Hitchhiking 4 days in Spain: Truck stop camping and Europe’s one true hot desert

I slumbered with the Mac trucks. I got schooled in Spanish. I took so many selfies with strangers that I experienced selfie-loathing. This is my trip report.

  • When – August, 2016
  • Where – Valencia to Malaga
  • Time – 4 days
  • Distance – ~ 500 miles (800km)

Word on the street is that Spain is a tough place to hitchhike, relative to the rest of Europe. But who cares about word on the street when you can get word on the highway!

Ahem. Well, last summer I checked for myself. And yes, wait times of an hour were common, as were 90 degree temperatures (F). But hey, if you can’t take the heat, get off the street!

Ok what is wrong with me. But anyway, here is the simple account of my tranquil experience hitching down the beautiful Mediterranean coast of Spain.

Day 1

From Valencia, I take the train to Torrent and walk a few miles to a rest stop along the AP-7 highway. You gotta get out of the city first – hitchhiking 101. Forty-five minutes pass before I’m picked up by this guy:

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A carpenter on his way home from work, Vicente and I begin conversing… in Spanish! I took Spanish in high school, meaning I have a tenuous grasp of the language. Kind of like a 5-year-old. They sound like little idiots but sometimes you glimpse a big idea percolating before they start stuttering and eventually just can’t finish their sentence. So yeah, Vicente tells me about Spain and Kindergarten Me nobly explains the sociopolitical climate in America that has Trump ahead in the polls.

5-Year-Old Tommy does manager to insult Vicente by asking him if he likes salsa music. Now it’s his turn to pause. “Esto es de Mexico.” Oops! Same thing right?

An hour later, Vicente drops me in his hometown of Olivia, where we take the above picture. I start walking out of downtown and only make it 100 feet before a car pulls out of the adjacent parking lot and I meet these guys:

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These bros are having a damn good time on their little road trip. They say they’re going camping and invite me to come along, and instinctively I want to agree to the peer pressure – er, adventure – but then I realize they have zero food and zero camping gear in the car, trunk included. This, combined with their overly jubilant bro attitude and penchant for openly mocking my Spanish skills, gives me pause. 5-Year-Old Tommy has some sense after all. He gets in cars with strangers, but if they don’t have candy, or at least a Camelpak, he’s outta there.

The Three Brosketeers drop me in Ondara, where I struggle to find a good hitching spot, but eventually I get picked up by this Dutch expat:

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After “Hola” and “Como estas?” and “Donde vas?”, Bob asks me “De donde eres?”

Me: Estados Unidos.

Bob: Oh, so you speak English then?

Me: Yeah.

Bob: Oh, why are we speaking Spanish then?

Good point, Bob! Bob is doing a 2 hour drive to the Alicante Airport to pick up a friend, and he seems thrilled to have someone to converse with on the ride. He’s a real estate agent and he points at posh hillside villas and says Russians and Brits all shop for summer homes here. He offers me food and advice, and eventually he drops me at a toll plaza with a pocket full of branded stickers that have his real estate company’s name on them. “Can you do me a favor and stick these up? It doesn’t matter where.” I agree, though I never did put them up.

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At this point, the sun is setting. Downhill a few miles, decorating the Mediterranean, I can plainly see the city Alicante, tempting me with its hotels and its creature comforts. Now, hitchhiking is 5 times more dangerous at night than during the day (according to the only existing study on hitchhiking). At least, that’s what I tell myself as 45 minutes go by and I set a mental timer for 15 minutes before I’ll have to find a place to sleep in Alicante. But this guys pulls up and I hop in:

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Nesto is a super tranquilo backpacker type on his way to visit his girlfriend. He tells me he once did a 6-month bicycle trip through South America. I ask him for good places to pitch my tent that night (5-Year-Old Tommy is using coherent sentences by now). And Nesto gives me a look that I’ll call the Bro-Do-You-Even-Backpack? look. So he tells me obviously I should just sleep behind a gas station. WHAT? Did you read that in a book about how to get raped and murdered by a stranger? Or did you just Google the phrase “become victim unsolved murder Spain?” (Also, was hitchhiking mentioned in either of those sources?)

But honestly, if anyone knows where to sleep outside safely, its the guy who did it for 6 straight months in South America and survived to tell the tale. So I have Nesto drop me at a gas station / truck stop along the highway, and I pitch my tent next to slumbering giants. Which was both:

A) Sketchy at night:

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And B) Sexxxxxxy in the morning!

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#tentporn, anyone?

Day 2

The next morning, along the gas station on ramp, I’m scooped by a young architect:

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He’s headed to Almeria. This is a very, very nice coincidence for me. In Valencia I had met a British backpacker and spent 3 straight days with her, and I knew she was headed to Almeria to meet up with her family, so I said Goodbye Forever and left for this hitchhiking journey, but now with Almeria in my sights I knew I had to spend the night there and try to see her again. So I get dropped in Almeria, and I stay the night at a hostel. A much needed respite from the road.

 

Day 3

The next afternoon, my British friend is off to meet her family, and I say Goodbye Forever again. I decide to take the advice of Nesto (he who sleeps at gas stations) and visit Cabo de Gata. Nesto had said Cabo de Gata was beautiful and done the thing where you kiss your fingers like something is delicious. So I took a bus there. It turned out to be the only place in Europe with a “true hot desert climate,” according to Wikipedia. So it’s a desert with volcanic mountains along the Mediterranean. It did not disappoint.

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Cabo de Gata, Spain.

Nesto is 2 for 2. Once off the bus I check out the beach briefly before heading back to the road to hitchhike deeper into the park. The second car to pass is these guys:

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Fishermen, making their last delivery of the day to a restaurant nearby. They drop me a few miles deeper into the desert. I start walking, and soon I’m offered a ride, despite not having my thumb up, by a young couple on vacation. I share the backseat with their infant daughter. They drop me farther down the road and I hike the remaining 5 or 6 miles that day to a campground in San Jose.

[No photo for this ride. Babies have a right to remain anonymous] 

 

Day 4

I stick around for an extra night to hike a volcano. Ahh, Cabo de Gata. Mmmmuah! But the next day I’m ready to thumb it out of there. I first get a 10-minute ride from a young woman – one of the rare times I’ve been picked up by a lone female.

[No photo of the lone female. Felt too aggressive because… she’s a lone female. Which probably makes me a feminist or a sexist. Hopefully a feminist.]

Shortly thereafter, I’m picked up by a mother/father/son combo heading a full 2 hours to Malaga. Malaga is a big backpacker destination, so this is yet another fortuitous ride for me, nay, a sign from the hitchhiking gods, so I decide to ride out my remaining few days in Spain soaking up the Moorish culture of Malaga and doing the hostel thing. By the way, if there was a hitchhiking god, it would be David Choe. Check out his “Thumbs Up – Hitchhiking Across America” series on Youtube if you haven’t already.

[Sorry, again no selfie for this ride. They were late to a concert by the time we reached Malaga, so they rushed me out of the car. Then again, I do hate asking people for selfies, and it was a struggle to ask every time. Perhaps I reached a state of selfie-loathing. Like self-loathing. You see what I – nevermind. But I did snap this sketchy photo for proof:

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Another hitchhiking trip in the books! I’ll leave you with this action shot / street art photo from Malaga. Hasta luego!

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