A Diary of a Hitching Holiday in 1982 - with LOTS of photos!
Chapter 1 | Chapter 2 | Chapter 3 | Chapter 4
We awoke late the following morning. I told Jean-Paul that after saying my farewells to all, I would have to be on my way once more. He wished me luck for the journey, and I walked the short distance to Vincent and Sylvie's flat. I told them that I would soon be on my way, but the sirens sounded, signifying mid-day, and the closure once more of the banks.
Sylvie cooked us another gorgeous meal during which Jean-Paul arrived followed shortly by Micky and another of their comrades, smoking the most enormous roll-up.
Finally, I managed to get to the bank, accompanied by Jackie who helped my by showing me how to exchange travellers' cheques. We talked for a short while, then she gave me a lift to the outskirts of Cahors, where we kissed farewell and I started hitching again.
After almost an hour, I was given a lift to Montaubaun where the guy suggested avoiding Toulouse as it was a very large city, about the size of Birmingham, and showed me an alternative route on his map. It was a very minor road, but it suited my needs perfectly as it meant going east then south instead of south then east. Having since travelled through this area with my own transport, both along the road I took that day, and through Toulouse, I can confirm that this was a very wise choice. Avoid this city like the plague, unless you have a very good navigator and a very good driver who are used to driving through towns with narrow streets, and which do not have any "Through route" directions.
I hadn't been waiting long when I was picked up by a gentleman farmer. Thirty-six kilometres later I was dropped off at a junction where he said that he would be going past again in about an hour if I hadn't been lucky. As it happened though, I was. An ancient Renault with driver to match crawled to a halt and the little lady inside beckoned me in. How she could see through the windscreen amazed me! It was full of plastic flowers and a plastic budgie sat on a perch swinging from the rear view mirror. I suppose it makes a change from furry dice. During the 14k lift to Gaillac she battered my eardrums with
"Why are you hitching? Why did you not catch the train? Why have you no money? Why have you no food?" and "Why can you not speak French?"
I had decided that not speaking French was the safest way of avoiding arguments in this sort of situation.
From Gaillac I was given a 10 k lift to an unlikely looking spot on a bend. I thought about moving on as I thought that any driver would fail to see me in time to stop, but was proved wrong when the first vehicle to arrive, a Class I HGV stopped and took me as far as Graulhet. I waited an hour at the side of one road off a large roundabout, but hardly any traffic seemed to be using this road. I changed my direction slightly and moved to the other exit from which I was picked up after a twenty-minute wait. I was given two short lifts to Realmont where I was showered by grit from a newly resurfaced road. I was rescued by a gent, who informed me that I had a new King. He seemed pretty pleased with the news - surely the Queen hasn't died? No, the truth of the matter was that Charles and Diane's first son, William, had arrived.
I was dropped at Castres from where I had a couple of lifts to Mazamet. Here it was thinking about rain, but again, not thinking very hard. A couple of lunatics were playing Starsky and Hutch in two cars on the gravel-surfaced car park behind me, so I chose to move on in case there was any trouble. I got cheesed off with trying to hitch in the dark, so I found a campsite with views of the Black Mountains and pitched my tent for the first time. I heard thunder in the distance but it stayed there and I soon managed to get to sleep - it was now 23:30.
I awoke fairly early Wednesday morning, but lay still for about half an hour. Suddenly, I remembered that there had not been anyone to collect site fees the previous night, and if I moved quickly, I would save myself some pennies (sorry Francs). Twenty minutes later, I was well away from the campsite and on the road again. I walked with my thumb held out for a while till I received a lift on the outskirts of town. This set me down fifteen minutes later and I was immediately picked up again. After a journey of equal length, I had to wait twenty-five minutes for a six-minute journey to Courniou.
Here, I stopped for my breakfast in a Relais Routiers restaurant. I had coffee and croissant and bought a cheap lighter which bore an advert for that establishment. I didn't have long to wait for my fourth lift of the day. I travelled for just over an hour in a very luxurious Mercedes through magnificent countryside and awful roadworks to Beziers. A ten minute wait here, and I was on my way to Narbonne, where a quick stroll took me to a decent looking spot to try my luck.
