My workbench

My workbench

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Krakow! and updates

So I made it to Krakow three days "late". Well, everything has been late, as by now I expected to be somewhere in the middle of Finland. How to describe the excitement and fun of random travel...I don't know.

I have begun typing up the stories of my travels, and I will be posting them back-dated so that they appear as if posted on the correct days. This will make it easier to follow.[

Travel plans update:
As I am wayyy behind where i thought I would be, I don't think I will make it to Norway or Sweden. I am trying to hit Warsaw tonight, unfortunately Remi has just sent me a message that he is on Holiday and therefore I have no real reason to STAY in Warsaw...so I will skip through. My next 'planned' stop is Lithuania, hitching wherever and however I may go. I would like to spend my last week in Amsterdam, and therefore will not be pushing it too hard to get very far.

The past few days have been amazing! I hitched from Budapest north through Slovakia, and was picked up at the border by Marcin and his friend. Instead of giving me a lift to Krakow, he invited me into his home (he's 25), and we have spent the past two days hanging out, drinking beers, eating food (his mother is an EXCELLENT cook), and talking about climbing/snowboarding. This dude is amazing! He also offered me a lift up to Norway in two weeks, right after he is finished his second attempt climbing the Matterhorn! I've been completely awed, and blown away. He only started climbing serious mountains four years ago!

Anywho, I'm a bit confused by the messages from Casa folks, sad that I missed you in Budapest, but if anyone is up my way/heading towards Lithuania, drop me a message on my polish mobile (+48508525930), which now has a correct recharge, battery, etc.

Reese: Sorry, I didn't realize the batteries in our phones were different!

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Alive!

Okay, I'm in Budapest, still hanging out/walking around, heading to Krakow and then to meet Remi up in Warsaw, but wakling around with Veira and her friend in Budapest for a bit. I will update some more when I get time to settle down. Also, my phone is currently down, so skype number is the only way to reach me occasionally.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

We're going to...Budapest? I think so...

No sooner had we said our goodbyes to Tanya (she had not even left), Viera spotted two Russian priests and asked if they were heading towards Chop, on the border with Hungary. We had decided the prior evening that we would head directly to Budapest, because Cliff and Viera were both meeting friends there (Cliff was going to the Sziget music festival), and I was having so much fun I decided to tag along. The priests let us off 24km from Chop, and after a half hour of debating which direction we should go (Chop and direct to Hungary, or towards Kosice in Slovakia, and then down to Hungary), we headed for Chop. We picked some fruit, got two quick lifts, and were at the border!
SH*T. At this border, as with some others, we were not allowed to walk across, and were required to get a lift in a car. Initially, the border guards were yelling at us to go away, and we spent a fruitless few hours being harassed by locals in an attempt to get us to pay them to drive us across the border. We met a deaf Ukranian trucker, whom I conversed with in a mixture of ASL and gesture-sign (I don't know Ukrainian/Russian sign language), and he said that the trucks were having trouble and would not be able to take anyone across for many hours, and that folks were scared that we were smugglers with our large backpacks. A french hitch-hiker came, got a lift, and left, leaving us hopeful but disheartened. Eventually the border guards changed, and the new guards had no problem with our standing directly at the border. Soon, in fact, they were very slowly approaching cars, giving us (Viera) enough time to politely ask drivers if we could get a lift. I watched locals standing there, waving their passport, and getting lifts across the border, and no sooner did it dawn on me how to get across, a lift for two people was offered. I yelled at Viera and Cliff to get in, while I took up position with the locals waving my shiny blue American passport. A minute or two later, a woman pulled over and picked up a man, and then said something to me. I didn't understand, but tried to open her door, and she quickly reached back and unlocked it. I got in, and was away!
Two hours later, we regrouped on the other side of the border, found somewhere to camp, and crashed out. Viera and I ended up talking in my tent until almost dawn, at which point I'm fairly certain I was a complete Zombie.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Tanya, L'viv, Amazing hospitality

Tanya, the woman whom picked up Cliff, Viera and I from Vinnystia and gave us a lift all the way to L'viv, was quite simply an awesome person. She spoke a good amount of English, and wanted to practice with us. She had just been having a vacation in Crimea for a week, and was on her way home. When she heard that we were planning on camping outside of L'viv, she invited the three of us into her home to spend the night, wash our clothes, and relax. She had two daughters, both whom were attending university, and therefore had two spare bedrooms. When we arrived, we made some tea, ate some of my pasta, and crashed. Well, Cliff and Tanya did anyway. Viera and I split a bed, and immediately a deep conversation degraded into a wrestling match. Viera is a LOT stronger than she looks, and it took a good amount of my normal strength, plus some wrestling moves, to stop her from tickling and poking me. Eventually we were both tired out and crashed like cement logs.
The next morning, we woke to a wonderful breakfast being prepared. We were also informed that Ola, Tanya's 19-year-old daughter would be showing up. We washed out clothes (FINALLY in my case, it had been almost two weeks...), and when Ola arrived we all went out for coffee, picking up one her friends from the street on the way. After coffee, Tanya had some errands/work to do, so Ola and her friend took Cliff, Viera and I around the city, seeing the center, some churches, and ending at a small amusement park, where I treated everyone to a few rides (around $0.75/ride). The rain started as we were walking back to the apartment, and so we abandoned a trip to Ola's university and went directly home. That night, we all went to the supermarket (Ola driving, BLASTING some pretty cool Russian rap music) to pick up supplies for Cliff's personally prepared meal. Unfortunately Coconut milk is unheard of in Ukraine, so the taste of the chicken curry was not up to spec (according to Cliff; the rest of us loved it). I crashed before Ola got back from walking around/partying with her friends, and when I awoke, it was morning.
The next morning, after a light breakfast and some packing, Tanya gave the three of us a lift to a petrol station just outside of the ring road around L'viv, a perfect spot for hitching. We had some coffee, took pictures, and said our goodbyes...

