A truly young girl, barely in her teens had shyly approached us. Lorraine was the name. She was to bring us there. Last time we had a guide take us, I had objections. This time was different though, as, despite the misleading age of the girl, it was quite a hike away. It wasn’t the fact that it was far, but that where we were headed, Cataja Falls, was hidden away. So well hidden, that with clear descriptions we’d not be able to find it. On my shabby slippers I followed the young lady trotting away over the rocks. It wasn’t really a path, but it was obvious this wasn’t the first time someone tread over here. We had to pass through a few bushy trees whereafter we entered into the open. From here, we could already see the waterfall crashing down, though it was far in the distance. Truly massive. Water at large quantity ceaseless chugged down the mountain. It left a perpetual trail of cascading water trickling to the river we walked along. We had been told that we could reach way up, though it would require adding some hours on top of the initial agreed hike. My love and I agreed that a total of three hours – back and forth – would suffice.
His hair seemed as if it had survived a tornado on his way to me. Dark hair flopping and flying around. I’d be surprised would I find a comb in his bathroom. Brown eyes twitched in his skull, full of energy. His hand shoots to mine. A quick introduction and we walk back to his apartment. From the metro, it was a short walk. On our way we pass a few restaurants, a shop and a handful of stands bearing fruits or fresh coffee. I analysed the area, preparing for the coming weeks. The elevator we had to take was an old model, slowly transporting us up. Inside his room, my eyes went exploring. It felt as if I recognised the place from an episode of Hoarders. Yet, instead of hoarding, this pigsty was an act of laziness. A dwelling filled with empty bottles, caps, dirty clothes and everything underneath the pile. However, interesting. His room kept many hidden treasures. Old Ukrainian uniforms, notes of Belarusian currency, pictures, stickers and posters of all sorts, some in German and English, license plates, you name it. As two women in need of housing had claimed the bed before I even was on Kiev soil, the couch became mine to drowse off on.
For breakfast I munched salty fish that was offered by the two bbq-ers I met along the road. This was a few hours before I entered the village Chotyn. Many stands with souvenirs left and right paraded the walk to the entrance of the hilled castle. The damage on my wallet had been acceptable. Friendly faces and chats. Short chats with little meaning. Making my way to the entrance, a new sweatdrop appeared with every step I took. One day, I will fall down to the ground, left panting like a dog long over his due age with this heat. Bottles of water had been going empty left and right. My feet marched on. Once inside the walls, on the left there were two towers separated with roughly 150 meters. Time and war had taken a heavy toll on these towers. On the right side stood a prettiful church built in 1832 with a wide river behind it. The river was a delighted sight on this summer day. In the centre stood the tiny castle. A moat dried to the size of a puddle surrounded it. Over the lowered wooden drawbridge my eyes spotted a group of ogling tourists on the courtyard. So many people. Too many people. A small building stood amidst the crowd. Two kids played with the well next to it. One jumping up and down as the other pulled the lever. For the rest, I had a mere collection of options; the torture room on my left, taking the spiral stairs down to the weaponry or gaze at the two other buildings that had no entry. About an hour ticked away as I read all there was to read on weaponry and torture before dismissing the medieval scene that had been filled with the most obnoxious and annoying species right after mosquitoes. However, this sunny day had provided a perfect ambiance for a visit. Plus, I gained a fairly cheap, homemade wine as I walked passed the houses heading out. Carrying the weight was a bunch better knowing my evening could turn to end well.
