My wife and i have recently returned from our “honeymoon,” which was implemented in the course of about four months hitchhiking together across Europe and around Brazil. After such an extended period of time so close together, we both agreed each deserved a couple of weeks on their own. I decided that hanging out with my friend Fuji at his annual midsommar getaway was the perfect opportunity for that!
I’d joined him and his friends in Sweden both Summers before — the first time in 2016, after a 13 Km walk from the nearest train station, and the second time by bicycle, during my latest cycle tour last Summer.
What would be my dramatic arrival this time!?
Circumstances favored hitchhiking — they decided to rent a cabin in Estonian countryside this time, some 1,300 Km away from my current abode in L’viv, Ukraine but not requiring any ferry crossings — i didn’t have the time to cycle tour, or the money (or desire) to travel by other means 😀
still apprehensive about leaving
The prospect of leaving was no doubt exciting, as it is always the case — i was going to visit a friend i love spending time with, in a country i’d never been to before, and had been curious about since putting it on my map a couple of years before. I would also be traveling solo for the first time in a while, calling all the shots, and having nobody else but the crazy people inside my head to argue with about my decisions!
On the other hand, those four months hitchhiking with my wife throughout Europe and Brazil left me feeling quite worn down by the process. I consider myself an introvert, and the amount of socializing the hitchhiking process demanded from me was something i wanted some distance from — especially in contrast with the amount of alone time i get while cycle touring! I was also apprehensive about the unknown — i felt i could deal with it much better when i was cycle touring, which gives me a little more flexibility with regards to what and how much to carry, as well as where to go in order to address my problems along the way.
Despite having a place to stay in Estonia, i’d surely have to spend at least one night on the road to cover those 1,300 Km plus one controlled border crossing separating me from my destination — that would still have been the case even if i activated one of my connections in Lublin. It would have likely been easy to find hosts along my way in Poland, Lithuania or Latvia through hospitality networks such as Couchsurfing or Trustroots, but having such a goal for the day was one of the greatest sources of social stress during my honeymoon with my wife — more often than not, that required us to hitchhike nonstop to a late arrival at our host’s, followed by an early departure next day in the morning, for yet another whole day hitchhiking, thus reiterating the vicious cycle.
No — if i’m going to hitchhike to Estonia, then i’ll go “cycle touring style” — self-sufficient, process over product, and in real need for help only to find a place to set camp for the night, whenever and wherever i decide to call it a day!
With a little bit of creativity and not so many concessions at all, i somehow managed to fit everything i needed, including my hammock-camping gear, a stove and enough food for half a week, plus my tree-climbing gear into my 32-liter backpack.
And off i went!
I have so much confidence in this minimalistic setup that i’m sharing the details in a forthcoming blog post. I’m very happy about it — it would have likely been sufficient for me to remain on the road indefinitely — perhaps one day i’ll try some sort of ‘around the world in 80 days’ stunt, even if just for the fun of it.
Indeed, having a complete camping/cooking set, and not having a pre-determined goal for the day did make the process a lot easier to accept. I didn’t linger, but nevertheless took my time eating my meals and snacking — i stopped to look for a place to sleep when i felt like it, and where it was most convenient, not where i had to — even the occasional 2-hour wait was handled without much despair, joyfully surrendering to music, dancing and air guitar — the long walks were welcome breaks for introspection in between socializing with drivers, and i sometimes gladly took them even if they were avoidable.
With some drivers the language barrier didn’t allow for the conversation to go very deep, even though i’m still impressed with how much i can already communicate not only in Ukrainian but also in Polish, a language that had always read and sounded ferociously cryptic to me, and Russian! It seems like most drivers help for the mere pleasure and/or duty of helping, just because they can — wouldn’t you? — don’t we all? A few others thank me for the company, and seem to enjoy the stimulus from the occasional unpredictable conversation with an interesting stranger — many used to hitchhike when they were younger.
