It can be said that all adventures begin with a bad idea. As such, this plan to hitch-hike to Andorra from Anduze, France in the beginning of winter was hashed.
I do not how this happened. For some reason I have always wanted to go to Andorra. I have been told that it is nothing but a giant shopping outlet and the only reason to go there would be to purchase tax-free commodities, but I am still drawn there for some odd reason.
Perhaps it is because it is a small country? I like small countries, especially one that is nested in the middle of giant Spain and giant France. Perhaps it is because Richard Halliburton stuck a real homely image of the country in my mind when he wrote of traveling through Andorra in, The Royal Road to Romance:
“Your people seem supremely content.” [stated Halliburton to the president of Andorra]
“Yes, it is true. It is true because we have nothing with which to contrast what we think is happiness.”
I have always wanted to test this statement, as I must harbor reservations about its validity in this world of strip-malls and commerce. But maybe, just maybe, there are some of these old-time Andorran valleys where the people rest content. Maybe this is my great draw to this rather odd travel destination.
Or maybe I just like the shape of Andorra?
Whatever is the reason, I have always tried making it to Andorra with little success. The last time that I tried to go there was in the spring of 2003, and I did not quite make it. I did not even know that Andorra was a country until I was relatively near it. Don’t know why I did not step in then. I guess this is just the way that I do things.
But Wednesday morning I was convinced that I would make it to Andorra by hook or by crook . . . or thumb. So Mira and I packed up a rucksack with three sleeping bags and all of the clothing that we had, bided a quick farewell to our friend and her children, bought two loafs of bread and a corner of cheese from the supermarket, and stepped out onto the south road out of town.
Before we were even able to stick our thumbs out we were picked up by a lady in a red car. We jumped in and, not being able to speak any French, just muttered something about going to Nimes (the next city). The lady surprised us by being able to communicate using a little English.
I fail to believe that the French are the only people in Western Europe who do not speak any English. I just cannot believe it. I find it far more likely that they just do not want to speak English to a foreigner in their own country- a sentiment that I can almost understand. They seem a little bitter that French- which was once a proud world language- is now only the lingua franca of France (well, and a hosts of African countries). “You are in France, you should speak French,” I have heard some French people snicker to more than a few beleaguered tourists (me). I hold my tongue at this, as I know that I will have lots of vengeful laughs when I see non-Anglo speaking French travelers trying in vain to travel on their French alone. But, none the less, I have found that more French people can communicate in English than let on.
I think the best way to make a French person speak English is to try to speak French so horridly that they try to stop the auditory onslaught by speaking English. I speak French horribly. I simply cannot make the sounds, or get the rhythm of the language. I tried to learn a little in Morocco, and figured that I would pick it up pretty quickly as I have been studying other languages for a long time. I did pick it up quickly in fact, but I also found that I could not pronounce the words at all. I knew immediately that I would not ever be able to speak this language, so called off the attempt.
You see, my tongue is really, really small. Seriously, this may sound as if I am trying to be funny, but I am not. I can hardly even stick my tongue out of my mouth. It is small. To make matters worse, my tongue is not only minuscule, but fat. It is the shortest, fattest thing that I have ever seen. Trying to speak languages like French just makes my poor fat and small tongue feel like a dwarf competing in the Olympics: I make a start, stutter, garble, and then trip and fall on my face. This is a problem that I have always had with learning new languages. I found that I am better sticking to languages that do not have any sounds that are different than in English- languages like Chinese Mandarin.
But anyway, I sit in the front seat of our first ride of our great hitch-hiking voyage, and I garbled my primed and pruned French introduction so badly that the lady stopped me in my tracks with English. Thanks goodness. So we talked a little bit about how beautiful the South of France is as she gave us a ride to the next town.
Mira and I jumped out of her car feeling really good. Our journey had begun, and we had but to walk to the road to start it. Now we were in the country-side at an intersection with out thumbs stuck out in the air. We stood there for only a few moments before our next ride stopped.
The driver was a man who was going to Ales- a town that was not on our route. But he offered to take use down the road to the intersection of the road to Nimes. We heartily agreed. So we got into his car, Mira in the front, and we had a silent ride three kilometers down the road.
Mira says that she is shy. I never really believed her before, but during this day of hitch-hiking I am beginning to doubt myself. Mira and I would alternate who would sit in the front seat of the vehicle for each ride. When I would ride in front, I would try- somehow- to make conversation, even if it is just for the purpose of breaking the ice so that our drivers do not think that we are creepy. I think that this is just common courtesy. Mira doesn’t seem to think so.
When Mira sat in the front seat with the drivers she would hardly mutter a word. Seriously, it was almost hilarious. Not even a pale “Bonjour” would emit from her lips. She would just sit in the car, ride to our stop, and then get out- all without breaking her inner solitude. It was amazing. It was creepy. Mira now proved to me that she is shy.
It is my opinion that people do not just pick up hitch-hikers solely to help them out, but to find out about them, to hear a story, to tell a story, to ask advice, to have sex (seriously), or just to keep them company. I have had many wild conversations with strangers because I feel as if it is awkward to sit in a vehicle with someone that I do not know without saying anything. Mira does not seem to feel more awkward talking.
So, to get back to the story, we were riding to the intersection of the road to Nimes in eerie silence. We soon came to a stop and the driver pointed out the route of our destination. We thanked him and jumped out of his car. It was a relief to be on the side of the cold highway again. I laughed at Mira for being so shy.
“What do you want me to say?” she said laughing. “We don’t speak the same language!”
I suppose she had a point.
So Mira and I were back on the road with our thumbs sticking out. It was a cold, silent day. The kind of day where the coldness is as hard as ice and nothing dares to move. I am a northern boy who grew up on the US/ Canada border: this was my kind of weather. So I waited with a jolly grin on my face until I felt a slight pang of hunger. I opened my bag to take out the bread that we bought at the supermarket.
It was not there.
I asked Mira if she had it.
“Where is our bread!” I exclaimed.
Mira did not know.
Like a couple of dummies, we lost our food somewhere between buying it and leaving the store. Mira found this to be hilarious. My empty stomach screamed out in anger. I was hungry, standing on the side of the highway in the middle of back country France.
“Just laugh about it, its funny,” Mira wisely urged.
“I don’t feel like laughing!” I roared.
Then I laughed. And laughed. And laughed some more.
We bought not one, but two loaves of good French bread just to leave them in the store where they came from. We had no food.
But we now had something to laugh about.
I travel around the world just doing silly things. Maybe this is one reason that I travel- because if I stayed in one place for any length of time people would start to think me a touch cracked.
So now that we had nothing but our empty bellies, thumbs, and a sunny albeit cold day, we set off walking down the road.
Loren Everly (LorenEverly.org) warns against leaving road junctions while hitch-hiking. He asserts that a man walking in the middle of nowhere with his thumb sticking out looks a little strange. “Who want to pick up someone that strange?” Loren once wrote.
Mira and I then discussed Loren’s warning and figured that we look a little strange no matter where we happen to be standing, and we felt like walking.
So by foot to Nimes we went.
Part 2 will be posted tomorrow.
More photos from France can be found at Photographs from the Open Road France Photos
Wade from Vagabond Journey.com
December 21, 2007