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Let there be FRUIT!

We woke, and set off on the road. Viera and I set off on our own, giving Tyler the sign for L'viv I had made and wishing him good luck. It seems that he got so cold during the night that he was feeling sick, and thought he might have caught pneumonia! Personally, no disrespect, but I think he was suffering from a combination of cold and alcohol abuse, having gotten so ridiculously drunk the previous night. After an hour or so of no success, Viera and I decided to walk through town and try hitching from the other side (why did I not think about this? I was FAR more interested in our conversation, which ranged from personality problems to stories to experience and everything in between). On the way, we saw some fruit trees, and Viera showed me a bit about recognizing fruit (basically, seeing it on the ground, and looking up) and picking it for then and saving for later. I don't know why I've never really done this, but it makes sense and MAN is it tasty. The only disagreement we had was when a tree was growing inside someone's yard, but the branches stretched to the street. I felt it was inappropriate to 'trespass', while she had no problem with it. In the end, we skipped the cherry tree, and I thought of all of those flowers Mom picks from the 'wild'...
Following the signs for L'viv and Vinnytsia though town, I realized that I was becoming more able to read Cyrillic. The letters were making sense, and I was able to read the signs for businesses, streets, and cities. This made me feel good, as I have always felt that I am horrible at learning new languages. We got a lift on the other side of town, and soon passed friends Chris and Cliff, on our way to Vinnytsia. Viera conversed with our ride in Slovak/Ukrainian, while I smiled and listened. She had begun teaching me basic Slovak, so I practiced the words she had written down for me. We were treated to local treats (coffee, a poppy-seed pastry and a caramel pastry), and then given a bit of a tour, ending up at Werewolf, the WWII German forward base for the invasion of Ukraine.
Attempting to hitch out of Vinnystia, we soon saw three Russians whom we had met at the gathering. I gave hugs to each, forgetting any of their names, and they set off, after telling us they had just walked completely across the city. We did not see them get picked up, but when we walked back to where they had been a little while later, they were gone. Soon Cliff and Chris joined us, their driver nearly hitting me (scaring me intentionally). Apparently he was an old Russian hitch-hiker, and when he got out of the car he was smiling, so I laughed. The four of us went for hot-dogs (I paid for everyone by accident, a whopping 36 krivna, or around $4.50), and soon we were back on the road. Chris expressed a desire to skip Rainbow and simply return to Cluj (Romania), and so Cliff joined Viera and I on our quest to L'viv. Viera and I were still joking with eachother, and quite quickly Cliff joined in, with tickling, poking, sign-whacking, and plenty of other shenanigans as we walked down the road hitching as we went. No sooner had we found a suitable place to camp, then a driver pulled over with space for three, and so we met Tanya. We got in, headed directly to L'viv.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Hitting the road with...Viera!

