14.10.2009

During all those months of preparation and dreams many times I have been thinking of some sort of official seeing off. I thought that I would announce it, call some journalists, all in all – I imagined that I would deal with the whole organisation myself. What really happened was nothing like how I have thought it would be.

Everything started from an article at a regional newspaper two or three weeks before the beginning. By that time somehow I had almost given up announcing it to the media but a friend of mine got me in touch with a friend of his – a journalist who wrote the above-mentioned article. After that the events developed as a snow-slip. That article aroused the interest of other newspapers and televisions so plenty of phone calls followed. Probably a lot of people would be overjoyed with such an interest but I was pretty intense and all that racket made things worse. Besides it all seemed very weird – the journalists wrote articles, and people took pleasure and admiration in something that not only I haven’t done yet but I haven’t even begun doing. That was not only strange, it was disturbing.

A few days before the date of departure that I had determined I packed my things and went back to my village. Without Internet and all the uproar around me things have gotten much calmer and I even felt like I had enough time for everything. In the day before I dispatched I found out that the mayor of the village would organise an honorable seeing off. Horrible! It really seemed that this would not pass without the presence of journalists so I had to put up with all that attention and fuss. The cherry on the cake was that my leaving would be inaugurated and blessed by the priest. Oh my God, I have lived to see such a miracle. Reading prayers and sanctifying water especially for me! At the centre of the village! Before the television cameras! HORROR!

The weather seemed to sabotage me – the previous day the temperature fell down with over 10 grades and torrential rain started but there was no way for this to stop me. The day X started with sunbeams. Well, they were not very warm but anyway, they were sunbeams. About 9 I went out on the square where about twenty or thirty people have gathered and that included a Bulgarian National Television’s car. By the monument a table stood prominently and a round loaf of bread kept quiet over it. Mixed herbs, honey and a little cauldron, decorated with wild geranium and a posy of box shrub, were lying around it. All in all it was a serious thing no matter how you think of it.

My interview with the girl from the Bulgarian National Television went unbelievably smoothly and calmly. After that I fell into rank before the priest and then he began a “short” prayer by his words. It turned out to be so short that my shoulders got stiff because of the 24 kilograms on my back. But there was no other option because a ceremony is a ceremony and the BNT’s camera was rolling.

After the priest was done it was the mayor’s turn to say his speech. It was short and meaningful and I got two icons as a gift – one of St. Georgi and St. Nikola. After all the rituals and formalities were finished (as much as something could be official in a village with a population of 180 people) most of the people who have come accompanied me and even uncle Pencho gave me 3 apples “for vitamins”

The staff of the BNT didn’t want to roll the camera while I was hitch-hiking by the village since they wanted to release the material at the news by lunch time. So my father and I continued to the exit of the village so that I would hitch-hike on the asphalt road that connects Elena and Tarnovo. Just before the edge of the village a bTV’s car arrived. I had no idea that they were coming – the mayor has called them but obviously there was some misunderstanding – he has called them to come at 10. Nevertheless I had to give an interview in here too and after that the camera operator who turned out to have been born at Mindya filmed my first hitch-hiking.

And now…

On the road.

The first car was some old Volkswagen with two boys from Elena who were wandering why I was being filmed. After I explained how things stood they really liked it and drove me to the exit of Tarnovo. Here before I have even started waving seriously a boy from Troyan stopped and just as I was closing the door two cars stopped by us – journalists from Fight and Yantra Today – the regional daily papers. They managed to wheedle five minutes out of me and during that time the boy at the car was listening and found out what it was all about. Finally we set off. The boy said that he was a physical therapist and that he really liked my idea. We mainly discussed the philosopher’s question about the meaning of life until the moment when the front part of the car started vibrating a little bit after Sevlievo. We urgently had to check what was going and we pulled over at the first lay-by. Just after we stopped something rattled along, the gear-box seized up into the fifth gear and a fter short examination we realized that one of the propeller shafts got unhooked and there already was a puddle of engine oil on the asphalt. I left the boy to wait for his friends whom he called so that they would tow him to Troyan and continued hitch-hiking. It took me half an hour until someone would stop. It was a new car… black one. ;) Here it is the place to parenthesize that since I’m not interested in cars I never pay attention to the makes and models and that’s why I almost never could say at what car I have been given a ride. I recognize them by their colour – just like a blonde. My new driver was a boy of 21 years who was hurrying up and down between Varna, where his father lives, Thessalonica, where his mother lives, and Sofia where he himself lives and they build an apartment for him. In the end we reached Sofia pretty quickly and he left me between the boulevards Slivnitsa and Opalchenska. From that point I caught the bus for the quarter of Lulin and I went at Ivan’s place.

