It was a three hour trip to the Algarve, so we got into hitchhiking position early Friday evening. This time we were well prepared with Ilmer's sphisticated hitchhiking kit. Our plan of attack was for Ilmer to hold the "South" sign and I was in charge of the "It's my birthday" sign. We figured the passerbys would enjoy a little hitchhiking humor.
We shortly got picked up by-believe it or not-Luis and Maria...a mother and son who offered to take us half of the way. They were friendly and we had a nice chat in Portuguese before they dropped us off on the side of the road just as the sun was setting and it was beginning to rain.
The day had slipped away quickly and Ilmer and I were wary about our chances of hitchhiking at night. We considered taking the train or just staying the night in the small town, but I told Ilmer I was feeling lucky and if we didn't get picked up in ten minutes we would catch a train. Just as we got our "South" sign out, a 1980s model VW stopped 50 meters in front of us and was honking for us to get in.
What perfect timing! We grabbed our bags and ran for the car. This time, our new friend Bruno was headed to a town just 30 miles from our destination. Bruno was very friendly and anxious to learn about our travels, couchsurfing and hitchhiking adventures. He told us how he was planning a road trip from Portugal to Russia on a 60 year-old motorcycle next summer and he was excited to try CouchSurfing. We had great conversation during the ride (well Ilmer and Bruno did, as most of it was in Portuguese). Here is what I gathered about Bruno in a translation from Ilmer:
"Bruno's parents own a bakery and Bruno has a 10% share in the company, which is where he gets his income. He could work harder and own a larger portion of the business, but instead he choses to use the money and take random classes at university, travel and just enjoy his life."
Yay, Bruno! He truly had a care-free attitude and relaxed presence about him. Ilmer and Bruno seemed to hit it off and half way through the ride Bruno insisted on stopping in his hometown so we could have a tour of his favorite places (including his dream home) and meet his best friend. After, we drove a few miles down a windy dirt road through rural fields to the family bread factory. By now it was around nine P.M. and the workers were just finishing up the evening shift.
From the outside, the factory looked like a small warehouse with a muddy parking lot and stray dogs wandering around, but the air smelled of delicious warm baked goods. Bruno showed us around the small factory and gave us two giant loafs of bread hand picked from the oven. He then took us out back to the garage where his antique motorcycle resided. We admired the bike as he proudly told us how he had been working for months to fix it up for the trip.
After the full city tour and show and tell session, Bruno announced that he would drive us all the way to Ilmer's brother's house. When all was said and done, I was amazed at the total kindness of a stranger and how well everything worked out.
When I tell my hitchhiking stories to fellow travelers, they stare in amazement and ask why I'm so crazy to do this, or if I'm scared. I must say, that when you're traveling alone in a foreign country, you can't be too picky about who you trust, otherwise, you would never meet anyone or never get anywhere. You obviously have to be smart about who you get in the car with and expect the best rather pining over everything that could happen.
Thus far, all three of my hitchhiking adventures have been some of the best memories of my trip, given me some great stories and shown me that a little trust can go a long way.