Trippin'

Trippin' is a collection of travel stories written by a young Australian writer. They talk of the humor of living a life on the fringe, the frustration of being down and out, and the stories of all the people he met along the way. The journey speaks to anybody who has experienced life on the road, or shares a thirst for the freedom that comes with spontaniety and transient living.

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11. Hitchin' our poor arses to Munich

 

Occurred - September 2011, Valencia (Spain) to Munich (Germany).

I think everybody has to experience a moment in life where they hit rock bottom. It could take place in any form - divorce, betrayal, destitution, or maybe just plain loneliness. Who knows, maybe Cheryl just found her hubby cheatin' with another woman, or perhaps Steve just wrapped his brand new Ferrari around a tree trunk. Whatever the situation, some moments in life can simply make you feel like arse.

For me, these feelings solidified themselves within my mind during a 1600 kilometre hitch-hiking pilgrimage from Valencia (Spain) to Munich (Germany). Well, I guess if the definition of a pilgrimage can be stretched to simply wanting a warm bed and a cold beer, then it was most certainly one of epic proportions. In any case it was most likely just a journey, but still one of epic proportions. The adventure stripped us of every human comfort one would take for granted in their regular daily life, and left us for dead on the side of the AP-7 in the Pyrenees. We crossed all distinctive lines between man and bum - and from the other side of society the world definitely didn't look as grand as it once had. This is the story.

I had just returned to Seville and met with Jake the day after I bailed from my 5 days of farm work 60 km's out of the city. We had both reached a wall - a massive wall, laced with barbed wire and guarded by vicious hounds. I had just endured 3 and a half weeks in Morocco, getting accosted from every angle as I'd try and do something as simple as eat a god damn sandwich. I was running low on money, and my possessions were wearing thin. I had become the shell of a man, with only a crazy mixture of experiences behind me.

Jake had experienced everything about 1 thousand times worse than myself. In the three months that we had been separated he had been robbed four times - three times in London and once in Italy. He had been held at knife point, forced to surrender cash out of his 'Bad Mother Fucker' wallet, forced to sell his guitar for money, and reduced to survive out of a guitar case.

It became frightfully clear at that point that we both needed something more. We needed something that would give us a new type of kick - another buzz that would distract us from the overall problem that we were still moneyless and without direction.

The idea manifested itself in the form of hitch-hiking, and not just a small stint either, but a majestic 4-5 country feat of epic proportions. The original idea was formed one summers day outside of the backpackers. Every morning, after a huge night out (Spanish style), we would rise and sit outside in 47 degree heat, attempting to deal with life in an Andalusia summer. We were on the verge of a few  great moments - La Tomatina was just around the corner, and Oktoberfest and my 21st birthday were 3 weeks afterwards.

But the only problem with all of this was that neither of us had any money to get anywhere. We were stranded. If I was spending money it came from the profits of the eggs business, but Jake was spending absolutely nothing. He had been sitting on 0 euro for just over two months, but through making beds for a free stay and working on the hostel reception his bank account was about to boom. But at that point money had become a romantic pastime for both of us, even if we had lived our lives separately for 3 months.

The basic point behind all of this was that we needed a way to get to all of these places, and we needed it for free. We were both well versed with the idea of hitch-hiking, with myself undertaking a small stint in Tassie and both of us picking up a ragged bald woman earlier in the year. We eventually decided that, after La Tomatina in Valencia, we would hitch the remaining 1600 kilometres to Sandy's house in Munich for the Wiesn. We didn't know how it would happen, but by god it was going to be righteous.

The hitch-hiking plan gradually came to fruition as La Tomatina drew closer. It felt like we were planning a revolution in some smoky Chinese basement, recruiting our German friend Michael to the crew with promises of sinking tins in the back tray of trucks and freedom, god damn freedom! His girlfriend at the time (30-something-year-old Portuguese goddess Angela) was also in on the plan, agreeing to hire a car so that we could drive to La Tomatina instead of getting a bus which was more expensive.

We went on hitch-hiking websites, copied down cities that we could stop at and planned our daily budgets with regular 'practice run' trips to the supermarket. This would usually just involve stepping into the shopping centre with less than 10 euro (which wasn't abnormal anyway) and see how much we could buy. We found that cheese and cured sausages were the best option, partially because they fill you up and also partially because Jake had always had a vision of hitch-hiking with a stick of Chorizo hanging off his bag.

