"Israel 2008" story # 3

Kraljevo, Serbia           July 24, 2008

I suppose I should write something about how I felt when I decided to hitchhike to Turkey.
     I don't often write about feelings, because I don't pay much attention to them. Being an ambitious world traveler, I, like an ambitious businessman or woman, am a very practical person. And feelings mostly hinder big plans. ... I'm also a quite successful world traveler. Success makes me happy. And, unhappy people have more complex feelings than happy ones. (Of course, I'm also unsuccessful at some things.)
     So, now. When I decided to hitchhike from the Czech Republic to Turkey, I felt good. I had just been home in Michigan, where I hadn't had that great of a time - possibly because I hadn't had a cell-phone, which most social people use while socializing these days. And, by leaving my beloved "second home" in the Czech Republic, I would enable myself to not have to see my special girl who didn't want to be with me now. That's right; a 360-degree door-to-the-world was opened for me, and I wanted to go somewhere new. And I figured I could handle Turkey and then Asia.
     My biggest concern was that it would be so hot in southern Europe in July, that the sweat on my pony-tailed head wouldn't have time to drip onto my backpack before my face would be sun-reddened and my bottle of water all drunk.
     Also, hitchhiking in Europe can seem laborious, since I've done it so many times. Hitchhiking somewhere new is the most fun. But, for the first time ever, I would be able to speak a Slovak language with Yugoslavians, which was exciting. And, as I would soon find out, a lot of interesting people were going to pick me up.
     Wolfgang and Cynthia drove me from Vienna to Graz, Austria, on a major highway through the Alps. Wolfgang had a short height, a thick beard, and no sense of a competative ego, but only the laughter of brotherhood towards everyone. Cynthia had a playful body, and a full face with deep, innocent dimples.
     In English, the couple happily told me about a recent leader of Graz's communist party. They did everything happily. They said this leader spent much of his time, and his own money, setting up things to help the poor. He didn't give interviews, and only gave speeches at the communists' annual parties. My drivers had gone to these parties, which were renowned for having the best, creative, underground music. The commies had gotten enough votes in Graz to win seats in district government, but the leader has since moved to another part of Austria where he hasn't been so successful. Let's wish more good luck for the good-hearted commies of Austria!
     (Side-note: this new generation of communists doesn't seem to seek power. In contrast, the European Union was negatively compared to Hitler by a Croatian man who'd picked me up, weeks earlier in Slovakia. The leaders of the European Union have much power and are controling the continent with many rules. "If somebody wants to control you, he's your enemy." - J.Breen philosophy)
     Though my Austrian drivers were busy packing, for a move to Vienna so Cynthia could study art, they invited me in for the night. On their wall was a birthday present from Cynthia to Wolfgang. Cynthia's self-portrait was blowing bubbles, and, to complete the 3-D art, clear balls hung from the ceiling nearby. Wolfgang showed me a painting of his: a long-eared bunny was tucked in bed, and the hour hand on the clock overhead was pointing to "5"; the bunny was a mockery of Cynthia, who reputedly goes to bed too early. Ha ha!
     I loved those two. But, the next day, I was in Slovenia.
     A tan-skinned, young man named Jergo picked me up, and he told me how he'd recently served George W. Bush, in a fashionable restaurant in his country's mountains. Thirty-two important people from Europe and the U.S. had dined, and everyone drank wine and water except for Bush. He drank Diet Coke. The Secret Service kept replacing Bush's silverware with his neighbors', to ensure he wouldn't be poisoned.
     Once Jergo dropped me off at the Croatian border, no one picked me up - not for three hours. I smiled peacefully and didn't mind the wait, because two German brothers hitchhiked beside me. I briefly enjoyed having travel companions. We bounced my tennis ball to each other, off the bridge we stood under for important shade. I laughed while one brother stood in traffic and waved. He said he liked to hitchhike imagining that someone was injured and he desperately needed a car to stop. He and his brother were well-equipped; their destination was South Africa!