By the evening we fixed some things that needed to be fixed and we bought some missing things. When it got late I felt kind of sick. Things with arranging places where to spend the night at couchsurfing were going nowhere – I had one certain place to sleep at Croatia and one at Austria but there was nothing at Serbia and Slovenia. Well… that was no disturbance for my leaving.

15.10.2009

I thought of getting up at about 7 o’clock so I could dispatch earlier. When the phone rang I felt awfully sleepy but I was also feeling sick. Probably that was because of tension – after all that departure was much more real than the one yesterday. I got up at 9. I went on feeling sick and that’s why I tried to vomit almost noiselessly. I knew that was a temporary state because I have felt it every time before a trip full of uncertainty. I knew that it would pass once I left. I’ve been waiting for an hour, I ate an apple and Ivan and I went out at the boulevard of Slivnitsa at the end of Lulin 1 in order to hitch-hike. The place was not very good and that’s why twenty minutes passed before someone would stop. It was a jeep with three men inside who looked like some kind of masters or construction workers. They have recognized me from the television and wanted to put their names down at my journey – even with only 2-3 kilometers to the Lukoil by the exit of the ci ty where the place was much better for hitch-hiking. I’ve been waiting for a while in there until a car going to Dragoman stopped. The guy was an architect, an ethnic Bulgarian from the adjacent villages from the Serbian side of the frontier. Many years ago he ran away from Serbia in order not to go at the Barrack. Now he can’t go back because if he does that he will be locked up. He is watching the hills over the villages of Dragoman and dreams of going back one day. But despite that he feels like a Bulgarian by heart and likes living at Bulgaria a lot. He left me by a gas station at Dragoman. I had to wait a long time in here. I’ve been standing for almost two hours and almost no one would stop. I asked a Turkish truck driver if he would take me but we did not understand each other and a little bit later I realized that he had wanted to say that he was going only to the frontier and he would wait there. Never mind, I missed him. A Serbian truck-driver directly turned me down. At one point a guy who could drive me to Kalotina stopped. At the moment when I got into the car the guy recognized me – he also watched me on bTV. From Kalotina I walked for two kilometers until I reached the frontier and even at the first guardhouse the girl standing there recognized me and the policewoman at the frontier did so too a few minutes later. She wanted to give me some booklet with phone numbers of the Bulgarian embassies around the world but she could not find it. I continued ahead to the Serbian posts and just twenty minutes later the jeep that was waiting with me at the desk caught up with me. The two Bulgarians in it offered to drive me to Nisch. It turned out that the police lady told them who I was and what I did and asked them to pick me up. They were going at Nisch so they could meet their Serbian friends with whom they made a business together. The near part of Serbia seemed just like Bulgaria to me – I could not see any substantial differ ences. Somewhere after lunch time we reached the city and they left me on the turn-off where the cars of the town were going out on the high way. I had to wait for a long time until a woman stopped for me. We started the conversation at mixed Bulgarian-Serbian but a few lines later we swung to English. Her English was absolutely perfect, as a consequence of living at the United States for a few years. I was amazed at her lack of fear to take hitch-hikers. She said she trusted her judgment for people and God in case she was mistaken at her judgment. ;) She cast me 100 kilometers on the highway – next to the little town named Chupriya. It was a late afternoon and the cars that were burning the earth had no intention to stop. It was extremely clear that it is very inappropriate to hitch-hike on a highway but I didn’t see any other way for the moment because very few cars were going out of town. It was clear that I had to search for a place to sleep. I caught a turn-off lead ing to some villages and a wheat field that has been reaped long time ago seemed appropriate to me. I went about one hundred meters on the inside and I ate some bread and a can of beans. That was all that I had eaten for the day if we don’t count the apple in the morning. There were almost no clouds at the sky and that’s why I decided not to pitch the tent and use only the sleeping bag and the mattress. If we exclude the pink clouds on the sky illuminated by the sun, there were also some hawks circling around. Their presence was due to the great number of mice pottering about the field besides me. When it grew dark I went to sleep with the hope that it would not start raining. My sleeping bag was enough to keep me from the cold but there was plenty of dew and it got wet on the outside no matter that I had covered it partially with the raincoat.

