Tag Archives: hitchhiking

Blown away by Cambodians’ hospitality

There are 2 or 3 posts from Laos waiting for a writeup, but here’s a story I don’t want to wait to write about.

Having left the lazy paradise-like Don Khon island

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I hitchhiked from Ban Nakasang to the Cambodian border and then 200 km into the country. The  reasons being: I wanted to do something more adventurous, enjoy solitude of hitching in a middle of nowhere and avoid buses, since there doesn’t seem to be any scam-free cross-border service.

Even though a couple experienced backpackers warned me against it,  mentioning extremely low traffic and scam-friendly atmosphere around the border, I had a great day. Mostly due to the incredibly generous people, and not just on the Cambodian side. I  didn’t even have to wave at the first driver – he just pulled over when he saw me walking.

That’s nothing, though, compared to the friendliness of Cambodian people. Well, except for the border officials, of course, who managed to extort the standard $5 bribe. When I demanded a receipt and they produced one (no doubt fake, but I had no way of proving that) my line of defense fell. Touche, you corrupt scumbags. At least the Lao officials gave up and stamped me out without paying. Incidentally, they did so soon after I started whistling and singing out of boredom. Needless to say, my vocal skills are, ekhem, somewhat lacking.

Back to the nicer part of population, though. I walked a few kilometers from the border with hardly any vehicles passing me by. Despite scorching sun, I enjoyed it with a  nice European-like forest on both sides of the road (a nice change after dense jungles of Lao) and no people in sight. Around noon I finally stumbled upon a small patch of shade on my side of the road and used this opportunity to take a break. Within few minutes a young lady approached me with her kids and grandmother. They said they were worried about my safety and invited me to rest and have a meal or drink at their house just 50 meters away. The young lady even offered to stand by the road and call me if there is anything coming or drive me to the nearest town (60 km away!). Since Vietnam I keep my guards up and distrust local people, especially after what I had read about Cambodia, but I think their concerns and offers might have been genuine. It seemed too elaborate and sophisticated for a scam. And I don’t think any tourists ever show up in that area. Even after I declined and assured them I was fine, the young lady kept me company until I started walking again to regain my solitude.

But before that, two policemen stopped and said they had to drive me back to the crossing, so that I could take a regular (i.e., rip-off) bus, quoting concerns for my safety as the reason. After a short conversation, though, they let me stay, without being pushy or insistent. They just warned that they could not warrantee safety. Maybe I really met that mythological creature: an honest policeman in Cambodia. The lady seemed genuinely surprised by my worries when I saw them approaching.

Anyway, soon after I got up, I caught a short ride on a scooter and then a long one, all the way to my destination, in the box of a pick-up truck. The cabin and the box where completely packed, but the universal rule in SE Asia is: The vehicle is never full.

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The bone-breaking (tailbone-breaking, to be  specific) bumps were not the hardest part. Neither was lack of legroom, forcing me to sit in a position that in Yoga might be called A crane who thinks he is a snail. The worst part were the nice, wide and flat unpaved roads, allowing for high speed and resulting in everything in the box getting covered by a  thick layer of dust, including yours truly. I was really glad to have my facemask with me. And my swimming goggles.

Anyway, the family driving that truck was incredibly friendly. An explanation of all the care and generosity I had encountered might be what the son of the family told me: Cambodians find the idea of solo travel terrifying. Perhaps that’s one of the many scars from the Khmer Rouge times.

As I said, I’m really happy with how smoothly it went (well, except for the bribe). I only feel a bit uneasy about stingyness of hitchhiking. Money is not my main reason for doing it, although I have been unable to fit into my planned budget so far and enjoy those substantial savings. Still, I’m probably wealthier than almost anyone living in this country and feel a bit guilty about asking those poor people to help me for free, even though it doesn’t cost them anything and they have an easy way to refuse (just ignore). I had had the same issue, though to a lesser extent, in other countries I visited. I never hear it mentioned by other hitchhikers, so maybe it’s just my idiosyncrasy. Then again, due to my trade and education, I believe that once I settle down and find a job, I’ll be making significantly more than most backpackers will, so that might partially explain it. I guess I’m overthinking this entire issue :-)

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A bit of Balkans, part 2

The second part of my trip was no less exciting. Other than spending another night with a heavy thunderstorm in an abandoned building, I had some exciting encounters with pickpockets, muggers, scammers and corrupt law enforcement.

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A bit of Balkans

Few weeks ago I went with my friends to the Balkans. First we visited Belgrade – nothing interesting except for lot of homeless people and dogs, trash and zoophilic statues:

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Then, after a long and only partially successful struggle to find a hiking map, we went hiking, first from Niksic to Ostrog, then in the Lovcen NP, until we arrived at Kotor. Again, nothing terribly exciting, except for a couple cool camping spots. The first one was next to some mysterious abandoned construction:

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that contained nothing but rocks

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The other cool spot was next to some abandoned dwellings, few hours hike from the nearest village:

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And there we didn’t need to worry about the firewood

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Anyway, after a week spent together we decided to split and the excitement level rose significantly.  I got molested, worried about tides soaking me and my gear wet, was refused a threesome that I didn’t ask for and camped in a hell of a thunderstorm. All that within few hours. Here is the story:

I hitchhiked to Jaz near Budva, very touristy place, famous for its beaches. Kept walking until I got away from the tourists. Soon I arrived at a nude beach – sweet! Nothing like swimming in the warm Adriatic Sea and lying an a beach, free of the textile oppression. On top of that, next to me there was an abandoned bar that I could sleep in:

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Everything seemed great except that the beach turned out to be frequented by desperate creeps, hoping to find a young male or female to have a quickie with. I soon learned not to smile or show any friendliness towards others. Instead, I set up my camp

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and a new problem appeared. The tide started rising and I wasn’t sure how high it would get. When I tried to ask a local couple about it, the girl firmly said ‘No!’ Guess she thought I was one of the many creeps on the beach.

