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Sunday morning

Maxime
The Frenchman has hitchhiked from Europe to Hong Kong (so far)
on a budget of one euro a day. He tells Paul Letters why.
HELLO CHINA Just as bushy beards
are treated with suspicion in Uzbekistan,
so they are in areas of Xinjiang, where
the clampdown on Islamic culture
means big beards are a no-no. People
were kind, but it was the first place
where I couldn’t communicate at all:
it felt like Christmas when I eventually
met someone who could speak English.
It was freezing cold in northern China
in December, and 2,000km of desert lay
before me. People were considerate; I
gave in to some insistent locals and let
them put me on a night bus to cross
300km of the Gobi Desert. But I hitchhiked the rest of the northern deserts,
sleeping in gas station toilets, and then
on down the east coast.

MY LIFE

C

HILD’S PLAY As a kid, I was the
same – energetic and always trying
to have fun. At primary school (in
Valence, southeast France), I was top of
the class, but from preschool through to
university, I regularly got into trouble for
messing around. I was a stupid teenager,
overly familiar with alcohol – and worse.
When I was 20, after dropping out of a
business degree at university, I realised
my life was going in the wrong direction,
and I stopped hanging out with the wrong
crowd. I worked as a hotel entertainer
and did odd jobs in ski resorts. My last
job before leaving France was guiding
kids from tough backgrounds – who had
been taken into social care – up into the
mountains on camps.

Picture: Edmond So

HOME ON THE ROAD I just want to
be happy. When I’m on the road, nothing
else matters, and I came to realise that
travelling fulfilled my happiness. I love to
push my limits, mentally and physically,
and that’s what this journey-cum-lifestyle
is about. I’ve long understood that a nineto-five routine was not for me. I simply
want to have great stories to tell my kids
one day.
ONE-EURO LIFESTYLE I don’t carry
any computer device or phone: why waste
my time on technology when I can get
the information I need by talking to local
people? Underpinning my one-euro-a-day
(HK$8.45-a-day) lifestyle is that I don’t
see the world as being a place full of
strangers but rather one full of friends.
I travel with no camping equipment or
sleeping bag: my full backpack weighs
only five kilos. Getting food can be hard,
and sometimes you need to accept and
endure hunger. But after sleeping rough
and not eating for some time, it makes
each piece of bread or night on a mattress
that much more enjoyable. I ask strangers
– or, rather, new friends – in an indirect
manner, “Do you know any safe place
where I could sleep for free?” It’s the
starting point of many wonderful

January 31, 2016 Post Magazine

encounters. I don’t want money to spoil
my trip. I’m challenging myself to find
creative ways to travel without spending
money. Most days, I don’t spend any
money at all. At the end of one month
travelling in Europe I had spent only
60 cents (but I celebrated by buying a
few beers!).
WELCOME TO IRAN My original
objective was to hitchhike from France to
Iran, a country I had grown up thinking
was a dangerous state, closed to tourism.
But Iranians love tourists – they just don’t
get many. I received countless invitations
to stay with local families. I worked in
Shiraz for a couple of weeks, translating
a website from English to French for a
local tourist agency. They provided me
full board and enough money to pay for
visas for onward travel.
AFGHANISTAN: WHY NOT? After
checking online sources like couchsurfing.
com, I discovered tourists who had risked
visiting Afghanistan and survived to tell
the tale. I wanted to form my own opinion

about this country, to see what’s
happening with my own eyes. I spent
a week there and never felt unsafe,
although I took precautions and
hitchhiked only a small fraction of the
country. With a bushy beard and local
clothing, I tried to blend in. Although
they have so little, the people are so
welcoming and warmhearted. In Iran
and Afghanistan, there’s no notion of
losing face: locals gather round and
want to try to help you.
UZBEK LOW In Uzbekistan, every
driver who stopped asked me for money
for a ride. On day one, without explanation, the police picked me up and
interrogated me for four hours, stripping
me down to my underwear. At the end,
they explained to me that they were
concerned about terrorism. Then, after
six months without paying for accommodation, I had to set aside the dream:
the law requires that tourists register
in a licensed hotel. That was a huge
disappointment. I left the country as
soon as possible.

A COLD RECEPTION (In Hong Kong)
I spent three consecutive nights sleeping
on the streets – not something I had had
to do in eight months of travel before I
got here – and suffered from indifference
and mistrust. Local people clearly didn’t
have time to get to know me. The city has
problems with space, making it difficult
to find a spare bed. But I was not ready
to give up. Eventually, I found a place
in a hostel – The Mahjong – in To Kwa
Wan, where I stay in exchange for some
volunteer work. I’ve hitchhiked about
40,000km to get this far, but getting
around Hong Kong is tough. People don’t
pick up hitchhikers in developed cities
and a bus across town costs more than
my one euro a day. To continue living on
one euro a day, I’m giving French lessons
for which students pay with food. After a
rough start, I’m now feeling good in Hong
Kong and I look forward to experiencing
Chinese New Year here.
It’s exciting not knowing where I’m
going next. Maybe I’ll wander down
Southeast Asia. My dream is to hitch
a ride on a boat – across the Pacific.
Maxime has requested that Post Magazine
does not print his family name because
being traceable online after having
admitted to visiting certain countries
could make the process of getting
future visas that much more difficult
– or impossible.

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