Have you ever picked a hitchhiker up? My entire life I have been warned about the dangers of talking to strangers, my very British upbringing drumming it into me that it’s not socially acceptable to ask people to help you for free. It’s a sad state of affairs that (because of a very small number of crazies) society is teaching us not to trust one another. Picking up hitchhikers often goes hand in hand with this.
I get it. I really do. As a solo female, it’s much more likely that I am putting myself in danger by hitchhiking/ picking up a hitchhiker. My travel experience and knowledge probably isn’t going to be much use vs a 6 foot stranger if they feel the need to over power me. However, outside of the Europe, the attitude towards hitchhiking seems to be a lots less negative. As a result, I find it to be much more common and ,in turn, ‘safer’ feeling.
With that in mind, at the start of our road trip around North Argentina, we verbally agreed to embrace new experiences and pick up hitchhikers we spotted during our 1200 km trip. Despite travelling on a very low budget, we encountered many long term travellers, all of whom were not privy to the luxury of hiring a car the same way that we were. As a duo, it felt like a good (and safer) time to try dishing out some good will and positive vibes. We’d anticipated meeting some cool characters, but we hadn’t expected it to bring us some of the most memorable moments of our trip …
Our first hitchhiker was an Argentinian man we met whilst stopping at a view point in the mountains between Cachi and Salta. At the viewpoint were a couple of ‘shacks’ with locals selling souvenirs; llama meat, knives, cheeses, pictures, the usual. There was nothing for miles. No towns, no service stops, just nature. We’d asked one of the stall holders for hot water for matte (you can’t travel with an Argentinian without having to make up multiple cups of the traditional drink en route). The man had offered us the hot water (and goods from his stall) in exchange for a lift to the city. We accepted.
Our new friend, Michael, was a big dude. I mean really big. So big that when he sat in the back of our car, it physically sunk. He sported a cowboy style hat and chunky cowboy boots that he tucked a big knife into the right foot of. He used that knife for everything; opening bottles, picking his teeth (yup), castrating his cows (he showed me a photo). Michael didn’t speak a word of English, but made a constant effort to try communicating with me via my very limited understanding of the Spanish language. He should have intimidated me, but our willingness to give him a free ride for the 100 km journey immediately lightened the mood, and karma came bouncing back to us.
About 20 minutes into our downhill mountain journey, Michael told us to pull over next to a small stop at the side of the road; a ‘restaurant’ hangout for locals that his friends lived in. On hearing that we were helping out their friend, our new hosts sat us down to a full 3-course meal, complete with beer and a commentary of the surrounding area. A week into my Argentina travels, I’d come to accept my bread and tomato vegan diet. I hadn’t found anywhere set up for my dietary needs. However, on hearing I was vegan, our hitchhiker’s friends whipped me up a vegan salad of tomato, avocado, grated carrot and cheese (for Lucas), and placed it down with a side of rice, bread and spicy condiments. It was the best meal I had my entire trip.
Due to their remote location, they were set up to be fully self sufficient. A water supply system was set up from the river, herds of animals roamed around their land and they had a private housing area off the back of their restaurant. They showed us everything, swapping gifts with me in exchange for dates and figs I’d brought from home for snacking on. They’d never tried either. I played with their children, their baby goats, and was treated like a member of their family for the full afternoon. All because we had picked up their friend.
We left our new mountain friends refreshed and excited about our new encounters. Our new willingness to keep an open mind about helping a stranger, provided us with one of the best moments of our trip. We couldn’t have paid a tour for our new friendship and no book could have taken us through the same experience of someone else’s lives or culture.
Our time with Michael was so wonderful, that we picked up two more sets of hitchhikers on our short trip, leaving us with even more wonderful stories and memories. I can’t stress safety enough, but similarly, I can’t help encouraging you to take a chance and support your fellow traveller.
Have you experienced any positive/negative moments whilst hitchhiking/picking up hitchhikers? Do you think that it’s safer to do this in some places than others? I’d love to hear thoughts?