

Sunday 24th - A Tale of Two Cities

We sleepwalked out of the coach station at 5 AM onto the streets of Casablanca. It both smells and looks like a very poorly maintained public toilet. We'd heard there was only one thing worth seeing here, the mosque. After a while of walking, we arrived at dawn and marvelled at the gigantic, beautiful building. Maybe the city in which it is situated is kept looking like a hole in the ground simply so that this building would look even better by comparison. It is huge, inside and out and none of the photos I took do it justice at all.

A heavy downpour assaulted us from above, so we got a taxi back to the coach station and left for Fes. On the coach, I was awoken by Aguet trying to quietly steal my almost empty bottle of water, which she needed for reasons I wished had remained unspoken. As we got off of the coach, however, hilarity ensued when Nat and I saw Aguet struggling with an awkward change to her outfit that she was doing her best to prevent falling down. When we learned it was all because she had splashed herself during the aforementioned unspoken activity, we couldn't stop laughing for ten minutes.

Fes was a great, traditional looking city, famous for its Medina, which consisted of a massive maze of stalls and shops peddling all kinds of wares. We also saw a large tannery, where all of the leather was produced and a textile mill with a loom, which reminded us of the film, 'Wanted'. Other than shopping, though, there really isn't much to do in this city either, so now we're off again on another night coach to Marrakesh, where there is hopefully a bed awaiting us.

Saturday 23rd - Karma

The ferry across the Strait was cool. We got a good view of the Rock of Gibraltar from the top deck and we met two more hitchers. At some point in the voyage, there must have been a barely audible announcement that we ignored, because just as our cheapened victory drew near, we weren't allowed off of the ferry since our passports hadn't been stamped during the journey across. We had to wait an hour and a half for the police officer to return to do twenty seconds of pointless bureaucracy, during which time we'd lost track of the other hitchers with whom we were planning to tag along.

Once we had arrived in Tangier, our luck seemingly changed when we bumped into a nice man who recognised our Hitch T-shirts and went on about how good a cause it is and invited us back to his home for dinner. Unable to subtly convince Aguet of how bad an idea it was as he led us into a rather sketchy looking housing estate, Nat and I prepared ourselves for a trap. Fortunately, a fight in an alley against muggers never came and we enjoyed some outstanding mint tea and lamb tagine. He'd spent a while showing us photos of other hitchers and travellers from all over, some keepsakes they had given him like white boards used as hitching signs and notes they had written and signed, thanking him.

We got onto talking about our plans and that we were heading to Casablanca to see the giant mosque. As politely as he could, he informed us that we would be treated like crap there, wearing western clothing, and would be much safer and more respected in more traditional, Moroccan robes. We had all been thinking of buying some as souvenirs for people back home and were a little shocked to hear they would cost us equivalent to £70. Fortunately, his wife knew someone that made them and could pick some up for us for half that price.

After dinner, his daughter came in to practice her henna tattoos on the girls. He kept us entertained with his impressions of various western celebrities and singing Arabic versions of western songs until the henna was finished. This was when the mood turned. Out of the blue, he tries to charge the girls £20 each for their henna, which we knew was a horrific rip off and made us edge toward the exit. After the goodbyes, we started to realise what had just happened. Back at the coach station, the girls tried out the robes we had bought and received nothing but laughter from the locals. We were informed they were men's clothing, but what's worse, with their weird pointy hoods, they also looked a lot like KKK outfits. I finally asked the guy behind the station desk how much he thought the robes were worth. Equivalent to £8. I think Aguet lost a lot of faith in humanity that night. I'm not sure Nat or I had much to begin with, so we weren't phased too hard.

Nat has come up with a way to save time and hostel money, by using night coaches between cities. Right now, we're on our way to Casablanca for the morning, though I'm not convinced of my ability to sleep on coaches after the one from Madrid.

28 April 2011

Friday 22nd - The Crushing Defeat

Today we were greeted with terrible weather, but more importantly, when we walked back to the slip road to Madrid near the shopping complex, it was dead and the complex was closed. An unrealised omen of things to come. Back at the hotel, the girls went to pester people in the car park, while I guarded the bags. After only twenty minutes, they returned with two guys, an English and a Danish student on placement in Spain, having a weekend off. Jamie and Kien were more than happy to drive us all the way to Madrid for some petrol money, but waived that clause when they found out it was for charity.

We were over the moon to be in Madrid so early in the day, but even though we'd been dropped in a bad hitching place, found that nothing mattered any more. As we began the long walk across the city to somewhere we could find a lift, it became apparent that Easter, being the Pagan holiday of fertility and sex, had screwed us. Madrid, the capital of not a small country, was a ghost town. It was like the scene in '28 Days Later', where Cillian Murphey strolls across an empty London, searching for any sign of life. Any car we did see was full of families and people thought we were a joke for trying. When we realised why this was happening, we considered cheating without yet committing, but found that due to Easter, if we weren't on the south coast by tomorrow, we won't even be able to pay for a lift.