A small lift right after the purchase brought me to Kamjanets-Podilsky. Around evenfall, my attempt at lifting further seemed fruitless. A sweet, old lady and her friend had walked with me. Short conversations, little understanding. In her hands a book lay gripped. Opening the book, she turned it to me and pointed at the page. Politely she requested if I would read it. Turned out to be a Jehovah’s witness, carrying a page to show care and believe for a moment as such, where a language barrier comes in. After a call with the son, I was able to reside a night at their apartment. Feeling welcomed and at home, I slurped a soup and took bites from my ice cream. For a while we discussed the differences between Ukraine and the Netherlands. Valentin had also showed me a lot about stocks. With interest I listened. I would be lying though, if I said I still remember a thing…
Nearing Kiev with every gained ride, my mood increased. Getting to know this vast land to soon reside in its capital. Through CouchSurfing I had found a place, under Pavlo’s roof – or on it. So singing along with my playlist, I walk the road. Overgoing a hill, I spy a group of neatly dressed people. As I advanced, I gain their attention. Seeing a woman in a white gown, I realise it’s a wedding. Caught off guard, the photographer pulls me by my wrist and puts me in between the groom and bride. He flashes his camera in my face and then guides me away from the group, shoving some Hryvnia notes in my hand. I used it to sleep in the four euro motel a few yards further down the road. Before getting some shuteye, I poured myself a rich of taste redhead. I had a giggle at the fact that a married couple would have to go through their pictures and look at my poorly bearded, lobster-tan face. An actual laugh left my mouth. All alone, in a room with a scent of old, cackling like a hyena at nothing. The red water fell hard, after such a day. So after half, I put the bottle down. As the bottle touched the table, my energy left me. Wiry, I glanced out the window. Awful music was pouring in. For a while, I sat on the edge of my bed, holding a glass with a final sip left. I finished the glass, letting the wine slither down and slipped in bed. No sheep needed, as I was off before my head even hit the pillow.
Finally, after a week hitchhiking – auto stopping – Kyiv would be reached. Sharing the car with two men from the military we laid rubber on the Ukrainian asphalt. They told me about the ongoing war and the daily newly-filled body bags that are carried from the fighting zone. They had broad shoulders and seemed big. The one occupying the passenger seat spoke with a hoarse voice. Everyday more dead people… Both seemed tired. Tired of the war, of fighting. The hoarsely man had to take the metros to reach his home. An excellent chance for me to get to know the underground system of the capital. Reading names, stops, letters and numbers, my simple mind stopped working. Instead, I just listened to the large guy who set me to the right track. On the metro, I wore my poker face. A face neutral hid the mind that counted every stop, double, neh triple, neh quadruple checked the sticker aboard to be able to count the stops correctly and reading every sign to make sure I am not mistaken. Anxious to miss mine. That, all the while being squeezed among the crowd of people swinging with the movement of the underground transport. Body odor of dozens of people on an extremely hot day. A crazy man shouting all the while throwing his hands up in a provocative manner. I hate public transport…
Sharing a ride with three generations, one screaming in the back everlasting, we are heading to the small village Bortnyky. Speed was not with us, as domestic animals and wild geese roamed the streets. That, and at every turn the baby in the back let out screams of horror, at which the young mother stopped at once to suckle. So there I sat, waiting for the babe to be done sucking as a gaggle of geese approached. The gaggle scattered, as if to surround the car. A mean eye was shot at me, threatening my existence. Then young one burped, seeming satisfied and let go of the teat to return to the loving arms of grandma. Right after, the driver took off, leaving the evil, waggling creatures in dust.
The sun was already going down and darkness began filling the village. Exiting the local shop – to which a lady had haughtily pointed, knowing just enough German to be of help – a drunk man pauses before me. He smiles, shakes my hand and continues. Bedazzled, I finish my snack and walk down the road. To the worker’s dormitory. They had welcomed me, leading me in a fast pace to one of the rooms. Entering, I count about seven beds, of which two seemed unused. Staring out the window, the sun sets before my eyes. Adding layers of colour to the sky. While unpacking, one of the workers walks in with a hot meal. A plate filled with mashed potatoes and meat. Once the hunger was stilled, I went for a shower. Outside in the warm, fresh air. Cold water pouring from a tank over my sore body. Refreshening. A sigh, as I turn off the water and dry up. The bunch of us shared a bunch of clear drinks meant to haze the minds before returning to the rooms.
After a long day of waiting one minute’s, sipping tea, listening to quacking truckers and pushing through the unbearable heat, I had crashed and collapsed in a stranger’s field, crawled up in my tent. Crying for a shower, I lay amidst the vegetables on a small stroke of green. Too exhausted to care. For a minute my mind had paused at the motel a few back. For some reason, after a few glances at the building and the folks stumbling about, the veggie garden seemed more comfortable and clean. And safe. An early rise and departure had made for no attention. As I left the beloved garden, I had no destination yet. Luckily, my next ride, the man with the fedora, would help me with that. Chotyn. A must visit! He had told me as he dropped me in the next city.
