There are three things I dislike doing solo: sex, hitchhiking and roller-coasters. I was unable yet again to find a hitchhiking partner, so unfortunately it looked like another solo journey.
Hitchhiking’s not as easy as people make it sound and of course there’s the cost/benefit factor. Taking a bus to Warsaw would cost as much as another night in a hostel. But it’s also not as adventurous. Here lies the problem with long-term traveling, it’s a bit like being a meth addict. You need a bigger hit each time, in order to get the same high. And eventually your friends will think you’re crazy.
Hitchhiking is a bit like going out to town on the prowl. You have no idea what’s going to happen but if you’re successful, it’s a huge ego booster. I followed hitchwiki.org‘s instructions and took a bus to the outskirts of Vilnius. I held up a sign for “Kaunas”, as popular advice dictates it’s better to detour to Kaunas and then onwards to Warsaw, rather than try to go directly from Vilnius.
Sure enough, two minutes later a Lithuanian guy picked me up in his Volkswagen van. He was super friendly, an avid hitchhiker himself on his way home to Klaipeda. 10 mins later he was inviting me to stay a couple of days at his place, as there was a jazz festival on in the area. I was so tempted to say yes but after looking on a map, I realized that Klaipeda was on the opposite side of Lithuania, by the Baltic sea right next to the Russian border for Kaliningrad. If I was a little crazier, I would have gone ahead anyway but I was ready to leave Lithuania. So I declined, regretting the decision immediately.
A hundred kms later I was dropped off on the highway, on the edge to Kaunas. I waited here for a ride to Poland. There’s not much you can do when waiting for a ride, apart from think. I let my mind wander about the meaning of live, love and travel. Here I was, at the mercy of strangers – the ultimate request for a random act of kindness. I thought about the good karma I had built up with Couchsurfing and Free Hugs, and that it was only a matter of time before a good samaritan stopped for me. I also promised myself that I would always stop for hitchhikers in future. But most of all, I had the nagging thought “why didn’t I just take the fucking bus, this was a stupid idea”.
Fortunately, only 45 mins later a Lithuanian truck driver stopped for me. We could hardly communicate but he agreed to take me to Poland and that was good enough for me. We labored on to make simple conversation, but it was quickly evident that it was much too hard. The most useful languages in this part of the world for hitchhiking are German, Russian and Polish and unfortunately I knew none. Being a native English speaker makes it too easy to be lazy about learning other languages.
We gave up trying to talk and just sat in silence. It’s like when you go out for dinner on a first date and you realize that it’ll never work. But you’ve already ordered food so it’d be awkward to leave (That’s why I always go for just a drink on the first date).
Anyway after about an hour of silence, the driver decided that he would just speak to me in German instead and I complied by pretending to understand. I nodded my head and periodically said “wow”. I think he was retelling the history of Lithuania and its relationship with Russia. Either that or he was talking about trucks. Nevertheless, I’m pretty sure it would have been riveting had I understood what he was talking about.
Four hundred kms later, the driver started babbling in German, something about “Warsava”. I figured that either I would need to get out soon or that he was actually headed to Warsaw. Soon enough, he pulled over to the side of the highway and stopped, so I got my answer.
Back on the highway and only 100kms to Warsaw. But the sun was beginning to set and I didn’t want to be on the side of the highway in the dark. Half an hour later, a kind soul on his way home from a basketball game picked me up. He was only going 30kms to the next town but agreed to drop me off at the bus station. We got to the bus station at Wyszkow but he insisted on waiting with me because “boring boys may disturb” me. After waiting for 15 mins, he suggested a safer and better place, where I could wait for a bus and still get a chance of a ride to Warsaw. He dropped me off at a bus stop near the highway entrance and less than 5 mins later, a van stopped. It was a couple driving home in what looked like a work vehicle. They couldn’t speak a lick of English so I kept repeating “Bardzo djenki” (thank you very much) and just sat in the back. After a while they asked me something in Polish and I just assumed they were asking where I needed to be dropped off. I tried to say “Dwordec Centralna” (Central Station) but I might as well have been speaking Klingon. (Some polish words sound like you need to have two tongues in order to pronounce them.) So I called my friend in Katowice and asked her to speak to the driver. I passed the phone to the driver and she managed to ask them to ask them to drop me of at the central station. They agreed. I later realized that I was really lucky, as Warsaw is huge and I would have gotten lost if I hadn’t been dropped off somewhere central.
I arrived at my final destination but was still unsure what to do. I could keep hitchhiking towards Vienna for the big Couchsurfing meetup, Vienna Calling as originally planned. There’d be 400+ Couchsurfers descending on that city from all over. Sounded awesome.
But it was 10pm and I had already spent 12 hours on the road today. It had been a triumphant day, an epic day of hitchhiking. Then I remembered my friend in Warsaw who I haven’t seen in 6 years but happened to just send me a Facebook message yesterday, that I should visit. So I called him “Hey Maciek, you know how you said yesterday that I should visit soon? I’m in Warsaw now.”
Maciek: “Sure, come on over!”
What do you think about hitchhiking? Ever been?