In the course of my last 22 blog posts I shared stories about friendship, loneliness and love. Stories about generosity, my opinion on religion, I gave some moral advice and tried to prove people’s prejudices wrong. This time my post is all about hitch hiking. I hitched 1500 kilometers in 1 week, that’s a personal record. Take my hand, join me hitch hiking from Georgia to Turkey but please, don’t fasten your seatbelt. People over here might find that offensive since it indicates that you’re questioning their driving skills.
It’s Friday morning, the 18th of August. Alvani, Georgia to Trabzon, Turkey. It’s 700 km according to google maps. And it will take 11 hours according to google maps. Well, seems like it’s gonna be quite an adventures road. It’s 11 AM when I start putting up my thumb. 2 minutes later I sit in a car. My driver pulls over at a tiny shop, disappears for 2 minutes and comes back with a Red Bull – or let’s say with a Georgian fake version of it. This is something that happens quite often. People try to be nice and buy you random stuff. A Red Bull at 11 AM is definitely nothing I’d usually do, but I’ve learned not to reject anything. I don’t wanna be disrespectful. I drink it.
Another 2 minutes and my second lift stops. A taxi driver – I got used to it by now. Sometimes you get free lifts even by taxi drivers. My 3rd lift drives a little truck. He started honking like a madman when he saw me walking on the road in Tbilisi, searching for a good hitch hiking spot. This lift will last 3 hours and will include overtaking manoeuvres like you would expect them from Vin Diesel, 2 sorts of ice cream, a coke and an interesting goodbye gift. A roadworkers jacket in yellow signal color. I have to laugh and reject. That’s something I can definitely not squeeze in my backpack neither would it be any useful.
My 4th lift speaks German and wears a football shirt of the German national team. Broken German but we can communicate a little bit. He lived in Germany for 2 years. It’s always interesting to ask why. Most people worked there, quite a few people smuggled weed from the Netherlands and passed Germany on their way back and some guys have pretty unique reasons. I had a Jewish lift in Israel who told me about him visiting Germany once a year. “Why?” – “To remember his family members who got gassed during the second world war”. Painful swallowing. He tells me he loves Germany. Relief. David, my Georgian lift, went to Germany for another unique reason. One of the most evil things in this world. He went there because he had cancer. Apparently he earns good money and could afford a treatment in Germany. It took him 2 years but he defeated the cancer, and he’s convinced that he would have died if it wasn’t for the German specialists. It makes me happy and sad at the same time. What about the average Georgian citizen who lives of a 300€ per month salary. I don’t wanna think about it.
My 5th one is a short one but they make me listen to Rammstein as soon as I tell that I’m from ‘Germania’. I like Rammstein. The 6th lift is a young Russian couple. They are traveling in an old car, share food with me and try to convince me of god. He is real and I have to visit this monastery in Russia. I will understand. Of course I will. I leave them in Batumi, a city on the West coast of Georgia and I set up my tent near the sea. Don’t get too jealous, there was a busy railway next to my tent. So my sleep wasn’t nearly as recovering as you might expect. It is 11 PM when I set up my tent. This makes 12 hours of straight hitch hiking. Maximum waiting time: 4 Minutes.
My second day and my last lift in Georgia. It’s just another 30 km to the Turkish border. So far I have never waited for more than 5 minutes. Too good to be true, right? I guess god agrees and makes me wait 2 hours until someone brings me to the border control. It’s a busy border check. Hundreds of people are ‘lining‘ up. Hundreds of people are sweating and most of them are using their passport as a fan. It barely helps.
A scream halls through the building, a female scream. It sounds like someone gets killed. I can’t see what’s going on because the action happens behind a wall. People are shocked, confused and try to catch a glimpse. The screaming goes on. A woman in front of me turns around an looks at me. I can see the fear in her eyes. ‘Don’t fucking do it, don’t start a panic, there’s too many people around’ – she definitely didn’t understand a single world but I could calm her down somehow. The screaming stops. The weird feeling remains. Another 30 minutes and I’m in Turkey. I leave the border check and search for a shaded place. It’s time for a cigarette.
While I enjoy lowering my life expectation, I face a weird situation at the gate of a parking area. Looks like they don’t have enough money to pay the parking fee. I decide to help out. I offer them to pay. It’s 70 Cents. Ridiculous. The 2 Turkish guys offer me a lift in return. They will bring me 300 km straight to Trabzon and also invite me for lunch. I’am glad I helped.
Trabzon. Quite a boring city. The bad weather also contributed its part. I had a great host though. Abdulrahman from Africa offered me a place to recover. My first African host also shared one of his greatest worldly wisdom with me. ‘Catch the fish before the fish goes away’ – I don’t have anything to add.
It takes me 2 days to feel refreshed, 2 days to hit the road again. Another 700 km. Hitch hiking in Turkey works quite well in the beginning but I’ll get stuck after my 3rd lift. I’ll stand on the road for over 2 hours. The owner of a nearby cafe spots this and brings me tea and a snack. In general, people in Turkey love to invite you over and to offer food and tea. I have a great first impression of this country. My 4th lift is an English couple. Finally someone who speaks English! All the lifts I’ve talked about in this post had one thing in common. They either did not speak English at all or spoke just some basic words. This was actually the most exhausting part of this hitch hiking marathon. The language barrier.
My 5th and last lift for this day. My first huge truck! I am excited when he pulls over. The excitement turns into fatigue quite fast. We will need 3 hours for 80 km because the road leads over different hills. And apparently huge trucks are quite slow when it comes to hilly roads. The sun is slowly going down and I didn’t even make half of my planed distance. Well, there’s only one thing to do. I accept my fate and join Hasan for a tea.
Hasan drops me off at the highway entrance at 8 pm. It’s dark already so I decide to search for a camping spot in this area. I change my mind pretty fast. I can hear dogs barking from all directions, street dogs. I am not afraid of someone mugging me at night while sleeping in the middle of nowhere, but street dogs can be bloody dangerous. So I walk, I walk on the highway at night for another 6 km. Back in Germany the radio channels usually give some updates about the traffic situation. Sometimes they said ‘be careful, there are people on the highway’ – So far my reaction was like ‘What the fuck is wrong with these guys, why would you walk on a highway?’ – My reaction will never be the same again.
I set up my tent at another highway entrance, another night near the road, another relentless night. It was a bad decision to get into this truck, right? If you read my last post you might know that bad decisions sometimes turn into good ones. On this Wednesday morning I’ll start hitch hiking on one of the worst spots I’ve ever stood on. And the first car will stop. A Russian couple who gives me a straight lift to Kayseri. A straight 400 km lift.
This was the first part of ‘my way back home’. Long days, but amazing lifts. I’ve met many generous people, had some good laughs, some tasty ice cream and I’ve had my first lift in a truck. It’s another 3000 km to my home, but I can already feel how I get closer. I am ready and I’m excited about the last stage of my East-Europe journey. But first, I am going to attend a Muslim wedding tonight and climb a 4000 meter mountain tomorrow. Wait what? Don’t worry, I’ll tell you about this next time.