As the weeks rolled by I gradually began to learn more about the topic, and from what I discovered it didn't actually seem too difficult. The basic key was to just stick to the large petrol stations, hold a sign and buy a few bottles of cheap red for the wait. It seemed like a dream come true.

But the plan was kept under wraps. The manager we were all working for at the time was an Argentinian douche, and if he got word that we were busting he would absolutely flip. Not only that, but keeping the plan a secret also meant that it was far more hilarious when we left him on his arse, three workers down. Somehow, by some divine miracle, this guy had managed to climb the ranks of the hostel industry and was now reigning over everybody. He was a liar, a cynic and basically just an all round sleaze towards women. His essential goal would be to hire women that he hoped to sleep with, and if they weren't at all keen he would sack them on the spot. But don't be imagining some buff Latino - this guy looked like E.T. which made it all the more seedier.

Two days before La Tomatina the time finally came. We awoke and discretely packed our bags, leaving all the Kenyan maids in complete confusion as to where we were going (and why they would now need to do even more work than they were already doing). We said our goodbyes to yet another group of international workers (although this time we had Finnish and Polish biatches in the mix), and I yelled 'F*** you Max!' as we turned the corner - quite childish really, but whatever. And so we set out, onward to Valencia.

After a night of sleeping in a barren grape vineyard, in blatant view of the farmer's house, we arrived. The festival itself is really of no pivotal importance in relation to the story, but how Jake and I lived in Valencia probably is.

The basic problem of being in Valencia was that because we had no money we couldn't afford accommodation. Luckily our friend Leilani (a girl we had met in Darwin working at Duck's Nuts) had saved her pennies and had a room. We dumped my bags, Jake's guitar case and one ragged  Rolling Stones bag full of clothes into her room but were not able to sleep there. Unfortunately Leilani then, by default, became a part of our world. Prior to the day of the actual festival she actually had to throw down small bags of salted peanuts to us on the street because we had no money for lunch.

'Man,' I said one day to Jake. 'We are blatant bums - we are the bums of our friends.' It was so intriguing at the time because we had already discovered that we had begun to lead this kind of double life - regular, semi well dressed young men during the day, but completely homeless dregs at night. We were still considered as regular humans insomuch as to get let into shops and receive free drink cards on the street, but also homeless looking enough to befriend Gypsies. It was the beginning of a 3 week trend for both of us, living off the generosity of others and merely hoping that everything would work out.

But what we began to realise by being destitute in Valencia was that it wasn't uncommon to see others living the same way. With the nations more or less 20% unemployment rate it was obvious how the nation came to be in their position of poverty. Their economy was a failure, resulting in petty corruption by people struggling to make a dime. Public car-parks were controlled by homeless men who hid their 1 litre Cruzcampo's in a dark corner whilst 'guiding' the cars of tourists into their spaces. They made their money either through the tips of patrons, or through the 600 odd euro they received each month by the government. But the problem with the car parking scheme was that (1) you never asked for any help in the first place, and (2) in trying to just be innocent these men now had permission to do your windows if you didn't tip them. They had basically forced you into a situation that made you the loser and them the winner. It was remarkable.

On the streets of Valencia we met others who were doing the same as us. We came across three Estonian girls who just looked as if they were all enjoying a nice picnic in the park. Naturally, due to their stunning good looks, we began chatting with them. As it turned out they were actually as destitute as we were, putting their bags into storage and taking one blanket for the three of them to sleep on in the park.

'But where are you guys sleeping tonight?' one of the girls said.

'Dunno yet,' Jake and I added, not sure as to what answer they were looking for.

'Oh my god, you don't know how good it is to hear something like that around here.'

I think this gave us the determination we needed to begin the hitch. To understand at that point that what we were doing wasn't actually insane made all of the difference. We hounded them for questions, asking them for the best method.

'Well, it's not that difficult,' they said. 'But be prepared to separate. There have been times where the three of us have had to separate, sometimes for a few days. Don't be scared though, you just need to have a safe destination and a mode of contact.'

'Mode of contact,' I thought - we didn't even have phones.

And so without delay the hitch-hiking began. Angela, unwilling to part with Michael, spent the last few days with us and then dropped us at a Cepsa petrol station somewhere just outside of Valencia. We were on the AP-7 - the highway that runs along the coast of Spain. It passes safely through Barcelona, and then upward into France. The petrol station had everything we needed, so we bought a few bread sticks and some Camembert cheese (based on its delicious taste and ridiculously cheap price) and hit the exit, thumbs out. We were in hysterics, most of us hitching for the first time, especially in Europe. It felt so surreal that Angela had just dropped us off and now it was literally up to us whether or not we made any progress.