16.10.2009

I could not sleep very well since my throat was beginning to ache because of the cold air I have been breathing the whole night. It was way too early for a dawn but I felt I had to get up because it was cloudy and time and time again it was spotting in rain. It seemed to have gotten warmer today because of the clouds. I gathered my luggage and went back to the highway. Naturally no one would stop, especially since it was still dark. I tried to stop some car going out of the highway but they were passing on such rare occasions that it seemed like a mission doomed to fail. I had to change the strategy. I asked one guy if there was a gas station near by – there was one, 1 kilometer ahead. I went at that direction, at the end of the hard shoulder with the raincoat over my head and the rain kept on drizzling. A police car passed me by but it did not stop to reprove me. It turned out that there were three kilometers to the gas station and when I reached it I found some trucks and cars. I needed a ride to Belgrade or even further. I asked one guy but he had no place. Then a car with Slovenian registration plate appeared. A young man and his wife – I spoke to them and they agreed to take me up to Belgrade. When they started re-arranging their luggage I noticed with curiosity a bottle of Shumensko beer. Then I saw packs of cans and bottles of Ledenika, Kamenitsa and other Bulgarian beers. The man worked at a company for production of small mechanical elements for electrical outlets, circuit closers and other similar things. They were at Pleven for a business meeting and a presentation. We spoke of Bulgaria, of the roads, I told them at whose pocket have flowed the money for them. On their behalf they were amazed by the great number of monuments and obituaries on the roads. They had never seen anything like this before.

Finally they left me at a highway somewhere on the edge of Belgrade. My next task turned out to be more complicated – to go out of Belgrade and to reach somehow Vukovar at Croatia where I had arranged to spend the night at a girl’s place. I found a gas station very near by and a truck gave me a ride for 5 kilometers to the next gas station on the exit of the town. There after a great deal of inquiry I reached the conclusion that all of them were going to some near villages on the left or on the right. I went out on the highway about 1 kilometer away in order to avoid the traffic turning off to the adjacent villages. Naturally no one in here stopped and all the cars were burning the wind with at least 80-100 kilometers. I went back to a place where a local asphalt road entered the highway and decided to make a last attempt and after that I would go back at the gas station. To my luck 5 minutes later a car stopped. It was not going any further but it left me at the next gas station where more cars stopped. That was good but the bad part was that most of them were going at near town and most of the foreign cars were overcrowded. On top of that it was very cold and wind was blowing but at least it did not rain. Two hours later two Bulgarian jeeps appeared and 6 or 7 boys that looked like beaters. They were obviously part of some sport club for martial arts because they were wearing the same type of clothes with hieroglyphs and fans drawn all over their backs. I asked them if they would take me to Croatia but they answered they didn’t have place. Plenty of cars with German registration passed that were full of Turkish people and luggage.

It seemed as everything was going to quite the jamming. I’ve already been standing for four hours and I began to freeze. No matter that things seemed hopeless and I was prepared to spend the night the cafe of the gas station I was inwardly convinced that something would happen and things would be arranged. And just then two Bulgarian cars arrived. At the first one two woman and a man were traveling. In the second there was only one woman. I jumped and begged them to take me with them. The guy whose name was Stanimir recognized me at once. From bTV of course. I was amazed at how many people watched television. So Stanimir explained the others who I was and at once they turned the camera on so they would send the material to bTV.

And although I had expected that things would arrange somehow I didn’t expect such a big breakthrough – they were going at Italy and they could take me all the way to the northwestern part of Slovenia. What a salvation! They bought me some tea and we set off. The whole group lived at Verona where they worked some agricultural stuff for 5 EUR per hour. Picking up strawberries and tobacco and now they would sort out tobacco. I was given a ride at the second car because there was space only in there. The woman at it was from some village near Petrich, 10 kilometers away from the Macedonian frontier, she spoke some very cool Macedonian dialect and all the time she was listening to the repertoire of Volodya Stoyanov and Nikolina Chakardakova – songs that I have learnt by heart after four years spent at Studentski grad (Student’s town) while I was living together with a guy from Gotse Delchev.

It grew dark and the kilometers were going by at the little old Fiesta. We stopped a few times to take a break and at one of them we took a nap for a whole hour. Then we were getting back on the road again. We entered Slovenia. Just when we reached Ljubljana I noticed with anxiety that we passed by the turn-off on the highway for Kranj where I was supposed to go in order to enter Austria. 20-30 kilometers later we stopped and it really turned out that Stanimir had missed that turn-off unintentionally because he was used to go through the down part of Slovenia where the way to Italy and to Verona in particular is shorter. What could I do, I would think how to move the next morning. For now we went on 20 kilometers ahead and stopped at another gas station where we took a nap for two hours. It became 5 o’clock and it was time for them to continue. I entered the corridor of the gas station trembling. The cafe was still closed. It seemed that I have caught cold and I couldn’t stop trembling. I had something like a Fervex that the woman gave me before we parted and I kept on waiting for them to open the cafe. After that I squeezed myself inside in order to warm myself.

