HITCHHIKING WITH A GUITAR – an adventure of a lifetime * eastwind

An Adventure of a Life Time
eastwind memoirs
by Bernie V. Lopez, eastwindreplyctr@gmail.com
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Dedicated to the millions of Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) worldwide. Dear OFW, If you have earned some money, drop everything and take wings while you are young, or not so young.
At the age of 26, I left New York to embark on an adventure of a lifetime that I dubbed eastwind, hitchhiking 25,000 kilometers for 3 long years, drifting through 18 countries in Europe and North Africa. This was in the mid-70s.
I hitchhiked with a 5-kilo backpack and a 6-kilo Spanish guitar that I bought in Zarauz in Spain. Everywhere I went, I dragged this heavy guitar for a reason – it was a ‘magic wand’ on the road. I discarded the rule in backpacking to travel light.

Three drifters – French, Mauritian, Filipino. Pisa, Italy circa late 70s. Note the eastwind sweater.

Eastwind at age 26. Amsterdam circa late 70s.

The true stories below are excerpts from a book I subsequently wrote, Wings and Wanderlust – the Art of Discovering Your Inner Self. It took me two weeks to write the book from memory, sleeping one to two hours a day, in fear of forgetting my story.

Somewhere north of Hamburg, I picked up a ride from a stately Mercedes Benz. They were an elegant Danish couple and spoke perfect English. I discovered later they owned one of the largest food corporations in Denmark. Conversations reconstructed.“
         So you are on an adventure, young man,” the woman said.
         “Yes ma’am. Bound for Copenhagen.”
         “First time I see someone hitching with a heavy guitar.”
         “It’s my magic wand, ma’am.”
         She laughed, “A magic wand, eh? You’re in luck, we are going to Copenhagen. Where are you staying in Copenhagen.”
         “I have friends in Christiania, ma’am.”
         “Christiania? That is a terrible place. Very dangerous. A lot of drug addicts.”
         “No choice, ma’am. But I will be alright.”
         “Maybe you are just trying to save money. Copenhagen is an expensive place.”
         “Yes, I am, ma’am. I have been travelling more than a year now.”
         “More than a year, wow. You’re an albatross migrating from pole to pole. You must stay in the youth hostel. I insist. I will give you 200 croners, okay?
         “Okay, ma’am,” I said.
I knew I would take the money and stay anyway with Jansen and Marijke in Christiania, a couple I met in Portugal. I lied because I did not want to offend her. Her husband gave me 200 croners (about $40 then).
We reached Flensburg and crossed the border to Denmark, and took a car ferry boat to Copenhagen. We went up for a sumptuous dinner in a nice restaurant at the upper deck. After dinner, wanting to please the kind and sweet lady, I offered to sing to them.
So, I played a Filipino song and two numbers of the Beatles for lack of anything else. They clapped. The lady took out another 100 croners and gave it to me. In a few hours and for a few songs, I earned about $60, more than I did in Andorra on hard labor for two weeks. And it was at a time my money was running low.
As I toured the city the next day, I stumbled into a park. There was a big crowd. There was this all-male quartet playing fast instrumental folk music.
The violin solo was fantastic. There were two nylon guitars and a conga for percussion. The quartet placed two empty guitar cases open in front of them. They played for 30 solid minutes of mesmerizing music to the thrill of the crowd. Children started sitting on the pavement. Every number was followed by a resounding applause. When the concert was over, a rain of coins fell on the two guitar cases, the clinking sound reverberating inside my soul. In a moment, both cases where two-inch deep in coins. After the show, I went over to talk to the group.


         “Irish, am I right?” I asked.
         The leader answered in thick Irish accent, “Yup. That’s right. Danish folk music is similar to Irish, fast violin rhythm. They like it.”
         “How much do you earn in a 30-minute stint?”
         “About $200?”
        “In 30 minutes? Wow. That is $50 each. If you play the whole afternoon, you earn about…”
         “….. two to three hundred dollars each.”, he interrupted me.
Next day, I played solo in the same plaza for 30 minutes. I did not get a big crowd but earned $20. The day after, I went through the bars. I brought my guitar to audition. Mostly, I was ignored. Finally, in one bar, I played Simon and Garfun­kel’s ‘El Condor Pass’, the mana­ger’s favorite. I was hired instantly for $25 a night, three times a week. I knew I would earn more on the streets, but this was another type of adventure, singing in a bar.
On my first night, I prepared a twenty-minute repertoire of Simon and Garfunkel and Beatle songs and chucked in a few Filipino songs. The crowd was not even listening. I kept on playing. I did not feel ridiculous. I did 3 20-minute sets per night. I played the same repertoire for all sets. After a while, I started feeling ridiculous. After three nights, I gave up. I couldn’t do it any­more, not even for good money. I earned exactly $75 which was not bad.
I met backpacking Derek in Manila 15 years ago. I was in a bank then, he was doing a Westwind. Now, in Munich, I was on doing an Eastwind and he was the ‘slave’. His Japanese wife, Teiko, was kind to me.
          “I feel like playing the guitar in the streets but I don’t have the courage,” I said.
         “Why not?” Derek was excited. “You can do it. C’mon. The money would be good here.”
         “I was arrested in Athens together with an American for playing in the subway,” I countered.
         “The Germans are the most open people in Europe.”
         “Yeah, I know. This is a hitchhiker’s haven,” I said.
         “You know why, Bernie?” Teiko spoke.
         “Because they suffered a lot during the war.”
         “You’re saying pain makes you a good person?”
         “Precisely and comfort does the opposite.”
Teiko got an old woollen blanket, cut a slit at the center, and put the blanket over me. It was a perfect poncho. I looked like a Mexican version of Clint Eastwood. We laughed. Teiko took out a pair of old woollen gloves. She cut off the finger ends except the thumb. I could play the frets from my exposed fingers, and my hand was gloved against the October air.
I stood for a long while at the platz, scared of looking ridiculous on a poncho. Then eastwind flapped its wings, unafraid. I placed the empty guitar case open in front of me. I started singing. Like in Morocco and Portugal, I played the Filipino Christ­mas song first. Then I tried a Simon and Garfunkel’s ‘El Condor Pass’. That got them. I saw a few five-mark coins fall into my case with a sweet clink. I did some Beatle songs and achieved the confidence of John Lennon.
It was not the easy income that drove me, but the adventure. They stopped momentarily, looked at me, smiled, dropped in a coin or two, and left. I did not draw a crowd. So what? In an hour, I got 22 marks or $44. Not bad for an amateur. I did another stint the next day for two hours and got 31 marks or $62. A hundred dollars in two days.
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by Bernie V. Lopez, eastwindreplyctr@gmail.com
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