We woke up at 6:30 to a beautiful sunshiney morning. There had been a bit of rain and some patches of wind in the night, but our tarps had kept us well protected. It hadn’t been the most comfortable sleep of my life on the hard ground, but the cardboard cushioning had definitely helped and I’d slept well and kept warm and dry.
We ate some doughnuts and apples for breakfast, packed up and headed to the ferry port. It was a surprise to see very few cars queueing for the port as we’d been hoping to see a lot of traffic heading that way. As it turned out, there were only about a dozen cars queuing right before the vehicle gates where there was a lot of very unfriendly looking stewards and security staff.
We wandered around a bit, trying to work out if there was another way past the vehicle gates without having to communicate with the hostile officials. There wasn’t. Also, the cars that were waiting all had Channel Island number plates – it seemed like we’d missed the traffic for the ferry to Spain. In the ferry port, we checked and found out that a last minute walk-on ticket would cost over £100 each. Way over our budget.
So, we made one half-assed attempt to walk through the vehicle gates, playing dumb and asking the stewards who stopped us where foot passengers were supposed to go.
“You need to go back through the ferry port and follow the signs.”
As we suspected, the stewards here were not as warm and helpful as the ones O had encountered at Dover in the past. Time to come up with a Plan B.
We went and found somewhere to sit in the sunshine and weighed up our options. The next ferry wasn’t until 9pm the following day, which would mean another two whole days in Portsmouth. It also seemed unlikely that we were going to be able to hitch onto a ferry here at all, so we might end up waiting around for two days and then finding ourselves in the same position. I was playing around on my uke as we were chatting and we considered spending the day busking in Portsmouth to try and raise the funds for the ferry the next day. However, as optimistic as we are, raising £200+ in 2 days from busking in Portsmouth seemed slightly unrealistic.
We decided to hitch to Dover. We consulted Hitchwiki and Hitchhiking Maps and found a spot by a bus stop for an easy pull-in, feeling positive and enjoying the sunshine. Two friendly people stopped to give us advice on a better place to stand, so we listened to their local knowledge and walked through town to try somewhere else. We had signs attached to our backpacks for the walk.
“Are you guys still trying to get to Dover?”
A guy recognised us in town and shouted over the road, wishing us luck. The people of Portsmouth seemed really friendly – just a shame that none of them were driving elsewhere in the country today! We made it to a new spot near the beginning of the main road out and at 1.30pm we were well settled there, taking it turns to stand with the signs while the other one sat and snacked in the sun.
Our optimism started to wane after a couple of hours. We moved a couple more times to try different spots and changed the wording of one of our signs to ‘Heading EAST?er’, hoping to take advantage of it being Easter weekend and the fact that we were heading east.
Although we’d seen and spoken to lots of friendly, chatty people in the street in Portsmouth, the people in the cars weren’t quite as nice. A few times people even waved and beckoned us whilst pulling over and then would drive off again as soon as we picked up our bags and started walking towards them. I guess this was some kind of entertainment for them, but I don’t really get the hilarity of it myself.
We ended up returning to our original bus stop spot, which we considered the best place we’d been throughout the day. It was starting to get cold and dark by this point and we were beginning to feel deflated.
We were stood near a supermarket and many people passed us on the way there. At one point, a man who had passed us on the way came over us on the way back and chatted with us about what we were doing.
“It looks like thirsty work!”
He gave us some orange juice and wished us luck. This boosted our morale quite a bit and smiling at the cars became easier again. Not long after this, a middle-aged couple approached us.
“You’ve been here all day!”
They’d seen us at 10am in the same place. We explained that we had moved around a few times but yes, we’d been trying to get out of Portsmouth all day. They asked us about what we were doing and how we made money for food etc. We’d actually just been into the supermarket and stocked up on reduced sandwiches and biscuits so I gestured to food we were munching when I told them we just did it cheaply. We clarified that we were on holiday and that we did usually “work”, telling them a bit about the sort of things we did. Regardless of this, the man reached into his pocket.
“Twenty quid? Would that help?”
We laughed and explained again that we weren’t homeless and that we were just trying to have a different kind of holiday.
“Never mind that, it might help. It’s Easter!”
Then the woman opened up the plastic bag she was clutching and presented us with the whole lot! It was full to the brim of easter eggs, brioche buns, sports drinks and oranges.
“You got in our hearts when we saw you this morning.”
It felt a bit wrong accepting these gifts, but also like it would have been more difficult/rude to decline. We gave in, thanked them and we all exchanged hugs and handshakes.
“Just don’t be here tomorrow morning!” The man joked as they walked away.
We treated ourselves to a chocolate bar from one of the easter eggs and discussed the £20 we’d been given. I felt a bit bad about using it, thinking maybe we could find a homeless person to buy some food for or something. At the same time, we were on a tight budget and getting out of Portsmouth seemed to be proving much more difficult than we anticipated. Also, now that we had accepted these things from the kind strangers we definitely had to not be seen trying to hitch out of here again tomorrow!
We started searching for buses and trains to places en route to Dover and to get as far as we could with the £20. As we were looking this up on our phones, we also received a message from a Couchsurfing host in Portsmouth that I’d contacted the day before. We decided that a comfortable nights sleep and then starting afresh in the morning with a public transport headstart was the best plan of action. We phoned the host and made our way there.
Our host was an older gentleman who lived in a little warm top floor flat, with walls covered in souvenirs, photos, letters and cards from all over the world. He was brilliant, a professional Couchsurfing host!
“I’m usually full, you’re lucky. Last year I only had Christmas day off!”
He took helping out travellers very seriously and had lots of great stories to share with us. He told us how he now had eleven friends (who he’d met through Couchsurfing) who came back to stay regularly, not bothering to go through the site request system anymore but just phoning him up instead.
We had a cup of tea and sat and chatted with our host for an hour or so. We were very tired but this point, but didn’t want to just use this kind, accommodating man’s home like a hotel. Part of the ethos of Couchsurfing is about taking the time to get to know your hosts and to give something back – even if it’s only conversation.
Anyway, it was easy to get lost in his stories – he’d lived a fascinating life. He’d being a helicopter pilot in the Vietnam war, living for several years in the Ukraine before being kicked out by the Russians with only the clothes on his back and had worked as an extreme sports instructor and tour guide all over the world.
After some entertaining and inspiring conversation, we headed to bed in a private room and fell straight to sleep.