"All it takes is one ride," Lauren, my partner, would remind me as we stood waiting by the side of the road.
Coming to the end of an incredible overland trip from Mexico to Argentina visiting permaculture projects our last months in the Americas were spent hitch-hiking. We had thumbed some rides in more rural and less connected places, but we had never actively sought to get from A to B by hitching. Our decision to hitch-hike was due to our funds running low and because travel in Chile and Argentina (the last two countries on our itinerary) is very expensive. There was also a culture of hitch-hiking which we came to learn was very much a part of getting around. To hitch-hike in informal Spanish is 'hacer un dedo' - literally, to 'thumb' a ride. Our longest ride was 1200km with Angelo in Argentina. A fan of 80s British rock and proud father, we swapped stories, laughs and food.
Returning to the UK we decided to continue exploring the permaculture scene back home, hitching between the 40 plus sites we visited.
(Our first hitch-hike with a gang of Liverpuddlians)
As a car would pull over and our backpacker vigil would end, the anxiety of waiting - which could be anywhere from ten minutes to three hours - would evaporate in an instant. This taught us many things. Patience, as one might expect, not being one of them. As hitch-hikers we had entered a different economy of exchange that revolved around hospitality. Value, we came to learn, was not just imbued in capital but other qualities such as storytelling, jokes and sharing food.
Another lesson I would learn (and continually re-learn) is checking my assumptions. In the instant someone decided to stop for two backpackers both parties have agreed to an implicit trust. These meetings would often reveal the remarkable about our seemingly everyday lives. Jane told us about her new life as a BBW (big beautiful woman) escort as she took us around the historic city centre of Ludlow, twice (she was also a keen historian). James, a portrait painter for the rich, and hitch-hiker in his youth, spoke of how even those with all the money they could possible own suffered from loneliness and insecurities. Chris, who some years ago had a heart attack and was pronounced dead, was due to celebrate his "fourth birthday" of his post cardiac arrest life. Usman, originally from Pakistan, and now a successful businessman arrived to these shores with just five pounds in his pocket and was on his way to open up his second clothing factory. And Sandra, who had hitched across Canada with her three year old daughter, spoke to us about the power fear has to hold us back and the perception of risk.
We reflected often on these notions of fear and risk and how much of a force they have in a daily lives. As we got into hitching the thrill, and relief, of getting a ride renewed our optimism and belief in people. And we would meet all sorts. From an anthropological point of view this was interesting in and of itself as hitching would bring different kinds of people together.
The freedom of being able to position yourself in an open way, without being vulnerable, for us marked the essence of hitching. Not just a way of getting about but as a stance to how one conducts oneself in life. Freedom exists but you have to believe in it. Of course as a couple we had the strength of each other and without bills, babies and mortgages perhaps less to weigh on our mind. As one Argentinian friend told us who gave us a lift, "if you share you are richer for it."
Websites such as couchsurfing, warm showers and the global WWOOF network are expressions of the share economy where value isn't so much in exchange but in real encounters. And learning to be a guest was very much a part of the hospitality of those that gave us a lift. Questioning assumptions, hitch-hiking is as much an art as it is a waiting game. Hitch-hiking invites you - and those you encounter - to see things a little differently. And it is in these spaces that the possibility of meaningful interaction between strangers can exist.
Phil Moore is one half of Permaculture People. Having spent two years travelling the Americas, Phil and partner Lauren continued their permaculture tour across the UK. Having recently finished they are now collecting their thoughts here: www.permaculturepeopleuk.tumblr.com and on Twitter @permapeople
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