In any case, we did, but it took some time. As the sun began to set we were positioned on the exit of the highway, sippin' on a cheap bottle of red and getting a 'lil sauced. After a few hours of failed thumbing we moved to the gutter outside of the actual petrol station. This was where the first of two truly homeless moments occurred for us. As we were sitting on the gutter, with our sign for Taragona written with a black marker on a piece of cardboard, a middle aged Spanish guy passed us. I don't know exactly what he was thinking, but judging by the fact that he gave us money I think he thought we were beggars. As he turned the corner we all fell into hysterics, mainly because we thought of the fact that we all came from middle class backgrounds but were now stranded at a random petrol station. 

After about an hour or so of hard chillin' we finally got a hitch. We made the conscious decision to split into two groups. Myself and Michael got a lift with a Spanish guy that looked like the Hispanic equivalent to the Granddad in 'Dennis the Menace', and Jake got a hitch with a really lovely Spanish couple who claimed would 'feed him up nice and good'.

We arrived at another Cepsa petrol station in Tarragona at around 1 in the morning and set up camp in a small reserve in suburbia. We pitched our tents on hard dirt in view of some extremely distasteful graffiti. I was definitely ready to get a shiv to my thigh. There was a dark forest to our left, an abandoned tower in front of us, and the drowned out sound of bustling cars all around us.

But this feeling was just a part of the experience when you decide not only to live out of a backpack, but openly accept lifts for hundreds of kilometres from absolute strangers. When you decide to hitch you are really signing a social agreement that puts your life in the hands of somebody else. And all for the overriding reason of simply not having any money.

We awoke the next morning with sore backs and empty stomachs, walking back to the petrol station for a hot shower in a disabled toilet and a bread stick lathered with oil and salt. Who would've thought that spending 3 hours at a petrol station could be so damn riveting. It had absolutely everything we needed. A shower of any kind was treated like liquid gold, and a mildly attractive Spanish cashier looked like somebody as smoking as Miranda Kerr.

Our second day was far more eventual than the night that had just passed. After several hours of attempting to scab lifts from strangers we eventually ended up getting a ride with an Australian girl. She was driving a lime green Mini and for some reason or another worked in Belgium. She was a bit hesitant at first to let three long-haired, dirty hitchers into her small and extremely clean car, but again I think she felt slightly sympathetic towards us.

In the hours before getting picked up by this Australian girl we had time to perfect our hitching technique. The three of us all had different methods, but I don't think any of us wanted to get too desperate – at least Jake and I didn't. We both tried to be at least mildly classy about the whole thing, but Michael on the other hand looked totally like a jail broken rapist. For him, being German meant that comfort came first. For the several weeks that we had known him he would usually wear his bright orange parachute pants from Thailand with his sturdy, German efficient boots. This, according to him, gave him the power he needed to slide on over to cars. The closest equivalent to understand how he was walking would be if you imagined E.T. gliding around. But curiously enough, his method still managed to score us lifts. It probably had something to do with his immensely blue eyes that, even as a male, turned you on just slightly.

So there we were, squished into a lime green Mini coop listening to lame dance beats from the top of the charts. After she stopped to have lunch (by herself) at a small coastal town, she dropped us at Barcelona airport.

This was a bad move - Barcelona airport is mammoth, and even though we knew a lot of people would be leaving they were usually of the business type and not willing to give us a lift. After we manoeuvred our way to an exit we began to thumb it hard. Well, after we got kicked out of the airport. For some reason the security guard didn't like three guys sitting on the ground dividing up blue cheese and bread. It was as if he detected our motives and wasn't all about it.

After failing to get a hitch at the exit to the airport we decided to walk for about 4 kilometres along the highway to find another petrol station We became as dehydrated as Christian disciples in the Sahara dessert and had to sit down at various points along the highway for rest. The plan to find a suitable hitching spot ended up failing quickly, so we decided to catch a random bus into town.

This was another bad move – The city of Barcelona is scary, especially to the poor man. But luckily we didn't venture completely into the town. We hopped off the bus, walked under the highway through a derelict tunnel and reached another Cepsa petrol station. But immediately we got the impression that we weren't going to have any luck. We were too far into the city for anybody going north, the sun was setting fast and rain and cold wind had set in.