I managed to get a few hours of sleep, once again wrapped up in my tarp, before the warm sun and throng of friends returned. There was quite a commotion when folks realized, some still slightly drunk, that they had been robber, and naturally they were pretty pissed off. Mixed breakfast and goodbyes ensued for a few hours, with people figuring out where they were trying to go and with whom. I talked with Viera for a bit, and she put forth an interest in learning about camping from me, in addition to needing a hitching partner. I canned my trip to Moldova (Sorry Erin!) in favor of hitching with Viera to L'viv, and from there to the European Rainbow gathering. There were again eight of us heading off to the same place, and so after much commotion, goodbyes, hugs, more hugs, delays, goodbyes, etc etc (getting hitch-hikers moving in the same direction is slightly easier than re-stuffing a pillow with feathers after it's been emptied), we headed out. I had checked the “board” for directions on which tram to take out of the city, and someone had written “Tram 8- from main train station.” Shaun pointed out that Tram 5 SHOULD get us to the road to L'viv, but unfortunately I trusted the person whom wrote on the board. Well, a 20 minute walk, losing Timon on the way, a tram in the wrong direction, and finally seven of us were at the road to L'viv! Viera and I paired off, and Tyler, now partnerless (Timon had been lost in the tram confusion at the main train station) joined us to form a motley crew. Normally, 3 people hitching together is a difficult hitch, as with the added space of backpacks, the only possible lift involves one driver with almost no luggage. Well, as luck would have it, almost immediately someone pulled over...And wanted money. Viera, being Slovak, was able to converse and the person sped away when he realized we were not willing to pay for a lift to Kiev (550km). The next person, a young woman, agreed to take us to Uman, the halfway point, where we would be able to hitch a lift to L'viv. The ride went smoothly, with my offering chocolate to Tyler and the driver, while Viera slept (I got a picture...).
At the interchange in Uman, I began perusing the stalls looking for a snack. When I turned back around, Viera was heading for me, asking my help with something. Apparently, some guy had dropped his wallet, and when he walked away not realizing it, another guy (his 'friend') picked it up, and offered half the money to Tyler. Tyler had agreed, but the friend had returned too quickly, and the man had stuffed the wallet down the front of his shirt. It took a couple of minutes for Viera to explain to me what exactly was happening, and immediately I recognized it as a scam. I pointed to the guy whom now had possesion of the wallet, saw it pretty obviously outlined against his stomach under his shirt, and pointed to my own stomach and his. The guy attempted to search me, and I moved away and lifted my shirt. When I attempted to do the same to the guy, he slapped my hand away and became quite agitated. I gave him the finger (in Russian, this is done by placing the thumb under index finger, like a “T” in ASL), a polite “screw you moron”, and walked away, telling the others to walk as well. I walked to the gas station, bought myself and tyler some snacks (Viera did not want anything, but ate some of mine), and we took off hitching.
At the hitch-out spot, we met a Russian dude heading to the Carpathians (BEAUTIFUL mountains in the southwest of Ukraine, stretching from mid-Romania to Crimea...). He got a lift out, and soon Sarah and Valentina showed up! Strangely enough, when they were walking past the market, a dude dropped his wallet...
Eventually the three of us got a lift 60km in a taxi, free of charge. Apparently that night, 11 hitch-hikers camped out in the spot we were waiting, but we had just departed before many of them arrived. At our new location, after buying some water (Viera was wary of any tap sources, I had been drinking from the tap all along), we made camp, ate some pasta, all crammed into my tent and chatted for a while, and eventually we all crashed (Tyler outside, Viera and myself in the tent). It was WONDERFUL after two nearly sleepless nights to be able to be in my own bag, in a mostly quiet, cold area. Unfortunately, both Tyler and Viera were cold that night, and though I opened my bag to wrap it partially around Viera, she was still a bit cold (no ground insulation). Naturally, being close to another warm body, I was nearly sweating.

Odessa

Too much to write about right now, still in Odessa, and planning my trip north asap!

Sunday, August 9, 2009

The Night

I woke up a few times to the drunken revelry of those left at the park. I thought nothing of it, as drunken people are generally, well, drunk and not of much interest to me as long as they are not being belligerent. I noticed that Ben and Robin had also decided to camp near me, and thought nothing of it at the time. Soon enough, however, I realized that both Robin and Ben, along with Viera (whom was now conscious and apparently was not as drunk as I had thought) were constantly getting up and arguing with the remaining Ukrainians to leave. I got up, joined the fray, and realized that a few of the Ukrainians were rifling through some small packs. Apparently in their drunken stupor, a few Ukrainians, one American (Tyler), and the head of the new Lithuanian hitch-hiking club had all been robbed. They were all still passed out, and we spent a little while collecting the remaining items scattered about the area. After chasing off the rest of the locals, I volunteered to stay awake and keep watch over everyone, in case they decided to return. Belatedly I realized that I had not really slept the night before, and I did not have any coffee/redbull/chocolate to keep me away. I used the old fashioned method, water, exercise, and music, and made it till Sunrise, when the Lithuanian guy woke up and kept me company after realizing that his small change, camera, and mobile phone were gone. Apparently they ate his food, too...

Workshops and discussions.

