On a farm, several kilometres from the nearest shop in rural Lithuania, Hitch Gathering 2012 was organised. Over a hundred people, ranging from Europeans to North Americans and Oceanians had come together, via hitchhiking, to spend a few relaxed days far away from city life. Some of the characters that I encountered really made me open my eyes and look at how we choose to live life. Several people I met have spent the last few years travelling the world and meeting the people who fill it. No roots and no ties. A life lived for the simple pleasure of living. When we fall at obstacles, these people serve as a perfect example that we are limited only by our own inhibitions. These people have pushed all boundaries and still continue to do so. This is the sort of crowd that when you ask them to try something, they will say yes. Life becomes richer because of it.
Arriving at the venue, I followed the signs for the swimming pool to find a small muddy pond. Climbing out, my skin was darker than when I entered because of the layers of mud that had accumulated on me. I forgot my towel in Estonia and dripped dry. I loved it. Somewhere in rural Eastern Europe, I floated on my back in warm water and watched the sky pass above me with people who were strangers a matter of hours before.
There were many ukuleles around the farm. Even a few guitars. If you imagine a field of semi-hippies and deep conversations, it isn’t too far off. But it was more. We had juggling classes, home made cheese, and communal cooking. All the food prepared on mass was vegetarian and often vegan. Everybody pulled together to help each other out. In the evening a car from the local shop braved the dirt track to bring us biscuits and beer. On her part, it was worth the journey. We had camp fires and at night, we slept in the hay under a barn roof. People are Books was organised; volunteers give themselves titles and you can ‘check them out’ from the library to spend time talking to them and asking them questions. Learning a little more about their story. I was not a book. But you are reading my story.
Leaving the farm without shoes, I hitchhiked to the local town with a Lituanian guy and an English girl. Only eighteen and nineteen years old respectively, they both enjoyed the adventure of hitching. The first time I ever hitchhiked any great distance was a journey to Morocco. I was nineteen and I loved it immediately. Less than a year before, I had been walking along the only road on Aitutaki (part of the Cook Islands) when a young-middle aged girl from New Zealand pulled over and offered me a ride. I tried to decline, wary of her motives.
Life changes in unexpected ways. Be willing to accept them.
In Moletei I ate a full carton of cream cheese before jumping into the lake in my pants. Then I sat on the grass and found out that one of the hitchers gained a boyfriend by tending to his vegetables on Farmville (an internet based computer game). Then we swam again. And finally we hitched back in time for dinner. After several kilometres of road walking in bare feet, the final 3km on the gravelly dirt track was beyond us. We sat and waited, knowing that it was unlikely for a car to come down the track that led to only one house. Unlikely but not impossible. We waited under ten minutes before a small car appeared and we bundled inside, despite the lack of available seats. There were two hitchhikers who met on the road inside, as well as the driver of the car. The hitchers had backpacks and the car was tiny. We carried open beers and bundled six of us into tiny vehicle, balancing people and bags across our laps. My feet were grateful.
All night it rained. We ate inside and listened to people playing guitar. The next morning I was up at 6 am and I caught a chicken who had come into the barn. It was a nice chicken and posed for me to take a couple of photos. A Russian girl who didn’t speak English made me breakfast.
I waited for the rain to stop. It didn’t.
After four hours of sitting under a roof, slightly damp and cold, I gave up on waiting for the rain and put down the collection of Mark Twain’s short stories that I was finding very uninspiring. Once again undressing, I walked out into the rain. It was cold and heavy. To finally stop avoiding it and to let it soak me was refreshing. I walked through the long grass and shook off the chill from the weather around me before diving into the pond. It felt warm. Really warm. Swimming up and down, I lay on my back once more as the water around me bubbled like a volcano from the heavy rain drops. All I could hear was the sound of rain on the surface and life filling up inside me. I could see no-one else and I felt like somebody in a movie, my own movie, enjoying the thunderstorm. When I left the pond and put my clothes on they got very wet; I wasn’t cold anymore. I wasn’t avoiding the rain anymore. I love the rain.
It was time to leave the hitch gathering and travel South to Poland. Waving goodbye to new friends, I wrapped my backpack in it’s rainproof cover and dressed myself in my swimming shorts. Wearing no shoes and no top, I walked the 3 km dirt road in the pouring rain. My clothes would be dry, and when the rain stopped, I would dry quickly.