Frederique Deroure told me that she intended spending some time on the beach, for she was headed towards Tarbes in the foothills of the western Pyrenees where she lived, but wanted a rest and a swim to refresh her before that long journey. If I wanted to continue my travels non-stop, then she would leave me at the main road, but if I were in no hurry, she would take me almost to my destination after our swim. I was in no hurry, for the rest of the party had only left London yesterday and would not be here even if they had caught the TGV from Paris. We found a quiet beach at Leucate Plage, and Frederique went to a small grocery shop for some bread, pate and cheese while I changed into my cut off jeans between two cars in the car park. Miss Deroure changed into her bikini and I followed her into the warm Mediterranean Sea - there was only one degree of difference between the temperature of the sea and that of the air - 18 and 19 respectively. What a change from braving the filthy and freezing North Sea.
During our swim, we spoke in English, for she was a teacher of the language at a school in her hometown where, incidentally, if I was ever in the area, I should stop by and say "Hello".
We dried off, and lay in the bright sun eating the picnic that Frederique had purchased. After another short swim I took her to the Beach Hotel (Hotel de la Plage) for a coffee before we took off along the coast road, which runs between the sea and the Etang de Leucate. We reached the turn for Canet Plage, exchanged addresses and phone numbers, kissed farewell and was once more on my own.
The owner / manageress of a ladies' hairdressers took me into Canet Plage itself. She asked on my behalf if any of the staff or customers had heard of Club 18-30 but no one had. I thanked them for their trouble and walked to the tourist office who gave me the names and addresses of three campsites which did business with British holiday companies and a map to aid their location. One was in Canet Sud, the others were in the port end of town. I walked to the port, then inland along the river to the first bridge and back to the beach. I asked at the campsites for Club 18-30, but again, no one had heard of them.
It was much too far to walk back to the south end of town, so after an hour of sitting on the beach wondering what to do and moaning about "Some small fishing village!" I booked in at the cheaper of the two camps on this road. I paid twenty-three Franks for one night's stay and went to pitch my tent.
Whilst jogging behind the girl who was cycling to lead the way to my pitch, a "snappy" dog bit my calf. The amount of fussing I received was unbelievable. I told them that it was only a scratch, but they kept saying something about "La Rage". I washed out the cut with lots of water and promised to report to the hospital if I felt faint within the next three days. There was no way I was going to have painful anti-rabies injections unless it was absolutely necessary.
Once the tent was erected, I bought my tea - baguette and Camembert cheese. On the way back from the camp shop I spotted a Commer van with a GB sticker, so I went to say "Hi". I introduced myself to Chris and Fred, a couple of twenty-one year olds who were from Littlehampton. We talked about how we were travelling and both agreed that it was much better than staying in wet England. They had been travelling around Europe in their van for four months, occasionally working. My English was now out of practice as they pointed out; I was talking in Pidgin English, as this was the way I had been thinking before translating into pidgin French. After three hours of talking to the first English people for five days, I made for my tent and bed.
I arose fairly early, intending to make the most of my time in the Med, and do as little as possible. After killing a few ants, I went for a large cup of coffee, white for a change. The proprietor suddenly realised that he was not yet supposed to be open, so I drank up and made my way to the swimming pool. This was closed until nine o'clock, but it cost six Franks to enter - I was not too pleased, this should have been included in the price of the campsite.
I returned to the tent for a while, disposed of some more ants, aired my sleeping bag and brought my diary notes back up to date. This completed, I had some bread and cheese for my breakfast, tidied up my tent and made my way to the beach. I arrived here at about eight, spent a little time watching some guys fishing in the harbour then swam in the shallow water which was protected behind the breakwater. I eventually plucked up the courage to attempt the short distance to the other side of the river. I strapped the bag which contained my passport, travellers cheques and cigarettes (all wrapped in polythene) to my head, slipped into the water, edged towards the narrowest and deepest part of the river and set out. By the time I reached the middle, a small crowd of local school children was watching me swim at an angle of 45 degrees to the side. I was beginning to feel a bit worried as I was not making much progress at all and the current was far stronger than I had imagined.
I eventually grasped a rung on the key, threw my bag onto the top and slowly hauled myself out and spent five or ten minutes recovering.