The next morning brought an interesting scene, with people passed out all over the beach. I slowly began gathering my gear from the people I had borrowed it from, cleaning and packing away my stuff. I realized quickly that I had forgotten my groundcloth at the park the night before, and hoped someone had picked it up. I ate a light breakfast with Reese, Valentina, and Shaun of bread and meat, and soon headed off with Julien and a Ukrainian dude to go back to the park. Along the way we met a somewhat lost Ukrainian woman also looking for the gathering, and kindly directed her to the park for the eventual workshops, or the beach for the majority of the people at that particular moment.
Back in the park, more general laziness took place. Lots of hanging out, relaxing, and chit-chatting were had as people organized and shared stories and relaxed. I began talking with a few people about Train-hopping in the US, while apparently Robin began simultaneously chatting up some folks about hospitality exchange and sustainable living. Soon enough, signs were made and the quiet unobtrusive discussions became official workshops. My workshop covered train-hopping and squatting, as well as experiences hitching around Europe. As people arrived from the beach, they settled in to either my circle or Robins, and soon rousing discussions ranging from gear to safety to boat-hitching were underway. Many of my friends, new and old, joined my circle, including Cliff, Viera, Alex, Patryk, Reese, Timon, Julien, and Ben, providing valuable input as well as questions and comments. Soon Alex, a Russian from St. Petersburg, took over the discussion and began giving a counter-discussion on train-hitching, boat-hitching, and general hitch-hiking all over Russian (especially Siberia), and to some extent in central and western Asia. I took a page of notes, and will soon transcribe them for my friends over at StP, whom I am certain will be interested in the thought of train-hitching in Siberia (I WILL try this).
Eventually a lunch break was had, and while a joint discussion with Reese and I was slated for the post-lunch discussion circles, my chat (apparently I was the only one with any significant experience) on hitch-hiking in the United States took precedence. So for over an hour I sat and explained the convoluted laws of the US, attempted to explain the difference between “written” law and the way many police officers interpret that same law, shared some of the extremely positive and negative experiences I have had (SLO-cal and NYS being respective examples), as well as answered questions and attempted to dispell certain myths while reinforcing others. Topics ranging from bribing police to drug policy and frequency were brought up and discussed in a civil and intelligent manner. Eventually, as with all things, other topics had to take precedence, with many of the women heading towards the “hitch-hiking safety/dangers as a solo female” discussion. A little later on, the always infamous “next year” circle was held, of which I abstained.
Around this time, Anatoly found me and announced in his now-common broken English that he and his friends were leaving. We hugged, a few times (perhaps a dozen?) and promised to keep in contact. I need to find his E-mail, I know it's on the 7/8/9 website somewhere!
Soon thereafter, chaos! Well, for some people. As night fell, a LOT of alcohol was consumed. One of the local Ukrainians brought Reese and I to a liquor store after we explained that we wanted to try Local vodka, something that he as a Ukrainian would be proud of. WOW, was I blown away. For around $4 we purchased a bottle of wild-honey and cayenne pepper vodka, and MAN was it good. Almost immediately, however, the vodka vanished. My tendency to share everything was well-received, directly down the gullets of the friends I had made. To my horror, when asking for more at the store, I was told that we had received the LAST bottle. I purchased a bottle of 'regular' cayenne pepper vodka, but it was simply not the same. At some point the Lithuanian guy came up to me with Victor, a Spanish hitch-hiker. Victor's bag was missing, and we hoped it had simply been carried down to the beach by a friendly hitch-hiker (or by mistake). Victor was clearly too drunk to make it down there, and was in need of somewhere/something to sleep in. Again, I gave away my sleeping bag, figuring that I had already slept without it for one night, a second one would not kill me. Little did I know what would be happening later... The night “ended” with my crashing close to Viera, as she had drank a bit more vodka than she could apparently handle and was sound asleep, still in the park. Her hitching partner Ben had been planning on returning to the beach with the majority of people, and so I said I would make sure she was ok when she woke and would take care of her in the off chance she got sick. But there was more to come...