17.10.2009

After dawn people started coming in the gas station – there were whole busses that stopped. The bad thing was that none of the people I asked was going at Nova Goritsa – where I had to go in order to reach the northern part of the country. Everyone in here either was going at Italy or the near cities to the south by the sea. I needed change of plan again. I crossed the highway and went to the neighboring OMV to search for a transport back to Ljubljana from where I had to continue on the turn-off we had missed during the night. Obviously I had made up my mind right on time because I saw an auto transporter with a Bulgarian registration plate whose driver has just started the engine. The truck was full of cars and was going back to Bulgaria. He left me exactly at the necessary turn-off, right on the highway. I’ve been walking for three more kilometers and I had just neared an exit of the highway when a police car stopped by me. The policeman asked for my documents and ask ed me why I was walking on the highway. I explained to him that the truck I had been traveling with had left me on the highway and I didn’t know in what other manner to walk out of it. He pulled out a booklet and started looking for how much is the fine – it was 75 EUR. I said “Oh, I don’t have that much money” and implored him not to make me pay a fine. I asked him if there was a gas station near by – there wasn’t. He told me to go out on the exit that was 100 meters ahead and to find out how to get out of town there – to catch a taxi. He wrote down my name and said that there would be no fine today but in the future there would be. I thanked him plenty and went out on the exit. There was also an entrance to the highway that lead to some little town or outskirt of Ljubljana. It seemed a perfect place for hitch-hiking to me and the traffic wasn’t great. I used another strategy – I wrote down with pencil and capital letters Kranj and I waited with a lifted thumb. 5 or 6 minutes later and a few passed cars one of them stopped. A man and a woman who were going at some little town a little bit after Kranj – PERFECT! They told me the rent of an apartment outside the centre of Ljubljana cost about 800 EUR and the salary of an office worker with higher education were less than 1000 EUR. They also told me that even though that Slovenia was a small country there were plenty of dialects that differed significantly from one another.

They left me next to their little town and it was near Jesenice – very close to the tunnel for Austria. It was very beautiful in here and I could sense the Tyrolese twang. The rocky peaks of the Julian Alps gleamed white somewhere into the west and somewhere above a near city I could see a fortress perched on a rock. I ate a little, I enjoyed the view and the sunny weather and I started searching for a way to move to Villach at Austria. There were two options – one of them was the highway and the other one was the old road going through Kranjska Gora and then through the mountain. Waiting with a lifted thumb and a piece of paper with Austria written on it didn’t seem to have any result – obviously most of the cars were going only to Jesenice. At the entrance of the highway there was a problem with the big traffic in a circular movement where you simply had no place to stop. That’s why I removed the piece of paper and 5 minutes later I caught a car on the old road fo r Jesenice. In that little town there is a big hockey hall – the second by size at Slovenia and their team was pretty good. The boy took me to the highway after the town and left me at the gas station where I had a chance to catch some transport in order to go through the tunnel to Austria. There were plenty of cars and most of them had German registration plates. They were driven by sulking uncles and aunties. I asked few of them but they either had no place or they didn’t want to take me. I stood by the exit of the gas station with a piece of paper Villach but about 40 minutes no one stopped. They only looked at the sheet and continued on their way. That place was a mountain passage and the sun sank behind the clouds coming from Austria and it got cold. Obviously I had to change the strategy. I thought of trying the old road but before that I decided to ask someone from a stopped car. The first one I saw had a German registration plate and there were two young women on the inside. “Are you going at Austria?” “Yes.” “Can I come with you?” (in an enthusiastic and imploring manner). “Yes,” Hurraaaay, another exit out of a dead-end situation. And it turned out that this breakthrough was just as grand as the previous one. Gabi and Claudia were going at Munich and they offered to drive me straight there if I wanted. What a luck! Besides they decided to drive me directly at my cousin’s address without a second thought. Later Gabi told me “Ivan, I feel like we are your rescuers!” J And she was absolutely right. All the time they were listening to music – from Bosnian and Croatian ethno music through French rap and Spanish cheerful music (I have no idea what style is that). Gabi was singing to herself and she danced every now and then.

It started snowing at Austria. The snow was falling thick! Not only over the mountains and even by the road about 5 centimeters were piled up. It was good thing I didn’t have to hitch-hike at such conditions… Gabi told me that I had received a Christmas gift with them. I said that the snow is at hand anyway and we only lacked Santa Claus. After that they started singing Jingle Bells. ;) Home sweet home, Gabi said as we entered Munich and I added – green fields and constant rain. And it was truly pouring a torrential rain. But it didn’t matter because tonight I would be at a warm place. And the girls really took me straight at my cousin’s front door. I took one photograph of them and we gave each other a goodbye hug. Then we parted and I went inside the warm place so that I would stop the beginning of a cold that promised to invade me.

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