10 Lessons I Learnt Hitchhiking in South America

StefanoBudget travel, Hitchhiking, Stories Comments

10 Lessons I Learnt Hitchhiking in South America
I’m in the middle of the Argentinian pampa. There is NOTHING around me. Nothing. I have been walking for 4 hours, I did 20 km, trying to withstand the strong wind. I have no water: the wind dried my lips and my mouth – I have been drinking a sip every 100 meters. Finally, I lie down and I lay my head on the backpack. I’m tired and dehydrated. In that position, if cars do not stop, in Europe would be an actionable hit-and-run. And, as expected, they don’t give a fuck: they go just on. There must be something that I did the wrong way…

10 Lessons I Learnt Hitchhiking in South America

1) Shoot for the moon and reach for the stars

It is a quote that doesn’t really apply to hitchhiking. I learnt to write the closest or the most probable destination on my cartel. It might be hard to find someone doing exactly the same route. Many roads are frequented just by locals, and it’s unlikely they are going where you are going. Perhaps hundreds of miles away.

2) Hitchhikers are not very well seen in some countries.

In my experience, Argentina has been the most difficult. I had to wait a couple of times more than 6 hours. One day I stood on the road (read above) for 8 long hours. I’m saying that because I’ve been told by many people that fake mochilleros are infesting the roads. They stop cars, they have accomplices, and they rob everything. Simply this, Same with the trucks. Word of mouth in these cases spread very fast., and people quickly lose the will the pick up hitchhikers. Once is enough for many people to believe that all backpackers are like this.

3) Draw a flag of your country

– To avoid this problem, it might be an idea to write your country or, better, draw a flag on your cartel. This will indicate that you are not South American (I think robbers are South American. I can hardly believe a German, an Australian or an Italian coming here and robbing trucks), increasing your chances to be picked up.
Hitchhiking with Chilenos and Bolivianos on the Ruta 40, Argentina

Hitchhiking with Chilenos and Bolivianos on the Ruta 40, Argentina

4) Hitchhiking with a girl or in a couple is much easier.

I still do not get what there is in people’s mind when they see a guy without water (clearly indicating the emptiness of the bottle), stranded on the roadside, and drive over. Surely, they feel more compassion when they see a girl or a couple. Probably they look like more unsafe, or they just think they are innocuous. Once in the Ruta 40, I literally saw two girls picked up just a few meters behind me when actually I was the first in what it was an imaginary queue. It really pissed me off.

5) Don’t try to hitchhike where there are no areas suitable for camping.

Beside the fact I did not have a tent (shame on me!), it’s pretty difficult to set up one where there are no trees, no shelters, nothing that can help you to stop the wind. The only suitable place for a ‘comfortable’ sleep that I encountered on my way in Argentinian Patagonia were the extremities these drainage ditches passing under the road. (It’s awesome how your mind automatically starts to look for shelters when it gets you are definitely in the shits)

6) Don’t think that if you are alone, in the middle of nowhere, people will pick you up.

I can tell you that is really not like this. For this reason, keep yourself close to a place where you can safely come back. In Europe, it’s likely you will find a village every few miles. In South America, especially in the South, the pampa looks endless. Villages or estancias (once upon a time, estancias were farmhouses where the owner of a great extension of land used to live) are very far apart from each other, even 70 miles. A distance that you could cover in 4 days walking, in good weather conditions.

7) Keep a cheat sheet with questions to ask the driver.

It, of course, depends on the driver, but I usually lacked questions after half an hour. Many times are the drivers to be curious about you. I met a guy from Argentina who was very happy to meet a foreigner, and we ended up drinking mate on a typical barrio argentino in Rio Gallegos. Here, the knowledge of the language of the country you are traveling in can save your ass. Be sure to learn at least the basics. Spanish overall is not a difficult idiom. Say something about yourself. It always works and it’s the easiest thing you can learn in another language. Just repeat it a couple of time. Try not to hurt the feelings of the people (do not talk about Chile winning the Copa America in Argentina, basically) who are doing you a favor. It’s likely, though, that the conversation will just flow naturally.

8) Take every fucking lift

This was probably the most important lesson I learnt. One Australian man, 46 years, told me that after I kindly refused a lift from people who were actually going more or less in the same direction. In that occasion, I had then to take a lift who brought me exactly where I could have got few hours before If I hadn’t said no. Take every lift, unless they are really going in another place (but, you should be smart enough to find a place where people do not have a lot of chances but going in your same direction).
Amos, the wise hitchhiker

Amos, the wise hitchhiker

9) Hitchhiking might be a great waste of time.

Do you have a lot of time? Are you following a tight schedule? Is hitchhiking the only thing you can actually do? How does it compared with a bus, a train, a flight? Just ask yourself these questions before packing your stuff and go on the road. Hitchhiking can be a massive waste of time. You don’t really know when you will arrive at your next destination (if you have one) or even where you will sleep tonight. What you might do in one-day bus trip might take a week or more hitchhiking. In the worst scenario, you won’t make it (read: I didn’t make it).

10) Hitchhiking is the most unpredictable way of traveling.

It’s incredible how your mood can change in a second. The thrill you feel when you see the red lights of the brake turning on, the car accosts…you have waited for hours in a cold – windy – snowy – very hot place, well, these are moments you don’t easily forget. Then, after the immediate moment of joy, you recall you were just a few minutes before agonizing on the road and cursing all the cars which were passing by without stopping.
I want to report a quote I found on Hitchtheworld (RIP, Patrick):
A great man once said, ‘The good thing about hitchhiking is that the assholes always drive right on by.’ 
May my mistakes help you in your quest.
Stefano