Hitchin a Ride

Tallinn Travel Blog

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the sign that did the trick

Today I checked something off of my life's 'To Do' list: I hitchhiked. As an American, I think most of us assume this art has been left to bums and the memories of hippies from a simpler, free-loving time. But I've quickly learned how alive it still is in Europe. Every Latvian I talked to has done it multiple times and recalled their stories with a nostalgic smile and sparkling eye. It was enough to inspire me to the point of action and I decided the Riga-to-Tallinn leg of my trip would be the perfect time to give it a go.

I did what I could to prepare: I made my cardboard sign, got tips on a starting spot and even found another backpacker to join the effort. I met an Australian named Pascale through the couchsurfing network and learned she was hitching her way around Europe as well.

my estonian host, Mait
The timing worked out nicely, so we decided to go through it together. After spending a good chunk of the morning roaming the city--heavy backpacks in tow--looking for the stupid #1 bus that was supposed to be so easy, we finally made it to Riga's outskirts.

We barely had time to take our candid "Look Ma, I'm hitchiking!" photos, when a ride pulled up. We excitedly ran to the car, threw our bags in and spewed as many "Thank Yous" as we could before driving off.

100 meters later, Pascale got out. She was heading to a smaller Latvian town in the east and I was heading straight north to Estonia. We knew we'd have to split at some point, we just thought it would be a little further down the road. Woops.

Cut to me: alone in a car with the driver--a middle-aged Latvian man, who spoke very little English. After 20 minutes of staring out the window in complete silence, I imagined this would be the longest ride of my life.

The silence was finally broken when he offered me a cigarette, and something resembling a conversation commenced. The dialogue went something like this, Driver: "You from?" Me: "I'm from the United States." Driver: (head shaking, tsking his tongue) "Crazy America." Next topic...Driver: "You boyfriend?" Me: "Yes. He'll meet me in Estonia." (I felt it was a good moment to lie.) Driver: "Crazy woman."

And so it went. We would talk in partial phrases and he would call me crazy. As long as I'm the only crazy one in the car, I'm fine with that. He can call me crazy all he wants, as long as he doesn't chop my body into little pieces in the meantime.

And what do you know...he didn't. Instead, he delivered me safely to a fork in the road at the Latvia-Estonia border, where our paths parted. I stood on the side of the road for about 20 minutes, trying to give out the "I'm a sweet backpacker, please have mercy on me" vibe. It finally worked and my second driver of the day pulled up. It was also a Latvian guy. This one a little younger, smelling slightly of B.O. and equally limited in an english vocabulary. However, as a saving grace, he had lived in Berlin for a couple years. So when we did speak, we did it in German. The conversation was still sparse, though, which I took as an opportunity to sleep. And so I did, off and on, until it was time to find a new ride, once again.

This time I was about 100km outside of Tallinn, and I barely had to wait five minutes before my final ride of the day pulled up. Maret was an Estonian girl about my age, driving back to Tallinn for her job. Her english was great, she was talkative and she drove me all the way to the central train station, in the middle of town. It was a great way to end my first (but very doubtfully my last) hitchhiking experience. Thank you, everyone, for not killing me.

I left my bag in a locker at the station while I walked around and waited for my host to finish work. (I can't say enough on my gratitude for the invention of public lockers or any opportunity to be free of my bag.) My couchsurfing host for the first night was a tall aryan-type named Mait. We shared a great conversation on Estonia's Soviet history over dinner at a hip bar called VS. And then went on for a couple estonian beers with his friends. I can chalk it up as yet another good experience with another cool couchsurfer.

fredrix77 says:
I too, would like to thank all your drivers for not killing you. But you are still a crazy woman! ;)
Posted on: Aug 01, 2008
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the sign that did the trick
the sign that did the trick
my estonian host, Mait
my estonian host, Mait
photo by: Chokk