We woke up at 8:30, surprised we’d slept so long after also sleeping a lot of the car journey. We moved along the river to clean our teeth and freshen up in the sunshine, then hopped back over the wall and found a bench to sit on to have some breakfast (carrots, crackers and dark chocolate) whilst we aired out our blankets and tarps.
Since we’d covered so much more distance than expected yesterday, we decided we’d take our time this morning and have a little wander around Bordeaux. We walked into the city centre, found a flea market and browsed the selection of furniture, clothing and books in the sunshine for a while.
Bordeaux had a good atmosphere, it was clear to see why our friends from yesterday had decided to move there from Calais. People on the street seemed happy and friendly and there was just a general energetic, creative feel to the city with interesting architecture and a beautiful river. There was a lot of cyclists around and the city was obviously set up for that with a lot of cycle lanes. We could definitely imagine spending more time there.
We went to a supermarket to stock up on our food supplies before heading to a good spot we’d found on Hitchhiking Maps, jumping on a tram for part of the journey. We arrived at our chosen spot, just outside the School of Architecture, at about 12:30 and took it in turns to have lunch. We were armed with two signs – ‘A63 SUD dir. Bayonne SVP☺’ and, on our cardboard cut out arm and thumb, simply ‘L’Espagne!’
We were aiming to get to Spain, to San Sebastian, before the end of the day and then tomorrow we could start heading through Spain towards the south coast.
Two hours later, we were beginning to lose our enthusiasm for the day. We’d tried a few different tactics – making a new sign with just a simple motorway symbol and ‘SUD’ written on it, playing the ukulele by the side of the road, O even tried doing headstands whilst I danced around with the main sign. We definitely got a bit more attention with the headstands, lots of laughter and thumbs up and some apologetic gestures. We were particularly enjoyed by both passing firefighters and ambulance crews!
But we could not understand it. People were being friendly and we could see that almost all the cars passing were going in our direction… so, why was nobody picking us up?
At some point, a man pulled over and offered us a lift to Toulouse. It was a tough decision, but we turned it down because we were concerned it would be difficult to hitch onwards to Spain from Toulouse because of crossing the mountainous Pyrenees. Also, we were hoping to get to the coast west of Murcia (where our flight is from in eleven days) to continue on a sort of circular route rather than feel like we’re going back on ourselves.
After three hours, we were starting to feel truly deflated. Should we have accepted the lift to Toulouse? We spent some time looking up different hitching spots on HitchWiki and Hitchhiking Maps, but it really did seem like we were stood in the best place. So, we stayed where we were with our two signs, trying to look cheerful and channel as much positivity as we could muster.
A couple in a van stopped, they were heading towards the Spanish border for a cycling trip. The area they were heading to would be hard to hitchhike from because of the small roads and mountains, but they could take us some way along the motorway and leave us at a petrol station. We were very happy!
“There’s no seats and no windows, will you be okay? You can put out some mats and lie down if you want.”
Another very sweet couple, concerned about our comfort. It was an awesome van, simple but functional and inspiring for our future adventures. The man was French and the woman was French-Canadian, they had previously lived in Canada but now lived in Bordeaux. They’d done a little hitchhiking before, most notably when they’d been visiting family in Paris and realised when they got to the airport that they had accidentally booked their flights back to Canada in two months time instead of two weeks! They’d had a hard time hitching out of Paris to get back to their family’s house, it had taken them days in the hot summer sun.
O took up the offer to lie down in the van on some blankets and I leant against the side. Our new friends shared their strawberries with us and we shared a chocolate easter egg with them. It was a relaxed ride.
They dropped us off at the last service station on the A63 before they turned off. It was a pleasant service station, with lots of green areas and a lorry park for extra chances of rides. We considered approaching people directly but decided that first we would try standing by the exit with a sign – it had worked for us so far.
We really began to feel like we were on holiday. There was a warm, southern feel in the air that we hadn’t experienced yet.
There were two exits, so we chose the point where they met, just before rejoining the motorway. We were hungry again, so took it in turns to eat and the other stand with signs – moving between the two roads depending on where cars were appearing. O ate first and I danced around between the two roads with the signs. I got some apologetic acknowledgements and there was a lot of full cars. We swapped and I sat down to eat, I was just about to put the cheese in my bread when two cars approached – one from each road – almost simultaneously. I paused from my sandwich making to stick out my arm (and thumb!) to help O out… and a car stopped!
And this is how we met Max.
