On the Road: Hitch-hiking in Peru

Before I visited South America, I had never hitch-hiked. I had never really thought about it. If I had thought about it, my brain would have undoubtedly conjured up images of leery blokes and being hit over the head with a crook-lock. But suddenly discovering a lust for adventure and faced with a tight budget, the prospect seemed more appealing. At last, in Peru, I decided to brave it.

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I had been exploring el Parque Nacional de Paracas. I navigated the coastline of deserted, white sand beaches, spotted a napping sea-lion and watched ungainly hordes of pelicans taking flight. I spent the day reading, skinny-dipping, sunbathing and chasing lizards by turns. As the afternoon light began to dim, I found myself a suitable sand dune near the campsite and settled down with my blanket to eat some bread and fruit. I watched the birds swirling in front of the sunset and the stars light up. Hundreds of flamingos chattered to me softly all night.

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The National Park in Paracas is 3,350km squared; you could easily send days wandering around without seeing another soul. At several points in my wanderings, I grew tired and began to watch greedily as the cars swung by on the wide roads. The following morning, I set off walking soon after sunrise.

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I was aiming for the opposite side of the outcrop, for a protected, red sand beach called Playa Roja which the tourist buses would visit later that afternoon. After half an hour of walking, the sun was already high in the sky and I was peeling off sweaty layers on the side of the road. As I continued, battered fishermen’s cars and trucks sped past and hooted at me. Used as I was at this point to the harassment of Peruvian men, I assumed that they were interested merely because I was a young woman walking alone. This did nothing to ease my sense of vulnerability.

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But eventually, I decided to conclude that most of them were offering me a lift. I stuck out my thumb with a sense of offering up my fate to the universe. Almost the next car slowed and skidded to a halt on the side of the road. I ran to catch up, asked where they were going and climbed in.

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My heart was pounding so loudly I was certain they could hear it. As it turned out, they were not the least bit interested in me and dumped me unceremoniously near a junction that, once I’d consulted my flimsy paper map, I realised led to Playa Roja. I stood and watched the waves crashing onto the rocks, alarming the hundreds of seabirds gathered there and the little fishing boats rocking out at sea.

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After a long walk, I reached another the visitor centre. They refused to let me use their bathroom due to a lack in running water. I continued stoically on, however, and eventually arrived at the magnificent cliffs of Playa Roja. Here, I picnicked mindfully on some fruit and gazed at the pink of distant cliffs, feeling pretty proud of myself, before deciding to hitch-hike my way onward.

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Emboldened by my first experience of hitch-hiking, I continued to stick out my thumb whenever walking with a heavy backpack became too hot or tiring (which was almost always). The most memorable of these were with a family of scallop fisherman in Paracas, on the back of a security guard’s motorbike in Huanchaco and even, somehow, in the back of a police car (yes it was hitching, and not being arrested!)

For more hitch-hiking tips and adventures of all things hitch-hiking related, check out this post by the incredibly adventurous Mindofahitchhiker.

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