     Zelimir and Darko, Croatian truckers, drove me to my destination for the time-being: Plitvice Lakes. They were proud to come from a country where many people still get meat from the animals they own. Tooth-missing Zelimir gave me dark-red pork that had been salted and dried in the sun for two years - a Croatian specialty that tasted hard. He also gave me random parts of a lamb he'd roasted, whole, over a fire. Rural Croatians eat good.
     Along with the Czech Republic, Croatia was the only country I would spend more than one night in, before reaching Turkey. To keep costs down, I wanted to exchange money in as few countries as possible. My ideal budget would've been as follows: Poland, 1 night, $0; Slovakia, 1 night, $0; Czech Republic, 12 nights, $80; Austria, 1 night, $0; Slovenia, 1 night, $0; Croatia, 4 nights, $20; Bosnia & Herzegovina, 1 night, $0; Serbia, 1 night, $0; Bulgaria, 0 nights, $0; leaving me $130 for Turkey. I carried bread and jelly, and a bunch of peanut butter from the U.S. I bought bread, cheese, toothpaste, and chocolate spread in Croatia. It wasn't hard to stay within my budget, except when I wanted to get out of towns and had no money for local transport. Twice, I walked; the heat was hot, but bearable.
     In Herzegovina, consecutive young Muslims with good English picked me up. The first was a tall, dark-haired, professional basketball player; basketball hoops stood abundantly in the dusty summer of Yugoslavia. The second was Hassah. He'd once been sent to Germany for eight years to study, because of the Yugoslavian War. His family's home and restaurant, perched at a high altitude between valley and mountaintop. had been attacked during the war. Hassah's younger brother was killed. Curly-haired, caramel-colored Hassah said he'd sat in Germany, wondering if his family was going to be all right.
     Later in Herzegovina, a fifty-year-old Serb picked me up and introduced himself as "rad-I". We spoke Czech/Serbo-Croatian together, and I came to understand that mispronouncing his name, "RAD-i", probably meant: wars.
     He was a peaceful man who wanted to talk, and he was against big business and globalization.
     The war had forced him to move from what is now Croatia to his current home in what is now Montenegro. (Most Slovenians, Croats, Serbs, etc. said their former dictator Tito had been good, because he'd kept Yugoslavia unified, happy, and well-off financially - producing goods like "Yugo" cars.) And Radi had also had to change jobs.
     We drove through gorges, gorges where Radi had taken young Scouts on excursions, before the war. We drove past shells of houses. Radi said people reacted simply: "They blew up one of our houses, we'll blow up one of theirs." He pointed to a bridge, saying the Bill-Clinton-led NATO had bombed it to spite Serbia.
     The war had lasted less than a year, in 1993 if I'm not mistaken. Nowadays, there is no conflict nor tension between the Yugoslavians, a people who like parties so much they put pressure on people to get married and have kids, just so they'll be able to have a big party.
     In Serbia, a young, burly guy picked me up in the old dumptruck he drove for a job. He'd been in the army, and he said he'd fought against Croats and Americans. He shot anti-aircraft guns. He seemed to claim, in Serbo-Croatian, that he'd had some successful shots - either on helicopters or parachutists, maybe, I'm not sure. He spoke about it with little emotion. He was nice.
     It's a good thing the war's over.
     And it's a good thing people drove me all the way to Turkey, and I stayed within my budget. I then bought a $20 visa at the border. But, I have some money-making plans for Turkey. I also had some new feelings.

- Modern Oddyseus

Thanks to Lucie; Roman; Ladya; Petr; Heiro Werber; Ferdinand; Wolfgang & Cynthia; Petr & Milada; Jergo; Zelimir & Darko; Robert; Darko; Vlado; Srecko; Petr; Ermin; Hassah; Ducko; Milan; Dragan; Radi; Petr & Jovana; Jasmin & Mido; Uzvik; Dragan; guy in dumptruck; Nanud; Cerkan; and Zvonko for rides!

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