Me, last October:
"The fear I have in my mind about Palestine is that it won't be successful, which is a useless fear because just by forwarding it and doing it it will be successful, meaning something will come of it that will point me in a different direction and pull from it some kind of experience which, quantifiable or not, will be applied to my next endeavor. And so on and so on. The thing I need to realize is all these endeavors so far have far exceeded my needs and station and 'level' in life, meaning that I'm doing just fine and should, if anything, slow down and have a beer or two with my friends rather than rushing off to the next big thing all the time. "
Seems decent. 10 months later, everything turned out well. And indeed I'm off in the next direction, but appreciating the little things. Good good.
For example: I wrapped up this most recent bout of hard-to-wrap-neatly-in-summation wandering with a hitchhiking trip from Warsaw to Budapest. 6 rides, 3 countries, 2 nights, something like 500 miles. I made it a lazy trip, as I wanted to burn some time. I withdrew 250 dollars in Ukranian money about 10 days before and had spent it all visiting my buddy Monika in Warsaw and living like a king, which was rather great. I decided rather than get more money I'd try to hack it the last 4 days on about 12 euro. Thus the setup: Hitchike, spend no money, have a good (?) time.
Warsaw turned out to be a really cool place, subdued reflections of Berlin in terms of youth, hipness, and approachable street culture. It's pretty hip though. Amazing how many kids looked like San Francisco bike messengers circa 2007. Imagine, for example, you're sitting at this year-old coffee shop:
While there the very picture of your local messenger chick pulled up on this beastie.
Did she have ironic tattoos and wayfarer glasses? Oh yes, gentle reader, she did. And so on. Plaid, Cinelli caps, you name it. But open, good kids, not overly snooty. Maybe nobody's overly-snooty when you're young and disheveled and enthusiastic. I'm increasingly aware of this.
Warsaw is a city with a hard history: stubborn resistance during the holocaust resulted in the entire city being leveled, pretty much every european-looking architectural edifice or monument was re-created shortly after the war. That was followed by decades of bleak communist rule. I happened to be there over the week remembering the WWII uprisings, pictures show strong, intelligent, good-natured young people fighting to their certain deaths in bombed-out european opulence. I was reminded strongly of Gaza 2008-2009, and in fact little plaques dot the city streets in perfect parallel to the martyrdom posters of Nablus.
It was great to see the stomping ground of an old friend, but after a few days I decided to hitch out. She and I took a bus to the southern outskirts of Warsaw, passing nearly a thousand christians on a pilgrimage. They pissed Monika off, with their zealousness and predictable comments ("forget Krakow, walk with us!"), but I was pleased to see them. We walked until we came across a good hitch out spot, braved the light rain, and smiled at the waves and waves of pilgrims between thumbing. After around an hour of honks, waves, and the occasional dudes shouting that they'd take Monika, but not me, a guy with a dog pulled over in a little red hatchback, and I said bye to Monika, on my way. Thus began a series of good rides. Lazlow got me to outside Krakow, through rain squalls and rolling green polish hills. His brother lived in Farmington, UT for four years, too weird. His dog would get restless and spin in little dog circles between my feet, getting hair everywhere, crazy sympathetic bugger. He dropped me off in a pleasant country road and I promised to look him up whenever I came back.
Next, fairly quickly, I hitched a ride to Slovakia from Stanislov, an old fellow in a grey chrystler van with a wine-red interior. His van was filled with vegetables, honey, and preserves, and he had a couple backpacks. He spoke no english and only a bit of german, that was our common language. We got on fine. He was going to spend 2 weeks hiking in the Slovakian mountains, which sounded pretty neat. I never found out what his job was, etc. We made two fun stops: Once at a little wooden church where I got out and checked out the scenery, and once in the last polish town of decent size before the border, which he said had 'good ice.' I thought he was stocking up his cooler, but it turned out good ice meant ice-cream. We got some nice little cones and wandered through the little town's city park with literally 40 other people nursing the same ice cream cones. too funny. Stan refused to let me pay for my own, the dear, keeping up my lack of expenditures. Soon the rolling hills turned into impressive mountain crags similar to the Grand Tetons, and we crossed the slovakian border.
