As I stood on the side of a country road in the damp, Andalucian spring air with my finger out at the occasional car that passed by, I began laughing at my situation. I had money, that wasn’t the problem. Really, there was no problem. I was just doing this for the adventure of it.
The laugh was spurred on by the fact that I was going against all the things I had been told as a child. Going against that sacred and ingrained rule,
"Never get in a car with a stranger."
My previous idea of a stranger was now a laughable one. The word stranger infers bad, scary, or dangerous, but I had been living in the homes of strangers, passing my time with strangers, getting in cars with strangers, occasionally having a romance with strangers. And so far, not one of them had roofied my candy. Instead, they’d begun to open my eyes to a different way of living, new cultures, languages, foods, and a different way of loving (the Spanish way of loving. A way marked by the 5 different words they have for love in Spanish).
So far, the only result of getting in cars with stranger was a more open heart and a lot of interesting stories.
The first time I hitchhiked, I was not alone. I had been living on a farm in the hills of southern Spain for a month when a Israeli boy with deceptive eyes came along. I convinced him to try and hitchhike to Granada with me. I had been hearing stories of how the other volunteers that I worked with on the farm had hitchhiked (or auto stopped) around Germany, Croatia, Spain and so on, and I needed to give it a try myself.
The nerves were too strong to try it by myself at first, so we set out together. We started in the small town, Letur, we had been living outside of. We easily got picked up by an old farmer. He grumbled some words in Spanish we couldn’t understand and motioned for us to throw our bags in the back. We hopped in the front of his pick-up truck and we headed up the road.
Our day continued like this. We had times when we waited for a few hours, but eventually we got picked up. We met a Colombia mailman on his mail route who offered us his home in Colombia if we ever visited, a school teacher who taught history in the next biggest city (Mulcia), and an old man who had been living in the small town for his whole life.
They all told us their stories then wished us luck on our travels.
This first experience I had with hitchhiking opened my eyes to a different world than the one I had been living in. It was one free of suspicion and fear, one that offered any random passerby as a potential friend. The biggest thing it did for me was showed me that people are generally good. This is the one that had stuck with me and compelled me to stick out my finger once again, this time alone, on the side of a foreign road in a foreign country whose language I did not speak. It was this open heart and acceptance that got me safely to my next destination.
This is not to say that nothing can go wrong while hitchhiking. You have to be smart and follow your instinct. This is what my friends had told me before my first time when I nervously awaited my first car. They said you will know. Your intuition, or gut, will tell you if the person is safe. Look them in the eyes and see what kind of person they are. You can’t be meak. If you have doubts, don’t get in. But if you're greeted with a genuine smile and a kind look in the eyes, then go for it!
If you are trying out hitchhiking for your first time, I would advise doing it with friends. You will feel more comfortable and confident, it also helps if you speak the language.
But once you get your feet wet, don’t be afraid to do it by yourself, even if your a woman.
The point of this story is bigger. Bigger than my personal accomplishment to overcome a long held anxiety of strangers. Bigger than successfully reaching Granada. To me, hitchhiking popped a bubble.
A bubble of illusion that had encapsulated my life for a long time. This bubble was fear. We are raised to be scared. Fear is so ingrained in our culture that we don’t even think to second guess its role. Maybe, at some point in the evolution of our society, it had a purpose. But what is its purpose now? Does this fear really protect us from anything? Or does it simply keep us living in white boxes, acutely separated from one another.
Although this article is about hitchhiking, what I am addressing is a deeper problem.
It’s the sickness and fear of an entire society, a entity scared of its own shadow. The stigma we have around hitchhiking merely presents this problem in its physical form. This fear we have produced, and now carry as a society, what is this thing?
At its root, it's a fear of other. It's a fear of the unknown, of breaking out of comfort zones, it's a fear of raw sensation and emotion that so many feel. It’s a cold, empty distance between each other. A distance we are unsure how to bridge because we have never been taught to. We are enveloped in this white box that keeps us separated.
Is this fear to stick out our finger on the side of the road, asking a stranger for a ride, is this not the same fear as telling someone we love them? Is it not the same anxiety we feel around trust? Trusting that this human being isn’t a bloodthirsty monster that is going to murder you and chop your body into little pieces? It’s possible they are. But it's also possible they are just a normal human beings, no different than yourself, who simply wants to share a conversation with a stranger on their lonely drive to work.
So I encourage you to try and break out of this bubble we call our comfort zone. Poco a poco, or little by little, as the Spanish say.
You might be like me and feel an intense tightening in your chest, an anxious pull away from opening, but breathe into this feeling, and just say hi. Talk to a stranger on the bus. Just say hi and make eye contact. Say hello to the neighbor you see every morning but have never spoken too. Most likely, they are just as interested in talking to you.
Pick up a hitchhiker on the side of the road. You’ll probably enjoy a great conversation by doing so. Or try it yourself. Stick out your finger and place your trust in the goodness of people.