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Romanian beauty

Beograd Petrosani

Click to enlarge

If we would make a list with the best countries for hitchhike, Romania would be clearly rounding the top. The waiting times decrease to an average around five minutes and the fun is assured. I could happen through many different situations with the people who gave me a lift: going to sell telephone cards to lost villages through mountain unasphaulted paths, help a man to repair his bathroom, bring a (heavy) pump from one house to the other, and more earthly activities like giving food to the chicken or keeping a car (with the keys in my hands) while the driver went inside the bank to attend some business.

To get out of Beograd, I took a train to Vrsac, and there, near the Romanian border, I began to hitchhike. An old car took me to the customs control. When hitchhiking, it’s very rare that a woman let you inside her car. They are afraid of an aggression or a pervert. But when I saw the first lonely woman of the trip stopped for me, I understood why. She was extremely ugly. Over her lips, there was a mole flooded by hair, and the face was rounded with fallen greasy skin. Her body was huge, exceptionally fat. She was from Kosovo, but escaped to Serbia after the political events that everybody know.

– Everything is ruled by mafia in Kosovo! – she said.

She took me to a road bar near the border. Then I crossed the line and it began the fun.

Entering from the Serbian border in Vrsac, the Romanian lands appear as a flat thing covered by sunflower and corn fields, and it’s not until Reşita that it becomes undulated like the sea surface, and keeps like this till we arrive in Petroşani. There the real Carpaty Range starts and the roads become abrupt climbs to beautiful mountains. And the beauty is an important point in Romania. The mountains are specially photogenic. Although they are not so high as in other places like the Alps,  the wet climate give an intense green to the valleys and the grass fields mixes constantly with dense forests to give it a very characteristic landscape.

My first lift in  Romania was an empty bus that  was going to pick up people in Timişoara. I went down in the road cross with Reşita, where a truck driver saw me. His name was Ovidiu, and he had been living in Catalonia. We talked lengthily about the towns he had been to,Tarragona, Lleida, and some more, and talked again and again about a disco he went to in Lleida and he was offered cocaine.

Jiet

Road outside Jiet

After some misunderstanding with him, I was dropped down in Reşita. I walked till the end of the town, where a policeman found it funny to ask for my passport. I was retained one hour there while the police was trying to figure out who I am and why I was there.

A car with a young boy who once was working in Napoli bring me to Caravansebeş through a road that was going wavy more and more. I asked the way to Hateg to a guy that was walking, and he said:

– You go hitchhiking, right? Come with me, I’ll take you!

He left me in a nearby town right in the road to Hateg, a fantastic spot to hitch the next car, a refrigerator van. The driver was very proud of his van, because he could keep his water and dinner cold. He explained me he went everyday to different cities to bring some meat, and today it was the turn for Hateg.

Outside Jiet

Sleeping place outside Jiet

After an easy way to Petroşani, I decided to go deep in the mountains. I wanted to arrive to the Vidra Lake and sleep there, but I didn’t know the road. Just out of Jiet it became just a path that made its way between the walls of the mountain. The cars completely disappeared, and the gorge didn’t leave any empty gap to place the tend. But after a long walk I could find a place to sleep near the river. It was a long day and I was tired; I deserved a bath.

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Categories: Beograd, Europe, Romania, Serbia, The Sun in my Forehead, travel | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

Reaching Beograd

Doboj - Beograd

The rain wasn’t stopping. All over the Bosnian valleys, through the happy character of its people and their Balcanic enthusiasm, the rain satisfied the thirst of those green trees and bushes, and filled the rivers to its limit. But I didn’t give up. I kept hitching the road, thumb by thumb, from one car to the other, from a mechanic who went to buy tools to a wedding car all covered by shabby ribbons and bows of doubtful elegance. One Imam, orthodox Serbs, returned emigrants who made money in Italy or Switzerland and now where living an easy and wealthy life in their hometown… resuming, many singular people, all of them with their peculiarities, different and original, genuine as the country itself, talking about a better future or a sad past, and absolutely, all of them, funny and talkative and kind.

One of them was Stefano, a 64 years old man who lived in Switzerland for 35 years. Now he was back in Bosnia for the rest of his life. He spoke Italian very well and, encouraged by my Spanish origin, was saying all the time:

“Si, si, si! Si señor!”