Wandering around, I didn’t want to lose my way. Therefore I asked the first I came upon reaching the end of market collection. A small gal, one hand twisted around her bike and with the other fiddling on her phone. She had an impudent and wild look. As I explained, all her attention diverted to me. The family stood a few meters away and pitched in on the translations. Once understood, she was headstrong of getting me to the other side of the city and onto a bus. She did so with long strides, rushing over the long central street. Busy, with people around, I hurried after her. My legs were burning and my head grew weary from the heat, yet I pushed to keep up with her. At the bus stop I explained that public transportation was not necessary. Dismissing, she continued. Ukrainian style, she brayed to get the attention of one the chauffeurs. As they bickered I watched a stray dog attempting to cross the road. With tail behind his legs he returned after a loud honk. Another attempt. Then the girl shouted at me, gesturing I come to her. Before either said a word, she pushed me in the bus. My hand reached hers for a goodbye and gratitude shake, however she rebuffed and slapped my hand instead. A sly grin appeared on her face. The bus came into motion, a bus full with all eyes on me. I felt them burn in my back. Or was that the sunburn?
A low, modified car, with a NASCAR-look pulled over. The door swung open and a skinny lad popped his out. He gestured me to get in, showing little to no emotion. Without change of words, I climbed into the death machine. Who knows why I got in. Not for the security of my life, that’s certain. The entire piece of metal only had one chair. My seating was solid, making the ride less than pleasant. I saw no seatbelts, although that was no news here. The young lad rammed his foot on the gas pedal and raced over the potholes that were the road. Every tear, bump and pothole went through my body, pushing and shoving me around. Flying through corners with sharp turns there was nothing to hold on to, nothing to clutch with my hands groping the interior of the vehicle. Using my feet, I pushed myself to one side to stay somewhat stable. But it was not until I saw the racing maniac start doing the cross sign and heard inaudible mumbling that I began to lose my shit. It was not literal when they said let Jesus take the wheel!!! Again he did so. Confused I sat, cramped in the back. Yet again. It was then, that I noticed this action came with every church we passed. Slightly relieved, I endured the bumpy and shaky ride from the silent man. My guess estimated me a day from the castle.
A rose, blossomed and pure, dazzling in the sunlight. A soft, bright red colour. It’s foliage curling at the end. The flower twirled up, captivating any viewers. Even at the most demurest days, it shines beauty. However today its shine had weakened. It was a weekday somewhere in July and I had felt the rose’s thorn. Poisoned by a thorn tipped with melancholy. Starving and sleep-deprived I meandered the alleys of Lviv, in search of a local place serving food at this hour. It had just dawned, yet I was determined to leave that apartment with the first sounds. The yellow letter M shone and guided me inside, their doors opened even before the bakery had. In repugnance I chewed away a small, dry pancake and a white, mushy substance that had to go for oatmeal. My stomach growled, unsatisfied. My head jammed forward and a sudden shook back up. With long days in this Ukrainian heat, I need my sleep. A thing I had not been gifted with that night. A near hour passed before I moved. I pushed my chair back and left.
Truth be told, Lviv is a stunning city. With less than 800.000 inhabitants, it’s a welcoming place for tourists. Their wallets that is, as the ATM had charged me a buck simply for checking the ridiculous valuta change it offered. Reluctantly, I accepted the deal that reminded me of Prague. Needing to take my mind off of last night, I started to wander. Markets came in abundance. A trail of stands moving through the city, following turns and steps. For a moment I felt in a maze. Lost amidst the crowd, surrounded by racks of clothes. A sea of talks with Ukrainian words. I pushed myself past the shops, past the stands and past the people. The further I went, the less there were. My flip-flops drummed with every step I took. I just kept walking. Hour after hour as I tried to escape the chaos of noise. I had gone through the streets, over the hill, past the track and following the road, until it was only me. Sauntering in the warm air. The sky tore open and rain began pouring down. Of the few passing cars, none stopped, nor did I want them to. Solitude and silence is what I begged. Rest what I needed. Exhaustion was pulling at my eyelids. Awake for too long. The sun began to drown. A sigh left my breath as I shifted my backpack. Heavy, it pulled at my shoulders. I told myself I needed to keep moving. I shot into a small alley, where barking dogs guarded the area. Agitated I continued as fierce dogs kept snapping at me. For another hour or so, when houses came scattered and a field lay before me. With a hazed mind, I hid my tent behind a bush and crawled inside. Anxious and exhausted my aching body dropped down. Only a fool trusts a nettle. Yet, a rose, a flower so enchanting, hides the thorns laying behind her beauty. So what can be trusted?
