I’m packed and full from breakfast, so now all I’m waiting for is Lin’s uncle to give me a ride out of the farm. They’re very aware of what my plan means to hitchhike because I say, “I want to go to the highway”, but they bring me all the way up to the front of the toll gate. I read a little bit about hitchhiking in China and this way was by far the most recommended.
He drops me off in front of the gate and I give some room for people to stop before starting to flag them down. I think I got too comfortable at the farm because I’m filled with nervousness. Maybe it’s the daunting 1,700 Km trip I have ahead of me.
I’m still sticking with the hand motion, down, like I’m slapping a table, and a point to the sky and in the direction of the road. Maybe the pointing is too Ghanaian though. In Ghana, that’s the way to signal to the public buses which one should stop, otherwise they won’t be happy if you stop them from pointing in the wrong direction or they’ll make a hand motion asking what you want if you just motion them to stop. Probably not the best plan here, but it feels natural, so I’ll stick with it for now.
It’s been about 20 minutes and I’m not getting any responses. I can tell it’s a good spot if I at least get waved off. A negative response is better than nothing. Nothing to me means they’re not even considering it for whatever reason. So, I pass the toll gate and try on the other side. I hope as the cars start back up, they’ll be more zoned into the road. Within the first few people I’m already getting some negative responses, so that’s promising.
After about five minutes I can see two policemen way off in the distance walking in my direction, so I prepare myself for them. I’ve read and heard stories of them helping, so I have that mind state as the first one approaches me. The second one hangs back a few steps and then pulls out a camera to take pictures of us talking. I can already tell this is going to be a good interaction.
We chat a bit, get some close-up photos and then he tells me to come back to the gate and that he wants to help me. His English is quite good, so I’m able to really explain my goal. He talks to the first truck passing and then asks if it’s okay that I only go to the next province, about 4 hours away. I climb into the truck to be met by two men with huge smiles. Well, that was pretty easy.
The truck drivers don’t speak a word of English, so after we get through the basic Chinese I know, we just resort to smiles and laughing. They give me an orange juice and a water to make sure that I’m okay.
I start to drift in and out of consciousness and the guy sitting in the middle asks if I want to sleep in the bed, right there in the cab. Knowing I’ll be camping, I want to make myself as tired as possible so I’ll have a chance to sleep wherever I end up.
After a while, I guess we’re at the new town because they stop just after the toll place and tell me to get out with them. All I can understand is that their friend will help me. They pass me off to the police booth where those guys then grill me to find out what I’m doing. They keep telling me that the small cars and trucks won’t want to pick me up, so they’ll flag down a bus for me.
Slowly, more and more police come over to join in on the way-too-over-complicated situation. We finally get to a point where a bus will take me, at no charge, the 300km to the next big town.
I get on the bus to meet a grinning driver and confused passengers. Many of them just woke up from the commotion and I think don’t quite believe they’re seeing a foreigner. I squeeze to the back and plop down in a seat with about four inches of room in front of my chest.
With about 100 km left to the town I decide to get off the bus at a rest stop. It’s getting close to nighttime and I don’t want to be stuck on the bus or in the town after dark. I want to get my tent set up before it’s too dark, so I think it’ll be easier if I get another ride with a passenger car.
I head for the exit road and pass right by the group of police to make sure it’s okay. They don’t understand what I’m saying, so they pull out their phones and we communicate through a translator app. The one with the app says he wants to help me find a ride.
I appreciate the help, but he approaches cars in such an awkward way when they’re parked that it makes me feel like this is too much a violation of people’s privacy. I like the side of the road because it’s not too forward and it gives people a chance to make their own unforced decision. I keep bringing up that I want to go to the side of the road, but he always says that people won’t be interested in stopping that way.
After his patience is gone from all the rejections he finally agrees that I can try the road if I want. I get just far enough up for people to see me and think about pulling over, and I stand just on the side of the entry road to the highway. The first car that comes up the road stops and the guy tells me to get in as he is also going to the next big town. I turn to the policemen and wave my goodbye. I’m not sure who is more surprised that I got that ride faster.
This ride is in a nice SUV and the guy is playing some really good American songs. I’m feeling better and better about ditching that cramped bus. We talk a little bit and I explain to him my plan of sleeping on the side of the highway with my tent. He agrees to let me down whenever I think it’s a good spot.
It’s about fifteen to six now and I’m getting anxious to find a spot before it gets dark. I keep scanning the side of the road and then find what looks like a great spot. I tell him to pull over and he immediately stops. I hop out of the car, thank him again, and hop over the side railing and down the grass hill on the side of the road.
This spot is even more perfect than I thought it was from the car. The hill slopes down just enough for me not to be seen, but still close enough to get the light from the passing cars. At the bottom of the decline it gets flat just enough to fit my tent and then goes back up on the other side, where it meets a barbed wire fence between my spot and an untouched woodland. The fence enclosed me against the road, so I don’t have to worry about any animals or people bothering me from that direction.
Just as the sun is starting to set, I get my tent totally set up. I’m inside and ready for sleep just as it gets dark. I wish all my tent nights could be this perfect. I try to meditate a little bit before bed since it’s so early, but I don’t stay awake for long.