When the bank opened, I changed a ten pounds travellers cheque for 11.51 Franks then walked to Canet Sud and the Mar Estang Camp Site. The receptionist had no knowledge of the Club 18-30 so I returned to the beach. I discovered later that this was in fact the site where Sean and Linda had been since that weekend. Had I taken a walk around the site, I might have bumped into them - but then again, I would not have seen as much of France or met so many different people as I did, had I stayed put.
I walked along the beach for about half a mile, when I passed two young girls sunbathing. They whispered to each other as I passed and smiled back when I smiled at them. I parked myself close by and lay in the scorching sun. I kept glancing their way to catch them doing likewise but turning shyly away. Too shy myself to talk, I went to a shop and invested eight Franks in a bottle of local red wine. I returned to the beach and sat a fair bit closer to the pair. After a couple of drinks, I offered the girls some, but they refused. I buried the wine and went for a swim to cool off then went to sleep back at my chosen spot. I was woken some time later by the younger of the two, asking for a light. I gave her one and she asked if I was on holiday. I told her that I had hitched from England, and I was to meet some friends here. She told me that they both spoke a little English and invited me to join them.
We talked for ages about anything and everything. The younger one's name was Muriel le Romancer and she was sixteen. The elder one, seventeen, was named Isabelle Grist. I took them for a drink in the late afternoon, and while they were waiting for their bus, they invited me to meet them the next day in Perpignan, their hometown. I of course agreed and kissed them farewell.
I arrived back at my campsite having walked the long way round - I decided against risking the hazardous current a second time in one day. I bought a canister of Neocide dust as a present for my unwelcome six-legged guests who had once again invited themselves into my tent; and also a tube of Nivea Cream for my back and legs which were by now quite sore. I dozed on and off until dark, then climbed into my sleeping bag and went to sleep.
On Friday, I woke at seven again, and bought a litre carton of sterilised milk and a packet of apricot Barquettes - a cross between a small cake and a biscuit. The Barquettes were nice but the milk was warm and I never did like sterilised milk much anyway.
I returned to my tent and ate my breakfast, then dozed in the sun till about eleven. I went back up to the camp's cafe, sat drinking coffee and wrote some post cards for home.
At half past twelve, I left the camp and walked to the main road towards Perpignan. I eventually got a lift and arrived at one-thirty. I was not due to meet the girls until three o'clock, so I walked around the old town, which used to be the home of the Kings of Majorca. I stayed close to the centre, however, and was sitting on a wall close to the old Palace when I met Isabelle and Muriel who had arrived early by half an hour.
They took me to their school where we met another friend, Isabelle Esparica. From here, we went to the cafe that was obviously one of their regular haunts in the centre of town on the corner of a large square in the centre of which were many fountains. We talked with many of their friends for most of the afternoon until they had to go home. We said our farewells and I told them I would be departing the next day as I had not met up with my friends from Coventry and the cost of living on the coast was prohibitive.
I went from the cafe to the bank where I cashed another £10 cheque, but this time for only 11.30 Franks - it was going down slightly.
I was walking to the road back to Canet Plage, when I heard the sounds of a football match on a television. I took a look inside the small, seedy looking, cafe but it was not a match involving England or France, so I continued my journey.
I eventually arrived back at the campsite at six thirty, having been annoyed by the fact that I had been standing at the roadside for a fair while, when two "leggy" girls arrived close to me, put out a half-hearted thumb, and received an immediate lift. But, as they say, "C'est la vie".
At seven o'clock, I went to the cafe and for the first time since leaving England, purchased a proper meal - not that this was the first proper meal I had eaten by any means. I spent approximately £2.80 on chicken and chips with a glass of wine, followed by coffee. The enjoyment of this meal was accompanied by the delight of watching the English football team beat the Kuwaitis 1:0. This put England at the top of their group and left France second. They both went through to the play-offs so there was no antagonism. Scotland were out on goal average, and Ireland were still to play and their group was wide open as all the teams had so far only managed to draw.
At about nine o'clock, I went to pack my bags as I wanted an early start the next day. Having done that, I then returned to the bar and spent the rest of the night at the bar, talking with the staff. I helped them by translating for "Brits" who hadn't even had the decency to learn a few basic words such as "vin rouge svp" or hadn't learnt that crisps were "chips" and chips were "frites" and thought that I spoke "very good English". I didn't tell them that I wasn't French, as my French had obviously improved since the start of my holiday for Brits to believe that I was not one of them. I eventually retired at midnight.