Almost all the Hitchhikers have left and the Gathering is over, but one is yet to arrive. Tomi catches me resurrecting the “Hitchgathering” sign – “What are you doing?” – “My mate’s on his way here!” – “What?! There’s still somebody on his way?!”
I find myself on my laptop in the village, constantly gazing at my watch. Six and a half hours ago he was just over 200km away – surely he should be here soon? I return to the beach. There’s no phone signal except up on the cliffs. I go up every hour or so, check for messages – nothing.
The following morning I’m actually worried: a rarity. I mean really, if you think about it, anything could happen – right? I send a message demanding contact and get this back: “Why worried? You know I’m a slow hitcher! Be there in an hour.” 26 hours to travel 200km?! Slow hitcher?!
He rolls in the door of the cafe; backpack, dreadlocks and beautiful smile. Funny, here’s one boy I thought I’d never see again. We have a big hug and chatter non-stop for the following hours, catching up on adventures. He’s got a boat lined up to cross the Atlantic – for sure these will be our last times together. I’m ready to leave the beach, but Sietse has just arrived. We’ll be here another night at least and a storm is rolling in. We watch most of our neighbours packing up in a haste, stuffing things into cars and evacuating. There was a storm my first night on this beach too; must be a weekly occurrence – the sea’s Tuesday night blow-out.
It’s a crazy one. The wind and rain batter the sides of Kinga, my little tent. 3am sees us outside, digging a trench to bay off the encroaching waves. The water level has risen so high that if the hitch-gathering was still on, 90% of it would be under water. I hear a man yelling further down the beach and go to investigate. He’s thigh-high in salt water, acting as the only anchor for his gazebo, which he’s trying to take apart with his teeth. He taped it all together so strongly it won’t come apart. I give him a hand and get back to my own reinforcements, helping Sietse build up a barrier from the sand we dug from the trench. In the morning, the trench has been ironed flat by the tide, but the sand-barricade has kept us dry. Tanya, her little dog Nina and a Bulgarian guy are the only other remaining hitchhikers. They have also survived the night, which is more than can be said for our community tarp, which seems to have been stolen by our neighbours. They “thought we’d left”, apparently.
By midday the sun is hot and the sea is calming, though waves still slip lazily all the way up the newly formed iron-flat beach. Apparently 52mm of water fell in 24 hours in Varna, one of the closest cities. We are survivors! A guy with dreadlocks I swear I’ve never seen before comes over to say goodbye. He’s in a band and they’re playing at the Spirit of Burgas Festival later on – “oh yeah? What’s that then? Maybe we’ll go…”
We spend most of the day chilling and decide to start hitchhiking in the early evening. Sietse is a little sceptical about this – “hitching at night?!” – but I convince him it will be fun and off we go. This is my favourite thing about hitchhiking with male-bodied people – much less safety concerns!
Actually it’s easy. A truck-driver takes us the whole way and drops us close to the gates of the Spirit of Burgas. We have an idea we might try to sneak in. Not likely – security guards with dogs and jeeps patrol the area. Outside the fences plenty of people who probably had a similar idea stroll around with drinks and friends, resigned to the side of the fence their fortunes have dealt them. We sit outside a bar by the perimeter, to get a better idea of how the security is working. It’s 1am and we still don’t know where we’re going to sleep tonight.
Percy the Persecutor
I go to the bar to order a coffee, preparing myself for a long night. A drunk English man in his fifties starts talking to me – “where’re you from then? …Brigh’n? Wha’ ya doin’ ‘ere then?” “I’m travelling,” I tell him. “ …Travellin’ are ya? Well I’m Percy the Persecutor.” He laughs a hearty laugh. “Can I come’n sit wi’ya?” “Um.. yeah, sure!” “Alrigh’, I’ll come over. Are you wiv that dreadlock bloke then are ya? …cor, like yer tits!” he says to the bar woman who’s serving him. I go back to Sietse. “Someone’s coming over.” I tell him. “Eh? Who?” “Percy the Persecutor.” “Eh?!”
Percy comes over and sits down. Two others come with him: an Italian guy, well versed in crude English slang, and an incredibly drunk girl from Bulgaria who keeps trying to hold my hand. Percy the Persecutor buys us a round and asks again what we’re doing here. We tell him we’ve come to try and break in to the festival – “Wha? In there? It’s shit anyway! Better off comin’ to my place!” He seems serious – especially when he tells us he’s got a whole apartment going spare above his house that we can stay in – “fer free!” he says. “Don’ mind ya stayin’ there, I’d like to help yer out if I can.”
Sietse and I have a little conference. He’s been stuck on trying to break in, whereas I just want an adventure. Percy the Persecutor seems like an adventure to me. We haven’t got any better plans anyway, and we can come back tomorrow in the daylight and have a better look around. We bundle into a taxi with Percy and the drunk girl. Percy lives in a small village some way from the centre of Burgas. He shows us our place upstairs first – a two-bedroom apartment with our own bathroom and kitchen! Then he takes us downstairs and asks us to choose our poison. We choose beers and Percy gets his weed out and tells Sietse to skin up. It really is going to be a long night after all. We listen to most of John Martyn‘s back catalogue and drink lots of beer and wine while I watch the others smoke lots of weed, usually skinning up for them since for some reason a pot-head and Dutch man are unable to skin up!
Breakfast at Percy’s house consists of a great deal of English food: Marmite on toast, Heinz baked beans and fish fingers for Sietse. We drink most of a jug of coffee and watch the drunk girl, who is still just as drunk, getting very very stoned, and yet more drunk. Percy decides it’s time for her to go home. We should probably get going too: we’ve got a festival to break into!
The Spirit of Burgas
We walk out of the village and eventually get picked up by a couple. She’s just flown in from somewhere far away. She’s an air-hostess and works crazy hours. She must be exhausted, but that doesn’t stop her from being one of what my friend Sarah would call an “Angel of the Road”. She drives us to the train station, insists on paying for 24 hour Left Luggage for us (in case we break in without our bags), forces us to take all the money she has in her wallet (about 30 Lei – 15 Euros) – despite my insistence that I never accept money, and then drives us back to where the festival is. She takes a photo of us for her own memories and I give her a big hug – “Thanks Stefani!”
The Spirit of Burgas goes on without us. We sit outside the main gate with perfect audio, though zero visual. Skunk Anansi are awesome regardless and I can picture Skin onstage with her beautiful shiny bald head. We’re into Moby by the time we get down onto the public beach and put up our tent next to all of the others who are too cheap to buy a festival ticket. There are police boats patrolling the shore – we didn’t stand a chance. Still, we have had a lot of fun, and judging by the way the security is searching people and pouring their alcohol and even bottled water away – it’s probably better out here anyway.
Return to Sofia
Sietse and I return to Sofia for two nights before he leaves again to hitch back across Europe to Holland, see his family and make some last arrangements before setting sail for the high seas – the Atlantic Ocean.
“See you in a year in New Zealand!” I tell him as we kiss goodbye, knowing full well it could just as easily be Brazil in two years, France in ten years or Mongolia in six months… well, the last option seems unlikely, but you never know.