‘An easy hitch’ is what I write on Instagram, it’s just 300 km to Belgrade
I’m glad that the sun outside of Sofia isn’t as strong as it was in Turkey
It’s weird, these cars passing by for over 4 hours look familiar
It’s Berlin, Augsburg, Chemnitz and Köln, it’s German number plates. All the Turkish-German families are on their way back, Eid al-Adha is over. Is it time to hitch hike back to Germany? Is it time to hitch hike BACK home?
Monday, 2 days earlier, 1 PM. I am standing on a highway, the highway that leads out of Istanbul. I meet Müca, a Turkish hitch hiker. We trade some food, I get weird bubblegum in exchange for an apple. A classic hitch hiker meeting. We decide not to hitch together, since 2 men isn’t exactly what most lifts are looking for. A few lifts later we end up in the same car anyway. Like I said, a classic hitch hiker meeting. We split up near the Turkish-Bulgarian border and a few hours later, I find myself standing on a Bulgarian highway 300 km east of Sofia. The sunset allows for a beautiful scenic view, but it also worries me. Hitch hiking on a highway in the dark? I might not make it to Sofia. Once again I realize, that I should get up earlier next time but yeah, I am a lazy bitch.
Luckily I get a lift that brings me to a petrol station 200 km further west. From there I get my first lift in the dark. A sketchy looking dude with black clothes standing on the end of a petrol station at 11 PM? I did not set my hopes too high, but 3 Serbs help me out. ‘You do not have cocaine with you, do you?’ Classic joke. They also drink beer and share some with me. I am back in Eastern Europe. Bulgarian beer, cranked up 2Pac music and even some Modern Talking. Guess that’s all you can ask for at midnight. I arrive in Sofia at 1 AM.
Lauren welcomes me with some Chinese food. I met her in Jordan and she offered me a couch as soon as she read about me traveling through Sofia. My 3rd little reunion after Alice in Italy and Inbal in Jerusalem. We both leave on Wednesday, she takes a cab to the airport, I walk towards a petrol station outside of Sofia. And by the way, I actually had a 4th reunion in Sofia. Do you remember the Bulgarian couple who drove me from Cappadocia to Istanbul? The one with the car breakdown? Yes, they guided me through the Bulgarian cuisine while my host Lauren was passing her last exam.
Guys, are you ready for a long ride? You’re allowed to fasten your seat belt this time. People in Europe don’t take it as an offense.
0/2000 km – ‘The turning point‘, Sofia – Wednesday, 1 PM
These German number plates make me realize how much I’m looking forward to see my family and friends in Germany. They make me realize that I am ready to go back. A dude standing in Bulgaria with a ‘Germany‘ cardboard sign. Considering the amount of German cars I expected it to be a safe bet. I was convinced of someone picking me up. I was wrong. If you want me to teach you something about hitch hiking: Never take a lift for granted.
60/2000 km – ‘The long haul’, Bulgaria-Serbia border – Wednesday, 6 PM
It takes me 5 hours to get a lift to the border. Not one of the Germans, but a Serbian guy coming back from work. There are hundreds of cars waiting at the border station, lining up to continue their journey. 90% of them are from Germany. I walk through and continue hitch hiking on the Serbian side. I am still optimistic. 5 hours later I call it a day and set up my tent.
60/2000 km – ‘A new day’, Bulgaria-Serbia border – Thursday, 9 AM
I am motivated and decide to drop my hitch hiking sign. Maybe ‘Germany’ was a bit too optimistic. I am a little bit angry because none of the German-Turkish people stopped for me. Especially since my experiences in Turkey were simply outstanding. I guess living in Germany changes people. I will wait for another 6 hours. 6 hours until a car with a German number plate pulls over. A lift to Germany! Before I let you know how fucked up this lift actually was I wanna say thanks to these 3 Turkish truck drivers. They were waiting on the other side of the road and invited me over for some breakfast. That’s exactly how I remember Turks. It’s these moments that cheer you up, even after waiting for more than 10 hours.
