Crossing a border in certain countries can be stressful. I’ve heard stories from Africa and South America. It never crossed my mind that European borders were also getting tricky. Not so much concerning passport controls but because of the many refugees trying to cross the borders illegally.
Here’s our story of walking into Italy at night and why it would have been better to wait until the next morning…
After hours of hiking with our big backpacks we finally made if from Monaco to Menton, the last French village near the border of Italy. Night was falling and it was time to start looking for a camping place. We walked along the coastline trying to find a nice place on the beach.
An hour later we still didn’t find anything isolated enough to put our tent up. But we did find a sign telling us the Italian border was only one more kilometer ahead of us.
Niko didn’t feel like crossing the border anymore. It was already dark and he had a bad experience in the past with spending the night in a border town (he got robbed of everything he possessed in Tijuana). I was excited and thought there wasn’t anything to worry about because this was Italy.
I convinced Niko to walk into our fourth country. For sure we would quickly find a ride that would take us further into Italy. If not, there would be definitely a nice beach, bush or field where we could camp. And so we started walking.
There were no officers to be seen at our side of the border. They were all standing on the other side, checking the people and cars crossing from Italy to France. It didn’t raise any suspicion for me, my mind was focused on the happy feeling of being in a new country again!
We started hitchhiking. One minute later a car already stopped. Luigi, the driver, was an older Italian man and very enthusiastic to take some hitchhikers along. He talked to us in a way only Italians can (dancing with his hands on the rhythm of his voice).
I could understand a few words but Niko was very happy to practice his Italian. Seated on the back seat of the car I listened to the conversation and started learning more of this beautiful language.
Sadly enough the ride was short. Luigi dropped us off in the center of Ventimiglia (the name of the border town). The beach was nearby but it was very rocky, windy and exposed, so not a good place to camp. We decided to continue hitchhiking.
The hours went by and no car had stopped. It was getting very late now and the signs of tiredness started to show. It was time to find a place to sleep. While waiting for a ride, we had already scanned the area for possibilities to camp. There wasn’t much around but we found an abandoned site near the highway and decided to check it out.
As we were walking between the shrubs of the area, we suddenly saw the shadow of someone hiding in the bushes. Niko, who was walking in front of me, abruptly stopped. Out of the darkness came a man towards us. I felt the sudden emotion of fear hitting my belly. The man looked scared as well. He asked us what we were doing here. Niko explained we were looking for a camping place.
At the sight of our backpacks, the man relaxed and directed us to a place a bit further near a river. As we continued our way through the shrubs, 20 more shadows appeared. I could vaguely see they were black men hiding between the tall bushes. It was obvious they weren’t from the area, probably refugees trying to find safe passage into France.
Although they friendly whispered us a good night in French while we passed beside them, neither Niko nor I felt at our ease anymore to camp in the area. And sensing their fear, those men probably didn’t feel comfortable having us around either.
We went back to the road and started searching again. Along the way, we encountered more people that were either drunk or hiding. Another hour went by and still no options for hitchhiking or camping. We started looking out for a hostel or hotel but everything was closed.
We felt exhausted and our feet and shoulders were hurting from the hours of walking with our backpacks. We didn’t have the energy to move anymore and eventually spent the night on an uncomfortable bench, dressed in four layers of clothes. We didn’t really sleep much that night, our eyes always scanning the darkness for any suspicious movement.
You can imagine we were happy to see the first sun rays! Feeling wrecked and cold we got up from our bench and started walking towards the road to hitchhike again. The owners of a little local shop were intrigued by our backpacks and started talking to us.
They invited us in for a coffee and offered us a sandwich and some fruit for breakfast. That simple gesture made us forget about the long and cold night. Especially when the old lady of the shop gave me a big hug and told me with tears in her eyes to take care of myself as the world out there could be brutal. But with her care and generosity, she showed me that the world is filled with great people!
Niko and I continued our path with a full belly and a good dose of caffeine in our bodies. Although we still had sleepy eyes, we felt a lot better! The light of a warm heart had pushed the darkness and the cold of the last night away.
Although next time we will wait until daylight to cross a border. Nowadays there are a lot of desperate people who are trying to find a passage through. We want adventure but preferably of the positive kind!
In this video you can watch the rest of our adventures in Italy