Melbourne to Canberra Hitchhking

D 244 Day
Location: Sydney, Australia

Quick update: Visa application for Argentina and Chile is submitted. They asked long list of documents. (Sirs) Dharmendra Jore , Mrityunjay Bose,  Sachind Dhanji, Shahikant Jadhav, Kahinath Mahade and one more senior are helping me from Mumbai for docs.

After the State Bank of India, the Central Bank of India had messed with my ATM card. I have some money in account but that is of no use. After the demonetisation of Rs.500 and Rs.1,000 notes, intensity of problem increased. I am also victim of Demonetisation.  I think, if we elected the government, then government’s decision is our collective decision and I should bear it.

Last week, I started journey from Melbourne with 100$ and few coins. Mr and Mrs Sathe were kind enough to drop me on the highway to Sydney.  Unlike in India, in Australia vehicles do not stop on sides of highway. So, he dropped me at Service Station (petrol station / Dhaba). It was odd 100km from Rajesh house where I was staying.

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Morning was warm and dry so I had put on light clothes.  After sometime suddenly weather changed. It started raining. I was standing on the road, holding a cardboard in my hand. It was longest wait that day. I was waiting for more than an hour but no one stopped. I realised something is wrong.

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I checked, I was standing on the right way towards Sydney. Later I thought that I should write few more options on the cardboard. Then besides Sydney I put Canberra on the cardboard. Still, no one stopped. It was very cold for me and it was raining too. That was one of the worst experiences for me during my hitchhiking in Australia.

I had left from house at 8am and reached to service station by 9am. I was waiting from 9 am to 12 noon. Not a single vehicle stopped for me. Rajesh had explained me that Western Australia is very big and population is very small so people are cooperative and they give lift. But Melbourne-Sydney is urban belt and people are afraid to give lift.

At last, I was thinking to go back because I do not venture for hitchhiking after 1pm. On the other side of service station, one guy was eating sandwich in a van. He was looking at me. Since it was working-van so I was sure, he is not going to Sydney or Canberra. He looked like Asian but difficult to guess his nationality.

He waved hand. So I went to him. He identified himself as Sayed Hussaini from Afghanistan but settled in Australia. He said he is going few hundred km towards Canberra and offered me lift. My simple rule is that, if someone comes and voluntarily offers lift be it for one km or hundred km, I must appreciate his hospitality and not to say no him/her.  Once I was landed in difficulty because of it.

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He told me stories about Afghanistan. International relations between Af-Pak-Ind. He was very cool and friendly. After one hour ride, he dropped me at another service station in Caltex in Seymour in Victoria. Before leaving, he gave a 2-ltr water bottle. It was much needed because weather changed by then. It was hot now. It is a saying, ‘Melbourne has no season. It has three seasons in a day – morning was raining, noon was hot and cold evening.’

I was sitting and holding cardboard of ‘Sydney and Canberra’ on it. I had no energy to stand. Few vehicles passed by but no one stopped. At last one vehicle stopped. One senior gentleman said, “Where do you want to go?”

I said, “Sydney or Canberra”

He again asked “What is your destination?”

I answered, “Sydney.” He said that he is going to Canberra and he can give a lift. I introduced myself, “My name is Vishnudas, Indian Journalist and doing circumnavigation.” I tried to show my passport and identity card but he was little interested in it. I put my luggage. I was sleepy so my eyes were red. He said, “Do you take drugs?” It was unexpected question. Fraction of moment I was confused why he is asking such question? I just smiled and said, “My family is vegetarian from last 11 generations.”

He said, “My name is Ken Forbes. Come on man, fasten your seat belt.” Oh! I was very happy. He said, “If I am safe then you will safely reach to your destination.” Both of us laughed. He accelerated the vehicles.  It was 6-7 hours ride and we were supposed to reach by 6.30pm.

He told me his love story. It is incredible!  He met his childhood love after decades. (I will write soon). Six generations ago, his great-great parents had come to Australia. There was a call on his mobile from his daughter. He was driving so he asked me to answer the call. I said on phone, “Hi Imogen, this is Vishnudas.”

She said, “Where is my dad?” I said, “He is driving so he asked me to answer the call. He is fine.” I put phone on speaker.  Imogen’s friends were worried to know that her father picked up someone on the highway. They thought it is very risky to pick up unknown but Imogen was comfortable, she told me later.

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That day, I did not get anything to eat. In the evening, we got down to refuel. I bought a sandwich and ate hurriedly. Ken realised that I was very hungry.

We reached by 6.30pm. Imogen invited me for dinner at Indian restaurant with her friend Chris Buckers. I asked for permission to put aside my fork and spoon and eat with hands. When stomach was full, I realised that I had no place to stay that night.

Chris promptly took his phone and searched for cheap hostel for me. The cheapest one was 35$ per night and I had only 100$ in my pocket. I could not tell them that I will manage at waiting room at railway station or somewhere. Chris pretended as me and called the hostel. There was an Asian or may be Indian receptionist and Chris was telling her my name is Vishnudas and baffled with spelling Wishnudas something. He was smart enough to confuse the receptionist and meantime took the passport and read it properly.

Indrayani Sathe had given me a contact of Sandeep Paranjape and Bhagyshree Paranjape in Canberra. Just as last hope, I sent text message to Paranjape. When I was loading my luggage in Chris’s vehicle, I got call from Paranjape and invited me to their house. I felt very happy, saved my 35$.

I stayed with Paranjape family for weekend (Saturday and Sunday). They were generous. Bhagyshree maam is from Nagpur. She cooked some typical Maharashtrain dishes like Shabudhanya chi Khichadi, Van ghya cha bharit and few vegetables. Sandeep sir, took me around Canberra city and showed me War Museum, Australian Parliament. I was taking their picture, they said, “No picture please, just remember us when we will come to India.”

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On last night, he asked me for my name, date of birth and passport details. I thought, for security purpose or something. Next morning, he said, “You will not get lift from Canberra to Sydney. This is bus ticket. Let’s go to bus stop.” He dropped me at bus stop. That was first paid travel for me. It was most comfortable and secure journey but I did not get single friend in four hour journey.

(Imogen is also traveller. She had travelled in South East Asia, Europe and to the US. She is still in touch and helping with online search for ship to Latin America. Thank you Mr and Mrs Sathe, Sayed Hussaini, Ken Forbes, Imogen Forbes, Chris Buckers, Sandeep Paranjape and Bhagyshree Paranjape).

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