Hitchhiking Australia is pretty easy and is a really memorable experience. Our waiting times ranged from a couple of minutes to 24 hours!
Many Australians are some of the open, friendliest people we’ve met in the world, so if you’re hitchhiking, expect to be invited in and welcomed wherever you go. And it’s not just drivers who host you. We met people in supermarkets, on local transport, and on the street, who invited us into their homes. And these people contacted their friends in other towns, telling them to host us, so we experienced hospitality everywhere.
The best rides are worth waiting for. After my longest wait in ten years of hitchhiking, we meet Joel, Bekk and Tillie the dog at a roadhouse in the north west of Australia.
They’re from the east coast, and they’ve quit their jobs and bought a van. They’ve taken a similar route to us, all the way from the east.
Gone are debates about racism, politics and animal rights. We’ve met our kindred travelling spirits!
“WHY WON’T YOU LET ME SPEAK???” I scream at Gus – our driver – as we hitchhike through the far north of Western Australia. Gus has been yelling at me for the last five minutes.
Gus, like a number of people who give us lifts in Australia, turns out to be a massive racist. He’s a doctor in an Aboriginal town, and he is one angry man. “I thought I could help Aboriginal people because I’m black, because I’m from Zimbabwe,” he says. “But they don’t want to help themselves.”
He goes on a racist rant, not letting us speak. The final straw comes when he spouts government propaganda: “they’re abusing their kids. Sexual abuse is everywhere.”
I start screaming at him that the best thing he can do is to leave the community that he says he’s “helping”. He yells abuse back at me.
Uluru: an iconic, magical, sacred landscape. A loud American tour guide shuffles slowly past us with a group of foreigners, spouting nonsense about local customs. Young people take selfies. Bus loads of people seem to arrive by the minute.
We pass the American tour guide and find ourselves alone in silent contemplative bliss. Suddenly, the tour guide appears round the corner with his booming voice, oblivious to the fact that he is standing next to a sign urging visitors to “sit and reflect” in this “quiet place of respect.”
“If you were a woman I’d give you a lift,” a sleazy truck driver says to Chris. It’s late afternoon in Charters Towers in eastern Australia. We’re excited and nervous as we stick our thumbs out and wait for our first car to take us into Australia’s Outback. A billboard poster behind us advertises how to make ‘fuller cattle’.
The sky turns pink as the sun goes down. Miners drive past us on their way to one of Australia’s many mines. Road trains (giant four-carriage trucks) speed past us, full of cows who have been transported through the 40°C heat.
It’s immediately obvious that the Outback is going to be frustrating for two vegan activists who have just come from protests on the east coast against coal mining.
** I’d like to acknowledge the First Nations peoples of Australia, their elders and their ancestors: custodians of the land that I have been travelling through.**
Imagine a place where dolphins play amongst surfers in the waves. A place where parrots squawk above you and pelicans sit on shores. A place where kangaroos hop into gardens for their breakfast of grass. A place where koalas sleep in eucalyptus trees. A place with thousands of kilometres of perfect beaches. This is Australia’s east coast.
I’m always a little bit nervous when hitchhiking in a new country, especially where there’s a language barrier. But Japan is great to hitchhike! People know the concept (pronouncing it ‘hitch hike’, emphasising the space between the two syallables). We also saw some Japanese hitchhikers.
To hitchhike, you do the same as you would in western Europe, and stand with your thumb out. Sometimes we used a sign, sometimes we didn’t.
Waiting times were similar to in Europe, ranging from three minutes to three hours.
Hitchhiking at the exit of a rest area. We have a sign which may or may not say ‘west’!
Tokyo is surely the most capitalist, consumerist city in the world, and is not a good introduction to beautiful Japan. Billboards and lights scream at people to buy stuff. Trains are crammed with adverts whilst people are transfixed with smartphones. Everywhere I turn, there are women who look like film stars. Looking perfect is seemingly important in Tokyo.
The gaudy lights of central Tokyo make no sense to me. They seem out of place in a culture with such beautiful ornate art, shrines and intricate wooden buildings.
One advert says “life is beautiful.” Not in central Tokyo.
“You can’t hike any more. You have to change your plans,” the doctor says sympathetically. “Was it your dream to tramp across New Zealand? Had you been planning it for years?”
“Well, no,” I reply, “but it’s really disappointing. How long will I take to heal?”
“Three more months, maybe…or keyhole surgery.”
I have torn a cartilage in my knee just 160km into the Te Araroa hike across New Zealand. It’s now very clear that I won’t be able to hike the whole trail. But because I can stay in the country for six months, it’s possible that I’ll recover in time to walk half of it.
“What is he doing with his arm?”
We travel from Malaysia to Sumatra, Indonesia, on the Vomit Boat. Its real name is the Star Express. But throughout the four hour journey we listen to everyone on board throw their dinners up into plastic bags (ironically, before this, the staff give everyone a meal of chicken and rice when the boat is still on deceptively calm waters). The boat sways roughly from side to side, and there’s no access to a deck or any fresh air.
If you want to find out how it feels to be famous (and I mean really famous like a Hollywood actor) then head to the town of Tanjungbalai. Everyone we pass says hello to us. Everyone wants photos with us. And this sets the tone for our month hitchhiking through Sumatra and Aceh.