Eventually we ended up having to spend the night outside the petrol station. We slept on the gutter, in blatant view of everybody who was filling up and not going anywhere near the most northern point of Spain. We had no blankets, no tents, nothing. We slept even more uncomfortably than a homeless man on a park bench with newspaper sheets for warmth. We were sprawled out and limp, like the chalk outline of a dead body in a crime scene investigation. It was truly one of those moments where the humour of it all fades away and the seriousness of life hits you hard. We had nothing and were entirely separated from anybody that we even remotely knew.

Nevertheless the sun rose and we all picked up the courage to keep going. Even though it was only 3 days into the journey the 3 of us were definitely feeling weary, with words being less frequently exchanged (especially by Michael). Jake and I had been in situations like this all year and always had each other to rely on. We stayed up all night and shooted the shit just to keep our minds off what was really going on. Michael's mind was elsewhere, and I had a feeling he probably wouldn't last much longer.

Luck played a huge part in how we ended up getting out of Barcelona. I knew from my research on the internet that a huge petrol station was near. My sense of direction is mediocre at best, so the fact that Jake and Michael trusted me is something majestic.

We ended up catching the tube into the centre of the city, witnessing the disgusting Catalan language, Thai prostitutes turned Spanish and Greek metros in an environment that revealed every problem with globalisation. We rode the train into the city, with most passengers trying to sit as far from our dirty bodies as possible. This was another first for me – I had never felt so repugnant.

After a long list of failures we finally reached this cafe that was positioned underneath a major highway. On the park bench next to it sat 3 old Spanish guys. It was such an odd place to see anybody, let alone the elderly, and made me think that maybe they had called each other up the week before and said 'hey Leyroy, wanna meet at that bench under the AP-7 next Wednesday at 3pm?' It was remarkable how chill they were in their old age.

One of the old men whistled us over when he saw that we looked lost, and helped us find our way. He told us, in stunted English, Spanish and German, that many hitch-hikers had come before us. He acted as some sort of saint, helping all of our lost souls find our way to freedom. Obviously this wasn't his first rodeo. He ended up shuffling (in slippers) with us to a broken gate next to a construction site, and pointed to the petrol station. We thanked him for his efforts and hit the station for another bread stick and a wheel of Camembert.

After getting picked up by a Spanish punk we had yet another 5 kilometre walk due to yet another dick dropping us in a shit location. This was about the third time that it had occurred, and even though it wasn't really their fault I was starting to lose faith in trusting anyone. This punk literally just dropped us of in the middle of a roundabout in rural Spain and expected us to find our way.

After walking along another highway for just under 4 kilometres and getting mooned by a bunch of freshmen in a mini van, we finally got a hitch. We got picked up by a stoner who let the 3 of us squish into his shit-box of a car that was filled with old computer screens. I knew he was clearly high as soon as we met because (1) he stopped in the middle of the highway to pick us up, and (2) he swerved absolutely everywhere even when going 50 mile an hour on a 100 mile an hour road. But I guess for us it was a blessing that he was ripped because otherwise nobody would've been going slow enough to stop for us.

He ended up dropping us off in this beautiful town called Girona, and left us with a little present that we gave a big home to. We spent the night in a hysterics. It was as if every stoner that picked us up would go through the necessary questions to determine whether or not we would want to smoke with them. The conversation would usually revolve around the the following questions:

'Where are you from?'

'Where are you going?'

'Where have you been?'

'You smoke?'

'You smoke weed?'

'You wanna have a joint?'

The same situation occurred a couple more times within our hitch-hiking adventure and the above conversation would usually occur verbatim. But I guess it's only natural that stoner’s are some of the nicest, most generous people in the world. Never does it cross their minds that the strangers they are picking up may have ulterior motives. They simply understood that we just wanted an experience. 

As fate would have it Michael decided to stay in Girona. He believed that his Spanish experience wasn't over yet, and the fact that we had our eyes set on his homeland definitely wasn't up his ally. We parted ways, with 3 becoming 2. At that point I think Jake and I both wondered whether that number would lessen again. But there was no time for that - we needed to get to France.

Another great ordeal left us stranded, but with a few more stunted conversations to old men at rest stops we finally made it to another Cepsa petrol station. We got let out on the side of the road by a middle aged Spanish student and had to walk through a farmers field to get to the correct highway.

'Dude!' I yelled, as Jake lagged 10 metres behind me. 'This feels like the amazing race or some shit! Goin' to all these petrol stations to get the next clue!'