Saturday, August 8, 2009

First day in Odessa

The day started with my finding Chris and retrieving my groundcloth, which I had loaned him for the evening to sleep on the somewhat hard rocks (I found it pleasant enough). Lucy, Sasha, Sarah and I made it out to the tram, and headed for a small cafeteria to have some pre-prepared breakfast. This was a nice change from cooking my own food and eating from petrol stations, and I very nicely enjoyed a few glasses of fruit juice, and a cup of steamed milk (I thought I was going to have a Mocha, but surprise! It was pleasant enough). We met Reese and three Lithuanians at the cafeteria, and had a pleasant group breakfast. Just as we were leaving, a much larger group of folks appeared; Reese and I greeted people, and headed for the park.
Once back at the park, we hung out for hours, meeting people (again), exchanging ideas, and planning for the day. At some point, introductory Russian lessons began, and we quickly formed a circle around a Russian girl giving lessons. I wrote most down in my notebook, with English, transliteration, and Cyrillic of the basic necessary phrases. These proved to be extremely useful in my later quest of decoding Cyrillic. We organized a flash mob (somewhat of a failure), a tour around the city was graciously provided free by a local tour guide in both English and Russian (I did not attend, but instead spent the time chatting with friends and playing with some Swedish guy's firestaff), and mostly I spent the day hanging out meeting other hitch-hikers. At some point a small group of Russian travelers appeared, and I met Anatoly, my Russian friend! Though he did not speak much English, we got along quite well, and shared beers, vodka, food and stories (with the help of one of his friends whom was translating). He stated, and I agreed, on the following statement:
“World says F*ck Russia. World says F*ck USA. Therefore we brothers!”
Truer statements have not been made.
After some time, I met Igor, a somewhat local Ukrainian whom has spent the past six years training in some Ukrainian military martial art (kadykalishnov?). He proceeded to demonstrate techniques to me for an hour or so, and was quite adamant that Alpha, the Ukrainian special forces, were the best in the world. Compared to what I have heard from Ryan, whom is currently in SEAL school, we don't have anything to fear from the Ukrainians; I kept my mouth shut. After a while, a representative from Elbe, the Ukrainian hitch-hiking club, made a small speech. Unfortunately, Igor kept interrupting and trying to get me to drink some beer, ending with my telling him that I REALLY needed to hear this talk, and if he would please find me afterwards. After the talk, in which we were all invited to attend one of the gatherings (I would love to go to one, eventually), Igor found me again and, along with one of his friends, proceeded to attempt to teach me local Ukrainian curses, while shouting as loud as they could every English curse they knew. I grew bored of this, and soon wandered away, finding a group assembling and discussing various experiences of hitch-hiking and free travel.
At some point, people agreed to head to the beach, and so we did. I lead the first group, simply by pointing out that all anyone needed was Momentum, so I simply started to walk. Quickly others followed, and soon I realized that I did not have any idea where I was going. Fortunately, I was with Robin, Valentina, and Tau, and with friends, you can never be truly lost. So we walked, and walked, and walked...Eventually finding our destination. I sat on the road with my blinky red light for a while, writing some poetry in my journal and directing other folks to head down to the beach from where I was sitting. Just before I headed down myself, a local Ukrainian came up to chat with me. Unfortunately, I do not speak a word (well, at the time anyway) of Ukrainian, and quickly he realized this. Abandoning his attempt at conversation, he left with the following words of wisdom: “Life is good.” With this sentiment in mind, I walked down to the beach to join friends.
Quickly, I dropped my pack and met up with Cliff, a Taiwanese guy whom had moved to Canada when he was 13. We headed off to the 24h supermarket, Cliff to pick up food, myself to prepare for a party which was not really going to happen. A bottle of Moldovian wine (great for the price), a carton of local white wine (for the winos, myself included), some Red Bull (just in case, and for tomorrow morning. I hate the stuff, but it might be necessary and beat coffee for the time being), and some snacks. We returned to the beach, where I met Patryk, along with my Russian friends (including Anatoly, whom was unfortunately too drunk to stand up). We passed around a guitar and took turns telling stories (I did not partake in playing the guitar) until people were too tired and slowly drifted off to sleep. I shared the bottle of wine until it was gone, and when most were getting ready to go to sleep, I went in search of others. Soon enough, I found a member of Elbe, whom unfortunately did not speak much English. I would pull over translators as I saw them pass (Marten helped quite a bit, until he went to sleep), until a young Ukrainian girl came over to translate in perfect English, as long as kept feeding her some of the wine (the Elbe member and I both had liter cartons of wine, so this conversation lasted a while). In the end, I gave the poor freezing girl my jacket, and eventually my sleeping bag, at which point she passed out. I moved on once again, found myself in a group of Russians whom spoke NO English whatsoever, and still spent some time laughing, singing, drinking wine, and attempting conversation.
Patryk came up to me suddenly, stating that I MUST be able to help. Misha had somehow lost his sleeping bag (it turns out someone had given it away), and was looking for somewhere to sleep. I had already given my sleeping bag to someone, and so I dug out my thermals and gave them to Misha. Though not a great way to sleep, they would help. He climbed into a tent (which apparently had a couple already in it..oops!), and crashed. I returned to my friends, whom were all knocking off for the night. One of the Russians, cuddled up next to me, probably to absorb the heat which I am infamous for. Soon, wearing only shorts, and wrapped in my tarp, I lay down, cuddling with this Russian whom was speaking to me in a mixture of Russian and Ukrainian, and not understanding a single word I said. At points, she would gesture to someone, either the big Russian guy meditating on a rock, or someone stumbling past, and then at random points she would look and me and say the only English word she seemed to know: Speak. And so I did, in the waning moonlight (it was nearly 3AM I assume), drawing on my amazing poetic powers and spouting our random on-the-spot poetry, which unfortunately I am completely unable to reproduce. It was something of a combination of the lack of communication, our misunderstandings, the beauty of the moment, and whatever else I could find which rhymed well. She eventually went back to her tent (which I discovered the next morning contained her boyfriend), and I crashed out to the rising sun. Wrapped only in my tarp, clad in shorts, and with a heavy wind blowing, I went to sleep, dreaming of hitch-hiking all over the world...

Made it!

I don't have a ton of battery, and I am going to be acting as a public internet terminal for some of the Hitch-hikers, but we all made it to Odessa! Ukraine is a pretty awesome, very inexpensive place. And odessa has some GREAT beaches and cool spots! Love all of ya.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Odessa at last!

So we woke in groups of two and three, assembled gear, and headed out for the road. Someone had gotten instructions from Lucy and Sasha (whom were staying with a different host) on where to hitch out of Kiev, and the proper bus to take to get there. We opted to walk 30 minutes or so to the proper bus, instead of paying twice ($.25 or so), and to have a bit of a walk before ge/tting on the bus and then hitting the road. Once again, we paired off, this time I would be hitching with Julien, a french guy I had met last year at 8/8/8, and someone whom I have had many interesting conversations with.
Some wanted to stop and eat, while others (Julien, myself, and Jeppe) decided to hitch out directly. Fortunately for me, Julien spoke a passable amount of Russian, and in no time we had a lift with a pleasant woman all the way to Uman, a little over half way to Odessa. In addition to speaking English and driving a hella comfortable Subaru, our lift gave us chocolate, yoghurt and some milk to enjoy while we waited. We had a quick breakfast with some bread and sausage we had also picked up, and headed down the road. Soon enough, a pair of local teenagers walked up to us and were attempting to speak (completely in Ukrainian) to us about hitch-hiking. The girl pulled out a white-out pen (I had forgotten this trick) and improved our sign immediately. We had a second piece of cardboard, and eventually we put together a second sign for the other kids to use.
Eventually we managed to pick up a lift, with the local kids explaining to the driver that we were tourists and spoke no Ukrainian, but were trying to get to Odessa. Though slow, our lift was headed almost directly there. At some point, we were controlled by the police, but this passed without Julien or myself being controlled directly (we did not have our passports checked). The ride went smoothly, and though we took turns passing out, we were dropped approximately 3 kilometers from downtown Odessa.
We began to walk, holding out our sign and thumbs, and within a few minutes were picked up by a man and (I assume) his father. They initially asked for money (the younger [son?] spoke English), but when we explained that we were hitch-hiking and carried very little money, they agreed to take us to the trolleybus, and in the end gave us the two Krivna (Ukrainian currency) to pick up the bus directly to Shevashenko monument. On ths bus, Julien met a young woman whom spoke a bit of English as well as French, and she directed us to the correct stop. Beer, food, and a money changer later, and we were off to explore the park and find our friends!
Soon enough, we found the monument, and a throng of hitch-hikers conversing in a mixture of English, Ukrainian, Russian, and a smattering of other languages. We found some friends (Valentina, Shaun, Misha, Lucy, Sasha) as well as a few friends from last year and some of the locals. Almost immediately, I met a young Canadian girl named Viera, and soon we were chatting about the various modes of free travel in North America, most notably train-hopping and hitch-hiking. As time moved on, Reese, Jeppe, Sarah, Martin, and a other friends slowly showed up. As night fell, a group discussion was organized, which I graciously moderated (mostly by standing shirtless in the middle of a circle, and yelling at people to shut up when someone else was talking or translating to Russian). With this we brainstormed ideas for the next two days, organized some workshops, made some loose plans, and then headed for the beach! A small party ensued, though as everyone was so tired from the days of travel, most people quickly passed out.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Destination ahead!

