I Hitchhiked From London to Morocco
I entrusted strangers to help me get to Marrakesh. It was one of the best challenges of my life.
I stood on the slip road to the M25 motorway in London with my thumb out and my cardboard sign wafting in the wind. I wanted to go to Morocco. Five days, 1,800 miles, three trucks, one car and one bus later, I arrived in Marrakesh, a world away from my safe university life. I look back now, 20 years later, as a parent with a five-year-old daughter and wonder, “What was I thinking?” Sometimes, the craziest ideas make the best adventures.
Two years earlier, I had been working my university summer on a holiday camp in the south of France. It was my first experience outside my life's trajectory—go to school, get good grades, graduate university and have a nice, stable life. Suddenly I was mixing with people from different countries, cultures and life paths. I wanted more of that.
So, at the end of the summer, as our months of fun and freedom had come to an end, some of my new friends said they were going to buy a van and drive down to Morocco. “I'm in,” I said and rang my mom to tell her my plan. Well, you can probably imagine how that conversation went. As confident and worldly as I felt after a summer in the sun, there's nothing like a dose of reality from your mother to bring you crashing back to earth. I eventually headed home, back to university and “real life.”
I Decided to Hitchhike to Morocco
But dreams of souks and steam baths never left me. So it was fate, I guess, when a few months before my finals, I was offered the chance to take part in a charity challenge by hitchhiking to Morocco with a university friend. Yes, I should have been studying and yes, the safety concerns were legitimate, but I was adamant I would go. Plus, we would hitchhike in pairs, so what could possibly go wrong?
As I was standing on that slip road the wind caught my backpack and almost knocked me into the oncoming traffic. Suddenly, the reality of what I had committed to hit. I had been pretty sure I was worldwise (despite never traveling further than France on my own), but now I felt about as small and insignificant as the pin I'd placed in the map to plot out our route.
Soon, we were on our way by truck across the Channel and hurtling through France overnight, taking turns sleeping in the driver's cab bed. Somewhere in the middle, our driver dropped us off and we started again. Relieved to see someone pull over after a short while, we didn't notice the hole in the windshield until we were well on our way. That, coupled with the fact our driver made us duck down every time we saw a police car, we made a swift exit at the next service station.
A few hours later, refueled and refocused, we wound our way through the Pyrenees in a new truck driver's care. We stopped to make deliveries, drank coffee with the locals in smoky cafes and were introduced as “the English travelers” to men idling away the time by playing chess in the village square. It wasn't the quickest or most direct route over the border into Spain, but then, the best ones never are.
We Received All Kinds of Help Along the Way
Later that night, we arrived in the city of Cordoba, exhausted and ready to find a hotel for the night. It was getting dark as we trudged the streets, soon realizing that the local Easter celebrations were in full swing and there was no room at the inn. Literally.
We were starting to get a little concerned until a local hostel owner took pity on us and offered to let us stay in his apartment for the night. We were too exhausted to venture out and enjoy the celebrations and settled for the sounds of late-night parties drifting softly through the open windows.
We were so close now it felt like I could taste the African air. I was itching to get going on the last leg of our adventure. Waving goodbye to the kind apartment owner, we pulled our original, crumpled sign out of our backpack once more. “Morocco,” please.
Our final lift was nothing like the last. In a cloud of dust, a woman in a sports car with its roof down pulled over and asked us what we were doing. Unlike our previous drivers, she spoke perfect English and was fascinated to hear about our journey. We squeezed into the backseat, buffered by our backpacks and her bull terrier dog, who was wearing a diaper. (Yes, you read that correctly.) The dog was in heat and, apparently, this ingenious and stylish Spaniard thought her leather interior was too smart for that.
Waving goodbye to our (wo)man's best friend, we traveled the last few miles to the port via bus and sailed across the Strait of Gibraltar by ferry to a new continent. We had made it. But our final destination was still a good distance as we headed for Marrakesh, the heart of the country. A hot, no-frills, no-sleep night train awaited to courier us through the parched and dusty countryside.
The Trip Allowed Me to Live Outside My Comfort Zone
As the sun rose, the overnight train pulled into Marrakesh and my senses were assaulted with the smells and sounds of exactly what I'd been looking for: souks full of unnamed spices, richly colored fabrics and exotic dishes. And the overwhelming feeling of being far outside my comfort zone.
I would love to say to my daughter “Do what I say, not what I did,” but I can already see in her eyes that she is her mother's child. And her mother has had some pretty exciting adventures.