'Man,' he replied. 'We're walking so much faster this time. Look! We haven't even broken speed yet!'

'Yeah man, it's 'cos we're dope.'

'Yeah... Dope as shit.'

This was yet just another meaningless conversation of our lives, even if it was happening in one of the most breathtaking landscapes one could ever lay eyes on.

As we jumped a small barbed wire fence and walked under the highway through a tunnel covered in political graffiti, we finally reached the Cepsa in all its glory. After a long wifi sesh we eventually got offered a ride by an older man named Derek. He was a 50 year old German missionary with an 18 year old girlfriend. She was a punk and he was a Granddad. But it didn't even matter. We rode up front with him in his Volkswagen van as his girlfriend slept in the back. He drove us over 500 kilometres and dropped us just outside of Lyon in France. For the entire 4 or so hours he chained cigs and blasted ACDC, eating skittles and M&M's religiously. He had massive steeze, especially for a missionary.

It was soon after reaching Lyon that we had reached the halfway point in our journey. Luckily just outside of the city lived the first friend that we had met on the road. Her name was Elise and we had met her and her boyfriend over 8 months earlier in the small town of Waikerie in South Australia. Her boyfriend at the time had asked us for weed on a street corner, and from that moment onwards we had stayed in contact.

Knowing that we would be passing through, we organised to stay with her. But unfortunately it took us a little over 5 hours to find her house. We first received a hitch into the city of Lyon itself (where we assumed she lived), and when we discovered that she actually resided in a small town 40 kilometres away we were forced to tramp it for the rest of the afternoon. It's moments like this when you truly begin to understand the generosity of people, and also the mind boggling notion of kilometres and how far they actually are when you are forced to walk them.

We first walked along the highway, and then through a commune of French gypsies underneath the bridge. Jake dropped a 'Ca va' for politeness. We then met with 2 black gangsters on the corner of an industrial street and asked for directions. They spoke no English and one of them had 'fuck' written on his knuckles. Funnily enough they were champions, directing us to where they thought a tram or bus might have been. After this little endeavour we spoke with French businessmen, a Mother and her child, and a group of French teens - all just to find our way.

We finally ended up boarding a first class train that headed into the French countryside. Luckily, the ticket inspector wasn't able to speak a word of English, so when it came time for us to pay she eventually gave up and left us alone. We eventually arrived at the door of our friends house at around 10pm. We knew at that moment that we were as nomadic as we were ever going to be, considering that we had reached her house from the address that was written in pen on our hands. I felt quite proud of the effort, really. Imagine, finding a single random house in a single random town outside of one random city - in France.

And so it was here that we spent the next 5 days. We relaxed, showered, ate and generally just reconnected with ourselves again. We kicked back and smiled, knowing that covering over 800 kilometres in only 5 days was a solid effort. When the time came to leave, Elise ended up dropping us at a berrieres de peage (French for one of those toll booth things) and Jake and I basked in the midday sun for a few hours.

It was at this point that we had two options. The first was to go to Grenoble to see another friend of ours, but it meant that we'd be backtracking a little. The second was to head to Geneve in Switzerland because it was the next stop on our way to Munich.

We had more than enough time to figure it out, so in an abandoned corn growing field Jake and I played a game. We flipped a coin, me being heads and Jake being tails. Heads meant that we went to Geneve; tails meant we headed to Grenoble. I ended up winning, so we threw away our Grenoble sign and wrote another for Switzerland. For the next 3 hours we played another game that involved us trying to hit a small sign on a tree with pebbles. At that moment this was our life. While others were back in Australia studying accounting or medicine we were in the French mountains throwing stones at a sign for the sheer hell of it. It really put the idea of freedom of choice into perspective.

After another string of small hitches, a night overlooking a beautiful lake and yet another experience of being stranded at an airport, we got picked up by somebody quite significant to the story.

Jake and I were positioned at a huge roadhouse somewhere in Switzerland. We had just eaten yet another bread stick and a wheel of Camembert (costing us 3 euro a day) and wrote a sign for Bern. The Swiss woman who had just dropped us off in this place was probably one of our biggest saviours to date. After becoming stranded at Geneve airport by two loaded businessmen catching a plane to an international meeting, we were forced to walk our way out. We were downright exhausted and decided to take turns in putting our thumbs out, even though everybody was going 90 mile an hour and would definitely not stop. There was no site of a petrol station or town – only an endless stretch of highway. But after a sudden slowing of cars due to roadworks the unthinkable finally happened. An innocent retail shop worker pulled over in her battered car and squished us in. It was another immense stroke of luck, but also of intelligence on Jake's part – never would I have predicted the situation so well and knew that it was our only chance in getting off the highway. 

