"Europe 2004-05" story # 45

Lupinjac, Croatia           April 10, 2005

France to Greece. Mode of transport: thumb. (What else?)
     A trucker named Saban drove me into Italy. We were on a busy expressway, but the landscape sang like an opera. Bush-covered Alps raced downhill for a dip in the insatiable Mediterranean. Birthday-orange and wedding-white churches from Roman times peeked out of nestling villages.
     Saban spoke Italian, I spoke Spanish, and we had some success communicating. He was originally from a country called Macedonia. I hadn't even known there was such a country. But, it was on my way to Greece. Then, I realized the former Yugoslavia I'd be passing through had been bombed recently by my president Clinton. Uh, oh. I apologized to Saban. He said, "no," Clinton had done good. The former Yugoslavian republic of Serbia had been trying to take everything for itself, and the U.S. had tried to help stop it. Gee, I'm sure the Serbia that's on my way feels happy my country bombed them.
     Saban left me at a truck stop. My well-calculated plan was to get a ride from a Bulgarian or Turkish trucker all the way to Bulgaria. Anyone going to Greece would certainly take a boat from Italy. But, boats are for lazy people.
     Victor from the Ukraine let me in his truck for a while. We spoke Portuguese, as he'd moved to Portugal for a "better life." I guess that's a relative term. He makes more money working for a Spanish trucking company, yeah. But, he hasn't seen his fourteen-year-old son in the Ukraine in six years. He sees his wife and baby in Portugal every six months.
     Hey, come to think of it, I haven't seen my family in nine months! Maybe I shouldn't judge?
     I've been in Europe (the European Union) for nine months. For this reason, I wanted to go overland to Greece. (I think) Americans are only allowed six months in the European Union. I calculated that passport control would be more harsh on an Italy-Greece boat then, let's say, a Slovenia-Croatia border where I'll probably be crossing with a herd of some guy's sheep. (just a little joke, Croatia, please don't deport me.)
     They weren't Bulgarian truckers. But, I was happy to get rides from local car-drivers next. The second Italian, Claudio, knew English. He was a forty-something, gray-haired guy who owned an alternative clothes-and-home-decorations store. We lamented the death of hitchhiking in Italy.
     He said it has long been tradition for young people to take trips when they finish studying. Nowadays, they buy EuroRail train passes, and they stay in youth hostels. They ask their parents for money and spend a thousand Euro's in a week. "I could travel two months on that!" said the former hitchhiker.
     I traveled a mere five-hundred kilometers on this day. I slept in my sleeping bag in a field of dirt, beside an Italian expressway truck stop. In the morning, I gave myself a bath with water from the toilet. Woohoo for thrifty hitchhiking! I had money left over for truck-stop pizza ... not just any truck-stop pizza, but truck-stop PIZZA IN ITALY. (The cappucinos were also good, and the Italians I met - the ones who work in truck stops - seemed nice.)
     Yes, I love hitchhiking. I like sleeping in fields of dirt. I like working while I travel. I almost even ... no. no one likes bathing himself in water from a toilet. (I flushed first.) I want to travel in the least-privileged way possible. I dream of being able to tell young and curious Brazilians, Africans, and Macedonians that they don't need to be Westerners to see the world. But, I have one privilege I can't deny: with the American passport, I can pretty much go wherever I want.
     That's actually not a "privilege" at all. It ought to be everyone's right.
     At the Italy-Slovenia border, I tried not to show the Hungarian trucker, Alex, that I was nervous. Slovenia is in the "new European Union," but they sometimes check passports. Not on April 2nd, they didn't. We entered the Balkans.
     A Croatian trucker offered to drive me out of small Slovenia. We left the expressway first and saw some small roads.
     From the little I saw, small-reputation Slovenia looked like one of the greatest places ever. Imagine this: Alps foothills bounced about in a countryside nation where nothing was flat. Intimately-packed, fairy-magic pine trees touched the cold air. A white pterodactyl soared in clear sky. (It looked like a pterodactyl.) Every house looked freshly re-done and huge: three stories, a balcony on each; painted white or buttermilk; with wooden siding or red tiles. Like a fairy tale. A modest distance separated each house. No fences. Each family had its own garden and was out working in it this Saturday.
     The Slovenia-Croatia border crossing we traversed couldn't have been more rural or laid-back. I received no fine, no deportation notice, not even a strict lecture from the cuddly Slovenian policeman who stamped my passport. Three months too late, I was out of the European Union!
     But, would I make it to Greece?
     Do you know how - on tv or in the movies - when a character sets off to make a long hitchhiking trip somewhere, there's always that one scene where he's in the middle of nowhere? He's in front of a farmhouse or something, on a dirt road, no cars are going by - it's the last place anyone would be if he was making a long hitchhiking trip for speed. That's where I was.
     The middle of nowhere, Croatia.
     A small house stood immediately adjacent to me. Cobs of corn hung from its barn, drying. An old lady in a blue, zip-down sweater talked to a friend. She tied a white shawl over her head and went in the barn to milk her two cows. A very tiny, old man came out to watch me hitchhike. I made friends with this man.
     He was not at all fat but was quite round, probably because he was so little. His big, round face wore deep lines of age. He wore gray and dark cotton and a hat. We didn't speak a common language, but I understood him saying the pope was nearly dead. He indicated that his knees hurt if he stood too long, and he invited me to come inside and watch tv with him. He said I could camp in his yard.
     The old man wasn't much of a late-night partier. I tried out a Croatian restaurant on my own.
     I ate salad with an unidentified, plump white bean; bread; Croatian white wine; and high-quality sausages which I dipped in a hot-onion red sauce. Delicious.
     The place was packed with the wedding reception of a young, beautiful couple. The band played fast, high-pitched, crazy music. The partied turned as couples, clapping their feet with the ground. I would've loved to have danced, but, because it was a wedding, I let them be and just watched a second.
     The middle of nowhere is kind of cool.

To be continued ......

Thanks to Saban; Victor; Pietro; Claudio; Wrikkals; Diego; Alex; and Robert for the rides!

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