European Hitchgathering 2012, 6-9th August
“Put your seatbelt on”, I tell Alex. We are finally arriving at the Hitchgathering three days late, in a car with a broken windscreen driven by two pot dealers who are probably drunk. The driver turns around fully in his seat to speak with us at regular intervals and overtakes fast around blind corners. They drive us the whole way to the gathering up a potholed dirt track, after stopping several times in the village to ask for directions. When we finally get there, I interrupt a ‘how to find cheap flights’ workshop with a ‘technical point’ hand-sign, to ask if anyone wants to buy weed from our drivers.
They say there were around 100 at the start on the week. A lot of people have left already, but there are still at least thirty here. I put my tent up as fast as possible and jump into the lake before it gets too cold – at a safe distance from Taylor’s back-flip workshop.
Compared to the beach in Bulgaria last year, this year’s gathering is highly organised, despite several location changes. Last year we had two small cooking pots between one hundred people, no shade and a half hour walk to the water source. This year we have an indoor kitchen, a well, several large pots, cutlery, plates, a big barn to sleep in, a volleyball pitch and a sauna. This is five star accommodation for us vagabonds. It’s still almost an hour’s walk to the nearest shop, but there are bikes. Before we arrived, the woman from the local shop filled her car with as much beer as possible and drove it all the way to the gathering. It seems the locals are happy to have us.
The gathering is being held on a small organic farm who regularly host WWOOFers and Couchsurfers. Huge hay-bales stacked and wrapped in white plastic advertise the CS profile of the farm, with an invitation to stay longer and help out. A long list of names and nationalities rolls down the plastic.
As is common at these big events, I’m feeling out of sorts. It’s taken so much energy to get here that by the time I’ve arrived, I just need space. I’m aware that the people surrounding me are all fabulous human beings, but I can’t help feeling like I just want to crawl into a hole and not exist for a few days. I settle for lying alone in my tent for some hours and take a solitary walk, then try my best to be social.
“How many games do you travel with?” I ask Matthieu. He thinks for a minute. “Seven.” It’s raining. A small group of us huddle around one of Matthieu’s board games in the barn. This one originally started out as a zombie game, but Matthieu has adapted it. Now we’re playing the part of squatters, and instead of zombies outside there are cops. It’s a team-work game, only at least one of us is an undercover cop and the others have to work out who it is. Richard is a very obvious undercover and we barricade him in a room fairly fast, but Matthieu is a more cunning cop and eventually defeats us. The cops beat the squatters – how depressing.
The most common questions at a Hitchgathering:
1. Where are you from?
2. How long have you been on the road?
3. Where have you just come from?
4. Where are you going next?
5. When are you leaving?
Numbers four and five roll up to the top in popularity as the week slides by. I am very clear about my answer: “I am going to Turkey. I would like to go through Ukraine and Moldova, or maybe back to the Rainbow first.” “But why are you in such a hurry?” – Alex asks me several times – “In around 20 days I’ll be in Bulgaria. Why don’t you see some more of the Baltics with me first?”
“No, no, no, I’m going to Turkey.”
I’m sure I wouldn’t have changed my mind if I wasn’t drunk.