After around 5 minutes or so of waiting we got picked up by a middle aged woman in a European style van. She was headed to Zurich (which is about halfway between Lyon and Munich, so we were stoked). We got to talking and as it turned out she was a photographer.

We ended up speaking of everything from my passion for writing to Jake's desire to work on a farm in the French Alps. Luckily this woman - who will be called Jackie Brown for the purposes of this story (considering she is an international photographer) - had some connections with a farm in a small town called Baden. Somehow she had some time for us, so she took us up into the Swiss mountains and introduced us to a woman called Mini - a 50-something-year-old German woman who had moved to Switzerland with her husband to act as caretakers for a small farm.

The activity of pivotal importance (at least to Mini and Jackie) was that we take a swim. Even though it was Switzerland and it was fucking cold, Jake and I could hardly say no. We were just stoked at the randomness of it all – which was definitely heightened when Mini and Jackie stripped down to nothing. Jake and I kept it classy, even if it was tempting to get completely naked with these old chicks.

After the swim we headed back to Mini's house for dinner. Jake and I couldn't believe our luck. The night prior we had spent the wee hours of the morning shivering, with no blankets to keep us warm. And then, at that exact moment, we were sitting comfortably in a wooden shack, talking over red wine and a vegetarian buffet. We had gone from being at risk to safe, lonely to loved, and bitterly uncomfortable to content.

The couple (and a few wash ins that had also joined us for dinner) were so stunned that people as young as us were still hitch-hiking. Mikael, the husband of Mini, said that he often went to the local petrol station in search of hitchers. But unfortunately never found any, so he began to believe that it was becoming an outdated form of travel.

'I think it may well be outdated,' I said, over a glass of red, 'But it shouldn't be'.

'How many kind people have you met during your journey do you think?'

'Everyone is friendly,' Jake added. 'Hitch-hiking is like a social filter - think about it. When you stand on the road with your thumb out you are automatically filtering out every person that doesn't want to pick up - basically everyone that doesn't give a shit. When someone pulls over you know immediately that they are willing to help somebody else, just because they are nice people.'

'Yeah,' I said. 'Hitch-hiking creates like a social network of generous, giving people. And not only that, but you get to see everything for how it is. None of this bullshit. I didn't come to Switzerland to see chocolate and department stores that I can see back home - I came here to see how the people live, and I think we've achieved that.'

This was a seminal moment within our travels. It made us realise that what we were doing wasn't actually moronic at all - it was exactly the means by which we could experience everything in the way we wanted to experience it. And this situation illustrated everything. Whilst Jake and I were lying in the attic of this Swiss shack, in amongst hay bails, we thought of the night before. Everything had changed purely because we met someone that gave a shit - someone who wanted to help us out. This was what it was all about.

The next day we partook in some picking work on the farm. We picked beans, beetroot's, carrots and any other delicious produce you could imagine. It was unreal. I added it in my mind to the list of countries I had worked illegally in, which now numbered 3.

Jackie took us back to her house later that evening. We realised at this point that she was no ordinary woman - she was fucking famous. Her photographs were printed in several books that she had written, mostly about the Nicaraguan revolution in the 1970's. She even had a book that was dedicated to her life.

But as humble and amazing as this all was, Jake and I couldn't bare it. Seeing her success and our failures (materialistically of course) side by side made us want to cry. We had absolutely nothing. We were struggling to find clothes that weren't ripped or dirty, and to make matters worse Jake had left his only good jumper at the farm. It was very much like this for us. When you lost something, no matter how trivial, it seriously got you down. It could've been anything,but because we had no money or no possessions it was always the little things that meant everything. It was especially even more daunting because of the fact that it had made us begin to think about our lives back in Australia. We had jobs, girlfriends, possessions, a huge group of friends - and here we were, stranded, too stubborn to cut the shit and go home or reach safety.

Jackie dropped as at a huge petrol station just outside of Zurich, and as we sat there we knew that something had to happen.

'That's it dude, I'm done,' I said. 'I'm gonna go to Munich, get Mum and Dad to bail me out, and start this shit over again.'