The most beautiful church of Europe… With sincerity he had spoken, yet I stood reproached. The most beautiful church.. of Europe?? I wouldn’t mind a chat with the judge who decided this small town deserved to earn such a plaque. Without much lingering I had departed, as the ambiance within the Holy House did not feel all that comfortable. They welcomed me, yet as a man without faith their smiles felt strained. My thumb back up, defying Isaac’s theory, I awaited my upcoming ride.
Jozef. I remember him well. His face was drawn and he wore a serious look in his eyes. Not great in English, most conversations were lost in the thin, stale air within the four doors. Short hair covered his head. I guessed him about the age of my father. A silence began as we rode through Slovakia, with surroundings to occupy the wandering eyes. Up high stood a castle. Kapitula. A smile appeared on his tired face. Then his words cut through the dead air. Jozef started asking questions. However his words did not meet an answer. I merely nodded in endorsement to avoid embarrassment, awkward as I am. I knew he had offered something, although no clue what.
Soon we arrived at his house, occupied by his mother. He was forced to return after a paper titled ‘divorce‘ landed on his seat. “Wait”. My feet paced towards the pavement, where I gazed to my left. To my right. A simple town to the left. Slums to the right. My eyes watched all the people walk by. People close and people far away. Mothers with children, groups of teenagers and a guy watching back, staring with contempt or revulsion. Something, but no affection. His eyes had met mine and seemed locked. A few seconds. Strange I felt. Then a shiver went down my spine and I disregarded the distasteful eye contact to return to the sound of the gate opening. Jozef returned, giving his dogs, true guarding hounds, a loving pet. They became the topic for following minutes as I wondered where we headed. Mayhap to drop me off at a spot to continue.Nope. His brothers house. Although not for long, as a minute later we depart. Where the heck are we going?!
Zemplinska Sirava, a must visit, beautiful, fun town. That’s what I was told as we stood on its beach. Jozef showed me all the bars and restaurants on the strip. The shops, the games and shower/restroom. His nod directed to a passing lady. He then pointed to the cabins one could rent. To the beach where one could use a tent. I figured these suggestions for a sleeping place, the ending of the lift. But no, back into the car. As I said my goodbye to the town that seemed lovely, he took a sharp right. Some houses in this small quarter. Big houses. In front of one he pulled over, pushed the brake and got out. More than slightly confused I followed him on the tour of the house. Three floors. A place forgotten. One floor to be used by me, with kitchen, bathroom and sleeping room. All be the water cold, the furnace worked, a kettle was present and the bed was soft. Back outside, Jozef left the keys in my hand to thereafter jump in his car and exit the driveway. Two nights. A weekend. That’s what he had said. Slowly I began to understand. The man had shown me the place of nightlife and shops, granted me a house for two nights and wished me a pleasant weekend. Such kindness brought a smile to my face. With fair in town, bars filled with lively locals and restaurants serving delights, the weekend flew by.
Gratitude goes to Jozef, as the town is a special one. An ambiance in the air, giving feel to be nowhere yet everywhere. The Slovakia my mind had pictured was not here. A feeling of far from home, lost, yet safe. Hilled forests surrounding the grand lake that took the interest of so many. A relaxing spa and people carrying smiles. The company of many, bloodthirsty gnats. Drenched in warmth by the shining sun, I wandered the place squatting said mosquitoes. The man had me confused, yet gave me a weekend to enjoy. Sunday had reached and at noon he knocked the door. While he smoked his cigarette, we discussed what to follow. Ukraine was such. His face said all. Fear. Worries. Ukraine, the dangerous country. Never in a lifetime would I return safe home. Yet stubborn and curious I stood, declining his suspicions and worries. Not willing to believe all the people that spoke before him. I wore a thin smile, insisting. Without struggling he drove me to a road leading to the border. Before flinging my legs out, I was asked a contact, a way to let him know I am still alive. After he waved me off. I figured hours would be spend there, waiting and waiting, for not many would take a hitchhiker near a border holding controls. Boy could I have been more wrong.
