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Scourging Starvation in Singapore

It was about noon, as I arrived at the Johor Bahru-Singapore border. Hungover and with a pit in my belly filled by a handful of pistachios in the last 24 hours I stood in the line to enter the head of the peninsula. It had been one helluva night before. With remaining Ringgit to spend, I intended to consume. Not part of said plan however, was the many offered drinks that were to come. After a cumulative three weeks in Malacca, the begin and ending, I had gotten to know a few who wouldn’t see me go without a drink in my hand. A few had turned into a few too many and a hangover was bound to come. Luckily, I could knock out a couple hour’s rest at the best hostel in wonderful Malacca that is ‘Buffalo Soldiers’.

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Come morning, I had sluggishly carried myself out of bed, through the shower and eventually dressed with backpack ready to go. Looking like Goofy had just slammed his head into a speeding truck, I said my farewells to the lovely family that ran both the cheap, cosy hostel and the infamous bar. Malacca had taken three weeks from me. Astonished at how time flies by when alcohol fills your life, I awaited the bus to take me out of the captivating country. The ambience. I thought. That had been it. Whether it is sitting on the street with a canned beer listening to guitar play, having a historical guided tour through sand-hills or listening to “It wasn’t me” and “Bongo Bong” for the trillionth time as laughter and conversations fill the air. No, there is a reason for lingering in Malacca that goes way past the alcohol served. The bus had arrived and thus the train of thought derailed an instant’s moment later. For now, staring tensely out of the window, in attempt to untangle the tightened knot that lay in my belly and finish the battle going on in my head. Hopeless, of course.


At last, it had been my turn. My feverish head finally made it to the counter that stood between me and Singapore. The man confusingly ogled my passport, me and back. His eyes rolled up, as he began counting with his fingers. “3 Months??”, he exclaimed surprised. With disbelieve he shook his head, when I praised the country. The country, and the people. “Why?” A folk so pure and sincere is rare to find. No purveyors similar to Indonesia, no odd/blank staring as the Filipinos tend to do, but more appalling, is the service. Instead of the politeness you find in Europe, it is true gratitude and open arms you find. A broad smile and with that a welcomed feeling given. A “Thank you” with ever Anchor ordered followed by attempts at conversations. A reason why Malaysia will be a country to miss. To be honest, three months and it did not feel enough. Still, I wanted to linger and enjoy the presence of such lovely people. However, it had been time for a departure and a new chapter.

 


Singapore, a small country, a large city. There is not much to be told about this mini-Malaysia. Much like Malaysia, it is the more successful brother. The obtuse brother whom would call upon his parents every time something does not go his way. Something occurs, new laws are embedded. The successful brother thrives in business and leads an organised life. In the meanwhile, the younger brother, Malaysia, is in his room clinging a bong with a giant smile painted on his face. Malaysia at times attempts to be morally there with rules – at request of the parents – and attempts to copy Singapore with the ridiculous smoking in public fee – roughly 2000 euros- however is simply better at having fun. Whilst too busy enjoying life to obey to placed absurd rules, the Malay population prefers to enjoy.

Admittedly, Singapore in a way is perfect. Clean, little crime – and when there is, things get done – the roads and traffic are handled, public transport is organised, the economy is prosperous. With Little India, China Town and Malay markets, quality food comes in plenty and the country holds a certain culture. Perfect, however, after time passes, I would find myself bored and without a penny. Singapore, to me and many others, is a big city and no more. Having said such, Singapore is a must visit. Get the exciting thrill of smuggling gum into the country as you experience the well organised town. Awing at the light show and looking up – and down from – the Marina Bay Sands and onto the super trees. Walk over the spotless streets as you wander to the Botanic garden and have a drink in Little India or Chinatown. Experience the clean, organised and beautiful country, but depart before you have emptied your wallet. Departing won’t be a trouble either. The airport itself is already a sight to be seen. Fountains and tiny parks to distract from what tends to be a stressful and hectic couple of hours. Not in Singapore, however. Get there an hour before your flight and you will have half an hour left to walk about. Never, had I been that excited to fly. Without rushing, stress or even waiting, I had gone from the hostel to board the flight and not a problem on the way. The worst had been the Uber that could not figure out the difference between the brake and gas as he continuously kept using both. Having been on airports in South-Africa, this difference had meant a lot to me. That, I owe Singapore. An airport to remember. A flight to remember. A date. The 5th of December. The day that I would see the love of my life. Manila, here I come