One driver picked me up because his wife saw me when she drove by and called him on the phone, “your car is empty, take him.” Another guy gave me a ride because that’s what he always does, even if it’s for just another 10 Km. Filip had always wanted to hitchhike, and has now just returned from his first hitchhiking trip, from Athens, Greece back to his home in Lublin, Poland — i was the first hitchhiker he ever picked up: to inspire and equip someone to take their last step to do something they had already wanted to is the core of what i want with Not Mad Yet.
Special thanks to Agnieszka, Andrzej and Marcin, who turned back to pick me up!
These three jolly paramedics were returning, full of energy, from a course they were ministering at the border — they gave me not only a ride but also about a liter of beer, traditional Polish food, an emergency blanket, and a tube of fast carbs.
my first creep!
Pro-tip: beware rides that feel too eagerly offered — especially when you’re tired!
I’ve taken more than 200 rides across over 17,000 Km in 17 countries in this life, and i was probably pretty close to the point where it seemed like nothing bad could ever happen to me — and nothing ‘bad’ has ever happened to me yet — it was just uncomfortable this time — a reminder to remain alert and not to get cocky nonetheless.
After several hours trying to unsuccessfully hitchhike northward from Białystok, about 5 Km of walking, and climbing over a fence with my heavy backpack, i found myself very tired somewhere, where my prospects of finding a ride seemed no better. It was close to dawn, and i was debating whether i should simply call it a day and start looking for a place to get water and set camp, thus postponing the problem of finding a ride out of there to the day after, when a car pulled over on the opposite side of the road and asked me where i was going.
I said, “to Estonia.” The driver then told me he was going to Augustów, which was in my desired direction — although i thought that was a bit strange, i hopped in — maybe that was simply the first opportunity for him to take a u-turn? He did indeed turn back north towards Augustów — after swinging by a gas station to fill up his tank and buy a pack of condoms!
You must now be wondering how the hell i know he’d bought condoms — i first thought that bright purple box he took out of his pocket and placed on the dashboard, clearly wanting me to witness the event, was bubble gum — i was a tad sleepy and even considered asking him for some. He then started telling me about the prostitutes along the road, and asking me if i like sex — “excuse me?” — “sex” — “wait, what, why do you want to know!?” — “you don’t like sex?” His impertinence was accompanied by suggestive gestures, which at one point included picking up the box of condoms and shaking it at me — no need for bubble gum, i’m wide awake now!
The language barrier made it difficult to parse his exact intentions, but none of the possibilities in my model stood out as better than the others — how to deal with this?
I referred to the women hitchhiking solo i’d heard and read sharing such experiences, which seem to be an unfortunate component of the process for many (if not all) of them, including my wife — not every unpleasant situation carries the immediate danger of physical harm. Keeping my calm while trying not to let it fade into weakness, i continued talking to the guy while carefully scanning and sensing the environment. I eventually judged his advances as in fact far more naïve and socially inept than ill-intentioned. While my first few indirect dismissals in broken Ukrainian/Polish/Russian didn’t seem to have a lingering effect, he did stop after i typed into the translator on my phone, “PLEASE STOP TALKING ABOUT THAT. NOW!!” and showed it to him — he then switched to much less controversial topics such as the monument marking the alleged geographical center of Europe in the town of Suchowola. Upon dropping me off at the next gas station, he noticed the car right next to us had Estonian license plates implying that’s where they might be headed, and kindly suggested that i go talk to them.
Although he told me he lives in Augustów, which was another few kilometers further down the road, he pulled back towards where we’d come from — presumably looking for a prostitute to satisfy his needs, which he might be unable to negotiate otherwise? Honestly, i feel a bit sorry for the guy.
truck drivers are the best
I’m not sure why i don’t have any pictures of the truck drivers who helped me so much on this trip. Many of the truck drivers who helped my wife and i in Brazil told me that they could get in serious trouble if their bosses found out they were giving rides to hitchhikers. I guess that made it my underlying assumption hitchhiking in Eastern Europe as well? The language barrier made me reluctant to try and explain to them how i might use their photos on my blog, but next time i will!