470/2000 km – ‘Plot twist’ , a petrol station between Zagreb and Belgrade – Thursday, 10 PM
We stop at a petrol station to get some rest. We hang around for an hour, drink coffee, use the Wifi and smoke cigarettes. Then, all of a sudden, things get weird. We go back to his car and that Turkish dude abruptly gropes my legs. ‘Dude, what the fuck are you doing?’ – ‘Sorry Daniel, but you have to leave here.’ A weird ending for a lift in general and an even more disappointing one for a lift to Germany. At least the patrol station is still busy and I can keep on asking people for a lift. I ask them in German. Almost everyone is German. No luck.
470/2000 km – ‘An angel’ , the same fucking petrol station – Friday, 4 AM
I decide to get some rest, I have been up for 18 hours already. I sit down at a table in the patrol station. Hmm.. I could actually just put my hitch hiking sign in front of me on the table. Maybe someone will wake me up and offer me a lift. I’m an optimist, but even I don’t believe that this could ever happen. I close my eyes and someone wakes me up 3 minutes later. Angels don’t always have blond, curly hair and halos, sometimes they appear as a skinny Serbian man. ‘I am driving to Germany and I’m tired, I need someone to talk. Wanna join’?
1400/2000 km – ‘My longest lift’ , a petrol station near Nuernberg – Friday, 5 PM
Darko, that’s the name of my savior. We drive together for 14 hours. We both stay awake during the whole drive. Countless coffee breaks, cigarettes and a 2 hour long police examination in Germany. We both actually drive. As soon as someone gets too tired we just switch seats. It’s funny, in these last 2 days approximately 1000 German/Turkish people passed me. They were all on their way back to Germany. In the end it’s none of them, but a Serbian, 28 years old guy who lives near Leipzig. I felt touched when he called me yesterday to ask if I made it back home safely.
1600/2000 km – ‘My last night’, a petrol station near Frankfurt – Friday, 9 PM
Martin, my second truck driver but my first one who speaks English. I’ve been awake for more than 30 hours but still, we were continuously talking during our 2 1/2 hour lift. And he gladly answered all the question I had. Did you know that trucks can’t drive faster than 90 km/h in Europe? Their trucks are curbed. Consider that when you complain about them driving freaking slowly next time. By the time our lift ends, I’ve been awake for 38 hours, I set up my tent and lapse into a coma.
1950/2000 km – ‘Almost there’, Saarbrücken – Saturday, 2 PM
My first lift, a young girl who’s fighting depressions, brings me to Mainz. While walking towards my next hitch hiking spot I notice a SB number plate on a petrol station. I talk to the young dude who’s driving home with his pregnant girlfriend and he immediately offers me a lift to Saarbrücken. His car has 580 horsepower, definitely a new personal record.
2000/2000 km – ‘A worthy ending’, Bergweiler – Saturday, 3 PM
I told only 2 people that I’m gonna arrive early. My family and friends were expecting me 1 week later. Both friends offered me to pick me up, but it felt wrong. I wanted to hitch hike all the way back. Many people can not believe how lucky I always am, and neither can I. I stand near the highway entrance, wait for 5 minutes and someone starts talking to me from the back. ‘Fuck Daniel, what the hell are you doing here?’ – A couple that lives in the same tiny village as I do, a village with 600 citizens. I get a straight lift to my home.
Tears and speechlessness are the results of my little surprise. I am back home! I am reunited with my family and my friends. It feels amazing and weird at the same time, it feels unreal. On this trip I’ve learned to enjoy the moment and that’s what I do. I know I’ll be gone again soon but that’s something I’m gonna dismiss for the next few days.
I am proud. For the first time, I am proud of myself. I’ve had many reunions in the last 2 days but there is plenty left. When I think about the last 5 months I feel like I did something great. I met people who changed my life and I’m sure I had an impact on some of them as well. I hope I did show you, how beautiful people can be and how dumb most of our prejudices actually are. It was a long way home and I am not just talking about these last 2000 km. It was a long way from the start and it will be a long way home once again. But this is life, isn’t it? It’s a long way full of obstacles and gravel roads. Full of junctions and exits. It includes traffic jams and fast lanes. And it is full of surprises. Besides some contingencies that are floating around in my head recently, there’s one thing I know for sure. I’ll stand on the road again pretty soon, I’ll start my way back home once again.
Someone once told me a story about rainbows. Apparently you change genders if you walk to the beginning. I guess that’s as likely as finding gold goblins but anyway, I think rainbows are something beautiful. Something mysterious that connects two places. Something that conjured a smile on my face on the day I arrived back in Bergweiler.