Like most things in life, traveling on a tight budget has that bittersweet kick to it – the sweet enhances the bitter, and the bitter enhances the sweet. Although backpacking and long-term traveling may seem like a dream come true to most, we can’t deny that, at times, things get difficult, dirty and just plain overwhelming. After all, when you decide to travel without a script, as we have, you’re pretty much available for just about anything to happen. But that’s also when the sweet part kicks in.

Availability is kind of a rare phenomenon these days. In a world where everything seems planned down to the last minute, most of us don’t really have much time to let the world do its magic. The truth is that your Plan A will at times fail – and when it does, something new and exciting will come along, as long as you’re open to it. And believe me, hitchhiking will give you some great stories to tell.

Hitchhiking on the outskirts of Colonia del Sacramento, Uruguay

After about a month on the road, I’ve got a few of them myself.

Although the “be-open-to-stuff-and-great-things-will-happen-to-you” motto is pretty inspiring all by itself, it can also feel like the type of message you would find on a bumper sticker of a fleeting van – just plain too vague to relate to. So let’s get down to Earth for a bit. Here are some real stories that happened to us while we were traveling from our hometown, São Paulo – Brazil, to the beautiful city of Buenos Aires – Argentina:

#1 – How I drove a stranger’s car from Porto Alegre to Rio Grande, in Brazil

At the beginning of our journey, hitchhiking was pretty much child’s play. But in Porto Alegre, hitchhiking proved itself a much more difficult task. The BR290 highway, that links Porto Alegre to Chuí, was a complete nightmare. We failed to get any car to stop for us and had to resort to a freshly-baked-on-the-spot Plan B: spend the night at a gas station, hoping to score a ride with some truck driver. Tough luck – none of them were traveling in our direction.

After about 15h, we were just about to give up, leave the station and run to the nearest bus station to buy an expensive ticket to Chuí. Until a middle-aged gaucho, who I’ve never seen in my life, approached us and asked us if we knew how to drive. He worked with vehicle transportation, was an acquaintance of the staff of the gas station – which we had befriended by that time – and needed someone to drive his car up to Rio Grande for him.

Driving from Porto Alegre to Rio Grande, Brazil

Next thing you know, I’m driving a stranger’s car to an unfamiliar city more than 300km away. Sounds irresponsible, right? But it seemed like a two-way street: if he was willing to take a chance, so were we. We even got a free meal out of it. By the end of the day, we were at Pueblo Arriba Hostel, in Punta del Diablo – Uruguay, where we were expected to help as Worldpackers for the week.

#2 – How we dined with a couple of Uruguayans at Rocha

Fast-forward about two weeks and you’ll find us at Castillos – Uruguay, trying to hitchhike our way to Montevideo. Another bad day: we had been 5 hours on the side of the road and nobody stopped for us. Until a couple of Uruguayans by the names of Fernanda and Juan pulled over right beside us with their motorcycle to take a break and smoke. They lived nearby, in the district of Rocha.

What started as a small talk about the weather ended up with an exchange of a phone number and home address. Seeing that we were out of luck, they invited us to have dinner and spend the night at their place. And so we did. After arriving, we soon found out it was Fernanda’s birthday. We opened up a bottle of wine, shared stories and dined together – an encounter that was “meant to be”, according to Juan. The next morning, they even made us breakfast and mate tea, a beverage commonly shared between friends in Uruguay.

At Juan’s house in Rocha, Uruguay

#3 – How we found a place to stay in Colonia del Sacramento, Uruguay

Something similar happened when we arrived at Ruta 1, after leaving Montevideo.  Our next destination was Colonia del Sacramento, a beautiful World Heritage Site, but we had no idea where we would stay. Lucky for us, we bumped into two other backpackers who were hitchhiking and stopped to ask them some information. When they found out we were also heading to Colonia del Sacramento, their hometown, they gave us their number and address and invited us to spend a couple of nights with them. They were no strangers to the burdens of low-budget traveling and knew that their help would be appreciated. We even got a private room and exchanged some traveling tips and stories.

#4 – How we crossed the border of Argentina on the back of a pick-up truck

Our last adventure on the road was from Colonia del Sacramento to Buenos Aires. The fastest way to Buenos Aires is by boat, but that would be completely off budget for us. So we decided to hitchhike north to cross the border from Fray Bentos to Gualeguaychú. This was supposed to be an impossible task – after all, you have to be a little bit crazy to cross the border with a couple of backpackers you picked up on the road.

It just so happens that two of these crazy fellows decided to show up in a red pick-up truck on the outskirts of Nueva Palmira. It was a long, bumpy, dirty ride. But these great hermanos shared drinks with us, helped us buy some Argentinean pesos and even waited patiently for us when we were held by immigration (it just so happens that we were illegal in Uruguay all this time). After we crossed the border, they even took us to visit some friends and drink beer – a treat we usually can’t afford for ourselves.

Hitchhiking across the border of Argentina

Things definitely haven’t gone the way we expected. While somedays turn out how we’ve planned, others feel like a wacky sequence of misadventures. But, eventually we always get to where we need to go, thanks to the kind people we meet along the way.

Tommorrow we leave once again – now towards Rosário. And Tiago just arrived with some great news: Ioio and Juli, a couple of artists we met in Punta del Diablo, have invited us to stay at their home in Rosário.

Well, it doesn’t get any sweeter than that, does it?



Leave a Reply