The owner of your bed and breakfast has a spread of maps on his lap. “Transport around here is a bit shit, ” he says, leafing through an area guide. “You might want to try hitchhiking.”
“How long do you think that would take?” You ask tentatively.
“Not too long. We had a guy hitchhike to St Girons and people do it all the time around here.”
He seems quite earnest. You decide to give it a go.
After half an hour, two of your friends pass you in the backseat of a jeep. Eventually (another hour having elapsed) a small black car pulls up.
“St Girons?” He offers.
There’s a twenty minute walk between the two towns. You get in and spend the next fifteen minutes gripping the upholstery as he takes the tight looping roads of the Pyrenees at 100km/hr. French dubstep blasts from the car and the ‘breeze’ from the fully open window starts giving you wind burns.
You thank him breathlessly when he drops you off and helpfully points out the way to St Lizier.
The next trip you take is to Seix (pronounced ‘sex’), a beautiful little medieval town which was recommended by the driver who picked your friend up.
“So we’re going to get into a stranger’s car and ask for sex?” she clarifies.
Two of the drivers who picked you up spoke very good English and talked a little about themselves and the local area. Others spoke none at all and tried hard to decipher your garbled and accented French.
Surprisingly enough, vans were the most likely to stop. One was equipped with a bed, a small suitcase stove, sink and chairs (including one constructed from bungee cord and an old clothes rack which slid across the floor at each turn); and the other was a work van with a floor covered in dust and plaster, and sitting in the back of it may have been a little bit illegal*.
The Ariège region (in the very middle of the Pyrenees/south of France near Spain and Andorra) was a very gentle introduction to hitchhiking. Public transport options are expensive and limited, and the area is full of eco-minded individuals who are used to picking up extra passengers.
It’s fun so long as you give yourself plenty of time. Wait times will be longer elsewhere (think several hours), and it feels significantly more dangerous than getting on a train, but it’s cheap and you meet so many interesting people. Being mature, good-mannered and having a travel companion will reduce the risk- www.hitchwiki.org has plenty of information on all of this.
*Travelling in vehicles without wearing a seatbelt is a stupid and unnecessarily dangerous thing to do- accidents do happen and you are not invincible!