As my hitchhiking journey took me out of Romania, two lovely young men picked me up in a very old car that had something large and white strapped to the roof. Upon closer inspection, I realised that there were in fact two white things on the roof. Fridges. And so it was that we continued on our way to Serbia under these fridges.
Approaching the border, they gestured some form of apology and left us with only a few kilometres to walk. As is often the way, before me and my hitchhiking partner could continue our journey, a man shouted to us and offered us a ride. He had a great handlebar moustache and his face was deeply etched with many years of a hard and difficult life. His frown was not a signal of a bad day, it ran much deeper than that. I don’t know anything about this man and I never will. I will never understand why he took us to the border without saying a word and then turned tail and went back whence he came. But it doesn’t matter. For his little kindness, I am grateful.
There is one place where you are almost guaranteed to not obtain a ride when you are hitchhiking. No man’s land. That little grey area that falls before and after the borders of two countries. If you are hitchhiking from here, drivers seem to presume that you have something to hide. I often find it very difficult to know where a border starts and finishes when I am on foot. At times, I have had my passport checked by 4 different groups of people, only to find that I have several more groups to go. Then on other days, everything is organised in one nice place and I can understand what is going on. This understanding is a rarity. After a lot of unsuccessful hitching in the no man’s land between Romania and Serbia, we realised that we were in no man’s land. We shuffled on, walking for several kilometres and the world became dark around us. There were very few cars and we had only one thin sleeping bag and no tent between us. The cold had caught up with us and sleeping outside on the Romanian / Serbian border seemed like an unattractive but realistic option. We toured the lorry park and asked every individual to help us. None of them were going anywhere. None of them knew what to say to us. They pointed down the road, ‘Yes Belgrade is that way.’ Thank-you for your time.
Debating whether we should try to sleep in a lorry, walk until we find some form of inhabited area, or hitchhike all night filled our following conversations. Looking ahead, we could see no lights in the distance. In hindsight, I now know that the nearest town was close to 30 km away. Sleeping in a lorry seemed unlikely as we had already made an approach to everyone in the park. Continuing hitchhiking seemed to be our only option. But it was cold. A small Serbian trucker took an interest in us which at times is good and at others is bad. We tried to shoe him away, but in the end, he seemed to want to help. He had a friendly face and when all you have to guide you is your instincts, you learn when to trust them and when to not. We followed the man to his truck and climbed in, unsure of what would be happening as he had made it clear that he was not going to Belgrade, our intended destination.
Within a short time, we were on our way to somewhere. We snaked and twisted through narrow roads until eventually, we were on the outskirts of a small town and pulled up in a car park. The place was pulled right out of a cheap horror movie and I wasn’t at all happy to be there. When a couple of guys and dark car turned up after a phone call by our driver, I pulled my passport from my bag and readied myself for some form of action. I’m not a fighter. But nor am I do-nothinger. If something bad happens, I would at least give it my best shot.
Bristling like a spitting kitten and feeling that glorious rush of adrenaline that makes life so exciting, our truck driver sprang from the truck, made some sort of exchange, then returned a few minutes later. He smiled and we were on our way. Dare I say that it was almost a disappointment? We hope for excitement in life and mine was fairly full of it throughout this journey but promises had not been fulfilled. I had been told repeatedly that I would end up mugged, attacked, or in some other form, physically mistreated by hitchhiking through Europe. Especially when hitchhiking late at night. People had lied to me about the evil state of the world.
I was starting to believe that in fact, people are wonderful and so too is the world. What a dangerous idea to have. How could I believe that everything would be OK?
Needless to say, that night I arrived in Belgrade without a problem. I walked through the city, saw some new places, ate some cheese pastry, drank some wine from a plastic bottle, and the very next morning, continued my journey in the hope of doing the same thing again. The world was cold and I was chasing the sun. With a little bit of luck, I thought that I might just be OK. I still believe that everything will be OK. It always will be, until it’s not. Until that time, I will not worry about what might happen. Instead, I will enjoy what is happening now. I will live my life as an adventure. I will live my life as if I enjoy it.
This post is a blog entry from a much larger hitchhiking adventure. You can also watch the video and read the full story.