The alarm went off at 7 and Balazs woke me up again a quarter after that. We had breakfast – milk with cereals – and then he went to his work and I went to
The alarm went off at 7 and Balazs woke me up again a quarter after that. We had breakfast – milk with cereals – and then he went to his work and I went to look for a train station. I hadn’t found any advice for how to go South from Budapest, so I decided to just take the commuter train to the Southern end station. In the metro station there was a city map and there I saw that there was a bus from here to the commuter train station. There I queued up to buy a ticket and got extremely stressed by a woman with so much business with the ticket clerk that I would miss the train and have to wait 40 minutes for the next one.
I considered getting on the train without a ticket, but the 100-kilo train guards with scars all over their faces made me stay in line and give the tedious woman the evil eye till it was my turn. “The end station” I said, the ticket clerk held up a piece of paper with a question on her face and I bought the thing and ran to the nearest car and got in.
On the way to Rackeve I sat working on my linguistic strategy game of 30 languages. It’s quite a huge project as you can guess, and a dozen games will produced before that game will see the light of the day, so it’s completely irrational to work on it now. But it’s the perfect thing to do when sitting on a train. An old man in a uniform came and said that my ticket wasn’t good enough and I paid him a bit more money and got a new piece of paper and continued working on the game of 30 languages.
In Rackeve a dog was resting and there was a map that I tried to interpret. I walked through the city, which was very charming – situated next to a river and with an old church in the middle and just idyllic. I bought a langos and ate it. A drunk man had a conversation with me. Dogs barked at me and I barked at them. When I thought I was on the other side of the city it was sunny and 11:27. After 5 minutes car #2 stopped and explained to me how to walk to get to the road to Szeged. I was far from the highway, but it felt good that I was far from Budapest and hitchhiking on country roads. At 11:37 I had found the right road and after 28 minutes and 63 cars an old man picked me up in his jeep and gave me a 10-min-ride while listening to ABBA. He let me off at a junction and there I waited for 10 minutes and 5 cars till another old man picked me up in a jeep and gave me another 10-min ride; this one was not listening to ABBA.
I stood by the roadside for 58 min during which I got a ride offer from two men in a car full of trash. I don’t mind being uncomfortable. In fact, those uncomfortable rides are a big part of the whole charm of hitchhiking. Once I got a ride from Southern France to Paris back in a truck full of shampoo bottles. My hair has never smelled better. Once I got a ride from Southern Norway to Trondheim lying on a bed of boxes full of “frozen” hamburgers that were to be fried and sold on the main square (remember to never eat hamburgers in Trondheim). Once I got a ride from Örkeljunga in Southern Sweden to Västerås in Central Sweden on the tray of a small truck that was totally empty, which meant that I rolled around whenever they turned, all night long. I was soaked when I got in there, and somehow the humidity and rollercoasting made my muscles so stiff that I could hardly walk when they let me out in the morning. Anyway, my point is that I don’t mind uncomfortable rides – it’s part of the adventure. But the back of this car was full of trash – it looked like I’d be scratched by nails and pieces of glass and that’s not my cup of tea so I had to say no but thank you very much for your kindness.
Car # 133 was a better ride; a small truck that took me to the main country road to Szeged. Needless to say I fell asleep. At a sunny 14:13 I stood on a bus stop and thumbed and after 8 minutes car # 25 stopped and contained what looked like two sober alcoholics, a man and a woman. Despite their rough appearance they were both unusually good at English and they told about their kids who were working all over the world. One daughter in New York and one son in Ireland and a third kid somewhere else if I remember it correctly. They let me off in a city where I thumbed while walking along the road. After 18 sunny minutes and 64 cars I came to what looked like a small restaurant and I was hungry and got in. They had no food but only coffee and beer so I had one of each. At 15:10 I continued walking and thumbing and after 18 minutes and 67 cars I got a ride with a young man. He took me to the highway onramp where I stood for 19 minutes and 27 cars after which I got a ride with another man who drove me to a highway junction with a service area with one truck on it. The truck was going nowhere so I stood at the sunny highway-to-highway road for 17 minutes. The 8th car stopped and contained three middle-aged men. The driver spoke English and was apparently the boss of the other two. When we arrived in Szeged I saw that there were fake plastic policemen along the road that were ridiculously unrealistic compared to those produced in Atol Production. I told myself to remember telling Radim that Atol should offer its services to the Szeged municipality. We stopped at the parking place of some company and the boss told one of his subordinates to take me to the other side of town.
