Hitchhiking Europe: Day 1
Porto – Aveiro – Viseu – Vilar Formoso
We thought it would be a good idea to start our hitchhiking tour from Portugal to the North in Porto. We took the train in Lisbon Oriente for 24 euros per person. A train ride is always something special for me as trains belong to the expensive means of transportation. I like to look out of the window: cornfields are passing by with the blue mountains in the distance. The sun covers the landscape with a slight golden blanket. The fields and hills appear and disappear behind the next turn, let my thoughts wander. How will this trip be? Will we get a ride in every place? How will our backs, shoulders and legs end up after a couple of days of carrying so much weight? Will the weather be ok to put up the tent? Will we find truck drivers who can give us a straight ride until the border?
Starting in Porto
We walked out of the train station in Porto. The main parts of the city are provided with free wifi so that we were able have a look on couchsurfing. It was already evening and we wanted to stay the night in Porto so we tried to find a couch. We found out a Friday weekly meeting would take place. It was quite of a walk or maybe we thought that because the backpacks made every step felt ten times harder. When we finally arrived there, we went to the backyard where the people from couchsurfing were supposed to gather. Surprisingly, we were the first ones there although it was already far beyond the time it should have started. We took a beer and waited. It was getting darker and we had to look out for a good spot to put up the tent for the night. We decided to wait until we finished the beer.
All of a sudden one after the the other joined us. The organizer didn’t show up and there was just one local we could ask, but unfortunately he couldn’t host us. We asked him for advice. He warned us that it will be difficult to camp outside as the police could catch and fine us. The only spot he could imagine to stay over the night was the beach far outside the center. On the map we saw some green spots close to the train station. That should be our destination, we agreed.
We also had a look in the hitchwiki where to sleep. Some tunnels were mentioned but we were not able to find them. We walked all the way back to the train station. On the way, we passed abandoned buildings and little parks but they were either not accessible or well protected by security.
There was a petrol station mentioned in the hitchwiki we wanted to head to from where we could start hitchhiking early the next morning. However the description was not really clear so that we had ourselves a look on the map with the rest of the phone battery.
We walked under the bridge down to the river Douro where the motorway leads into the highway going to Lisbon, Gaia, Braga and another place that was on our way. There was a petrol station. We were happy to rest there. We asked the guy who worked in the petrol station if we can put our tent up behind a low wall – the only spot that was a bit hidden between some bushes. He had no objections so we popped up our tent, loaded our luggage in and prepared for sleeping. It was pretty noisy in the night, especially when a group of probably drunk people turned on some shitty music.
We woke up around 9am, cleaned the place and again lifted our belongings from 10 months in Lisbon on our poor backs. We walked up to the beginning of the strip leading into the petrol station. This was our first hitchhiking spot. The name of our first destination was “Aveiro/Viseu”. We held up the sign and our thumbs. In the beginning it felt awkward as the last time we hitchhiked was quite some time ago. Cars, vans, motorcycles and trucks passed but they either waived, smiled or made a gesture that should look like they had no means to take us.
There were also some who also put up a thumb but didn’t stop. That was pretty rude, as a thumb up should mean that they’re willing to give us a ride. Instead they just drive away. This is the message for any drivers here: if you can’t take a hitchhiker, then don’t sign him a Go!
After an hour of holding on there, we decided to move on to another highway. The cars were coming from a tunnel. We stood in the grass next to the road and hold our sign up. The reaction was mixed. Some ignored us, others waived us to show their support. Especially truck drivers are always very friendly. Sometimes they call through to inform their colleagues in the other trucks.
Then it happened! We got our first ride
On the way to the Spanish border
An old dark red BMW stopped by the crossroads leading from the city to the highway. He spoke French so that he could understand us. He couldn’t bring us to Aveiro but to a village where he lives close to Aveiro. We were happy that we made our first progress so we took the chance. He dropped us off at a toll station where we could continue hitchhiking.
From Aveiro to Viseu truck station
What happened next made us believe that we’re on a good way. A SUV with a little baby stopped. They came from Aveiro. We kept our rule, staying on the road and telling the drivers to drop us at the next nearby petrol station. In Aveiro it started to rain. Suddenly we saw another hitchhiking couple on the other side waiving at us. We stood again at the strip leading into the gas station, so if there would be a car that would like to lift us, it could easily drive in.
A Portuguese in the mid of his 30s was our next lucky strike. He was on the way to the mountains in the area of Viseu. He was kind of a tough person that experienced something mind-changing in their lives. He wanted to offer us some weed boasting that Portugal has the best weed in Europe. He let us out some kilometers away from Viseu.
We drank a coffee – our tradition whenever we make a little progress to celebrate but rather because we need it to stay awake. We tried to ask drivers filling up their cars with gas but the chance to get a ride before it starts to get dark was not really high. We already started thinking about a spot to set up the tent, when a bald guy crossed my way. I was not really focusing on him, but I just asked expecting a rejection when suddenly heaven sent us an angel.
He was on the way to Guarda, a city close to the Spanish border. We were not sure if we could take the whole ride as we thought that it would be the best to follow the advice in the hitchwiki. In Viseu there should be a European truck station where it would be easy to get a ride directly to France. We wanted to skip Spain as hitchhiking there is not very welcomed. The bald guy had also a little baby in the back. We could talk a bit as he spoke English well. They were typical Portuguese who couldn’t understand why someone would travel in the way we do. For Portuguese family has a high value and to be different would mean that you would be against your own family. That’s why only a few Portuguese travel. The majority marries early, keeps their jobs for a lifetime and spend all their money in their house, car and the annual 10-day holiday.
Our day ended arriving almost at midnight in the European truck stop in Viseu. We found some shelter behind a tree close to an abandoned restaurant. We crawled into the tent and tried to catch up some sleep.