'Me too man. I'm finished with this, let's get there tonight!'

We ended up getting a lift with 3 Swiss students to another petrol station, but by the time we arrived we were too late to hitch. We spent the night just outside the petrol station, freezing our arses off in one tent because it created more body heat. The next day we awoke, and were determined to get to Sandy's door by sundown.

The day begun early. We got a hitch with the only non stuck up Swiss person that existed. From there a German girl picked us and another French hitch-hiker up. We drove around lake Constantine and had a whale of a time. She was smokin', the sun was shining, and we knew were gonna make it.

Our final two hitches, numbering 20 for the entire 1600 kilometres, came in the form of a 20 year old German law student who drove a Mercedes, and a regular joe who drove a van. We were on the autobahn by this point, so we were gunning at around 160, making quality speed. We put up our last sign saying 'Munich' and within 2 minutes got picked up by a guy who was driving past Munich. I looked at the map that had our original point (Geneve) on it, which then showed us the exact amount of kilometres we had to go until we reached Sandy's doorstep. Finally we were within 10 or so kilometres. It felt like a dream, and to make matters even better Sandy's house was almost directly on the highway. The man agreed to drop up off on the same street that she lived, so when we hopped out we ran immediately to her apartment and pressed the buzzer.

As we ran up the stairs we heard her scream with excitement. It was Sandy alright - in all her Serbian glory. She knew it us because her and her friend Louisa had just moved in and nobody (except us) knew the address. She met us halfway and hugged us hard. It was a great feeling, travelling all the way and knowing that we were destitute in Valencia only 2 weeks prior. She welcomed us in and our journey was finally complete.

From that moment onwards I think Jake and I viewed everything - even each other - differently. The journey we had just completed was like nothing we had ever done. It didn't compare to anything, even our experiences around Australia. For the entire 2 weeks we had entirely crossed the line into another realm of society, and it was grim. Sometimes, people were just downright cruel. Some of them wouldn't even dare to look you in the eyes whilst you suffered, let alone stick out a hand and offer to help. It was amazing what people wouldn't do out of the pure fear that stops people from opening themselves up to so many things in this world.  

But for the majority of the time we did believe that there were good people out there - people who would just help others for the feeling that they receive. The 1600 kilometres we travelled illustrated this. Without the generosity of those 20 people who picked us up - from the Swiss/Moroccan stoner's to the Spanish punks - we never would've left that petrol station outside of Valencia. I think I now have an eternal hate for Cepsa, even if the Spanish girls who worked there were smokin'

 

few i�sl����around with this sorry excuse for a host, and eventually left spontaneously to another couchsurfer in town.  

 

Desperately, I had contacted Khalifa during my stay with Yunes but again had no idea what to expect. I bailed from Yunes' place in the early morning and walked into the main Medina where he picked me up in style. He had long black hair tied back with a headband, smoked camel cigarettes and wore killer shades. I was impressed and ecstatic that I was finally going to have another positive couchsurfing experience in Morocco after Rasheed in Agadir.

We took a cab out to Khalifa's pad, getting dropped at a dusty commune of apartments. His place was fitted with a chilled lounge room, a guitar and amazing Moroccan tunes. He had two housemates, both of which did not speak a drop of English. One was a younger man with a huge afro and sideburns to boot. He played the guitar and smoked hash religiously. The other was a middle aged man, fitted with a mouthful of decaying teeth but an unwavering desire to learn about everything without knowing how to verbally communicate.

The following day, after eating a communal tagine, I accompanied Khalifa to his shop. It seemed as if it was almost mandatory that you owned a shop if you were native and lived in the city. Aside from perhaps running a tourist company that would take tourists out to rural towns in the desert on small trips, managing a small shop looked like the only way to make a living (with the exception of begging). Whichever way you looked at it, Morocco was dependant on the money of tourists, and unfortunately the native people believed in very specific (and sometimes incorrect) ways of obtaining that money.

I had done the same on this day as I had done with Yunes (the only difference being that I was somehow expected to wait for him whilst he worked). But on this particular day I somehow believed that everything would be fine.

Unfortunately I was wrong on a multiple of levels. Firstly, not only was I asked to accompany him, but I was forced to work for him. Khalifa insisted that I use my English to rope in western tourists, and obviously I refused.

'Mike, you listen to me,' he said sternly. 'This store is my life, and when you come into my life you become a part of that. If you walk into Morocco, you walk into our life.'

