Belgium was blessed for us when it came to hitching. We barely had time to piss in the trees before a car would stop and offer us a ride. We were scruffy and dirty and looked like crazy gypsies, but I guess that we had a peaceful aura around us that made us seem safe.
The day we entered Belgium though, was not so auspicious. As we approached the France / Belgium border it was raining like hell, we were miserable and cold after being mistreated by some snooty French shopkeepers and café owners. We stood for an hour at a junction in the pouring rain, in silence.
Eventually a car pulled up and we jumped inside without bothering to check where he was going. He was a big chap, wearing a lot of tattoos and leather, his arms resembled my legs. He was folded into his very small car in a comedic way with his knees higher than they probably should have been. After a few minutes had passed we had firmly established that none of us shared any common language - being purely Flemish and English. So, we drove on in silence. A contented silence at first - drying and staring out of the window at the torrential rain outside, glad to be on the move, turning into an eerie and uneasy silence an hour later. We had turned off the main road some time ago and were driving down small country lanes. We were desperately trying to catch sight of a village or sign-post as we drove along.
Another hour passed.
The man no longer smiled at us, or even looked at us any more, he just drove grimly on. We began to exchange nervous glances. The rain stopped.
Finally we arrived at a medium sized bungalow surrounded by a thick, overgrown hedge and a lot of motorcycles. There were bikes all around the place - choppers with long handlebars and gleaming chrome type of motorbikes. The driver cut the engine, removed the keys and got out of the car, walking quickly towards the house, which he disappeared into.
We were now alone in a new type of silence in the car. We could think of nothing to say to each other. Our looks were meaningful and worried. I opened my mouth to speak when the house door opened and our driver emerged, followed by a larger, heavily bearded man. They walked up to the car and the large, bearded man bent down and peered at us through the window. There then followed an animated Flemish conversation between the two, punctuated by the occasional stabbing of a finger in our direction.
I stared at the body of the bearded man, he too had plenty of tattoos but they were distorted by his extensive, full body burn scars. His skin had the pattern found on cheap plastic seat covers.
I was suddenly staring into the man's eyes - he had bent down and stuck his head through my open window.
'Hello, please, where is it you want to go to?' he asked and smiled.
I explained shakily and he translated this to our driver who got back into the car and started the engine. The large bearded man waved us off cheerfully with a big smile. Another thirty or so minutes took us to a train station where we were encouraged to get out. Our driver seemed pleased and we tried to look pleased too.
'Thank you, thank you,' we said, smiling.
'What a nice man,' Dan observed as we watched the car disappear into the distance. We all agreed with him.
We trudged back to the road and began to hitch again, this time, in the sunshine.
The next hitch was with a fluent English speaking funky young Belgian with a very loud stereo that pumped out furiously high bpm music. We chatted as best as we could over the music and he pushed a matchbox across the dashboard at me.
'Skin up!' he shouted.
I glanced at the others in the back and they nodded their heads at me vigorously. Inside the matchbox was a lot of compressed, reeking, skunky grass. I skinned up. As ever, under pressure of this kind I wasn't happy with the end result, completed some minutes later - it seemed a little tight. I lit it up deciding to try and loosen it up as I smoked it. I began and struggled to take a deep lungful, it was strong stuff. I fiddled with the roach between puffs trying out the drag and occasionally rolling the shaft gently between my fingers. I pulled faces as I concentrated. I smoked more. I thrust a match into the roach and rolled it around the edges and smoked some more. The joint now seemed to be drawing fine, I realised this as I realised that I was now very stoned, and I had been hogging the joint. I also suddenly came over terribly paranoid and confused. At this moment my thoughts were suddenly interrupted by the car pulling over and the young Belgian guy asking us to get out. I fidgeted with the matchbox, trying to give it back to him.
'No, no,' he said,' I have plenty more at home under my bed, you keep it.' And drove away, leaving me holding the joint, bewildered.
'Why didn't you pass him the joint?' James demanded.
I passed it to him instead.
We walked, myself rather unsteadily, to a service station where an attendant gave us some water and an old loaf of bread, obviously taking pity on us. We headed down a quiet looking country lane to look for a campsite as the sun was low in the sky and we were all a little weary.
We stopped by a field of horses about ten minutes later to take water and I took a deep breath of fresh air.
'Oh, I begin to feel better,' I said, leaning on the fence and exiting my body.
It took me a little while to realise what had happened as I slammed back into my body and fell backwards onto the grass: I had leant on an electric fence and been electrocuted. I now felt worse. Despite my encouragement that it was a unique experience, neither Dan nor James would electrocute themselves and join my little club of one.
We eventually headed down a raised avenue of trees and entered a small field where we made camp. As we made a small fire and relaxed around it we considered the odd vegetable that grew around us - ugly and outside of our knowledge at the time and which I later found out to be celeriac.
That night we cooked a soup of noodles and vegetables and stared into our fire. We didn't have the heart to put celeriac into the meal as we had dug up one and tasted it, deciding that it was terrible -- we had tasted small knifefuls in turn, each shaking our heads and spitting it out. We wondered if Belgians liked this strange vegetable. We praised our glorious day of hitching, we talked about life and love. We were all single (essentially in my case) and Dan and James were reticent to talk about love as they had little experience, it seemed. Sadness came over our little band when we talked of women on that evening. We stared at the fire in the hope of waking the racial memories of far off love. I forgot why we were there for a while.
That night I awoke in the early hours of the morning. The moon was high in the sky and the air was crisp and cool. I was wide-awake. I looked over at Dan and James and they seemed to be sleeping soundly. The fire had died and I felt cold.
I quietly collected tobacco, papers, grass and lighter from various nearby places and rolled myself a single-skinner joint to help me get back to sleep. After I had finished rolling it I lay back and contentedly puffed away as I let my mind wander. I wondered why I was on this trip, why I was going on another to Mexico later, why all the movement? Why never content? Why this wanderlust?
Article Fpa 1 Hits 3397 | Last Modified 2007-06-13