I get up at about 5 AM to get everything packed up. I can still see around because of the light from the passing trucks and the spot still looks as great as it did last night. Everything is packed up in about 5 minutes and I head to the road. It’s still dark and a bit misty, so I avoid hitchhiking and the stereotypical horror movie setting. There’s a path that follows next to the road, so I start to walk to get some exercise. I really thought hitchhiking would be more exercise than it has been. Maybe that’s just because everything in Ghana was more exercise and hitchhiking there was just part of that.
After a few hours of walking, the sun starts to illuminate the road enough for the creepiness of me to ask for a ride wears off. It might be the fog, but I thought the sun rose earlier than seven in the morning. I decide to walk a bit further until there’s more light, but my plans change when a trucker pulls over up the road.
I run up to his truck and hop in to be met with a weathered face and a big grin. I go through my routine of where I’m going and my expectations not to pay for the ride. He, just like most of the others, waves the possibility off like I’m bringing up something again that was already agreed on in the past. He hands me a water and were on our way. It seems like it’s customary to give me something to drink when I get picked up. I have one from the rest stop yesterday, but I take his offer and save it for the rest of the day. He then tells me to eat some of the oranges he has strewn about the cab. He tells me that he’s going to deliver them and then something else I don’t understand. Maybe the second part was that they,re laced with poison for his brother on the Throne. Either way I tried them and their freshness is irresistible. He keeps telling me to eat more and I gladly accept.
About just thirty minutes up the road, he drops me off at his turn off from the highway and tells me to take another three oranges for the road. I thank him again and then get back on the side of the road to pick up another ride.
The next ride I get is a small van filled with three young-to-middle aged men. I’m thrown back a bit at how loud they are as they rapidly spit out their questions. My Chinese already isn’t good, and this isn’t helping. The driver keeps laughing at me and then commenting to his friends after I don’t understand. Even though they seem like jerks, I assume they’re being nice and laugh along with them. Every time the driver talks to me he sounds like he’s yelling at the top of his lungs. They want to bring me to a train station, but I insist that I want to stay on the road. He gets the point and drops me off at their off ramp.
I walk a bit down the road on the shoulder of the highway. There’s plenty of space and then it gets to a bridge where the space reduces quite a bit. Some traffic police pick me up there and tell me I shouldn’t be on the side of the highway. I realize that was pretty stupid, from now on I’ll just stay on the wide part and stand still to catch the ride.
The cop in the passenger seat can barely keep a straight face as he’s drilling me with questions. We all end up laughing together and getting a few pictures before they drop me off at a toll booth entrance to that same highway.
As expected two of the female the toll booth attendants walk over to me giggling to each other. They say they want to help me find a ride. They take me to their booth, offer me water, and then one of the guys makes me a sign on card board with the main road and an arrow pointing to the characters for Beijing. I feel really uneasy about the look of the cardboard. Maybe this would work in a society more familiar with hitchhiking, but I have a feeling it’s not formal enough here. Keep in mind I’m wearing a collared shirt, made sure my boots and clothes were cleaned, and hair not frazzled around.
Again I use my strategy of reading responses with and without the sign and it seems like more people react to my method. Then two traffic police from up the road come over to help me. They offer me water and a snack from the back of their motor bike. I’m a bit hungrier than I thought so I eat the dense oat-bar-like snack down quickly. He grabs the whole bag from his friend and gives it to me and says he’s going to get me some apples.
One of the policemen takes some pictures as the other one is fetching me the apples. An old woman comes up and gives me the apples and then stays with a group on the side of the road to watch me. I appreciate the policemen’s help, but they keep getting in the way of my flagging people down. They are either standing too close or also trying to get people to stop. This is that invasion of privacy thing I want to avoid with the hitchhiking. I go back to the toll booth to get on the other side, just like I did at the beginning. The guy who made me the sign says I can’t be on the highway and that side of the toll road counts as the highway. These guys are following their traffic-cop book too closely here. Before I stupidly walked on the side of the road, I had plenty of real police pass me on the highway and not even slow down for a better look.
He tells me to go back to where I was and not use the method I was using, but instead use his method. He says I should stand with the sign at my chest and my thumb out, like I’m a hitchhiking statue. I think this guy has watched too many movies because there’s no way I would even pick anyone up like that.
He tells the other toll police to walk me back and help me. Oh great, just what I needed. Again, he’s just making my mission harder. Also all the people who do stop for me are going in the opposite direction. Even though this traffic cop is helping me, I start to get really frustrated with him and really this whole situation. I know how to do this and where to stand to make this go much quicker, but they’re not making that possible. The second traffic cop, who gave me the food and water, comes over and I tell him this method doesn’t look like it’s working and I just want to go out on the highway. He says that’s against the rules. He’s using his phone translator at this point because I wouldn’t have known what against the rules is in Chinese. Then as he’s talking to me he tells me a Beijing license plate just drove by and that really shot my hopes down. I could’ve gone the whole rest of the thousand kilometers if I was able to use my method, not surrounded by these people.
