Six eager bleary-eyed hitchhikers take the bus to the outskirts of Sofia. We split into three pairs and spread out along the lay-by. I’m with Sebastien – a cheery, smiley young man from Belgium, only just setting out on his his own long-term adventure.
All three pairs get rides simultaneously: Boyan and Agatha have a straight lift to Byala, our destination, and will be at the beach in just a few hours. We see Mathieu and Katarina put their bags into the back of a white van as we get into a car with a couple of long-haired guys on their way to a festival in Pazardzhik. They drop us on the highway and we get our next ride immediately with a guy who speaks Turkish. I’m so happy to speak Turkish with him – until he begins asking me questions I don’t understand with a suspicious twinkle in his eye. This guy also speaks French, so I ask Sebastien to translate. In French it’s very clear, even to me – he’s asking Sebastien if he can have sex with me! He’s very polite about it and accepts my “NO!” in several languages with a cheery disposition. I look out of the window for the rest of the journey. Sebastien is stunned.
Mathieu and Katarina appear again at the petrol station where we’re dropped off. They wave and take pictures as we drive off with a couple from Sofia – all the way to Burgas. I guess we’ll be arriving second… not that it’s a race.
Our final lift is a friendly guy who doesn’t speak English. Elvis nods away on the dashboard of the campervan as we drive along, listening to classic rock. He tries to convince us to go to Irakli – a different beach, but when he sees we’re insistent about Karadere, he takes us right the way down there, only stopping once to get me to move the beach chair I’m sitting on in the back of the van so he can open his little fridge and gives us both a beer. We continue – beers in hand, smiles on faces – all the way up and down the bumpy baked-mud tracks to the several kilometre tent-covered beach at the bottom.
Tents, bamboo and rush shelters, Bulgarian tourists and hippies cover the beach from end to end. A group of naked men walk past and wave. How to find a big group of hitchhikers?? We begin walking. Fortunately, after 15 minutes or so we see..
This is the fourth European Hitchgathering. Before I was travelling myself, I always read about them on hitchhikers forums with bitter envy and disappointment that I couldn’t be there. There is a small subculture of people who live this way, vagabonding around Europe and beyond, and this is one of a few ways we might occasionally bump into one another.
It’s what you might expect – silly games and lots of drinking, with plenty of workshops thrown in. Drinking games, hitchhikers bingo… it’s not so much my thing these days – although I did win hitchhikers bingo, and doing eye exercises while covered in clay is nice – and I’m aware of myself becoming distant and cranky on several occasions, but still manage to have a generally good time and meet plenty of incredibly nice people.
Unlike the activist camps I’m used to, there isn’t really a culture here of mutual aid and cooperation. In fact, we’re close to a food crisis on a couple of occasions and one person is spotted biting into a raw onion in desperation rather than going to the shop, a forty-five minute walk away. But somehow after the first few days, everything sorts itself out – well, actually two or three people (not myself I’m ashamed to admit), take on the role of feeding 150 people with only three small camping pots and one fire. This takes approximately six hours for one meal, before finally nobody puts up their hand when asked if hungry. This is extremely commendable and these people deserve lots of cake.
We arrived at the beach one day early, when there was only a small group and meeting everyone was easy. I met a tall man named Jasper and asked where he’s from – “Ummm… actually, this is a tricky question!” Oh, a kindred spirit – I hate this question too! We’ve both arrived with flyers for the No Border Camp, also being held in Bulgaria in a couple of weeks time. Another vagabonding No Borders Anarchist!? We decide to do a workshop together, which works out very well.
“Jasper, how do you balance your need to travel with your desire to be socially and politically engaged?” We are splashing about in the warm sea, bobbing up and down to avoid the crash of the waves. “That’s the dichotomy of my life!” Ahhh, to meet others who understand how I feel – that’s the reason to go to these gatherings.