The subordinate had a very old car that broke down the whole way. It was very exciting, we’d sit in the queue waiting for the traffic light to change to green and when it did he tried to start his car but failed while the cars behind us honked their horns and overtook us with irritated faces, and when the engine finally started the traffic light changed to red again and he had to turn the engine off. It took us the whole day to get to the other side of Szeged, but at least it was faster than if I’d walked. I thought I was practically in Romania now, but no no, I still had to look forward to the slowest and most frustrating hitchhiking in my life.
It was 17:41 and the extremely potent sun was shining right into my eyes, blurring the sight of the millions of cars that crowded the dusty road in front of me and that I thought were all going to Romania. After 14 minutes and 60 cars a little mom’n’dad’n’kid family pulled over and picked me up. They got out a map and some English vocabulary and tried to make out where to let me off and then they let me off there. It was a junction, with the right road leading to Romania. The road was really crowded and narrow and I started walking backwards as I thumbed, hoping to find a parking spot or anything where cars could stop.
Dozens of cars passed me at a worrying speed. After a while a guy pulled over at the other side of the street. I got suspicious of course, why pick up a hitchhiker when you’re not going in his direction? But I got over to his side to hear what he had to say. He opened the window and put a golden ring in my hand and said “present for your mother”. For a second I thought “why is this stranger giving me a golden ring?” but then I realized that him and his equally toothless wife were selling stuff to foreign-looking people so I gave it back. Then they offered to drive me to the border for some cash, but since I had hitchhiked from Sweden to Portugal to here without paying a cent I declined their generous offer.
I would never come to a parking spot or any other kind of decent hitchhiking spot. Walking along this obnoxiously fast, impossibly narrow and annoyingly crowded country road waving my thumb and fearing that dark would fall before I reached the border was boring, frustrating and embarrassing. And it got scary as well, a car slowed down and honked it horns aggressively and the people inside gave me the fingers, their faces expressing as much hatred as faces can do. I nearly shit my pants and as I continued walking along the road waving my thumb (what else could I do) I looked around me to see if anyone had stopped and I fantasized about them beating the shit out of me just for the fun of it. Then, far far away, I saw another hitchhiker. He was thumbing on the other side of the street, so he must have been hitchhiking in the other direction. I was delighted to find a like-minded soul in this desert where all human sympathy was hidden in 100 km/hour. I was so looking forward to a conversation, and wondered if he could speak English – perhaps he could give some information about Romania. I walked, thumbed, glanced over my shoulder, walked thumbed, glanced over my shoulder and the closer I got to the hitchhiker, the weirder he looked like. Eventually I saw that what was moving wasn’t the body, it was a little tree just in front of it. And when I got closer I saw that the body wasn’t a body; it was a big Hungarian roadside crucifix.
After 38 minutes that felt like 38 hours, and 173 cars that felt like 173 thousand, I saw a small parking spot far away. A truck was parked on it and I walked as fast as I could without running, trying to keep the truck waiting with my mental powers. It didn’t work very well, when I was still more than 100 meters away it left. Nevertheless, finding the parking spot was like finding an oasis in the desert. And the very first car took advantage of the large safe area to stop on. As they slowed down I saw it was full of people and furniture and was puzzled that they’d bother squeezing in a hitchhiker. But they did agree to take me to the border, but rubbed their fingers against their thumbs and screamed “money!” “money!” with their tiny moustaches.