It was a good time with Stefano. He talked to me about the war (which he had not lived), about his sons, one working in Italy, the other in Beograd. Happy for the meeting, he drove me 35 km further than he should, dropped me in Bijelina and I began to walk.

Bijelina, Bosnia

Bijelina, Republika Srpska, Bosnia

Bijenlina is right in the bordering region with Serbia. It seemed a richer place, full of colorful little houses with gardens all over kilometers of road, and I had nowhere to place my tent. Finally I found an abandoned house, and I slept on its backyard. Next morning the house was full of people. In the garden, inside the house… and around my tent. As I discovered, it was some sort of communal house that was burned some time ago, and the neighbours where repairing it. All of them looked at me as I was packing my things, and they didn’t say anything, as if I was a strange apparition. I said goodbye and hit the road with the feeling that something was wrong.

Although I had to wait a long time for a car, I crossed the border and arrived to Beograd in the early evening of a long day of June. That was fine enough. A new place to discover through the slope.

Beograd Caslte

Beograd Castle

Beograd caused me a good impression. Although it’s lack of some great monument (the castle is less impressing than the ones you can find in many places of Italy, France or Spain), and although the smallness of it’s center, it gave me good vibes. The Serbians are kind people, and the girls are really attractive. On the castle walls, groups of young people drank beer and stronger things inside the warm June nights. I could talk a little about basketball, Partizan and Bodiroga and so on, but I came back early to the hostel to wash my clothes. Something that was really needed.

Beograd market

Beograd market

Categories: Balcans, Beograd, Bosnia, Europe, hitchhiking, Serbia, The Sun in my Forehead, travel | Tags: , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

The Bosnian experience

Bosnia is one of the last really genuine countries in Europe. There’s a great mix, but the difference between every of their cultures remains strong. A massive amount of mountains allows tiny roads that follows green valleys between the diversity of its people. And there are also the memories of the war, which are not funny, but interesting enough. Traveling is something we do mostly for fun, but there’s nothing bad in put a little bit of interest in the history, the circumstances, and the possibilities of the place we are visiting. And Bosnia have plenty of circumstances which can be interesting to know. Since the romans settlements to the slavicisation of the country and the Turks invasions, the assassination of the Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria –the spark that set off World War I-, the other war and the communist times. And then happened what we already know. Me, I don’t like involving too much in the politics of each place. I mean I like to know, but I don’t like to discuss. I better let people talk and talk to me, and expose their visions. It’s by listening that we learn more; the more you listen, the more you’ll have an exact vision of the problems on locals eyes, that can be so different from the visions we get in our houses. And this is important. The less we discuss about politics, the more we’ll learn and more friends we’ll have. Politic talks are discussions if we give our opinion, but are interviews if we ask the people to explain their point of view to us. So my recommendation is to make more interviews than anything else. Everywhere, but specially in a country with a past like Bosnia.

I had some special rides in Bosnia. One of them was Mustafa and his friend. They gave me a lift one day, and next day I found them again on the road and took me for second time. But more amazing was to find myself inside a school bus with a teenagers’ classroom on a three-day trip, where I felt abused with questions about my girlfriends, spanish football and sex.

Banja Luka orthodox church

Banja Luka orthodox church

From Italy I had rain in all my days. Not all time, but all days some rain at all. I was hitchhiking with my waterproof when Namir and Goran stopped and took me to Banja Luka. I have a great memory of them. Namir was the driver. He was a tall ex-basketball player who went to play in Poland, but had to go back to his country for the war. At his side, Goran enjoyed to play blues on the tape. They invited me to drink a coffee on a road bar, and then I went with them to buy things for their house, to pay the electricity bill in the National Electric Company, and to the bank to pay the bill for the water. Then, we went to their house (and mysteriously some slivovica shots came to our hands), and finally we went to a bar. They made me a present, a Bosnian t-shirt which I promised to take into China – and I did. Then, their friends (Zoran, Goran and Zoran) came and the fun increased. They began to explain stories of the war, joking about it and made toasts as the beer was accidentally falling into my stomach. And I limited to listen to them, admire the male ex-soldiers party and drink and drink and drink.

I was drunk when I met Senka at 1 o’clock in the afternoon. She was my host I found on Hospitality Club. We stayed in the same house as her father, a man who passed all the time looking at the wall. I didn’t see him making anything else. Jokes apart, he seemed a tired man, a man who had lived enough to understand things. But I’m saying this judging only his eyes (dark profound eyes), ‘cause I didn’t exchange any word with him.