He told us he was going to Hossegor, a seaside town on the way to Bayonne, and could drop us at a service station on the way. We got in.
Max lives in the mountains near the Spanish border but told us he was going to Hossegor for a party. In the car, we looked up service stations en route but there weren’t any before Hossegor. It was about 5:30 by this point and we thought maybe we’d just go check out the beach in this place Hossegor and find somewhere to sleep there. We told Max our new plan.
“Well, you could come to this party…”
We quickly explained that wasn’t what we’d been hinting at! We all had a laugh and he explained that he was going to an art exhibition opening party. A sculpture of his had recently been added to the show, there would be food and drink at the party and he said we were very welcome to join him.
We were interested! We started chatting about art etc, asking him what materials he used for his sculptures. He waved his hands around.
“Anything. At the moment? Plastic bags.”
Max told us that Hossegor was ‘a pretty cool place at the moment’, that it was the ‘Miami of France’. He himself was oozing coolness, but also just real genuine kindness and a positive, relaxed energy. He was casual but effortlessly stylish with a welcoming face, kind eyes and easy conversation.
“The exhibition is at seven… My plan was to first go to the beach, if that’s okay with you?”
We arrived into Hossegor around six and drove through the small town which was reminiscent of Newquay in Cornwall. The beach also reminded me of Cornwall – long and sandy, windy and quite a lively sea with lots of surfers about.
We sat on a bench, looked at the sea and chatted. Max pointed to the mountains to our left and explained he lived in a house amongst the mountains, but he could still see the sea – perfect. Soon though, he would be moving to Bordeaux – he said that out of all the cities in France, Bordeaux was his favourite as it was ‘the most chilled’. We asked him if he picked up many hitchhikers, he didn’t but we had caught his eye.
“You just looked so nice!”
O asked if he could take his portrait and he agreed happily, posing quite hilariously. His wife is also a photographer and he said he was used to being her muse! We spoke about all sorts at the beach, and laughed a lot.
We drove to the casino building, where the exhibition and party was being held. As we were still fifteen minutes early, we let Max go ahead and took the opportunity to wander the grounds a bit and soak up our good fortune. I was also eager to find somewhere to change before the party, being in the same clothes since leaving Brighton. We found a bench in the sunshine, behind which was some thick reeds. I snuck amongst the reeds for a wet-wipe wash and to change into something that felt slightly more appropriate for an opening party of an exhibition at a rather grand casino. O also changed and then we headed up the steps and inside.
The exhibition included a mixture of sculpture, installation, paintings and collages. Everything felt very modern and cool. It was very busy and Max obviously knew a lot of people there – we saw him moving from group to group always saying ‘Eat! Eat!’ when he saw us. His sculpture had pride of place in the entrance to the exhibition.
There was rows of wine lined up on the bar and a lot of fancy canapés being offered around by friendly staff. We ate as much as we could without embarrassing ourselves!
Max asked us where we planned to sleep that night. Earlier, O and I had discussed sleeping on the beach (we liked the idyllic idea of waking up and washing in the sea), however when we were there it was clear it was too windy and public and that it would be hard to find good shelter. Max said we also might get some trouble from the police if we were spotted. He told us there were a lot of empty houses around at this time of year in Hossegor – holiday homes not used out of season – and that maybe we could sleep in a garden or sheltered patio area or something.
“That’s what I would do.”
He held up his hands, as if to say ‘I’m not telling you to do this, and if you get in trouble I won’t take the blame, but…’
Before we left the exhibition, we gave Max a card with our details on and ‘Grande Prix de autostop por Max Boufathal!’. We said goodbyes and he left to have a drink with his mother.
We got our bags and went on a search for a supermarket, we fancied beer and crisps and finding somewhere to crash. All the shops were closed and we decided, since we’d hardly spent any money so far, perhaps we deserved a treat. So, we went to the seafront and shared a pizza in one of the many bustling restaurants.
We were full to the brim and started walking back away from the coast to find somewhere to sleep. We found a campsite fairly near on the map and thought maybe we could camp there or nearby and use the showers in the morning. But on the way, we walked down a street of houses and saw that at least a third of them were definitely empty – outside shutters firmly shut, no cars nearby etc.
We scouted around for a bit for the best option and then let ourselves into an open gate. It was a big house, a complex of sorts actually – there seemed to be three empty buildings altogether and two large covered areas for parking cars maybe, or one seemed to be for outside cooking as there was a fireplace and grill at one end. We chose this one.
We lay down our base blanket and some clothes and got into ‘bed’.