The Art of Hitchhiking – Encountering the World!
Hitchhiking encounters of the artistic kind!
Back in my art school days, my interests were quite varied. I loved creating art, I loved the outdoors, and I loved to travel. My point of view at that time of my life was to take in all these interests while I could. Who knew what responsibilities lay over the horizon? It’s sometimes funny how these all meet up in quite unusual ways. And perhaps hitchhiking helped lead the way!
The art of getting where you want to go.
While waiting for a response on my art school application, I visited my parents, who were living in a place called Maseru, Lesotho in Southern Africa. As an agronomist, or soil scientist, my father established agricultural projects in Lesotho, Botswana and Swaziland with the aim of improving soil conditions and crop yields. While in Lesotho, I became aware of the handicrafts and art within the country – wood sculptures, straw products, fabric art and of course paintings.
While visiting, I was invited to a student party at the University of Lesotho in Roma, some 34 kilometers southeast of Maseru, where I was staying. As a guest, I enjoyed the evening, and took everything in. I also noticed, because of the incongruity of the situation, a student on the dance floor, distinctly noticeable because of her waist-length red hair in a sea of black tresses.
Party like it’s an art college
Fast forward a year. I had been accepted at art college and was attending in Halifax, Canada. Besides all the art classes and studios, there was also a social aspect to the school, especially because it is a relatively small school. While out on the town one evening, one of my classmates invited me to a party hosted by art college students. Though I didn’t know the people, he said don’t worry. Just show up. The apartment is on Morris Street, an art college student haven.
Wear the art
Knocking on a door on Morris Street in Halifax, the door was answered by a student wearing a Bali batik print tunic, very popular in Southern Africa at that time, and long, red waist-length hair. As a fellow art student, I was invited in.
Inquiring about her colorful shirt, she explained that she picked it up in Roma, in Lesotho, where she worked as a volunteer with CUSO, a Canadian development organization. She was involved in setting up a fabric screen printing facility in the community. Yes, this was the same student I had seen on the dance floor in Lesotho some 12,000 kilometers away.
Future discussions with the red-headed Heather over the school year led to talk about my outdoor interests – hiking, biking, canoeing, camping. She managed to get me a summer job as a canoeing guide in Algonquin Provincial Park in Ontario. Working with young campers, I spend the summer completely outdoors, canoeing and camping from June until September.
Arts and crafts
One of the activities that the camp offered, of course, was arts and crafts. I ended up spending one afternoon with the campers painting my newly acquired paddle with an intricate pattern, full of colour and movement. This was a traditional camper activity. Lots of paddles, lots of colors.
At the end of this spectacular summer in the sun and water, I decided to spend the next 8 months in Africa. So this meant I had to return to Nova Scotia, make a few arrangements with the art college, pick up an airline ticket, pack my bags and head to Southern Africa.
One small problem. Just when I was about to take a train from northern Ontario to Nova Scotia, a nationwide rail strike commenced. This also meant that all airline flights were fully booked. I had a 2000 kilometer trek to make and I had to figure out how to do it.
The art of hitchhiking
I decided to hit the road with my thumb. I gathered my backpack, 1 pound summer sleeping bag and my colorful canoeing paddle, and off I went. My first ride was relatively easy. The father of one of the campers was heading to Toronto. His brand new V12 Jaguar covered my first 300 kilometers. This was when I figured the trip was going to be a good one.
I told him to let me off in Oakville. Though I had never been there, I knew a fellow student who lived there. I found her apartment, somehow, just as she was closing her front door. She was actually in the process of moving out and was gathering the last couple of items. She took me to her new place she was sharing with her boyfriend, and I had my first night covered.
The next morning, I was dropped off on the highway, pointed toward Montreal, Quebec. With my colorful paddle front and center, and tanned from months of canoeing, my hitching trek began. My rides commented on the paddle and got conversations started. In some cases, the paddle actually got me the ride. I landed in Pointe Claire, a suburb of Montreal. Somehow, I tracked down another friend from college days and got all caught up while staying at his place.
Landing in Fredericton, New Brunswick the following day, I tracked down a childhood next-door neighbor. Again, lots of catching up and another place to stay.
My final assault on the highway took me straight to Cape Breton, where I began making arrangements for my next 8 months in Africa. My trek from Ontario to Cape Breton was made easier by my colorful paddle that actually gave people an excuse to pick me up.
What goes around comes around
What started as a chance party-encounter in Southern Africa led indirectly to a reunion in Halifax, with a summer of paddling and camping in Northern Ontario, culminating with a return to Nova Scotia with the aid of a summer camp arts & crafts paddle project. All this allowing me to reconnect with friends on a hitchhiking trek half way across Canada, with a final 360 degree return to Lesotho in Africa.