After 7 minutes and 40 cars a decent guy stopped and picked me up and I thought that I was finally getting to the Romanian border. But he let me off at yet another little town. This distance between Szeged and the border felt like a mathematical riddle: “After doing half the distance you have half the distance left. After doing half of that distance you have the half of the half left. And then you have the half of the half of the half and you will never get to point B, the distance will just keep getting infinitely small”. After thumbing at 20 cars for 10 minutes I found a parked truck that agreed to take me to the border. In fact, he said that he could even take me to Bulgaria. Eat that, stupid mathematical riddle! I had decided to go straight to Bucharest so I declined, but it did warm my heart. It was like I was in the world again.
I walked across the border and now I can add the statistics from Hungary to my lists:
- Switzerland 10 / 270 = 3,7%
- Spain 28 / 1188 = 2,4%
- Hungary 14 / 716 = 2,0%
- France 15 / 1222 = 1,2%
- Portugal 3 / 1516 = 0,2%
- Switzerland 45 min / 10 offers = 5 min/offer
- Spain 413 min / 28 offers = 15 min/offer
- France 237 min / 15 offers = 16 min/offer
- Hungary 239 min / 14 offers = 17 min/offer
- Portugal 192 min / 3 offers = 64 min/offer
Proportion of trucks
Switzerland 0/10 = 0%
Hungary 2/14 = 14%
France 4/15 = 27%
Spain 8/28 = 29%
Portugal 2/3 = 67%
Switzerland Male: 8 /10 = 80% Mixed: 1/10 = 10% Female: 1/10 = 10 %
France Male: 13 /15 = 87% Mixed: 1/15 = 7 % Female: 1/15 = 7%
Spain Male: 21 /28 = 75% Mixed: 6/28 = 21% Female: 1/28 = 4%
Hungary Male 11 /14 = 79% Mixed 3/14 = 21%
Portugal Male: 3 /3 = 100%
It was well over 8 pm when I entered Romania. As I walked towards the gas station on the other side a white car drove up to me and asked if I wanted to go to Arad (nearest city). “How much?” I asked just out of curiosity. “50 €” he said. It amused me. That’s about what I’ve paid in total for ships, trains, buses and subways during my 1 1/2 month through 9 countries. “Fara bani” I said (without money), “I am hitchhiking”. He told me it wasn’t possible to hitchhike in Romania and came with other offers, all including money and therefore out of the question.
When I was almost at the gas station I was approached by a man who tried to sell me a chessboard or a drum. I was definitely not in want of a chessboard right now, not to mention a drum. But he wouldn’t give up, he thought that a gas station by the border at 8 pm was the perfect spot and time for playing chess. Perhaps the drum was for disturbing the other player’s thinking when it’s his move. After I had convinced him about my total non-interest I stood hanging by the pump, waiting for a car to stop. After 30 seconds a car came and I walked up to it to ask for a ride towards Bucharest. But before me came another man trying to sell them chessboards. Then another one trying with drums. “Hey mister, get this drum, nice drum, listen to it drum drum drum”. I could hardly believe my eyes, but there were ten people hanging by the gas pumps with chessboards and drums in their hands. From an economic-scientific point of view it was so odd. I wanted to take a picture of the whole scenario and put in an economics textbook as an example of something.
From a hitchhiking perspective it was a disaster. The drivers were approached by all kinds of entrepreneurs and were in a very defensive mood when it was my time to harass them. “Hey mister, buy a chessboard.” “No, thank you” “Hey mister buy a chessboard” “No, I still don’t want it” “Hey mister, buy a drum” “No, thanks.” “Goood drum goood drum” “NO!!” “Wanna change money?” “No” “I give you good exchange rate” “No” “Sex, mister?” “No” “I make you feel like a man” “No no just let me be” “Hi, can I go with you to Bucharest?” “No no no!”
