Hitch hiking was something I was brought up to absolutely not do. My parents always told me the dangers getting in the car with a stranger and that getting a ride from one was just simply not an option. Being the curious kids that I was, I always asked them if they ever hitch hiked when they were younger and their response was always the same, “Yeah we did, but it was such a different time back then. It was safe, acceptable and everyone was doing it.” I accepted this to be true, but always wondered what that “different time back then” was like. The idea of hitch hiking was crazy, wild and foreign to me all throughout my life. That is, until I moved to Nicaragua.
Here in Nicaragua, hitch hiking is not just common, it’s one of the most common ways for locals to catch a ride. If there’s a large vehicle, pickup truck or van driving by a local walking on the street, you will almost always see that local asking for a ride. This includes kids, women, men, teens and young adults alike. It’s part of the culture. It’s not seen as a dangerous act, but rather just a quick and easy way to catch a ride with someone going in the same direction as you. This obviously was a completely different concept to me than the one I was raised with, however, the longer I lived here and the more people I saw doing it, the more my perspective of hitch hiking began to shift.
It’s almost as if the hitch hiking culture of Nicaragua was frozen in time back to when my parents did it. The way the locals explained hitch hiking to me was very similar to the way my mom and dad did things when they were young in the 70’s. When else would I be able to experience something just like my parents did back in the days when things were “very different”? I knew I was going to do it eventually, but I never imagined what my first time hitching a ride form a stranger would actually be like.
After a very fun night at the Steve Aoki concert, it was time to go home. We headed out of the concert to see if we could just jump back on the shuttle to San Juan del Sur that originally brought us way out to Eskamekita 12 hours ago. However, as we and the rest of the hundreds of people found out, there were no shuttles going back at 3am. Sweet. We continued to follow the rest of the crowd out to the main dirt road where cars were lined along for miles. This was the moment: there were no taxis, no shuttles, no buses and there was NO way we were going to walk all the way back home at 3am. We started walking with a rather large group of British gringos who were all looking for a ride back into town as well. We watched another group of locals and gringos in front of us jump in the back of a pickup truck driving by. We all immediately decided that the next pickup truck that drove by, we were all going to ask for a ride.
One came by just a couple minutes later and JB and I jumped in right away with our group. The problem was, so did about 10 other desperate gringos behind us. Luckily, JB and I were in the bed of the truck, but the other guys were not so lucky and really should have just jumped off. The driver came out and yelled at them to get off, but they refused to even though they were literally hanging off of the truck. The driver got upset and sped off in a fury in attempts to get the stragglers off of the truck. They held on for dear life as the driver sped through the bumpy rural dirt roads under the starry night sky. I wanted to get out of that truck so badly. It was the longest 20 minute drive of my life as I clinched JB’s leg the entire time.
When we got to the edge of town, we all jumped out. I gave JB a huge hug and asked him if we could run through town back home. He grabbed my hand and we ran as fast as our flip flops could take us through town at 4 in the morning. We got home safely and we were so thankful that we did.
Although I was scared out of my wits during the ride, the accepted culture of hitch hiking in Nica influenced our decision to do it without hesitation. The truth is, I’m glad I tried it in a place where time seemed to be the same as when mom & pops did things. It’s an experience I wouldn’t have had back home in the States because I wouldn’t have had the courage to do it there. But there’s something about Nicaragua that has helped me gain courage, has pushed me way beyond my comfort zone and has made me do things that myself a year ago would never have done. One thing’s for sure, the things that Nicaragua has gotten me to do will make for some crazy great stories to tell the kids someday like my parents did with us–and that thought makes me smile.