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Hitch-hiking Greece: plenty of miles per Euro

Hitch-hiking has never fazed me. As a kid, I hitch-hiked between my school and the local village, and I hitch-hiked in France with my cousin. Even the poem that every child had to study at GCSE about a hitch-hiker getting brutally garrotted with a steering lock hadn’t worried me.

So it was this mind-set that I found myself in Drossopigi, northern Greece with 10 Euros to my name and a small kit-bag. One of our party had fallen ill and had been air-lifted to hospital the night before. The other two had gone with him and brought the date of their planes forward. With a budget inter-rail ticket, my departure date was well and truly fixed and I wasn’t sure how to pass the next ten days.

There are worse places to be stranded than Greece. Everybody looks a little scruffy anyway, and the owner of the town’s bar plied me with free coffee while he practised his halting English. As the grey dusk turned to night and the last local service bus had pulled out of the square, he put one finger up and told me to wait. As he left the room, and the eyes of two young men in the corner turned to me, for the first time that day I felt slightly panicked. I had no idea where I was going to go or how I was even going to reach Thessaloniki, my departure point, in ten days.

Anxious travellers the world over begin to follow the same routine when they’re worried about money. Pockets empty, bags are shaken and held upside down and purses are shaken out over the counter of the bar. Mine yielded nothing more than a shrivelled Werther’s Original, which I put aside for a meal. Outside a horn sounded, rushed and impatient. The barman rushed in from the street, a gust of hot air blew through the door into the cool bar as he pushed open the door.

‘I help you!’ His eyes gleamed and he wore a big grin. His neat white teeth shone in the bar’s gloom.

‘Thank you’ I began.

‘He will take you…’

The bar man gestured outside to the black Greek night. Drossopigi seemed to be experiencing a blackout, not uncommon in the mountainous towns near the Albanian border. How much thought should you give to getting into a car with a man you’ve never seen? But the barman stood so eagerly, waiting in happy anticipation that he’d found somebody in this remote village who happened to be driving to Thessaloniki at the same time as me, that I couldn’t refuse. I shook his hand, texted the number plate to my boyfriend and told him to call the police if I didn’t telephone in 10 hours.

With that, I swung myself into the battered Renault and nodded to the driver. He kept his eyes on the road. With only one headlight, the car picked out the treacherous bends and turns along the steep mountain track and before long the sound of the river flowing through the gorge accompanied our journey.

We pulled into Thessaloniki the following afternoon. I pulled a bottle of Ouzo out of my bag that I had bought for my parents and handed it to the driver. He looked at me, took it and then let out an enormous laugh. He gave me a big thumbs up, high fived me and waved me goodbye.

Hitch-hiking is not a safe thing to do in every country, but it’s easy to forget that the world isn’t full of robbers and hoodlums. Most people are average, pleasant, friendly and some, like my barman, will even go out of their way to help. And it made me realise that to have an adventure, sometimes you’ve got to put your faith into somebody else, rather than yourself.

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