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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.