Hitching to L'viv! A night of mostly restless sleep, waking up at 6AM, and after breakfast, SIM card swapping/purchasing, and organization, and we hit the road at 10AM! Reese and I paired off and immediately picked up a 25km ride with a metalwork artist. He had a portfolio of his work with him, and some of the stuff was absolutely amazing! We also picked up Misha (Mitch) on the way, a French cameraman whom we were friendly with from last year's 888 conference. We waited around as cars passed, some loaded with our other friends hitch-hiking past, some empty and giving us the short-distance sign. Occasionally a cow would wander into the road, and one of the local farmers would run into the road and herd the runaway back into the fields. After what seemed like hours, but was likely 45 minutes, a car pulled over headed directly to Kiev! Our luck seemed great, and we quickly hopped in. Just as quickly, we discovered that neither of our drivers spoke a word of English, and unfortunately were unfamiliar with both the road to Kiev, and the concept of long-distance driving (or highway driving, for that matter). The 525km lift took almost 9 hours, and we arrived in Kiev at 9:30PM. A short metro ride later, a few questions, and we were reunited with our friends at a cafeteria in Kiev. After eating a much-needed meal and a few beers, we collected the other wayward hitch-hikers and made our way to Anton's, our totally awesome and gracious host.
Seven hitch-hikers, one host, two dozen beers, and everyone having just hitched 550 km from L'viv to Kiev certainly made for an interesting evening.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

To Kiev!

Half an hour spent wandering around looking for the best spot to stand, and perhaps five minutes of actual waiting, and I was off! My lift spoke a bit of Ukrainian, was Polish, and spoke a decent amount of English. He turned out to be a telecommunications engineer/professor, and we had some fascinating talks about the various aspects of the telecommunications industry. Additionally, after dropping off the other passenger in a border town, he helped me cross the border and we spent an hour or so driving around picking up various supplies (vodka, medicine, cigarettes, candy) for his return trip. We parted ways, and soon enough I picked up a lift to L'viv in a truck. An hour later, and I was in L'viv, Ukraine!
The two km walk to the center was only interrupted twice, once for lunch and once to call home and speak to mom from a McDonalds front lawn. I also contacted Lucy, a host in L'viv, and arranged to meet she, Sasha, and Sarah at the central square for food and a place to crash later on. Naturally, I was ridiculed for how little, and slowly, I ate, but I persevered and finished my meager plate. We walked back to Lucy and Sasha's place, and hung out while waiting for other to show up (Jeppe and Martin an hour or so later, Reese and Julien around 1AM). Dinner of pasta and local Ukrainian beer (not the greatest...) made for a complete day.

To Kiev!

Half an hour spent wandering around looking for the best spot to stand, and perhaps five minutes of actual waiting, and I was off! My lift spoke a bit of Ukrainian, was Polish, and spoke a decent amount of English. He turned out to be a telecommunications engineer/professor, and we had some fascinating talks about the various aspects of the telecommunications industry. Additionally, after dropping off the other passenger in a border town, he helped me cross the border and we spent an hour or so driving around picking up various supplies (vodka, medicine, cigarettes, candy) for his return trip. We parted ways, and soon enough I picked up a lift to L'viv in a truck. An hour later, and I was in L'viv, Ukraine!
The two km walk to the center was only interrupted twice, once for lunch and once to call home and speak to mom from a McDonalds front lawn. I also contacted Lucy, a host in L'viv, and arranged to meet she, Sasha, and Sarah at the central square for food and a place to crash later on. Naturally, I was ridiculed for how little, and slowly, I ate, but I persevered and finished my meager plate. We walked back to Lucy and Sasha's place, and hung out while waiting for other to show up (Jeppe and Martin an hour or so later, Reese and Julien around 1AM). Dinner of pasta and local Ukrainian beer (not the greatest...) made for a complete day.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

