When Hitchhiking Turns Into a Hike Back to Town…

Since I am traveling on a railpass I try to maximize the amount of trains I take and avoid any other forms of transportation that requires me to pay. I decided to go to Sarajevo because there is a train directly connecting Sarajevo to Belgrade, then I can take an overnight train from Belgrade to Sofia. Looking at the train schedule online, I realized that the only train to Belgrade leaves at 6am so I set my alarm, packed my bags and left early the next morning for the train station.

At the station, nobody was working. There were no schedules, signs, and frankly the station looked deserted. I sat outside for an hour watching my clock waiting for 6am. At 5:40 there was still no train…then 5:50…5:55…6:02…nothing.

Finally, a single train cart rolled up and I was informed that there was no 6am train to Belgrade, despite the information I found online. I then headed over to the bus station to catch a bus to Belgrade (infuriated with the early hours waiting for a train, I was, at this point, OK with paying). Arriving at the bus station around 6:15, I learned that the one and only bus heading to Belgrade left at 6am.

There was a fellow backpacker at the window next to mine also exploring options to get to Belgrade. We got to talking, and she suggested hitchhiking. I’ve talked to many people my age on the road and nearly all of them have some experience hitchhiking. In The States the concept has a bad, somewhat dangerous connotation, but hitchhiking seems to be fairly common practice in Europe.

Out of options and in the mood for adventure I agreed to give hitchhiking a go with my new friend. She is German and started biking through Europe in April. She slept outside for the past two nights and appeared to really know how to backpack on a minimal budget.

After checking the map then using her compass to lead us northwest, we starting hiking outside the city limits to try and catch a ride. She said it is easiest the farther away from the city center you are – so we walked. Up hills, past apartments, schools and markets. Through tunnels – where passing cars sound like dropping bombs and the echo throughout the tunnel and created a pressure in my head that was nearly unbearable.

Finally, we found a spot that she deemed, for whatever reason, appropriate for catching a ride. We each took a side of the street and threw out our thumbs. Many people waved, some stared, others ignored us. It took about twenty minutes for our first car to stop. One of the biggest hitchhiking rules, she informed me, is to be able to have a somewhat decent flow of communication. Despite this man seeming friendly and good natured, we turned down his ride simply because communcation was too difficult.

The next person that stopped for us was a veterinary students who laughed and spoke nearly perfect English. He is a Serbian attending school in Sarajevo and had done some hitchiking himself. After suggesting a better spot for us to catch a ride, he drove us another 15 minutes outside of town and then wished us luck. Again, our thumbs were out and our quest for a ride resumed.

While we were in the car, the driver was friendly and very goodnatured. But, because of the situation, I was hyper alert and incredibly tense. As I stood on the street with my thumb out, I imagined feeling that alert and tense for the entire ride to Belgrade and decided that it would be just a miserable experience to hitchhike for that long. Hitchhiking became even less appealing when a man stopped that I got bad vibes from, which I quickly passed on getting in his car.

My new friend, however, decided that she did want to take a ride with him. We got into what can actually be called a fight – her trying to convince me to take the ride and me trying to convince her to either wait for a different person or to go back into town. As we were fighting, the man was loading or packs into his trunk and smiling with a welcoming “come on!” gesture to get into the car – I didn’t like his sense of urgency and overly welcomeness, not to mention the total lack of English. I wasn’t sure if he even understood where we wanted to go. With my pack in the back of the car, I was slowly started to dread that he would drive off with my stuff. So, I went around and held onto my pack handle while my new friend and I continued to quarrel about what to do.

During out quarrel she put her hand on him to apologize for the arguments, and at that point I pulled my backpack out of the trunk and announced that I was going to town. She decided to get in the car. I don’t have contact information for her or else I’d message to check that she made it; though I am sure she is alright. The girl was savvy, and fearless.

Taking risks and doing things that frighten you is all part of the equation that adds up to adventure, but the most important variable in the equation is to TRUST YOUR INSTINCTS. I felt sick to my stomach and nervous about taking a ride from this man, and I didn’t. Yes, we probably would’ve had a fun time and eventually make it to Belgrade. But, I was going to follow my gut feeling and decided to pass on the ride and hope for the best for my new friend as I turned to watch them drive away.

The walk back into Sarajevo was fairly miserable. At this point it was midday, and I was a good 1.5 hour walk outside of the city. I did get to see some fun sights along my hike back into town:

Screen shot 2013-09-03 at 12.14.28 PM

I even had some company for part of the walk!

Screen shot 2013-09-03 at 12.15.20 PM

Screen shot 2013-09-03 at 12.17.46 PM

To say it was a fun walk to town would be a lie. I was worried about the girl I had said goodbye to and my mind also started playing tricks on me. Considering the recency of the Bosnian War and the difficulties with disabling landmines, I wondered if I needed to watch my step to steer clear of landmines that were still active. And, frankly, I was tired. Mad. Disappointed. Uncertain about my next travel move. This was a low moment of my travels, but those crummy walks back into Sarajevo in the Balkan mid-summer heat is all part of the adventure.

Posted on by Reagan J Payne in Part II, Uncategorized

One Response to When Hitchhiking Turns Into a Hike Back to Town…

  1. Mom

    I’m so glad you trusted your instincts, Reagan. I’m sure the long walk with your backpack during the heat of the day while you we’re tired and angry and worried was, indeed, a miserable adventure…but one you will never forget. Knowing your ability to read a situation and make the right decision is why your father and I knew you could travel Europe on your own. We trust you; we are so proud of you!

Add a Comment