I was one of the trash. So I gave up on asking people by the pumps and went to where trucks entered the country and stood there hitchhiking for 20 minutes and 10 trucks. Then I went up to where the small cars entered the country and stood in the light of the passport control with my neat “Bucharest” sign. After 25 minutes and 13 cars a policeman walked up to me, had a look at my passport and told me to not hitchhike there. Further away from the passport control it was too dark so I went back to the lighten-up truck entrance and tried it for another 15 minutes and 17 trucks. Then I went to where the truck- and small car-lanes merged, which was lit-up by a streetlight and the light from the (legitimate) exchange booths. There I stood for 57 minutes and 104 cars. I got two ride offers, both with truckers to Bulgaria (plus the Bulgarian guy I went with before who came by and repeated his offer).
But I insisted on waiting by the border till I had a ride straight to Bucharest. I had read on hitchhiking web pages and talked to hitchhikers and I had heard the following: 1) Hitchhiking is very common in Romania. However, it is custom to pay your driver in relation to the distance you cover. 2) Dogs follow you in growing numbers, waiting for you to drop dead.
At least the first one is true, and it seemed weird to – as a relatively rich person – hitchhike without paying people in a country where this is comme-il-faut. But paying people would feel even weirder; hitchhiking across Europe is hitchhiking across Europe is hitchhiking across Europe. Like I tell everyone who interpret my raised thumb as me having money aimed for their wallets: If I had money I would take the bus. So to avoid a situation where I would stand in a village in the middle of the country, stranded by own non-paying principle, I decided to wait by the border until I had a car all the way to the capital. After all, borders are supposed to the best places.
But not this one. At 22:27 I stopped counting the minutes and cars. Let’s just say that I had a miserable time. Sometimes I stood by the truck entrance, sometimes by the exchange booths, sometimes by the gas station and sometimes I walked up and down the street to ask parked trucks. All the time I was harassed by the mass of entrepreneurs who crowded this desolate oasis of asphalt like were they mosquitoes on midnight sunshine hunt in a Lapland swamp. They all got familiar with me since I was quite an odd man in this environment and they came up to me every 5 minutes to sell me stuff such as chessboards, sex, drums, cell phones, chessboards, currency, drums and – most of all – rides to Arad.
If someone would have given me 1 cent for each time I heard “Arad” then I would have flown to Bucharest in a Concorde.
“No one will pick you up. It’s impossible to hitchhike here. C’mon, go to Arad with us. 5 Euro”.
I will never go to Arad for as long as I live.
I tried to be nice to them because deep under all the cynical and ironic smiles they gave me I felt some kind of … annoyance.
“I don’t want to go to Arad. I will stay here by the border until I find a ride to Bucharest. For free. Fara bani.”
“hahaha you will never get one”
23:00 “you will never get one”
23:15 “arad” “arad” “arad”
23:30 “Hey, you should go to the big parking place. It’s 1 kilometer in that direction.”
23:45 “I have heard you are interested in a ride”
0:00 “All the trucks are sleeping one kilometer in that direction”
0:15 “Please give some money”
0:30 “I want a drink”
0:45 “you will never get a ride hahahaha”
1:00 “Why don’t you go to the big parking place?”
1:15 I thought the trash – if you excuse the label that my tired and sad brain put on these people who were just trying to survive this deprivation of all dignity that is poverty – would never leave. But when they finally did I decided to check out the big parking place they had been talking about. But after walking 100 meters into the dark I heard the many dogs howling. “Aoooooo” “Aooooooooo”. I didn’t want to walk in the dark with the dogs. Didn’t want to walk in the dark with the border mosquitoes.
I altered between hitchhiking by the truck entrance and the gas station. There were so few cars that it was hardly worth it. And most of all – it was incredibly cold and I was freezing my ass off and I didn’t want to snuggle down in my sleeping bag anywhere, I just didn’t feel safe enough. At 2:15 I got into the gas station and bought a sandwich; the first thing I ate in a very long time. There was a table with chairs inside and I decided to sit there and eat a bite every hour so that the sandwich would be there as a reason for me to use the warmth and safety until the sun rose. To entertain myself during the night I bought a map of Europe for 4 Euro and decided to study it till I knew every city and every road in the Union. The map was boring. I ate my sandwich in 5 minutes. I fell asleep.