More walking and thinking, it hit me that if we didn't cheat, we'd be stranded in Madrid until at least Monday and my flight is on Tuesday. We discussed our options for a while, tired from the hours of crossing the city on foot, and gradually came to a horrid consensus. We group hugged and agreed: this is the end of our hitch.

At the coach station, we encountered more hitchers that came to the same decision, Rory and Sam. We all caught the same night bus to Algeciras where we'll catch a ferry in the morning.

22 April 2011

Thursday 21st - North of Spain

Today was much like our first day in France. We managed to hitch only short haul rides, but quite a few that added up to a lot of covered ground, somewhere around 250 km. We began by trying to hitch from Vielha to Lleida, our first lift being from Roman, who was transporting his elderly father home to the next town about 40 km down the road. He placed us in a lay by, where we soon had an interesting argument with a police officer regarding the legitimacy of hitch-hiking in Spain. Fortunately, we carried with us a letter from one Bryony Hutt back at Hitch HQ that made her quickly shut up and pester someone else.

Our second lift was from two awesome hippies, Kaymy and Hannah, who made it clear that they weren't sleeping together, in spite of appearances. He spoke pretty good English and when not on holiday, works as a tour guide around the whole of Spain for coach-loads of tourists. This came in handy when pointing out things of note and interest throughout the most beautiful 50 km of our journey so far.

Another lay by in a village, we were waiting for a couple of hours for a lift, turning down a ride from two guys that wanted us to pay them €100 to be driven the rest of the way to Lleida! A taxi would have been cheaper. We were eventually saved by Pedro, an elderly workman with a van that smelt like meths and every surface was covered with some kind of white dust. Aguet took up her usual role of entertaining the driver, but every time she spoke, Pedro turned to look at her, pulling on the wheel and almost swerving into oncoming traffic each time. Nat and I became very aware that we didn't have seat belts, so Aguet thought it was a good idea to stop talking. He dropped us in a better direction than Lleida, at a service station on the way to Huesca, where Jesus picked us up, speaking impeccable English and toting an incredibly comfortable car. He took us the rest of the way to Huesca.

At the petrol station we were dropped off, I saw an opportunity to shed some of the vast amount of change I've accumulated by only paying with notes like an idiot. Nat and I bought some Calypsos, spent a few minutes counting out the amount in small coins, when the clerk pushed the change and follies back at us, saying something that implied he'd rather give away free stock than have to count the pile we had stacked.

Carole finally picked us up and took us to a huge shopping complex just off the motorway near Zaragoza, where we tried in vain to hitch somewhere more convenient in the failing light. With nowhere around to camp, surrounded by motorway, I felt we had no choice but to check into a nearby hotel. It looked far too luxury for our own good, but turned out to cost about the same as the toilet we stayed in Toulouse. Except this time, we were greeted with perks such as WiFi and a bidet, the latter of which, I'm almost afraid to try and use.

So far we've had nineteen lifts (not including the ride with the officers) and are well on our way into the heart of Spain.

21 April 2011

Wednasday 20th - Pyrenees, Spain's Crumple Zones

When we awoke, our wonderfully hippie hosts made us some breakfast and tea, before driving us out to "the best place to hitch to Spain". We were there for two hours with no luck for any destination. After walking for a while, we were picked up and taken to the next town. Still no luck for Spain, so we hitch-hiked slightly closer. Stranded, we were genuinely considering walking through the mountain range that separated us from our destination. After a while of walking, Aguet fell behind and found some Spanish hearse drivers that put us on the right road. It's odd being squashed in the back of a large hearse, knowing a corpse usually sits there.

By now, though, I was really starting to lose hope of reaching Spain tonight. Hitching in a mountain range was certainly made better by the outstanding scenery, but the sun was setting and we had only managed a couple of pigeon-step lifts. Just as I was eyeing up a nice bit of scenery to ruin with our tents, we finally got a lift heading to a small town just inside of the Spanish boarder, Vielha. We jumped out of the car, thanked our driver, Mark and his passenger, Roland and marched to the nearest field, just in time to put our tents up as the stars were beginning to show.

Now that we've finally made it to our next country, I'm feeling far more positive than only a couple of hours ago. I was starting to think we would never get out of France.

Tuesday 19th - The Inescapable City

Before arriving in France, I was warned by people that the northerners are as rude and unhelpful as londoners, whereas the southerners are far more laid back and cooperative. Bollocks. Upon leaving our hotel, we were forced to walk for miles to the various junctions of the orbital motorway, testing each one for an age to see if anyone was heading in put direction. It didn't matter what our sign read or where we were, the people of Toulouse just wouldn't help us. Except for Jean, who at least gave us a ride to the motorway toll station. After this, we realised exactly how unhelpful people were. Every single person passing us were heading through where we needed to go, but none cared until brothers, Gail and Yuan picked us up. They took us to their awesome organic farm where they demonstrated amazing hospitality. Gail's girlfriend, Estelle, cooked us dinner, Gail gave us a tour and Yuan spent the whole time hitting on Aguet, while Nat and I helped to smoke their weed. These guys have travelled the world, especially Yuan who does humanitarian and eco-activism work in the Amazon. We had a really chilled out evening and rolled out our sleeping bags in their spare room.