Jailbreak: How we got to Amsterdam and Brussels and back in 52 hours
People are really, really nice.
Brussels: Team Pingu and Pals
After weeks of begging people to sponsor us and trying to make a plan, the weekend of Jailbreak 2016 arrived. Equipped with everything from ferry timetables to how to say “I’m taking part in a charity hitchhike” in Romanian, at 2pm we were off.
We managed to get a lift to Heathrow, which took us hours in Friday evening traffic, and when we finally got there we realised how difficult this was going to be. After an hour or so, it was safe to say we were disheartened, and gave up with the idea of flights, focusing on our Plan B: get a ferry to France.
We raised enough in the airport for three underground tickets to Kings Cross St Pancras, where trains to Dover departed every half an hour. People were surprisingly generous – the first couple we approached gave us around £15 in spare change.
We got some seriously strange looks on the tube. In full penguin mode, we strolled through the carriages asking people for money. Being creative, we made some more signs to aid us in Dover.
We got to Kings Cross St Pancras, and after being totally rejected by the man at the Eurostar ticket desk, we spent the next few hours getting together enough money for a train to Dover.
Lots of people knew about Jailbreak and we were happy to contribute, and soon we were on our way to the coast, spirits considerably raised, determined to get out of the country that night.
When we finally arrived after two hours, it was pitch black and nearly 9 PM.
We stood at the side of the road leading into the port, thumbs out and signs up, but nearly everyone we flagged down was a lorry driver without enough seats for us.
At night you can only get the ferry by car, not as a foot passenger, so our only hope was to find a car with three spaces in. You pay per vehicle not per person for the ferry, so all we needed was someone to let us in.
Demoralised once more, we headed to a petrol station for some much needed food and warmth. Several other teams turned up, clearly with the same idea as us. At one point there was three teams all trying to hitch a lift at the same time, things looked hopeless. But after six cold hours of attempting to hitchhike a lift we finally blagged our way into a lovely German couples car, and soon found ourselves on the 2am ferry to Dunkirk, high on adrenaline and no sleep in sight.
We arrived in Dunkirk at 4am, and were super happy to find out we were the first team to make it to mainland Europe.
Our amazing driver drove us all the way to Lille, a French city over an hour away from Dunkirk. He missed the lay-by and dropped us off on the side of the motorway, which after many safety talks prior to Jailbreak, we knew was very illegal, as is all hitchhiking on the motorway. As a police van drove past we thought it was all over, but we managed to escape in the dark up a grassy verge (mainly of stinging nettles) and exhausted to our bones, trudged into the centre of Lille.
After about seven hours in Lille, (at one low point we were actually contemplating doing the four hour walk to the Belgian border) we gathered enough money to buy three train tickets to Brussels.
We had tried everything from shaking our collection box to busking on a piano that we found in one of Lille’s five huge train stations.
We met some amazing people, including an Algerian traveller who charged our phones for us, donated money, and offered to put us up if we ever found ourselves in Algeria.
After sleeping the whole train journey, we arrived in the capital of Belgium. We spent the rest of our final night in some pubs and found ourselves in the middle of an English stag-do. We even bumped into the Algerian traveller that we had already met in France.
We continued to raised money over the weekend, and our total amount is over £500.
Amsterdam – Team ‘Anywhere But Here’
Even before starting the event on Friday we had been amazed by the kindness of others, just a few weeks before, we had met a middle-aged man from Qatar one night whilst having a drink in a local Cathays bar, who when told what we were doing, donated £100 the next morning! We knew then that there were a few good apples out there, but not quite as many as we discovered.
Even when we got to London, a city famed for its rude residents, we spent most of the night in Piccadilly Circus and Leicester Square fundraising with boxes of Haribo and despite being frozen, had the best time talking to some very generous people. A busker even gave us advice on where was best to go to fundraise, two homeless men came up to me and wished us the best of luck (after I gave them a handful of Haribo of course) and we even had free hugs off the most colourfully dressed person I have ever met.
London Underground workers even let us run around all night for free, one guy asking for our Twitter so he could see how far we got. When we ended up bumping into him again that evening and he said, “you haven’t got very far yet have you?” as he let us through the turn styles and we promised him we would get somewhere soon.
We went to Heathrow , partly in hope that we would magically be given flights (preferably to somewhere hot), but also so we could sleep somewhere dry and warm if not. We weren’t given flights, in fact the airport was dead apart from a few people sleeping on benches and a Costa being open, we hadn’t realised that flights don’t leave Heathrow that late. So tired and a little defeated we went to the Costa and ended up talking to the man who works there about Jailbreak, straight away he gave us all his tips from the day and even agreed to be our photographer for our text bomb challenge that required us to do a team jump photo. There is no doubt he won us that challenge, and completely made our night.
After going partially crazy on the 12-hour coach journey to Amsterdam, we were super excited we had got to the continent and to such a great place! But we had no idea how we would get home. After a brief break we set about talking to people on the streets again about what we were doing, and again so many people helped us and donated, even the inebriated and stoners were supportive. We may have visited the red light district at some point, but would only have been rude not to!
One of the highlights of our trip home, was talking to the incredibly kind staff of FlyBe who let us talk to everyone on board and ask if they would get involved in our selfie challenge. The lovely couple at the front insisted on us bringing around a collection box for the charity, and another woman offered us a lift from the airport. Everyone got involved and everyone donated.
We ended up hitch-hiking along the Bournemouth by-pass, writing signs on bits of fencing that had fallen off. People who couldn’t stop for us or didn’t have enough room were chucking money out the window at us and wishing us good luck, as we scrambled across the road to retrieve the money. Eventually a mile or so down the road, a man pulled over. Shane was our saviour, he took us into Bournemouth which would have been a 6 mile walk, took our donation details and insisted on taking us into Co-op and buying us lunch, he even bought us a couple of cans of Stella, absolute legend.
From there though we were stuck, with four hours to go to get back by 6pm, we were racing against time, extremely tired and lacking in morale. Turns out Bournemouth is in the middle of nowhere. In the end it was the power of social media that saved us. So many people had shared our Facebook pleas for lifts from Bournemouth that a Cardiff Met student, Alice, messaged us saying she could give us a lift. Our luck was turned quickly around, but alas we did not make it in time. An hour and a half late, but still smiling, completely exhausted but still laughing, we made it back to the SU. We wouldn’t have changed a thing we were just happy to be home and so proud at what we has achieved. The people that we met made our experience.