People often ask me about them — in Brazil, we grow up exposed to a fair amount of prejudice towards truck drivers. I’d started shifting that perspective while cycle touring already, when i noticed truck drivers seemed to give me far more space when overtaking than most private car drivers — truckers on occasion even came to a full stop behind me if the road was too narrow. I didn’t need much more of their help other than their awareness of me while i was cycle touring, but the friendly and hospitable encounters at rest stops and gas stations gradually added up as well.
I’ve only had to find a place to set up my hammock in two of the four nights i spent on the road on my way from L’viv to Estonia and back — the other two nights i was offered the bunk in their cabin, where i slept safely and comfortably — not to mention the food they treated me with!
where else did i sleep?
So, i had a place to stay with my friends in Estonia, and i spent two of my four nights on the road in my truck driver’s cabin.
The other two nights i slept on my hammock — once “wild camping” in Tallinn somewhere i learned next morning seems to be a place where drug addicts hang out, and the other time on the backyard of Grzegorz and his uncle, whose name i didn’t write and now escapes me:
I was positively surprised to find out that something i’d gotten used to while cycle touring seems still quite possible while hitchhiking — skinny dips! Indeed, i had an option to bathe every single night on the road, whether it was a lake, a river, the Baltic Sea, or the shower for truckers at a rest stop.
and how was Estonia?
Oh, yeah, right — that’s where i was going!
We probably hear as much about the Baltic states growing up in Brazil as people growing up in Europe hear about the Guianas. As far as Estonia itself goes, i didn’t have many expectations about the country — a place with not many people, somewhat remote, perhaps with a few Russian sprinkles? As i said before, i was curious about it — but without feeling much of the need to “experience Estonia” in any particular way other than whatever came my way. And although any trip is for me yet another opportunity to experiment with travel methods and practices, push the boundaries of my comfort zone further out, and do some budget travel research, this was “vacation” with friends — i didn’t look for anything special to do there, or anybody else to meet.
Walking with my friend and his dog Zelda, i got to see a bit of the Estonian countryside, where there’s more intense and reckless traffic than i would have expected, and also a tour of a big chunk of Tallinn, where my attention was especially drawn to how the various generations of ancient and modern coexist in the city’s architecture.
Other than that, playing it by ear was the way to go — drinking beer, cooking, watching the world cup, playing boardgames, sauna, sharing YouTube videos from the quintessential to the awe-inspiring, tree-climbing, busking, helping my friends with my driving skills, watching a rehearsal of my friend Fuji’s visual spa, attending a performance of Omeulmad 2 (in which his partner worked as a producer), riding a bicycle in Tallinn, hiding a geocache, taking photos, writing on my journal and recording 20+ minutes of video logs, picking up trash from my campsite in Tallinn — that was quite enough 🙂
With the exception of ‘finishing reading a book,’ which took me an extra few days after coming back, i did everything i had “planed” to do in Estonia — plus and a lot and unexpected more.
Everybody should know what they travel for — for someone who essentially lives on the road, ‘traveling’ might as well mean ‘having a place to rest’ 🙂
Three other articles of a more tutorial nature are also coming out as a result of those couple of weeks on the road to Estonia and back — one describing my minimalistic hitchhiking (plus tree-climbing) kit, another one sharing how i hitchhike, and a third one contrasting it to cycle touring. Going forward i plan to write and share more such ‘how-to’ pieces for cycle touring and hitchhiking, as well as life in general, in addition to the more emotional accounts of my experience on the road such as this one.
After what could be construed as roughly two uninterrupted years on the road since i left by bicycle from Copenhagen to Istanbul in Fall ’16, it’s time to settle a little longer before my next epic enterprise. There is still much to be processed from my previous projects — i first wanted to say a few words about what i’ve been up to during those four or five months the blog was silent, but i plan to resume writing about the North Cape Hypothesis and All Roads Lead to Rom…ania, as well as my three months in Brazil with my wife and our journey hitchhiking across Europe, tree-climbing, and whatever else comes up!
You may find more adventure inspiration in my chronicles and trelograms, where i share my current emotions in reaction to recent experiences. You may also browse for concrete, tested cycle touring, hitchhiking or general advice — just follow the links to read more 🙂
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