'Man, that's bullshit,' I replied. 'I'm not fuckin' working for you. I'm here to see the city and how you live, not throw away my morals and force people to buy shit from you.'

Unfortunately, these were actually my true words. As fate would have it, my frustration didn't take long to fully blossom. My idea of a positive experience was totally crushed by another person who just wanted to screw everybody over. Somehow, Khalifa had the idea that the louder and more persistent you were with tourists the more they would want to buy something. He would always be using an illusion of kindness and generosity to make money. Everything he did, every action, seemed to have an end point in his mind that benefited only himself. And I couldn't stand that. After being with Mohammed and the other cafe workers in Ourika Valley, I could see true potential and knew that Khalifa did not possess it. 

On the second night we visited a bar and we met with some Spanish travellers. They had met Khalifa on the street and, forced into seeing him again, agreed to meet him for a drink. Khalifa got absolutely trashed on red wine and bailed into a taxi, leaving me and another Spanish guy stranded. I was forced to use my intermediate level of Spanish and my goldfish grade memory to find our way back to his house in a city that I had no control over.

It was in his apartment, at around 2am, that I received the first real shock to my system. Before this moment I knew that Khalifa was devious at heart, but because he had never harmed me directly I was unable to completely ride him off.

We were all sitting in his lounge room, and Khalifa was attempting to sleaze onto the only Spanish girl in the house. It was an impromptu party and everybody was dancing to Arabic jazz and blues and just generally having a good time. But the focus was still always on Khalifa. It seemed as if he possessed an element of control even with the people he was close to.

But this Spanish girl was not feeling it at all. Myself and the Spanish travellers spoke about the dilemma whilst he was dancing or making other advances, and eventually they decided to up and leave. But suddenly the room fell silent and everything felt eerie. I was the only one standing up, and 10 pairs of eyes were staring at me. Khalifa was at the centre of these piercing stares. The Spanish guys had left minutes before me, leaving me alone. Khalifa spoke.

'What the fuck do you think you're doing?'

'Excuse me?' I replied.

'You come into my house, you eat my food, and then you fuck with me!'

'What?'

'Get the fuck out of here. Get the fuck out of my house.'

'What? Are you serious?'

'Yes I'm serious. You fucked with me. Get out of here.'

'But it's 2am. I have nowhere to go.'

'I don't care, fucking leave!'

My stomach dropped harder than it had ever done. The intensity of Morocco and attempting to couchsurf had finally hit me in its entirety. For the past 2 and a half weeks I had been on the run from a normal life. I was attempting to see the country in a way that was far too ludicrous for anyone, especially me, to imagine.

Luckily for me, Khalifa stopped me as I was walking out and began bursting into laugher. Apparently, besides the generic view of Moroccan people being welcoming and loving, they also like to fuck with foreigners in a sadistic way.

I stayed one more night, but left the day after. The night following the drunken rage incident Khalifa tried to make it up to me by attempting to spoon me in the single bed that I was sleeping on. He knocked on the door late that night, walking into what was literally just a giant room with marble floors and me in the middle of it, sleeping on a funked out mattress on the ground. He apologised, and believed at the time that male 'intimacy' was an integral component of Arabic culture that he wanted to share with me. Despite the obvious humour, I was actually scarred. I have known from a young age that once I actually had to refuse sexual acts from a man in real life I had to get the fuck out of where ever I was.

I bailed the next day, with a plethora of thoughts swirling around in my brain. I was confused and still didn't come close to understanding what their culture was all about. On the one hand, they were all welcoming and friendly to anybody they met, offering them tea and food and a good time. But what I discovered is that underneath all of these niceties was a clear monetary motive. But this was only what I had taken from my personal experience. Aside from Mohammed in the mountains and Rasheed in Agadir, I was treated like a slave who was forced to adopt the customs of the country I was in and subscribe to their lives. Fortunately enough I was still a traveller and not a Moroccan shop keeper, so I threw on my backpack and booked the next flight out to Spain.

In the days that followed I was slowly brought back down to reality. My sister and her boyfriend came and visited, and with them I returned to the mountains to see Mohammed, Ahmed and the young Eddy Murphy. I discovered pretty quickly that I had found pure bliss with not the Moroccan environment or culture, but the people - the people who weren't controlled by constricted practices, but those who simply wanted friendship. I hit the airport feeling satisfied with the truth that I had acquired, and was even more stoked with one small, seemingly unimportant fact - their toilets had western grade toilet paper.

 

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