Pictures displayed are not owned or take by me. I wanted eyecandy for any readers, yet found out I somehow didn’t take any. Sincere apologies!
A tall wall stood before me. I looked up slowly. Unexpected. Up I begin to climb, following the footsteps and hands of the group Belgians that went before me. I could feel the heavy backpack dangling on my backpack, swinging. A slight fear crept of Quasimodo getting loose and falling down. My hands felt the stone wall, groping for edges to hold on to. A heart beating, I felt excited. Looking down, I could see the distance I was making. I could slip and it would all be over. Indubitable, this would never happen, having good grip on the simple climb. Yet the possibility made me feel excited and energetic. To search for safe ground, as small pebbles tumble down ticking off of rocks on their way. You feel your feet slipping away and for a moment a shiver goes down your spine. A big smile paints your face. Shaky hands, whether a scarce fear of the height or the adrenalin flowing through your body. Reaching the top, you glance once more down. You’re way up, you have conquered the mountain. Haughtily you hang on the top, gazing around you. Then you fling yourself to the other side to begin the descend.
A fast ride with a stony teen brought me into the village Martin. Almost hidden and secluded it lays, surrounded by tall mountains reaching high for the skies. Their pointed tips way above man and building, protected I felt. Secured, in this strange place, a place not hostile nor friendly, filled with odd glances and smiles. However gazing at the mighty power of Mother Nature, nothing is stronger that the feeling of.. love, love for beauty. Beautiful it was. Aside from the sideways with all houses, Martin has mere one road; leading in and out. The boulevard was a short walk, although with pretty ambiance. Grown weary from walking, my feet paced house to house for the old-fashioned “knock and ask” strategy to make up for the waking with many stares from churchgoers. I got the enormous garden with a dying pet dog wobbling around. No jest nor jape as the poor lad was really breathing his last breaths. I scruffed his head and pet his belly, to witness a faint and drooped smile as his exhausted eyes looked up. A moon’s shining later, after a welcomed shower, the lady of the house had given me my upcoming destination. To the mountains it is!
An hour wasted at a gas station, I figured a day spent walking on this mighty fine day with views 360° would not be such a bad idea. Thus I did, music on repeat and a broad smile painting my face. Once a ride was offered, however with a carrier on his bike missing I kindly dismissed. A train of thought later a minivan brought its wheels to stop. Having his tongue dipped in German, we had a language in common. Focused I listened and translated to learn I was a passenger on a prisoner’s bus on the way to pick some up. They would be brought to work from there. The caged men had time to wait though, as we stopped for a scoop or two of ice cream. No sunny day is complete, without ice cream. Then he took a left where I went right, so my feet were my mode of transport once again. For a while I paused, to sit and to smell, to touch and feel. The urge to be in touch with nature had grown after some days enclosed with busy traffic and many buildings. My thumb went up and an instant’s moment later a young student picked me up.
Rocking music playing, we sped over the highway that seemed no highway. The stud was not one to ever hold a thumb out for a journey, too fearful and lazy. He was a day away from Romania, for a college trip. After his tale was told, he turned up the radio. Rocking my head up and down, I ticked the time away gazing out of the window. Mountains tall and forests wide gave the eyes plenty food to chew away at. “Watch out for bears!” He spoke, “When you go climb the mountain, be careful. The last lift had warned me as well, explicitly forbidding me to use my tent. As I sauntered through Starý Smokovec, Vysoké Tatry I figured it exaggerated. To soothe my thought I entered the Tourist information desk. An answer not expected. A young girl trotted before me as soon as the door closed behind me. My finger pointed at my tent. She turned around as her colleague took over. About my age, she spoke the words I wanted to hear: “Illegal, but may you find a spot, use it!” After, she gave advice I in the end did not need use of. A few meters away, I hid my tent and prepared for the day to come.
