Travellers' tales: Students' stories from the road
It's not about the destination, it's about the journey. Three student travellers recount their favourite stories from the long way round
Thursday 28 March 2013
Students in the UK are afforded with a unique opportunity to explore the world. With our long summer holidays and gap years, the huge increase in the affordability of global transport and our general lack of commitments allow us to have adventures like never before. With each adventure comes a story, and I’m yet to meet someone who’s gone travelling and doesn’t have some tale to tell.
We had been floating down the Mekong River in Laos for a couple of days. There were seven of us on the slow boat to Luang Prabang, the old capital. For company we had about 80 Laotians, some racoon-like creatures that were cooked at mealtimes and a seemingly endless supply of dodgy whiskey. After stocks of water and racoonalikes ran out, we made a stop at a small village in the middle of the jungle.
It was a very basic village, electricity running through it for only a couple of hours a day. Its inhabitants were very welcoming and within minutes we had a family offering to put us up for the night. They fed us some sort of buffalo stew (I think) and shared glasses of homebrew moonshine which was apparently made of honey and river water, but which bore far more resemblance to murky rocket fuel.
Just when we thought the family’s hospitality couldn’t go any further, the grandfather (think typical wise-man), upon seeing that we smoked, decided to crack out his homemade opium pipe. We spent the rest of the evening sharing it around, drinking the family’s heinous alcoholic concoction and sharing stories about our lives. Bliss.
In the morning we bode a fond farewell and, now stocked up with more racoon-food, set sail down the river once again.
It was the evening of the fourth day on our hitchhike to Morocco and we’d reached the South of Spain. We were stuck on the side of a main road in the dark, cold and rain with not a single bit of grass in sight where we could pitch our tent. After walking for about an hour and a half we reached a small town.
We found a bar where we thought we might be able get warm before deciding what we were going to do for the night. We each bought a coffee and the barman, José, brought us over some cold meat and bread free of charge. We explained to him what we were doing and he seemed genuinely interested. He got us each a beer and a plate of his mother’s risotto. Legend!
We thought we might ask José if we could sleep on his floor, no harm in asking. Surprisingly, he said yes! Thinking he lived upstairs we waited for him to lock us in so he could be sure we didn’t steal anything. Instead he gave us the keys, showed us how the door worked, said goodnight and was off.
We stood, stunned. In a matter of hours we had gone from standing in the rain on the side of the road to owning a bar in southern Spain. All the fridges were full, bar taps were on and there was a fair amount of money on the sideboard. We were amazed at how much he trusted us. It only really sunk in when in the morning he knocked and we had to let him in to his own bar. He gave us breakfast for free, and we were on our way.
José, what a guy!
I was en route to work on a farm for a month in the south of France. I’d arrived in Bordeaux and had just got on the train which would theoretically take me an hour north to the welcoming arms of the family I was going to be working for. I hadn’t realised it yet, but the train I had boarded was in fact not heading north, but south instead.
After about an hour and a half I grew suspicious, given that I was meant to get off after an hour and the train was yet to stop. I asked a girl in my less-than-perfect French whether she knew when we’d be getting to ‘Chalais’. She said she’d never heard of Chalais, and we quickly established that I was heading in completely the wrong direction.
The girl, Ségolène, was an art student studying in Paris and was heading south to visit her parents in the incredibly picturesque city just north of the Pyrenees, Pau (pronounced po). She very kindly offered for me to stay with them.
The evening was fantastic. Dinner with Ségolène’s parents consisted mostly of being regaled with old army stories by her Dad, who also delighted in sharing his collection of niche beers with me (I’m British, therefore by default I must have a keen taste for beer). Afterwards, we went to one of her friend’s flats, which was essentially just an art studio, and sat for a couple of hours drinking red wine, swapping stories and playing guitar.
They had a strong affection for Bob Dylan, and knew the music to a bunch of his songs. On the lyrics front they weren’t so hot, which meant for a series of heartfelt but incredibly slurred renditions. We moved out onto the streets at just gone midnight. Red wine and guitar in tow, we sat outside the Pau castle, revelling in the sleepy summer heat for hours.
I didn’t have enough money to get the train back to Bordeaux in the morning, so I hitchhiked instead. After about seven different lifts, and after helping an Algerian lorry driver make a couple of deliveries, I arrived in Bordeaux ready to catch the next train north.
Charley is a second year International Relations student at Plymouth University, follow him on twitter here.
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