I parted ways with the Irishman and took up a short path with an English girl. After a day of short rides, including a silent couple who played Linkin Park on repeat, we had managed to leave Lithuania but were stuck in Northern Poland. Not wasting time on stopping to eat, we had a can of cold beans for dinner. Stranded in a small town that appeared to be one of the only unhitchable roads in Poland, it seemed that it was time to set up camp for the night. It was late at night and the cars only caught glimpses of us as they passed at great speed. Trying to find a place to put the tent, we both see a car coming down a side road and realise that it will have to stop at the junction. I run from the field to ask for a lift as the girl runs at the car from the other direction. Pulling up a junction late at night and being swarmed by two foreigners must be a frightening experience. The young guy who was driving looked absolutely terrified. He must have thought we were about to mug him. Or rob him. Or generally do something bad to him. Unable to escape and realising we aren’t as scary as he first thought, he winds down the window and agrees to take us somewhere. Not speaking Polish, we were unsure of where he would take us. We were dropped at a service station where we supplemented a cold bean dinner with chocolate and crisps. We now had a street light, under which we could hitch from.
New hitch advice. Don’t write the name of the place that you want to reach on your sign. Simply write ’20km’ and stand on the right road. This trick caught us another late night ride without a.. hitch. (!) This man took my map and started writing on it, showing us the correct route to take to avoid all of the roadworks. He didn’t speak any English so he wrote down the phone number of his English speaking friend for us to call the next day. Not wanting an awkward conversation with someone we had never met, the number remains, unused, upon my map.
Heterochromia iridum refers to heterochromia in the eye; the characteristic of having one iris coloured differently from the other (complete heterochromia) or part of the iris coloured differently to the rest of the iris (partial heterochromia). I have seen it most often in Siberian Huskies. I have only once seen complete heterochromia in humans before and while hitchhiking, I have now seen partial heterochromia of the eye.
Spying us carrying our sign, two girls pull up at a difficult junction to give us a ride. They are mid twenties, dressed fashionably, and both extremely attractive. One girl drives as the other paints her own nails, turning in her seat to speak with us. In my mind now, her eyes were little fire dancers and I noticed them straight away. Each iris was a combination of pastel blue and a darker, indefinable colour that swirled out from the pupil. Genuinely, I told her that her eyes were fascinating. It was a compliment. She said thank-you.
Learning to accept a compliment gracefully is an important skill. Say thank-you, smile, move on.
Several weeks ago, I had spent the night sleeping under a bridge after someone had dropped me at a junction that was difficult to hitch. I was sad to find myself being dropped at the same junction, simply travelling in the opposite direction. Fortunately, someone stopped for me before I even had time to get the sign up properly. He was on his way back from the hospital after the birth of his fifth child. Sadly the third child was lost at birth. Sometimes words aren’t enough.
A Russian trucker gave us some apples and told us about his daughter… in Russian. Through great perseverance, we took our own understanding of what he was saying. At times, one of us would burst into fits of laughter at the ridiculous of the situation and the lack of comprehension between us.
Borat is character that I think has been expertly created. Despite pretending to be Kazakh, Sasha Baron Cohen actually uses Polish (along with Hebrew and a few other Slavic languages) in the movie. A doctor bearing a strong resemblance to Borat with his dark hair and big mustache stopped to pick us up. I was careful to bite my tongue as he started speaking in an accent that could have been an imitation of the movie. I thought it would be impossible to be more like the character until he started driving horrendously, swerving across the road as he made hand gestures while talking, braking at the last minute, riding on the tail of cars, and overtaking at ridiculous places. He was one of the worst drivers I have ever seen but fortunately we were on a slow moving road. His profession? A doctor! His daughter was also studying medicine and I bit my tongue even harder as he explained to my fellow (highly feminist) hitchhiker that he thought it was a bad idea for his daughter to study medicine because ‘it is hard for women.’ Of course, everybody knows that women are less intelligent, and need more time to rest. They should have simple jobs that don’t challenge them too much. At this point, I am searching the car for the hidden cameras because he simply cannot be real.
At night, as often happens, I had not reached my destination. Standing on the motorway in darkness for over an hour, a mere 50 km short of Kraków, I was checking out the bridge as a place to sleep for the night when some children appeared and spent a great length of time playing on the motorway. Then a man saved us. I like this man. He bought us cereal bars and tried to speak with us in German before dropping us in the city.
After several days on the road, sleeping in fields, washing in ponds, and eating very basic food, it was lovely to be in a house once more. I love being on the road, sleeping in fields, washing in ponds, and even the adventure of very basic food. Just not every single day. Balance. I did my laundry, took a shower, and even had a mattress to sleep on. In celebration of comfort and food, along with my hosts, I made ricotta cheese from milk and lemon. I used this in a homemade spinach and ricotta dish. Over the top, we first drizzled homemade red sauce and then created some creamy cheese sauce. This was all buried under a small mountain of cheese and then baked in the oven until reaching perfection. I had never made cannelloni before.
It was quite delicious.
As is life.
Here is a picture of me holding a chicken.