L'viv, Ukraine

I woke up, packed up, cleaned up (sort of), and for the next hour or two, watched all of the trucks in my stocked parking lot slowly rumble to life and disappear. I was becoming somewhat disheartened when a nice young couple pulled over and offered me a lift “near” Krakow. Good enough, and off I went! Well, they ended up dropping me just outside of Katowice, which while 30km from Krakow, is a nightmare to hitch. I attempted to pick up a ride on the A4 onramp, but after a few hours of failure (mostly due to the 10 minute lag between cars), I broke down and took the minibus “Krakow GR” in to town. At least, that's where I thought I was going. The bus immediately turned the opposite direction from the motorway, and proceeded to went it's way through the countryside, entering Krakow almost an hour later, despite the 30km birds-eye distance and the A4 motorway. Also, I managed to overcome some significant confusion when I realized it was a fixed fare to get on the minibus, and it did not seem to matter where I was going. I think. I ended up dropping some coins in my hand and letting the driver take what he wanted. I'm pretty sure he took 5 zloty, or about $1.
Once in Krakow, I disembarked in what I thought was the center (based on absolutely NOTHING but intuition). I found a phone shop, picked up a SIM card, and found some wifi at a local pizza joint. As it turns out, I was about three blocks from the actual city center. Huzzah! Checking out Couchsurfing and the 789 project website, I found a likely meetup and possible host, and proceeded to call the number. I thought I was reaching the local contact, but instead apparently I reached Jeppe, my soon-to-be hitching partner. Two hours later, one McDonalds for a recharge (power outlet), twenty minutes of confusion, a few text messages, and one ice cream, and we were on our way out of the city to hitch to L'viv! Well, that was, until Martin, Jeppe's original partner, send an SMS saying that he was 60km from the city, and would be there shortly. We waited at a rest stop for an hour or so drinking beer and getting to know one another while Martin caught up. By now it was around 6PM, and we had not yet hit the road. After signs, questioning, and a discussion on our breakup, we began walking down the road. IMMEDIATELY, a car pulled over with space for two. Jeppe and Martin hopped in, wishing me good luck. Ten minutes later, a car going 60km further pulled over, and I was off! The 250km (approx) ride was pleasant, with good music and ridiculous speeds, however I ended up in the very center of the city of Szeczow (sp?), resulting in a ridiculous hour+ walk to my eventual camping spot. The only real downside of the evening? Mosquitos! Well, and my being too lazy to set up my tent.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Poland

I woke the next morning to slightly overcast skies and a slight drizzle, but more importantly, the sound of heavy machinery. I quickly vacated my ad-hoc squat, heading back up the road towards the correct hitching spot. I walked around for a bit, evaluating the best hitching spot while getting lightly sprinkled on by the overburdened clouds. Soon enough, perhaps after 30 minutes, my patience paid off, and a kind young woman pulled over and offered me a lift to Berlin. As it turns out, she was going to Prenzlaurberg, where I had stayed last year with Sophie's sister. I mentioned having a friend in Pankow, to which she replied that she actually worked in Prenzlaurberg, but also lived in Pankow. What are the odds, eh? Anyway, I was dropped off at a rest-stop without a gas station (my [extremely poor] choice), where I would spent the better part of the day. During my stay there, asking people, flying my sign, etc, I was controlled by the German police. In this case, they were extremely cordial, checking my passport/visa status and reminding me that it is fine to talk with drivers, but I must not walk on the Autobahn (Interstate, again) itself. I thanked them for this, and they dissapeared. Why can't American police act like this?
My luck changed when I flashed my sign to a Polish truck driver, whom gave me the “jump on up” signal, and away I went. I had been flying a sign for Warsaw, though I actually wanted to get to Krakow, assuming that I would be able to get a lift in that direction, and then change lifts as necessary. Well, using his CB radio, my ride got me a lift a bit further than he was actually going, and I ended up at a Polish rest stop with free wifi (but no power!) near Poznan. I picked up some road food, preparing myself for a night out (and thrilled to be finished my cheese and crackers, the only food I had brought from Amsterdam). Between intermittent drops of spittle, a truck stopped with a super-friendly driver. We drove for HOURS, on our way through Lodz (the back way), again attempting to pick up continuation lifts with the CB, unfortunately also unsuccessful. I camped at a rest stop south of Lodz around 1AM.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Dresden!

My battery is dying, I failed to meetup with George (NOT my fault this time), and I need to get out of town. Here's to Krakow!

Dresden...

The next morning I got a quick lift to Michendorf rest stop near Potsdam, Germany. Here I picked up a map (I had been traveling without one), and met a German hitch-hiker on his way to Lithuania. We chatted for a bit, he mentioned he was from Stuttgart, and I gave him one of the 7/8/9 postcards to show him the event, though he had other plans. He allowed me to go up and ask some of the drivers (normal courtesy is to wait for the hitcher already there to leave before attempting to hitch out), and my first ride was heading in his direction, so I quickly grabbed him and off he went! By this point, I was no longer interested in going to Berlin, but instead straight down to Dresden to meet George. The Dresden HOG (harley owners group) pulled in, and I grabbed a picture of a group of leather-clad Germans riding American Harleys, with smiles all around. Soon enough, a young couple (A student and his girlfriend, a car mechanic) pulled over and offered me a lift right to the center of Dresden. So far, so good. The ride down was comfortable, albeit smoky (all too common), and we talked about everything from politics to globalization to militarization to the similarities and differences between Germany and the US.
Dresden was a beautiful city, with lots of bustling tourists despite it being a Sunday. This, however, meant that most shops were closed, and I spent the better part of two hours walking around, attempting to find a wifi spot to connect to the next in hopes of receiving a voice-mail from George. When this did not happen, I called Dad, attempted to call the international number I was given for George, and finally looked up good hitch-out spots and maps of the city. I walked over to the Hauptbahnhaf (HBF), or main train station, to grab a bus to the hitch-out spot. As luck would have it, not only is there a Lidl (German box supermarket), but also a Burger King with power outlets and a nearby Wifi hotspot. I chilled here for a while, recharging my toys a bit, and eventually catching the bus out to my hitching spot. I was unsure of the spot I needed to get off at, though I ended up getting off at the correct spot and then walking in the wrong direction! I realized this about the same time it started to rain, much to my disappointment. Well, at the same time, I noticed a huge complex of abandon building across the street, some mildly fenced off for construction, other simply left to rot...
A few minutes later, I was warm and dry inside what looked like an old prison building, with bars on the window and rooms with a single sink (some a toilet), absolutely falling apart. I spent the night here, after writing a bit in my journal and enjoying the sounds of thunder and lightning crashing all around me. The flashes were so bright they lit up the entire room, while some of the thunder claps were loud enough to scare the heck out of me! But at least I was dry...

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Out of A'dam

Hitching out of Amsterdam started a bit later than I had hoped for, but as it turned out this was a good thing. Anu and I walked to the Liftplaatz, a dedicated hitch-hiking spot created by the Dutch government before they started giving all Dutch students free rides on the trains, where I would grab the A-2 motorway all the way across Holland and most of Germany. A few hundred meters down the road from this spot was a gas station, a good back-up spot if I was having no luck hitching from the liftplaats. After a short while, Shaun and Valentina showed up, also planning on hitching out in the direction of Berlin. As a courtesy, they continued down to the gas station, so that a driver would not think we were all hitching as a triple (normally more difficult). After an hour or more, I walked back, wanting to try my luck at the gas station (And wondering if they were still there); they moved up to my old spot. Within a few minutes, a car pulled over, and I got a lift with a Dutch gentleman and his young (perhaps 3-year old?) daughter.
This guy was, as most of my rides are, very interesting. He had actually seen Shaun and Valentina, and was considering pulling over for them when he saw me. He was heading to Appledoorn, a good distance from A'dam, and a nice first ride. We spoke a bit about free travel, why I am doing what I am doing, and some of the things he will be doing with his wife and child in the near future. They have decided that the “typical” life is simply not what they desire, so they are in the process of ridding themselves of most of their possesions, and going to travel! Already they have an extended volunteering trip set up to Nigeria, to work in a village doing some form of volunteerism work. I was quite surprised, as this guy had a good job/normal life in the Netherlands, but realized that there were alternatives, and he wanted his daughter to grow up having traveled and having some unique life experiences.
Dropped at gas station on the motorway (Interstate), I proceeded to ask around for anyone whom might be headed towards Germany/Berlin. I had no luck, though I did not wait long for a ride. As I sat down staring at empty fuel lanes, waiting for more cars to pull in and ask for a ride, a pleasant voice popped up behind me “hey, you looking for a ride man?” It was Shaun, along with a very large Buddhist monk. He invited me back into a van, where I tossed my pack into the back next to a cage with a wounded bird in it, and hopped in the front with Shaun and Valentina. They explained that they had seen me in passing, and the driver had actually stopped on the motorway, and driven backwards down the on-ramp to the petrol station to pick me up. This guy was AMAZING. I believe he was originally Dutch, but was living in a commune/monestary on the Germany border. He believed in the preservation of all animals, especially birds, and absolutely LOVED geese! He gave us a lift all the way to Osnabruck, almost 100km out of his way, and the whole time we talked about everything from sustainability to Aikido. There was another passenger in the front seat whom we dropped off on the way, and when we dropped him off, he gave us juice boxes and some cakes in return. The generosity of some people will never cease to amaze me.
Valentina got us our next two lifts by asking people (a small cute Italian girl, go figure!), a woman whom used to hitch around when she was younger but now works on selling large-scale wind turnbines and a gentleman whom did not say much but was more than happy to drive us a hundred or more KM. His good friend was Italian, and happened to call, so he handed his phone to Valentina, and they conversed in rapid-fire Italian, simply to have the chance to speak their native language. We were dropped off at a gas station on the motorway again, though this time we had much worse luck hitching. After MANY failed attempts and hours of waiting, a VW van with Polish plates rolled in, able to take two. I encouraged Shaun and Valentina to go, while I would continue to hitch on my own to Berlin for a meeting that night. I was planning on meeting George the next day in Dresden, so if I would not make it to Berlin I would simply hitch straight to Dresden. Well, I had no luck, and began wandering around in search of a camp. The first time on the road I needed to pitch my tent! Well, I may not have NEEDE to pitch it, but it was great to have a bug-free, warm, dry shelter wherever I wanted. I wrote a bit, ate some cake, and went to sleep.