As I look to the last hope of the Beijing license plate drive away, I see some of the toll operators out of their booth and one hurriedly walking toward me. She waves me over, so I start to jog over. She says they found someone to take me to a town very far away, about half way to Beijing. The guy at the booth tells me to hurry, so I break out in a run toward the car. I thank the toll guys and get in my new ride.
There are two young guys up front of the car. I tell them my plan, but don’t show them my not paying line because I’m just happy to get out of there. I’ll pay if I have to at this point. I started at that toll booth at seven and am now just leaving at almost eleven.
The guys give me some flavored water drink and we head on our way. The younger guy in the passenger seat resorts to using his phone translator after I say I don’t understand too many times. He tells me they have to go to another town for work before continuing along the road. I’m tempted to get out here after only a few kilometers to hitch again on the highway, but I decide to go with them and embrace the adventure.
A few hours later we pull up to a middle shop for lunch. They order some weird green noodles in a plain broth. I scarf them down and then they tell me not to worry about paying. Back on the road for another hour we reach a big city where the driver is swerving and slamming on his breaks to make it just a few cars further in the traffic. This is exactly why I’m not interested in staying in any of the big cities here. We stop so they can go into a few stores and do whatever it is that they do. I use that time to people watch. The city smells like sewage everywhere, so I’m glad when we move spots.
They pick up another guy who sits in the back with me and now my mind is racing. This isn’t exactly what I thought they meant and his translator makes it sound like their plans changed and they’ll just take me back to the highway. I agree and figure that at least I got to see some new places. They drop me off at the toll gate and we talk with the toll police about getting to Beijing. He said not from here, so we get back in. I keep repeating that I just want to get back to that main highway we started on that goes straight to Beijing. The young guy uses his translator and says they have to go to the mountains and don’t want to make me wait before then they travel really far back on that road. He’s stopped using the translator and says that they’ll have to go very far and I just say that it’s okay as long as it’s still on my road. I’m not sure what conclusion we reach, but the driver tears off on the road.
We go back through that same toll gate and then through some freeways before we start to climb a hill. I’m still waiting for them to just drop me off at the highway where I can just find another ride. Higher and higher we climb and then we pull over so everyone can get out. I realize now that we must be at the mountain. Got it, I’m going on another errand with them.
I was wrong about one thing though, we just stop for a pee break. Back in and more climbing. Now we’re really going up a mountain. It starts to get a lot colder, but the car helps circulate our body heat. We eventually stop climbing and my head is racing again. I’m thinking they picked up this third guy because he’s a little bigger than the other two and that’s the only way they thought they could overpower me. The two in the front don’t look like they’ve done anything physical for a very long time. I’m frustrated because I’m not informed of the plans other than we’re going to the mountains. What the hell does that mean!? Do they have a body in the trunk to get rid of? I can feel how uncomfortable my whole body is, so I just close my eyes and take some deep breaths. This is a big part of why I’m traveling like this. I want to look at how I respond when things don’t go my way and learn how to better go with the flow and just enjoy the adventure. It’s also interesting how when things don’t go my way, I immediately assume the worst of these guys.
We pass by a small two-lane Main Street town and keep continuing back off into the middle of seemingly nowhere. Another ten minutes and we reach many more buildings than I’ve seen since their work trips. There are people out everywhere and nice cars driving all around us. We make a u turn and stop on the side of the street of this bustling little mountain town. They grab their work stuff, get out, and leave the car running for me. I guess this was their last work errand. The guy in the back grabs his bag and tells me good bye. The two guys get back in and hand me a pita bread thing filled with an amazing sautéed mix of beef and vegetables. The younger guy turns around and says now we’re headed to go “very far”. We head back out of that small mountain town on the same road we entered. Oh okay, I see what going to the mountain means now. With a tasty snack and a clearer direction I feel a lot better now. They’re not going to leave me on the side of a cliff, there’s no body in the trunk, and their other friend was a really nice guy. I was definitely overreacting.
We connect back to the main Beijing road and I really start to feel good about the progress. It’s about eight now and I was worrying that entire day wasn’t going to have any mileage, or I guess kilomerage where I am.
I try to stay awake on the highway, but it’s really difficult. I watch the signs and realize that the name of the town they’re going to is the same two words that also means “really far” in Chinese. Now that I think of it, the tones are quite different. Now I understand why the guy kept telling me they’re going to that place and my “it’s not a problem, I want to go far” answer wasn’t making much sense.
I explain to them that I’ll want to stop and camp on the side of the road and that I’ll tell them when I see a good spot. It’s about half past ten now, so it’s hard to really see the side of the road. I can see that great fence and some space next to the road, so I tell them it’s time to stop, just about 20 km outside of their big city. They say something about doing something else is better and I say that’s okay. They bring me to a big toll station and tell me to go and camp back in the wooded area right nearby.
I hop out and thank them for everything. The driver gives me his card and without asking for anything else in return they say goodbye and drive off. I take a path that looks lie one in a park back a little ways and then find a perfect spot, slightly lit, for me to set up my tent. Because my tent is freestanding, I can’t pick it up after its set up and move it wherever I want. I move it back into the shadow of a tee and climb in for the night