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Uncategorized

Java’s Jungle Jeopardy

Six memorable months pass and at last, I find myself seated on a wooden chair with my fingers caressing over the keyboard. What had been the reason for the long delay of an attempt in a new blog post? Perhaps it was the sin of the sloth that had seized me. Maybe it was the dedication to live the moments as I tried to be part of the places I visited. Or both with a third factor in play. My fingers were locked, without words to jot down as I glared at my paper with a blank mind. A blank canvas before me and an empty palette in my hand. Do I write about the time I was bound to bed by illness? Would the debauched nights I spent in Bali and Malaysia, meeting strangers with every bottle emptied again and again characterise as compelling? I had little to no words. Although Johnny’s taco’s had me in such a euphoria that I came close to expressing my infatuation with the dish. Alas, my words would never be enough.

Truth be told, I lacked creativity and motivation. With a travel differing on every aspect from the previous, my writing needed a different approach and frankly, I couldn’t be bothered. A demanding journey through Europe had me bound in budget, transport and accommodation. Forced to live off little, without the slightest plan but direction and not a booking made, I had experienced a lot. Despite the prominent fact that indulgence in nightly gatherings fuelled by alcohol is relishable, I had grown a love for what now was lacking. More money was spend on testing my liver than participating in adventurous activities. That does not take away all the moments and stories of grand size resting in my brain, including the many encounters with the locals. It simply was not enough.


“Ready?”, he asked before spurting off. This time I was astride of another scooter, in lieu of my hostess’s. A safer bet, as she takes off from 0 to 80 in a whiff. The reason however, for me pressing my cheeks on a different scooter, was the family fearing comments from neighbours. In this part of Java, in the far East, two people from the opposite sex customarily do not spend time together. One time, a man I had just met spoke of weddings and careers a moment after he opened his mouth to me. Disregarding my disinterest. Thus, in an attempt to blow out the fire of rumours as I had merely interest in the town and she in in showing it, her cousin who works for Grab drove me instead. With little rivals, being the only courier on the application, all – with that being said, little – Grab-travellers go through him. The roads in the small village, if one would call them that at all, had an erratic path of mud and stones. Thus the ride made for a wobbly one. Our tour-guide and Grab driver, without extra expense, had brought us to see several cascades hidden away. Initially it did not seem to be a challenging activity. On my flip-flops I sauntered through the rice fields and descended down the slippery – I know, I used this pun last year – path. With mud dug in between my tiny toes, I stood atop a large boulder, observing the water rush through the rocks and pebbles, gravitating down. The flowing and splashing of  the water had been a soothing sound. But there was little soothing about the hours that followed. Our tour guide had decided that where the path stopped, we carried on, creating passages as we went. 

A sunset was missed a near hour ago. Cautiously I had been shuffling along the wall of dirt, holding on to clumps of soil, roots and branches. We had gone under a tiny, earth made tunnel, waddling through a stream and then slid down a slide with trees poking our sides. Grunts and sighs here and there. Stubborn, all marched on. We shall not retreat! A single shy kindled light was shared amongst the three of us. Guiding us through a pitch black night. Bit by bit we encroached further towards the edge of this jungle. Although, indubitably, none of us knew how far it was. It was after a gruelling climb up, giving all trust in a tree, that I had grown clairvoyant, sensing what came next. Mr Grab reached his hand out to assist me on advancing. Dubious, I did. Upon touch, at one fell swoop we shifted jointly. Then he began to pull his hand back, loosening the grip of my palm in his. Aware of the possible outcomes, I let go. With nothing but a handful of soil under my feet to hold me up, I knew that I was in for a tumble down.

Harrowed I lay in a bed of branches and leaves. Succumb by shock, I sat quietly for a minute before the realisation hit that my exhausted body had to climb back the distance I fell. It must have been a few metres. Praying to be elsewhere, anywhere, I endured. Together, we climbed for another several hours, which I did in a frantic manner. The two began chanting prayers of joy upon reaching the top. “Allah uh Akbar”, they repeated. Gladly, I marched with slippers in one and the torch in the other hand through the rice field and out. Bedraggled we returned where the village awaited us, carrying worry in their eyes. Minds leaning on the story of a girl who passed away in the same jungle. Relief filled them as they saw us. We had been gifted with food and a cold, refreshing shower. Simple as they lived, they were filled with kind hearts. Laughter felt the dark sky as we relived our jungle jeopardy through stories and aches the hours before taking on the steep and cold – I do realise I had not dressed properly for that day –  Mount Ijen.   


It seems forever since I sat down and took the time to write something. A pity, really. Writing is something I love. It gives me a calm feeling as does it make me happy having a story of my own travels in my style. An explanation, or an attempt of it is difficult. Most often, I do not understand my own brain, or how it works. I see it as a good thing. Making my way through life trying to figure out what that gooey clump wants is the biggest and most exciting puzzle out there. It is exciting, as I never know what it will lead me to. Throughout the past years, I have learned quite a bit however. Such is, that travelling is a key piece. With this come the many ways of travel, as I noticed that, without intend, all of my main travels have been different on multiple fronts. Within the Philippines, I have found another. It taught me, that finding these pieces is much more fun than having a complete puzzle from the start. If you’re interested, follow along with my puzzle. You might figure it out before I do. My gratitude goes to those who still follow along with my stories, even after an eight-month disappearance.


A short caption on Bali:

Although a week spend blissfully enjoying the warmth by caressing the soft sand on the beach, amongst all the Instagram posts that bring forth envy from all over the globe, I couldn’t help but notice the lack of acknowledgement towards the persisting purveyors. Whether it was a massage, a ‘massage’, souvenirs, Viagra or other substances, swarms appeared from every corner to bug you with their presence. When asking the same person relaxing on the beach a third time was not enough, one would linger and eclipse you from the sun while glaring at you. It was on the touristic streets of Denpasar where I learned that a friendly nod means to be interested in illegal substances or a cure for that sore “back”. When showing disinterest to participate in such, a lady dragged my arm with force and a man had neared an introduction of my fist in his face when his reply to my “Do not touch me”, was “Why not?”.

It is when you view the sunset for the fourth time and again you find yourself at five in the morning chewing away one of Johnny’s orgasmic delicious tacos that you wonder.. Does all of that even matter? No, it does not, for you are in a place where life exists out of sun, beach, sea and relaxation. Nothing matters but the beer that is cold, the weather that is fantastic and another enticing march towards the alley of tacos. So, feet dig into the sand and a picture of the sunset goes online.

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Cycling and Hitchhiking (2016)

Ukrainian Hitchhiking, Reaching Kyiv!!

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.

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Awkward picture, yaay!!

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…

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Unfinished, this shows a part of my travel in Ukraine. Summer 2016.
Categories
Cycling and Hitchhiking (2016)

Exploring the vast Ukraine on my way to Kiev

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.

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The Wrong Neighbourhood!

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.

 

Categories
Cycling and Hitchhiking (2016) Personal Favourites

Lost and lonely in Lviv

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.

Rose
Kiev, July 2016

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?

