When I began my summer job this past June, I was asked to reveal a fun fact about myself. I proudly responded, “I once hitch-hiked across the French-Spanish border.” Truthfully, hitchhiking with 2 of my friends was one of the crazier things I’ve ever done. I am also fully aware that my risk-averse self would probably never have the chance to do it again.
Last November, during yet another brutal French railroad strike, my friends and I booked a trip from Paris to Barcelona. That was probably our first mistake. Although common knowledge to locals, I was not expecting the strike to interrupt almost 50% of all train travels. Instead of a direct train ride from one European capital to another, my train stopped in Perpignan, a small town south-east of Toulouse. There, the train conductor kindly told everybody, in French first, then in English, that due to the strike, no train would be going to Spain. The passengers exploded in frustration. In the midst of the complaints, the conductor gestured towards a replacement bus that was scheduled to pick up all the passengers and drive us toward the border instead.
Having already spent the last 6 hours traveling, I was herded onto the replacement bus with the rest of the passengers. We drove, underneath the mid-afternoon sun, on bumpy narrow roads along the French coast. The scenery almost made up for my exhaustion, until I started to feel nauseous from the ride.
Two hours later, I was thankful to be left off the bus in a small town on the French border. The driver pointed to a hill 100 meters in front us. Spain was on the other side.
“The taxis here” the driver instructed, “can take you across the border to the nearest train station in Spain. It is in 8 miles, a 20 minute ride.”
Unbeknownst to the passengers when we boarded the bus, the driver was not permitted to drive across the border. A few passengers joined forces to bribe him to take us across, but alas, he drove off in the direction from which we came.
20 minutes, I thought, that’s manageable. When the first taxi arrived and left with the first four people in line, another problem revealed itself – the town was so small that only one taxi operated there.
Within seconds, my 2 friends, finance and math majors, alerted me that at the current rate, with a crowd of people that originally fit on a train, we would not make it to the nearest Spanish town in time to catch the last train for Barcelona. They presented the problem calmly; after a long day of endless difficulties, they were concerned that this last piece of bad news would push me over edge. Having been a thorough planner my entire life, I was certainly beginning to feel devastated.
After 10 minutes of debate, our only other choice became very clear – we would have to walk the 8 miles. I was raised by two parents who grew up in communist regimes. They taught me to respect authority, work hard, put the needs of the group before my own, and most importantly, they taught me to never complain. So I didn’t. Instead, I shrugged as we trekked toward the foot of the hill with our backpacks. The three of us began to discuss our favorite travel destinations to make the miles seem shorter. Half jokingly, one of my friends stuck out his thumb as we began to climb the hill. All three of us chuckled. It had been a tough day of traveling, but at least the three of us were still bound together by good spirits.
Within 20 seconds up the hill, a car pulled over in front of us. A young woman stepped out from the passenger side, “Do you have your passports?”
The three of us exchanged bewildered looks before we ran towards the vehicle. “Yeah, yeah, we do!”
Her husband was driving and nodded toward us as we climbed into the car.
With the three of us were happily squished together in the backseat, we thanked them profusely for stopping. “No problem,” the lady smiled graciously, “it’s common here; there’s only 1 taxi!”
We laughed in unison. As the vehicle climbed to the top of the hill, I could see the sun begin to set over the border. It was a beautiful 20 minutes to Spain.