Krupa na Vrbasu, Banja Luka

Krupa na Vrbasu, Banja Luka, Bosnia

We went to the center, and Senka showed me an exposition made by her in the center of the city. There were many photo compositions, and some conceptual disposition of elements and furniture. It all made me feel her need to do new things, in opposition of his father. And made me think a little about the differences between two generations, one who had to carry a heavy load and now finds relief in the flippancy of the new times, and a young generation who wants to fulfill their empty bag with something not coming from their complex past.

I left Banja Luka with the feeling that I could have tried something with her. She was a beautiful girl and I was a free traveler, so there was nothing to fear. Maybe her father in the next room. But there, under the rain, I was a little bit tired for hitchhike. I went to the station and I got into a bus to Doboj.

Categories: Bosnia, Europe, hitchhiking, The Sun in my Forehead, travel | Tags: , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Hitting the road

I left Catalonia with many doubts, but I had a plane ticket and I had no choice. Slowly, the flippancy of the travel invaded me. The plane took me to visit my cousin in the beautiful city of Bologna and then it came the night. It was fine in the young Bolognan nights, full of spanish students. The alcohol stopped in our hands for a while, and some music passed by. I didn’t get any girl those nights. But it’s fine. After 5 days I was on a train that took me to Bentivoglio and it was the beggining of it all.

Outside Bentivoglio there’s a hidden entrance to the highway, a hole in a fence that lets you get inside. I found it, and slept on the service area near the motorway. Next morning I began to hitchhike. Italia is not a good country for hitchhike, but a crowded highway heading to populated areas is always fine. It was early morning when the first car stopped. It was a Russian man, he let me into his car and we crossed the lowlands of the Po Basin until Venice. He was a tourist guide operator and he disliked his job, all the time bringing tourists to see the same monuments and all the time making the same jokes. Yes, the first ride was a nice ride, fast, funny and long, and my spirit was growing high.

After a couple of rides, in Udine, I met Giorgio, a gravedigger who was going on holiday to Croatia, up to my way. It was the first time I was inside a hearse. “Probably, next time I won’t be able to appreciate how it is”, I thought.

Despite his work, Giorgio was a funny and cheerful man. He talked about reggae music, about some joints he used to smoke when he was in Spain, and some other things I quickly forgot. I couldn’t stop looking at the hearse. It was real and I was inside there. There were two rails and a couple of lockers to keep the coffins fixed. Some green hills scattered by the road, but the fun was not there. The car, the leather seats, the curly haired man full of happiness and his heavy guffaws inside that sad envirointment completly impressed me.

Croatia shore in Senj

Croatian shore in Senj

We crossed the border to Slovenia and then we made it to Croatia. I got down the car in Rijeka, and kindly gave thanks to Giorgio. It was a small win: it was still lunch-time and I had already covered almost 400 km.

I was walking through the town when it began to rain. That ugly rain… it followed me everyday until reach the Romanian lands. That’s why the 400km didn’t seem that much after some hours waiting for the sun, that made himself visible atop of the sky in the early evening.

The next car to give me a lift was a good one. While the father was shouting loud the names of some football players and talking by cellar phone,  his son was changing the gears. They were understanding each other perfectly: the father was taking the wheel and accelerating, and as soon as the car was starting to make sound, he pushed the clutch and the son changed the gear. It had a good result, the son enjoyed his job and the father could talk by mobile phone for a long time.

Hitchhiking to Bosnia near Prijeboj, Croatia

Mime and Alberich hitchhiking near the Bosnian border.

The shore in Croatia is a thin and steep thing, and there are not wide places to plant a tend, so I just extended my sleepnig bag between some bushes. There, looking alone at the sunset I could feel the satisfaction of the things well done. The experience of the first day just confirmed me something I already knew before: the variety of people I can meet in the cars is awesome. In the next few days followed deep christians, funny grannies with their grandsons, dirty bear hunters, bosnian muslims, old communist nostalgics, heavy metal fans and responsible people going to work. Everyone with their own history, everyone with a story to tell. And they got rougher when I got deep into Bosnia.