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Cycling and Hitchhiking (2016)

A Ukrainian Border

On a bright, sunny day I stood along the road that would take me into the country known to be at war. A country many people around it feared. Chaos, complete and utter chaos. A week from now, two girls in Kiev would burst out in laughing hearing about the false fears of these people. “Oehhh Watch out! Dangerous Ukraine!!” The girls japed in derision. Another tale said that people wouldn’t accept a hitchhiking man so near to the border. I had showered that morning, so I stood self-assured. Singing along with the same songs I have been figuratively shattering glasses and hurting ears with since the beginning of the hitchhiking extravaganza. Waiting. Although not for long. Herald my knight of not so shining steel. It was a simple station wagon, rumbling with every meter it gained. Two men, father and son, occupied the riding piece of steel. The ponderously father, Wussel, had his sweaty palms resting on the steering wheel. His equally named son showed me into the car, the backseat. On top of a thin blanket covering crates of goodies and alcohol ample for days to come I crawled, my head tilted to avoid sticking through the roof. Onwards! With an incessant ticking sound we spurted to the border of Ukraine.

This simple car stood a role model for Ukrainian vehicles; it lacked the necessary safety of seatbelts. A simple piece of polyester that can save a life. Warned about war, I soon learned the roads of Ukraine to be far more dangerous. I have been mocked for grasping the seat belt, seen mothers drive without and been in a modified car speeding limits unheard of without any thought of safety within the devil’s trap. As the door closed behind me, I saw it was a one way door, missing my handle inside. The door in front had it the other way around as Wussel reached through the gap of the window to open it. Pieces of fabric were missing at many spots. The stereo hung down attached to a few wires. The only music we’d be enjoying was the song of the ticking car, rumbling and roaring. I smiled as I viewed the car on its side, my head bended. A head worried about hitching a ride, yet the wait was a mere 5 songs.

Ukraine
The Bridge of Love

At the border, the queue wasn’t particularly long, however tedious it was. Drenched in heat by the blazing sun, we sat sweltered in the car that turned temperatures near to a boiling point. Impudent, the driver had gone through two full bottles of water pouring them out on his bald head. Even a break had been made to refill said bottles. However understanding, as my forehead began to show an army of tiny sweat drops crawling down. My seat had turned adhesive in the heat and I feared I would quail would I spent much longer. Some hours passed and it turned out it was not only me that suffered in the unbearable heat. A dead silence as the engine died. Mumbles came from the front when the father tried to start the car. Succumbed, the rumbling sound faded after a moment. Another try, yet again nothing. Minutes later, son and I stood outside pushing the car surrounded by smirking people and a boiling sun beaming down at us.

Being second in line at the border, anxiously I had prepared to face the niggling, strict and righteous border men. I had figured they would search the car and perhaps even my backpack. One uniformed man stood before us, straight with his face sullen. Looking to the row next to us, I wished we stood there, chatting with the fat man guffawing and slapping his hands together were he to be a seal. Wussel popped open the trunk for the inspection. A glimpse and the man waved us off. Surprised, I handed my passport to the bold man ticking the window. Waiting I read the signs that annotated that corruption was not tolerated. Not in this debauched country! The wait was long enough for me to learn the Ukrainian – Cyrillic – version. But then, that was it. We had our passports and we had made it. Although we first had to push the car before the engine began rumbling and roaring again. I had not thought I would be happy to hear that annoying sound, yet I smiled broadly as we officially entered the country of Blue and Yellow.

Categories
Cycling and Hitchhiking (2016)

A confusing ride to Zemplinska Sirava

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.

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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!

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Cycling and Hitchhiking (2016) Personal Favourites

A stormy night on Slovakia’s High Tatras Part 2

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.

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Cycling and Hitchhiking (2016)

A stormy night on Slovakia’s High Tatras Part 1

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!

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Full Version is on my Facebook page.