Early I had woken to take my nutriments, a breakfast to fill, not please. Without any further introduction, I took on the first mountain on my path, the sun warming my back. A smile broad and sparkling eyes gazing over the far and vast surroundings with every ascended meter. Peculiarly, when hours passed and no lodge nor cabin, no change of direction or field had come on my path. Nothing but mountain and the top was no more than an hour, mayhap two away. My legs told me to continue, although when my eyes spied a different path down, one more promising, I got precarious. Could it be that I am hiking the wrong path, the wrong mountain? A thought popped up. A question with answer, confirmed the feared. In a facepalm, my hand left a white shadow on my burnt face.
Back on the right path, at least I hoped with fingers crossed, left and right mobs of people sauntered. One man, with a voice almost shaky, told me to not use my tent. After a meeting with a fox, hurrying he left the Tatras. Pleased to see so many people enjoy the lovely weather and Nature’s company, I dreaded the loss of an authentic feeling with man-made paths bearing support on the sides and ogling tourists all around. To my luck, I would find no such thing. Passing the cascades, a shy fox and forests tall and wide, it got more derelict. A night slept well and deep, without any bear visitors passed. The sun still stretching and yawning, I packed my stuff and continued. My morning meal was consumed over the comforting sound of a passing creek. With a sun blazing, I began yearning the touch of the water. Yet as I bathed, a realisation hit me of how much I had underrated the coldness of a flowing mountain creek. Refreshened and awake, definitely awake, I hiked for coming hours. Thick forests turned into long, hilled fields. Fields of colour. 50 Shades of Green with yellow tops. Spots of green covered the tall mountain tops that ringed the field. The small creek broke through, leaving sounds of splashes. Engulfed, incapable of keeping my eyes of the beauty, I progressed to the top. There I sat. A decision to continue or to return was easily made. However for coming hour I would enjoy the cool snow, the sights and the lovely warming sun. The sky was blue, as it had been all day, but soon I would learn that I had been cozened.
Check out the video of my hiking adventure! My first video ever!
Full Version is on my Facebook page.
Any suggestions or opinions would be gladly welcomed! 🙂
Evenfall I would reach Bielsko-Biała in the car of a young couple. Hitchhikers themselves they told stories and gave advice. One of them being to not continue the road I was following, although beautiful, luck was required to make it to Slovakia soon. Time being on my side and having lingered a day against will in Bialystok, I did not quail. So stubbornly I dismissed their advice and thus moved onwards. The night I slept a deep, alcohol fueled sleep in the garden of one of the locals. The mother and his son had given me a tasting of the translucent drink that makes all blurry, before I rested my eyes. Protected by a small, yet fierce barking dog and an army of tiny kittens, I surely felt safe. Drifting off to the place where impossible is possible, a soft smile sparked. Whether it was the vodka or the day that had been, I can not tell. Come morning, before blissfully claiming my free ice cream, I frolicked and kicked ball with the young son. The act did not last long as the boy stared at me disappointed of my skills – or the lack of – in simply kicking a ball in a straight line. To be fair, as the ridiculing 5 year old showed derision, his attempt in hitting the ball was not exactly repugnantly. Nonetheless, a smile stayed upon departure. Let’s see how much luck I have!
Strength had been regained after a night’s rest with the lovely couple that had taken me in, showing love and care, on my first days of heavy shoulders. Nervous, the day of the festival I had come back to politely request to unburden myself of some weight. Upon arrival, the words “It is Danus!” came from the balcony, soon followed with “Yes, you can sleep!”. Certainly a moment I will never forget, such as many more. Once understood, my request had been accepted, after which the lady went down to the kitchen to prepare a meal to fill the stomach before the festival.With deafened ears and sweltered by the sun I had returned to collect my luggage guarded by Anglo, the sweet dog. A nephew of 12, one I met over phone call last visit, had been present as well. The old couple had convinced me to stay for the night; playing board games, having conversations and warming by a fire. For the best, when a storm hit the city. Besides, the rest was needed. So fully rested – packed with extra food – I took off, departing the Baltic Beauty and traversing Poland once again.
One hand filled with a brewsky and the other up with thumb out. A previous driver, stopping there where most wouldn’t, had been so kind to drop me on a road where they would be more likely to pick me up. About a minute or twenty away. “Grab a beer!”, he had said. It had been early in the afternoon, yet who was I to decline such a polite offer. Holding a can, my mind began to wonder if it would affect the alacrity of drivers to pull over. Silly me, when a short while spent staring at passing cars later, the brakes of a small Volkswagen forced the vehicle to stop moving, ending up next to me. My ride into the land of the white eagle had arrived, with a Polish driver for coming hours. Not only was I able to traverse a great distance, I was also gifted with a good conversation and a bag of Mcdonalds finest burgers. Then I exited the vehicle at a gas station near the road that continues.
Within the same minute, I had found the next ride that would take me further. As I waited for them to get ready, I began chewing at my burgers. With bites as if from a hungry hippo I worked two of them down my throat. Dry buns, a burger overdone with plastic cheese on top. Yet it tasted.. heavenly. A stomach rumbling and starving gladly feasted on these simple burgers. The big-bellied man waved. Headed to Bialystok, a ride muted, more so than the night that had fallen upon us. Fast however. Ogling at the pointer for the speed, I thought us to be at German highways. No complaints from me though, the sooner the better.
Alone, in a part of the city I did not know. It was dark, nearing night. Streets were empty, except of a lady clamping on to her cigarette. My legs paced her direction, in hope of getting any wiser. English was not understood and her Polish words were lost with the wind. Perplex I stood, speechless, when in Dutch she spoke to me. My tongue was in a knot, when I had to switch to a language not used in weeks and not expecting to for a while longer. For many years she had lived in the Flemish part of Belgium and now she stood before me, to guide me into the direction I needed to go. Aware of the location of my destination, I thought it time to rest. Hidden behind a bush on abandoned rail tracks seemed just fine.
The blazing sun had dawned hours before, already spreading its heat all around. Sleeping, my head had rested on the soft rail tracks. My stuff was scattered, such was my mind and the motivation of rising was nowhere to be found. Even the tent decided to work against me, holding tight to branches. Nothing to complain about on that front however, it being one of the easiest to fold. With a mood giving me a chance to fall in for Oscar the Grouch, I began to follow the endless, hot, boresome road out of the city. Hours of hiking and hitching, hitching and hiking passed without a single car slowing down. On foot I had now left the city and all the while hope had left me. That, until one man was willing to grace the brake with his foot and steer a mere meter to the right. Immediately, my lips arched in a smile and I leaped towards the car. A friendly man. Alas his destination was job-related and a mere city away. Twenty kilometers is as far as I went from the spot that I had given a resentful look as we departed.
Seated before a plate with a top-notch schnitzel and fries, a cup of tea to the right, I couldn’t help but think “This is not so bad after all..”. If only I knew. Two life stories later, the guy rushed out to reach his appointment. Relishing, I enjoyed my meal. Bite after bite, I let my tastebuds feel and savor every moment. Not something I took for granted. A meal that made the day slightly worse in memory to what was to come. I grabbed my backpack and moved outside, a belly satiated. Without lingering, the first attempts at hitching were made. Revulsion, contempt and gruffly replies I got. If I was lucky at least, when not being held for a ghost. Manacled to my spot, with highway surrounding me, I threw down my backpack and leaned against it waiting. Waiting for more cars to pass by this strip for gas or a refreshment. Not many did and when so, all the answers were the same. Hours crawled. Motivation and spirits lowered. My face reddened from the sun. The clock went round at least 7 times. Another decline from a trucker; “Sorry pal, we are with two.”. Dejected I slugged back, until the horn called my name. To my luck, the elder man would sleep in the back, emptying a free seat for me. The capital as aim, we took off.
On the middle of an empty highway I was dropped off. Lost of directions I played frogger, heading to where my instinct guided me. Walking along the sidetrack of the road. I was nowhere and I was heading nowhere, yet I continued. Continuing towards the light that shone bright from the IKEA. All seemed fine, until the sidetrack ended. That meant I had to follow the steep hill down, hoping to find my way amongst these small villages. Step by step I moved down the slippery stones with an unpleasant foreseeing. My feeling was correct as gravity got the better of me and I tumbled down. Pants torn. Exhausted and thirsty I walked the last meters to find a field decent enough for my accommodation. Reaching my water bottles, both were empty. “Maybe tomorrow, from my new – temporarily – neighbours…” I sneaked into their garden to lessen my thirst with some fruits, but it was far from enough. Dry-mouthed I went into my tent. No need for sheeps to be counted, as when my eyelashes touched, I had been sound asleep