Day 294 - Hitchhiking 101

Trip Start Nov 07, 2010
Trip End Jan 01, 2012

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Where I stayed
Private Apartment

Flag of Croatia  ,
Saturday, August 27, 2011

It's been almost an hour and my arm is cramping up. Heavy under the weight of my extended thumb.  The sun beats down onto the pavement, cooking us in the stifling midday heat.  We’ve walked god knows how long and the last ride we caught took us as far as Ston, still 168km to go to reach our destination.  Our packs are piled on the side of the road and Sean stands in the elusive shade of a nearby tree.  We’re hitchhiking across Croatia, part for adventure and part for frugality.  This country is majestic and stunning, but most of all expensive.  Foregoing the thirty dollar bus ride from Dubrovnik to Split, I posed the idea of hitching our way across the three hundred kilometers of countryside.  Any other person might have dismissed it as crazy, or dangerous, or unnecessary.  Luckily I’m not traveling with any other person.  I’m traveling with my best mate Sean, and it took all of two seconds for him to hop on board with the idea.  After a delicious breakfast and a fond farewell to this enchantingly beautiful city, we stepped out into the sweltering summer heat and headed north.  Shoes padding softly on the roadside gravel, tiny rocks crumbling under our feet, the sounds of cars rising and falling as they fly past us with no notice.  We walked, and walked, and walked some more before the weight of the packs could be felt in every tedious stride.  The views were our only recompense as the beauty of the Adriatic sea unfurled out below us.  This really is one of the most pristine natural wonders of the world and probably in the top ten scenic places on Earth to hitch a ride.  Somewhere along the way, mind lost in the ether of sensations around me - the cool sea breeze, the smell of figs and fruits from nearby trees, the heat of the day resonating upward from the cracked pavement, each swift step thumping in time to the beat of my heart - the surrealness of the moment hits me like a blow to the chest.  I can’t help but crack a smile, and it grows wider and wider with the growing realization of where I am at this exact moment; rambling through the coastal countryside of one of the most beautiful nations on Earth.  No plans, no expectations, no worries.  Just relying on the merits of two strong feet, an honest smile and the kindness of strangers to get me from one place to another.  It’s a liberating feeling to know what you’re capable of, and a redeeming one to trust in the goodness of others to help you reach your goals.  Putting faith in the iron clad determination of the soul and the open hearted generosity of people you don’t even know.  That’s the essence of hitchhiking, of true spontaneous travel, of adventure.  Time and time again, it never ceases to amaze me, the capacity of selfless gestures when you need them the most.  I’ve yet to be let down when putting myself in that situation, and it’s shown me the true extent of human kindness and love.  As we cruise along the winding mountain roads, evergreen trees and bare grey rocks form the backdrop only broken by the occasional red tiles of a farmhouse or country home in the distance.  I’m smiling at my own reflection in the backseat of an Audi A6.  Ooly, the driver and kind hearted soul who picked us up from Ston, is taking us the rest of the distance on his way to Zagreb while regaling us with his vast knowledge of Yugoslavian history along the way.  He’s an interesting man, one who lived through the wars of separation, the poverty of being a former Soviet bloc territory and the adventures of a young man hitchhiking his own way across Europe.  Now he’s the CFO of a major corporation, sends his kids to Oxford and Harvard, wears Lacoste on his days off and drives a beautiful piece of machinery across the countryside for business meetings and holidays.  He knows what it’s like to be young and vagabonding across foreign soil, and absolutely refuses to let us pay for our drinks when he makes a short pit stop at a local gas station saying, "I know what it’s like to be a student."  The statement strikes me and lingers in my mind as we near our destination.  We may not be in school anymore in the formal sense, but we’re getting an education nonetheless.  Out here on the open road, experience is our teacher, fellow travelers our classmates and the vast expanse of people and cultures across the globe our curriculum.  I can’t help but feel that today we had one of most challenging exams, as I relax back into the comfy leather seat and smile proudly at our accomplishments.  Class is in.  Welcome to Hitching 101.

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