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Any suggestions or opinions would be gladly welcomed! 🙂

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Cycling and Hitchhiking (2016)

Poland – Portugal in Pabianice

He was loose and started racing down, leaving a spiral trace behind. The finish was in sight, the ending of the translucent field. Looking to his right, he could see his enemy, struggling to surpass the obstacles in its way. Quickly, he spurted down for his final sprint. Closer and closer he reached. He could feel the victory, nearly gracing the end line. But then it happened. He stopped. Go!! I wanted to shout. My fingers met into a fist of frustration. Why won’t you go? My mind screamed. At a calm pace the rival slugged down over the line, breaking apart as it hit the end. “It sure is rainy…”, my new chauffeur proclaimed with a hint of guilt as he watched the raindrops tick on the front glass. My eyes averted the lost race shaming the drop who failed to win. “Indeed”, I mumbled. For a few minutes now it had been pouring down rainfall from the sky, covered with dark, grim clouds. My mind was not worried about getting soaked, yet whether I would find a ride out of this small town. Most would depart on the main road where I could not stand. Instead, I exited the vehicle on an abandoned parking spot with all accompanying me being a few blinking lamp posts. The lad and I said goodbye, before he surged away. Quite frankly, I had not been to keen of the guy. A traveller as well, he had finished a plate too many of egomania. Nonetheless, he had been kind enough to drop me on the other side of the city for more luck. Luck, I would find to have plenty of when an instant’s moment later, a passing car slowed down. A tall dude manning the wheel and a prettiful lady to his side. Not much distance I would receive, yet so much more than I could ever dare to wish for.


Excited Ola, the young lady turned her head to me and questions left her lips. After a few, she asked “Are you watching the game tonight?”. Poland versus Portugal. A match in the Fifa world cup carrying a lot of Polish viewers. None of the equally aged would be able to think of a moment when the Polish had come so far in football. So it should be no surprise that the country was in a rally with enthusiasm and patriotism in the air. I hope, I said. Immediately the couple had invited me, within seconds calling the host for confirmation. The guy on the other end of the phone did need a confirmation of which country I was backing. Poland!! I had exclaimed, quietly cheering them on when back in the Baltics, knowing I might be able to root them as I traversed the mighty country.

Cruising for a selection of Polish finest brewskies at the local shop, I had a chance to meet two other friends. Soon I learned that not all had a tongue in English like Ola did. Yet they all shared the excitement. Together we walked to the house of the brother and sister that would have the game displayed on their tv. Nervous, yet excited, I entered the small flat room. The group was welcoming, friendly and kind. We drank, talked and enjoyed the match. I remember a moment talking to Ola, when one of the guys interrupted “There are times for important things, and times for more important things” as he pointed to the line of shots that were lined out. He would teach me how to properly drink vodka. At the end of the evening, Poland had lost the penalties after playing 1-1 to Portugal. Nonetheless the Polish were happy and celebrated the distance Poland had made! Upon departure the following morning, I was gifted a prazubr and a scarf with the writing “Polska” and a white eagle embossed on both sides, one I still wear on chilly days.



The road continued and I hitched my way towards Slovakia. A small detour lead me to meet Karolina again, during an insanely coincidental bump in within a few seconds in the town Zdunska Wola. It was amazing to see her again and a pleasure to hear her voice. From there I visited the catastrofe family, once again doing more for me than I can be thankful for, conjuring a smile on my face for the rest of the sunny day. After gifting gifts, patching up my pants and tent, taking me on a motor ride and to the swimming pool, feeding me and having me showered, the couple still felt appealed to go further. They sent a box of my stuff to the Netherlands and gave me a ride far to help me make distance. During the long ride something amazing happened. Throughout Poland beers and ice cream bare a hidden opportunity that once consumed reveals if you won a second or not. They explained such, as we all enjoyed the sweet and cool taste of ice. The youngest son shouts victory having laid his eyes upon my writing. A FREE ICE CREAM! It is a dream come true.

Waving the family off, I held the proof of victory close and safe. I wandered around for a bit, asking the people politely for assistance in laying down rubber. That came to an end when a curious janitor lured me to his small office. From Serbia. He sat me down and gave me his lunch adding a cup of tea. No English, German or Dutch, yet we began talking. Pointing to pictures in a book, he explained his travels through Siberia, Lapland and Canada. Impressed how far he got with our language barrier, he began to push it when conspiracy theories became the topic. This was too much for me in Serbian tongue. Thus I rose and thanked him. Departing the 1 by 2 room, the first man approached would take me further. What next?