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They told me hitchhiking in Malaysia couldn't be done. What about with five people?
April 2016, I debuted my thumb to the world. Traveling through Taiwan, I had already made my way to the south of the country, in Kaohsiung, (via high speed rail), and was about to make my way back towards Taipei, with my thumb as my guide. I came to this decision with a fair bit of support. I had befriended a group of fixed gear cyclists. Over several days, we had been hanging out, drinking beers, indulging at local nightmarkets, and even rode the approximately 67km (42 mi) route the previous day!
Having contacted my next Couchsurfing host in Tainan, she agreed to let me leave my bike behind, and to return to Kaohsiung by local train to begin the next day.
My amazing host Joanne had been incredibly generous in opening her home to me for the past few nights. She introducing me to several traditional Taiwanese foods, showed me around her neighborhood, and as a final gesture, helped me make signs in Chinese on scrap cardboard so that I could more easily find a ride. I made two, one to get to the highway, and another for my destination city, Tainan. After loading up my backpack and hopping on the back of her scooter, we headed for the starting point.
Not even three minutes after I had said my goodbyes and found a suitable place to stand on the side of the road, a car had stopped. Inside were a couple of locals, very curious, and eager to help. After a few minutes speaking to myself and Joanne, they agreed to give me a lift all the way there! I was amazed with this warm response, but especially so when I learned later that they hadn't even planned to drive to Tainan that day, and decided to do so out of the kindness of their heart. In any case, a short ride later, we had conversed and they had dropped me at my destination.
I had been traveling for four months by this point, but never considered hitchhiking as a viable way to travel. Just a month earlier, I'd arrived at the airport in Peru to negotiate a taxi ride, and would have gladly thumbed it to my host in Miraflores, rather than trust the overworked man who literally fell asleep at a stop light on the way there! Though I would later take my life into my own hands many times, I learned that a little trust goes a long way, and that a smile and poorly written traditional Chinese characters were more than enough to attract the curiosity of some generous locals.
Fast forward to February 2017. I had been through Mexico, and was now headed to California, and onward to Asia for the next leg of my trip. After soaking up two weeks of food and fun as part of a work/stay arrangement at a hostel in Georgetown (Penang), I decided it was time to wander south. I came across an awesome place called The Castle, just outside the city of Ipoh. Two local men ran this home as a place for travelers to stay and relax on their journey through Malaysia.
Also there were a guy from Puerto Rico, a girl from Cambodia, and four Russians. Life was simple for these few days. We'd head into town to take in the local street art and food, free climb some nearby bouldering walls, cook meals and pitch in groceries, and make trips to what I called The Well, which was a gas station on the main road that had the only nearly access to internet.
One day, we devised a plan to make a day trip to the Cameron Highlands, which was a group of tea fields high in the mountains just outside the city. But there were many of us, and no car. I thought back to what a passing motorist had told me a week earlier - that hitchiking (or tumpang as they call it) doesn't work in Malaysia. Indeed, I had been misunderstood and dropped off at bus stops, or had to turn down money before, but eventually made it where I needed to go. So I figured it might be difficult, but not impossible, to find a ride for us all.
We walked to the nearest highway, up the onramp, and found a safe enough spot on the shoulder to stand. I don't recall if we had a sign, but the plan was ideally to ride together, if not split up and find each other when we arrived. After several failed attempts - drivers stopping, not understanding what we wanted, not heading our way, or not having enough space, we eventually managed to flag down our ride — a produce truck, filled with dusty milk crates, headed towards the Highlands to pick up.
Myself and a few others went in the back, and held on for dear life as we weaved back and forth through winding roads into the mountains. A lucky few ended up in the cab, so they weren't much phased when we finally reached the destination and most our arms were rubber.
We walked around, checked out the tea fields, took photos, visited local shops, found lunch, breathed in the cool fresh air, and relaxed a while before heading back. I remember it taking a big longer and several trys, but eventually we split our party between two brothers in matching pickups, for a harrowing race back down the winding roads to Ipoh.
I might have spent one of my lives that day, but it was worth it to push the limits of hitchhiking, and to experience this with my newfound friends.