My ride ended, Stan went to his cabin for the week with a smile, and I hiked off into the mountains in search of a place to camp. I wanted to trek up onto the ski hill and find a spot on the tree-line, but the weeds and grass were high and I didn't want to pick up a deer tic or something so I settled for a spot by a little summer cabin that looked unused. Good night, no problems. I loved waking up in the morning and having no idea where I was, or how I got there, just a random variable in my life. I had no reason to seek out that little mountain hamlet as a destination, and now I know it. A great way to see new things. Across the valley through the trees you can see a town of about 600 tourists and villagers who have no idea of your temporary existence in their forest. A life in between, another life.
The next morning I scarfed some of Monika's trailmix. I'd been rationing the Zurek soup she made, our brownies, and now the trail mix, today's fare was mostly to consist of the bread and cheese I bought the day before. I felt confident I could spend no money until Budapest, and then have enough for the train, a kebab, and maybe bribe my way into a shower somewhere. I set off walking through the little resort town of Zdiar in good spirits.
Warning, pedophile crossing? Anyways...
Right away was picked up by Iveta, a good-natured outdoorsy woman of about 35 years. "Where are you going?" "Budapest!" "Lucky boy" she smiled. She was driving almost all the way through her native slovakian mountains to go hiking. The road was long and winding, beautiful, through mountains and resort towns that she knew all the names of. She's the manager of a chalet's resturant and works full time, she's cooked and worked in the region her whole life and likes to take impulsive vacations. She invited me along to go hiking, and I should have taken her up on it, but the language barrier was a little too great. She turned off my route in a place called Liptovsky Mikvias, and again I promised to come back by bike. I'm serious about this idea, it'd be beautiful. I started walking through town with my sign on my back and picked a ride in all of 3 minutes from Tibor and Renata, a cute 30's couple returning from a 3 day adventure in the mountain region. He was a firefighter, she worked with computers. Again, they were sweeties, again, long ride, and again, they gave me food without being asked. Hitchhiking was beginning to look a little unreal.
I walked through Cornado and got a ride from another old feller who spoke only german, this one worked as a truck driver doing huge routes all over the world, Hungary/Italy, and somehow down in Iraq/Iran. I think the man went about 10 k out of his way (in a big truck!) to drop me in a good hitch spot. This left me in Dorag, about 40 km from Budapest. I thought it better to sleep there rather than find a spot in the big city, so I gracelessly crashed for the night in a thicket between the road and the rail-line, listening to traffic and trains all night. Right after I pitched my tent (or bivy, as it is) the rain DUMPED down and I grinned in my waterproof tunnel. I was rewarded for my choice of spot in the morning by a zoological wonderland: snails, beetles, and a billion spiders wove a symphony of orbs and slime trails around me in the night.
Hitching sign and local wildlife. I had to sit up quite carefully to avoid a faceful of orb-weavers like that one.
I dusted myself off and headed back to the road, self-conciously stinky. Got one more ride, a gifted sandwich (food store win!) and finally an arrival in Budapest!
Turns out Budapest is great, and filled with hipsters. I'm thinking all the hipsters from 2007-2008 went to eastern europe, if you were wondering. Tattoos and fixed gears and all. There's this funky little park teeming with skaters and bmxers and scenesters jus' staring at each other, it's like a freakin' wayfairers commercial. They look pretty great, doing it, If I see another 6 ft tall beautiful blonde on a 58cm rad lugged city conversion I'm gonna download a hungarian rosetta stone and never look back. I've still got my messenger bag, man, I'm hip!
Literally, the whole place was like this:
Barf. No actually they were kind of legit I'm just a jerk who thinks he's cool cos he smells bad and gets places for free.
Anyway, goofy commentary aside, it was a great trip. I was thrilled at the idea of living in an alternate reality where things don't cost a thing, where travel is dynamic and new and you're never really sure who you'll meet or where you'll go. I used to see cars on the road as annoyances, now I see them like everything else: potential! I love the social aspect of hitchiking over train-hopping, and even bike touring, for that matter.
Now I'm up in the air somewhere over greenland, almost to Salt Lake City, after a chat with a returning missionary who, having not traveled much, was now interested in couchsurfing, public health, and the real situation in Palestine, good for him. I'm happy and tired and ready to come home. See you soon, or see you next time,
D.D. out, and checking back in to reality. Though if you can tell me what's real and what isn't I'll buy you an ice cream with the $7 I have left over from hitchhiking.