Where Tourists Fear to Tread

Barbed Wire

Waving goodbye to Brno and struggling to find enough change for a bus, our hitchhiking journey took us from Czech Republic towards southern Hungary and the town of Szeged. At the border of Hungary, we were riding with a Romanian banana trucker and after not liking the look of us, the border guards pulled us over to search our bags for drugs. Seeing my loose fitting hippy pants and the general state of our being, they searched through the first backpack extremely thoroughly, checking every pocket and fold possible. It was with decreasing enthusiasm that they continued rooting through our bags and by the time they reached the final bag, they didn’t even bother to do anything more than open it for show. We proved to be a great disappointment.

I once had a terrible time of hitchhiking through Hungary and the third attempt didn’t prove to be a whole lot better. We hitched all day and and it was nearly ten at night when we were standing in a deserted service station, hoping that someone would pick us up. One car pulled up and I wave at him and shouted. He brushed me off without making eye contact before scuttling away to his car. The kind of brush off I hate; someone who isn’t even polite enough to say no, they simply pretend that you don’t exist. Fortunately for us, the passengers of the car had other ideas. A minute later, the two of us were riding in the car with the guy and two girls who all spoke perfect English. None of them were Hungarian and they told us about the new cafe they were opening.

Of all the places in the city that we could have been heading, the cafe was literally 30 seconds walk from the girl’s house that we would be staying at. They dropped us at the door and invited us to come to the cafe pre-opening film the following evening. Despite it being almost midnight, we were greeted by a delicious Hungarian meal that had been specially tailored to our vegetarian requirements by the two sisters we were staying with. We gratefully overindulged in the main course before finding out that there were also pancakes for desert that were to be filled with a ricotta type cheese. Satiated and unable to move, we stumbled into comfy beds, once more happy at the state of the world. The following day, we met up with a local girl who showed us around the town. Our hosts were medical students and had to study for exams. Training to be a doctor in Hungary is a very big commitment because you legally have to sign to say that you will not leave the country for higher pay without facing financial punishments.

The town of Szeged was fairly small, but every place has something special. There was a tree that looked like a pig and a church that had themed entrances / exits; you enter through hell and leave through heaven.

The Pig Tree, Szeged, Hungary
The Pig Tree, Szeged, Hungary

After a mini party, the girls had to study again the following evening, so we headed out to the cafe at the end of the road. On a giant projector, we watched Don Juan and lounged in the most amazing bean bags. The guy had made them himself and was hoping to sell them. Effectively they were sofas made out of bean bag material. Not unexpectedly I drifted off to sleep in such a comfy environment. I did catch bits of the film and one of my personal highlights of the film was the slight delay in the audiences reactions caused by the subtitles. At funny parts, the English speakers would laugh slightly before the Hungarian speakers who had to read the text to understand what was being said.

Friends of the girl offered to drive us out to the road to start our hitch journey in the morning but the car wouldn’t start. Instead, they walked us to the edge of town for the best part of an hour without really speaking to us, then walked back again. This was the day for Romania. I knew I wouldn’t be staying long and I wished that I could traverse the whole country, but with temperatures falling day by day, we really had to head South. This journey was becoming the definition of chasing the sun.

Romania, a country feared by tourists, fascinated me. It still does. Before leaving on my journey, I had heard many warnings about Romania and that I should stay away from it as much as possible. Most of these warnings came from people who had never been to Romania. A Romanian truck driver had also warned us against hitchhiking into his country, but I wanted to see for myself. More open minded people who had been to Romania, such as hitchhikers from Hitch Gathering 2012 had great things to say about the country. You might call these people hippies, but I liked them. Plus, these were the things that I wanted to believe. Knock down your preconceptions and cast judgement only when you have a right to an opinion. Better still, cast no judgement whatsoever. I try not to be a tourist because I am not on holiday and I am not a local because I do not live in the places I visit. I am simply living a transient life. I am a person that is passing by.

Our target on Google maps; a small village somewhere in Romania
Our target on Google maps; a small village somewhere in Romania

We took a series of rides that culminated in us arriving in the border in a truck along with four Romanians. It was a big white truck and when it first stopped, I was more than hesitant. I didn’t want to be wary because I didn’t want to let the unfounded stories cause prejudice on my judgement, but I was hitchhiking into a country I knew nothing about with a small girl and four large guys were offering us a ride. After speaking for a few seconds, you make a judgement call; to go or not to go. We went. The guys whisked us to the border and then sent us over to their friend who was transporting cars, although which side of legal he was on, I don’t know. He spoke perfect English and then proceeded to tell us horror stories and warnings about Romania. We had been riding with him for a while when he swung the car around and went back in the opposite direction because he had forgotten some papers and once again I was feeling uneasy. He picked up the papers and threw another 180 before continuing on our journey.

We were aiming for a small village that was a few kilometres from the main road and he dropped us at the turning. Happy to abandon the horror stories, we started walking down the deserted road.

Welcome to Romania
Welcome to Romania

A guy pulled up and we gestured that we had no money. He spoke quickly and we understood nothing until the words no dinero were exchanged. Spanish, brilliant! I had forgotten that Romanian was a Latin language and the guy spoke decent Spanish. Unfortunately I did not. I have a small vocabulary and we stuttered through conversation before pulling up in the small village to ask a girl on roller skates where the house was that we were looking for. She pointed down a track. We walked down the track and soon found ourselves in stereotypical Eastern Europe. The houses were run down, animals ran around, and the whole world had an eerily silent quality. There were very few people and the old men who did pass, looked at us accusingly, wondering what the hell we foreigners were doing in the small Romanian village with backpacks on. Struggling with the backpacks on the uneven ground and very aware of the attention we were attracting, my hitching partner started to panic. She was clearly very uncomfortable in the situation and we couldn’t find the number of the house that we were looking for. For a moment, I was a little uncomfortable too and we evacuated the dirt track in favour of the ‘main’ road.

The mutilated teddy added to the drama of the situation
The mutilated teddy added to the drama of the situation

The guy I was looking for drove motorbikes, so I approached a couple of kids and started making motorbike noises whilst pulling an invisible throttle. They looked worried so I left them alone and tried it a second time with some guys who were somewhat closer to my own age. They knew what I was talking about straight away and pointed us in the direction of the house that we were looking for. We walked through the gate to be greeted by barking dogs and the owner soon came out to stop them.

Showing us around his house, he had pigs, ducks, goats, chickens, rabbits, dogs, cats, and probably a few other animals. They were all working animals and had a purpose in the home. For the first time in my life, I had goats milk fresh from the udder. It was so warm and bitter that it made me feel a little ill. A lover of goats cheese, I had hoped that the milk would be equally delicious. It was not. I liked the place that we were staying at and I liked my first look of Romania. One thing that I did notice in my first couple of hours there, is that it is a very poor country compared to Western Europe. Maybe for this reason, people were scared of it. Either way, I wasn’t worried and I was happy to be there.

Romania is one of the places in Europe that I know very little about. I didn’t have time to learn much, but I hoped to experience a little taster to make me come back another day. I made a mental not to only listen to people who valid opinions on a place before making decisions on it.

Rural Romania might be where typical tourists fear to tread. I am trying not to be a typical tourist.

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