Categories: Bosnia, Croatia, Europe, hitchhiking, Italy, The Sun in my Forehead, travel | Tags: , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Sun in my Forehead: the route

I always had the sensation that going to the east was something special. Probably this is caused for my location: Spain is in the very West of the Eurasian continent. My first idea – cross the land from Spain to Magadan – is one of the longest straight ways that can be made without crossing any sea, and this had something that made me dream. The same piece of land should be all the same, but it is not. Everything, the landscape, the people, the nature, the food… everything changes little by little, and in the end you look backward and nothing is like it began. Being an observer of this film was my fantasy for a long time and finally I decided to do it.

Whatever it was, I decided to go straight to the East, always stepping forward with the Sun lighting upon my forehead.

Crossing the Eurasian continent

The Sun in my Forehead and other recent route

As I look back, the route is quite different as I planned before. But this is something that easily happens in long travels like this. Europe is easy to hitchhike, and arriving to Ukraine was an easy task. Then I had to cross the Black Sea by boat for made it to the crazy Caucasus lands. From there, I passed through Central Asia – probably the most interesting part of the trip – until the Chinese border, and by several means of transport I arrived to Southeast Asia. There I stayed for six months, a one-moth scape to India included. And still smarting from that Russian disappointment, I flew to the north of the country and crossed down until Ukraine.

After all, I came back home, with my backpack full of stories, tips and photographs to share with all of you.

Categories: Asia, Europe, hitchhiking, The Sun in my Forehead, travel | Tags: , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

The beginning of all and the Mighty Samarkand

It didn’t begin looking at the white sea-foam on a sunny afternoon, nor looking the horizon on a high peak dominating the plains. It was just a matter of time. Time by time, little by little, I realized that the crazy long travels I read on the books were not unachievable targets, they were not heroic deeds done by amazing people with lots of funds, it was only the decision of simple people who wanted to change a little bit their life. And they found somewhere the bravery to do it.

Despite all this, I was never sure to begin the adventure. It was just not easy to give up it all, leave everything and everyone and take a round over the world. Not everyone understands it, mostly the family or the father who always talks about work. Until one day I began to plan everything. Everything became clear, everything looked as easy targets, the impossible connections I thought before were little by little turning to reasonable objectives, the unknown countries didn’t seem that strange after getting some information. The forgotten paths, the visa issues, there’s nothing impossible for a person who really wants to do this.

But, anyway, I was still afraid. Maybe not afraid, but unsure of it. I had planned many things, but didn’t fixed a departure date. It was difficult for me to set a departure date. One thing is to dream, and another is to say “ok, I’m REALLY gonna do this”. Until one book came to my hands. It was Jack Kerouac’s On the Road and it really changed my mind. Yes! There’s no need to be scared, that’s not the spirit you may take. Just go there, rise the thumb and hit the road. That’s all, there’s nothing more to think about. It’s not just a dream, it’s my dream and I can do it. And after some time it becomes a way of life.

UlughBeg Madrassa in Samarkand, Uzbekistan

Ulugh Beg Madrassa in Samarkand

Choosing the route was an easy thing. For years the ancient city of Samarkand was the point were all the wishes started and the thoughts were coming from. Samarkand the Great, Samarkand the Mighty, Samarkand the land of the Monster, Old and Elder Marakand. Once destroyed by Alexander the Great, then governed by Tamerlan, forsaken into the desert sands when the Silk Route fell down, now was an unknown place in the forgotten country of Uzbekistan. The beauty of its buildings, the legendary name of the place, the far it is from everywhere… everything made Samarkand a magic place, a place were I didn’t know what to find, a place of legend, the rule of communism, the turkish muslims and the Mongol facial features.

Well, it’s true, I had some point to shot my mind. And that’s a lot. My plans would go straight to Samarkand, crossing Europe, the Caucasus, the Kizilkum desert from the new sands of Aral since arrive to the old powerful town. After that, all the plans seemed so far, so long, like talk about fantasy or sci-fi. I did plan to go up to the north through the Kazakh steppe, cross to Russia and find the Kolyma Highway after Yakutsk. The plans then included Japan and America until the south… but it’s talking in vain. I changed all my plans after the Central Asia shake.

And what’s the point of all the speech? Well, probably there’s no point at all. Just to share what I took and what I owned. You can plan a big trip if you dream of that, you just need some stimulation, an objective, and a spear to make it all explode. And to find this things is quite an easy thing!

Go there and find it out!

Categories: Asia, Europe, hitchhiking, The Sun in my Forehead, travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment