"When I went, while on a 10-week adventure through Russia, China, Kazakhstan and Mongolia, my Russian companion, Stasya, and I missed the one very impatient bus that would take us from the ferry terminal to Somewhere Else.
Blinking in the pale golden dust under a brilliant blue sky, Stasya and I fell silent, marooned on the now deserted shore, with just a view back onto Vladivostok’s shimmering harbour and Golden Horn Bay, and Russky Island’s gentle groves and virgin hills for thrills. With a population of just 5,000, we concurred without the need for words that it would be a long, long wait for the next one.
“Let’s hitch!” I ventured. This was not as foolhardy as it might sound: Stasya, a 23-year-old economics graduate whom I’d met on the mainland, described herself as a hitchhiker like it defined her. (“I am Stasya! I am hitchhiker!” she’d chirruped in her singsong Slavic intonation.) She’d hitchhiked alone from her home town, St Petersburg, to Vladivostok — some 4,000 miles — in three months. Stasya was a hitchhiking pro.
On hearing the next distant rumble, Stasya, with quiet resolve, calmly stepped out into the road to deploy her impressively persuasive car-stopping strategy.
An old navy pick-up truck hurtled towards us. Stasya held her palm out in the international sign language of “Stop”. Then she raised and lowered her arm, signifying: “Slow down — now!”
Spellbound, the driver duly obeyed. As he pulled over, I peered in to find an unsmiling, sinister-looking man dressed from head to toe in civilian camouflage. Brow grooved, I followed Stasya into the cab and our driver sped off into the unknown... My instincts were not happy, but in company, I was kind of exhilarated..."
The Sunday Times
July 5, 2009