It has been a long time since I last wrote something here, partly because of a lack of time, partly because of a lack of exciting stuff happening to me. A few months ago I got a job as an intern at OMGEVING architectural firm, officially ending my student life and starting a serious and responsible new life like everybody likes to tell me. Whatever that may mean. So I’ve been commuting to Antwerp every day, and as it happened the 8.25 IC train I take every morning passes by Brussels airport. Great, now I can watch all these people with their big suitcases and comfy airplane outfits get off on what might be the trip they’ve always been dreaming about while I sit there and watch them disembark in envy. More than once I thought about getting off at the airport station on a Friday after work and just take the first flight that had a seat available, just to be back in time for work on Monday. So far it remains on the bucketlist.Anyway that’s why my three week summer holiday should make up for these frustrations, and since my hitchhiking trip last summer was such an unbelievable success I decided to do something similar this year.
As the weeks passed and the moment de gloire came ever closer I kept changing my mind as to which place I would be trying to reach. Either I would be going south to maybe squeeze in some beachtime and improve my dusty French and Spanish, or go north and disappear completely off the grid in the Scandinavian wilderness, the goal being to reach the Arctic circle. Unfortunately the ambitious plan to hitchhike to my godfathers house in Azerbeidjan was abandoned in an early stage of the process due to a sheer lack of time, as three weeks is simply to short to span the 5000 k’s between Leuven and Baku. I will visit him sooner or later though, be it by autostop or in a different manner.
The last few days I switched every few hours from the Scandinavia idea back to the Mediterranean plan, and in the end the south won. The weather forecast for Northern Europe just didn’t agree with me camping and being outside there for the next few weeks, unlike last year where I was basically boiled to death in 30+ degree weather. Global warming can’t always be your ally I guess.
That’s how yesterday around 3.30pm I found myself on the ramp of the motorway a few hundred meters behind our house, waving with a home-made whiteboard. A backpack filled with stuff was clinched to my back. I failed miserably in my intent to pack lighter then last year, I thought. Half an hour later I was still there, smiling and waving like a madman on acid before changing the sign from Liège to Brussels. The next car that passed stopped and I squeezed in the back of this tiny Nissan micra and met my two young and beautiful saviours, who were on there way to IKEA. I asked them if they were going to buy a new bed of nails but they didn’t get the reference to ‘The extraordinary journey of the fakir who got caught in an ikea wardrobe’ (highly recommended book though).
After 15min they dropped me on the ramp of the E40 and drove off to buy their new furniture and I walked over to the ramp in the other direction because I had to trace back my path in order to go in the direction of Liège. About ten different cars stopped at seeing my extended thump but all of them were taking the exit back to Leuven a little further, and since this project isn’t called ‘hitchhiking to Zaventem and back’ I turned them down and gracefully reclaimed my previous position. 15min later a van stopped that could at least take me past the motorway junction and so I jumped in and squeezed between two little girls in the backseat who immediately started to interrogate me with questions like ‘how much does your pack weigh?’ or ‘why do you wear a hat when there is no sun?’. The youngest one, who could be no older then 8 told me all about their trekking holiday in Ireland last year, and how many kilometres she had already walked in her life, and how many nights of camping she had done. She literally could not stop talking excitedly about all their adventures until her mother intervened and told her to take a deep breath and calm down. These folks were clearly of the adventurous type and I engaged in conversation with the mother for a while, who talked just as quickly and excitedly as her daughter, about her hitchhiking adventures around Australia and South-East Asia when she was in her twenties. I liked them immediately and the kilometres passed by quickly, until we arrived at a service station were they had to leave me since they were exiting the motorway a little further. I waved them goodbye and smiled one last time at the little girl who was pushing her cheek and tongue against the inside of the window, making funny faces as they disappeared into the distance. God I love children.
When I looked around the gas station I saw two other hitchers getting into a car, waving and smiling as they passed me by, leaving me wondering where they might end up tonight, as I was wondering the same thing about myself. Then a horn was blown and when I looked behind me I saw an African couple waving at me to come over, so I did. David and Camille were a Congolese couple who lived in Serraing close to Liège and they offered me a ride there. I said ‘don’t mind if I do’ and jumped in the backseat. After the usual small talk David turned up the African music (as well as the heating I think, cause it was extremely hot inside the old Opel cadet) and I started to doze while we made our way south. They dropped me off right next to the huge Calatrava train station of Liège and waved in the rear view mirror as they sped off.
At this point I was kinda groggy and tired and I decided to take a break on one of the train station’s benches when I suddenly heard the speaker of one of the platforms come to life to announce the imminent arrival of the train to Marloie and Arlon. Arlon is basically the southernmost Belgian city that is reachable by train and located right next to Luxembourg were I would be going next so I interpreted this as a sign and hastily walked over to the right platform. Last year I wouldn’t have done this as I considered it cheating to use public transport anywhere outside of big cities, but now I feel like I made my point and don’t have to prove myself anymore. I could probably easily have hitchhiked the same distance but I have a ticket to cruise on any train around Belgium for free during the entire month of July since I needed this to get to work anyway, so I decided I might as well use it.
I dozed some more for about an hour or two before the voice coming through the screeching speaker announced that due to the half hour delay of the train it would not continue all the way to Luxembourg but that it would be limited to Arlon where there was another train waiting. I didn’t even know the train was originally going that far and I would probably have tried to blackride the last part of the journey (from the border) if I had known, but now I just got off in Arlon like everybody else and sat in front of the station to contemplate my next move.
It was already 9pm, I hadn’t eaten anything yet and the nearest entrance to the motorway was a 45min walk away, so I decided to walk most of that distance and camp in a field or small forest along the way, helped in my endeavour by google maps. I trodded on automatic pilot along the side of the road while the sun started to set, completely oblivious to any thought and with a very nice BBC essential mix blasting through my earphones.
When I reached the place I had seen on Google I set up camp and cooked some pasta I brought along from home by the light of my iPhone because the torch I brought happened to have no batteries inside. Amateur.
After dinner it was already 23pm and completely dark, although the sounds around the little clearing in the forest where I pitched my tent didn’t quiet down. All sorts of insects and birds could be heard, along with an occasional MEUHH from a cow somewhere in the distance. As I am writing this I’ve got a small bonfire going next to which I’m cuddling with my sleeping bag. Today it’s Oreo cookies for dessert. Tomorrow’s another day.