Luckily, in the evening the water started getting lower and I could enjoy great view without any fears. What could be better than lying in a hammock, by the Adriatic Sea, at night, in an abandoned bar, with no people in sight? Maybe doing all that in a heavy thunderstorm, watching lightnings strike the sea, listening to heavy waves crashing just couple meters away from you? Yep, it was as cool as it sounds :-)

tbc

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Unexpected camping

Yesterday I was trying to hitchhike from Warsaw to Gdynia (approx. 350 km distance). After over 6 hours in a heavy rain I found myself only 90 km from the starting point. Guess that’s the price a guy pays for having a beard. Anyway, I couldn’t stop shivering and it was starting to get dark, so I decided to spend the night in a forest by the road. Especially that there were some nice birch trees and I was hoping to find some tall dead trees leaning on others that could’ve stayed dry that way. I wasn’t disappointed.

Good thing I had recently skimmed through the Mors Kochanski’s book and noticed a trick to break such trees into smaller pieces (if you don’t know it, look it up – very neat and useful).

Another trick I remembered was stacking several logs to build a heat-reflecting wall. So I put it on one side of the fire and gathered some branches with leafs on the opposite side to sleep on.

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Later on I realized that putting that wall of dry wood right next to a fire was not one of my brightest ideas. I’m going to blame it on exhaustion from cold and not on my stupidity. Anyway, I moved the wall to the other side, so that it could reflect the heat onto my back. Since it was hardly higher than me laying on my side, and thus not very effective, later into the night it served as a fuel.

It turns out that every year I find myself camping without any gear and then promise myself not to ever do that again. This time it wasn’t too bad – at least I was warm. But I didn’t sleep fearing the fire might get out of control. Guess I need more experience to gain confidence.

I’m really happy that I managed to start a fire in this damp forest. And I realized there are several items I should be carrying whenever going for a day hike or longer. For my own reference, here’s the list:
Headlamp
Pocket knife
Fire steel
Lighter
First aid kit
Tarp (or an emergency blanket)
Thin ropes to hang it
Rain jacket
Hat

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A sad encounter [Norwegian Adventure, day 6]

When I finished my breakfast and was just about to put my camp down, an older gentleman walking with his dog stopped to ask if I had all the food I needed and if I hadn’t been cold during the night. Then he started talking about his situation. He had recently survived a big personal loss and was currently dealing with some problems that had resulted from it. He nearly started crying. That’s what happens when you travel by yourself – you get approached by lonely people who desperately need someone to talk to. So I listened to what he had to say, because what more can you do? And then our ways parted, or so I thought.

I put my camp down, walked to the road and started hitchhiking. Four hours later I was still at the very same spot, quite irritated. And then a car pulled over. Inside I saw the man I had talked to in the morning. He wasn’t going far, but he could take me out of this town, to an important highway junction in Bjerkvik. On our way, we stopped by his summer house where he was living now. He insisted that I come in and see it. It was really nice and offered wonderful view:

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He also offered me to stay in his guest house but I would feel too awkward accepting it due his personal situation. And besides, I wanted to get back on the road. He drove me a bit farther from the highway junction, so that I had better chances of catching a ride. After few minutes, however, I thought he had been driving me for too long. I suspected it was due to his emotional struggle and I didn’t want to take advantage of him, so I asked him to drop me off at the nearest spot I saw it was possible. He seemed a bit irritated by that, but didn’t say anything.

When I saw where I ended up, I felt a bit uneasy. It was a beautiful spot for camping – it offered wonderful view and was far enough from the nearest town. It was really bad for hitchhiking, though. While I was wondering how long I would have to wait there, I saw a cyclist I had been passing few times already.

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‘No matter how bad it gets, it would be much worse if I was cycling’, I thought. Anyway, soon to my surprise I got picked up by a couple of young nice guys. They drove me for a few hours until they had to turn at another highway junction in Nordkjosbotn. During the ride they taught me how to pronnounce that name, which I would often say from now on to impress all the other non-Norwegian travellers.


A long, long ride [Norwegian Adventure, day 4]

I’m standing by the road. The weather is nice, the place is quite scenic, so I’m in a good mood. After about an hour of waiting, an old car pulls over. A young kid asks me: ‘Where are you going?’

‘To Nordkapp’

He smiles and says: ‘Hop in’.

It turned out he was going to Narvik, about 700 km or 10 hours drive down the road. Sweet! And on top of that, I had heard some nice things about Narvik when I was in Kiruna, Sweden last winter.

The kid said he would always pick up hitchhikers, mostly because he enjoyed listening to their stories. Our ride would be the longest lift he gave to anyone and he seemed quite happy about it. Unfortunately, he also seemed a bit disappointed to learn that I had had a few longer rides before.

It was a magnificent ride. That day I saw my first fjords, entered the Arctic and observed the landscape completely change. The views were absolutely mindblowing. Sadly, after few hours the driver seemed to grow a bit annoyed by my presence in his car. I was not surprised by that, knowing his young age. At some point I mentioned being interested in magic. After I showed him a few tricks when he wasn’t driving, he got happy again. I guess he considered me cool again.

An interesting thing happened when we were waiting for a ferry. He insisted that I pay for myself. Of course, I was grateful for the ride and would pay for myself even if he didn’t mention it. But I found the way he told me to pay quite amusing. He did it not only in a very assertive way, but his tone might be considered a bit hostile in most societies. And the funny part is, the price was very low – 35 NOK, i.e. what you normally pay in Norway for a loaf of bread or a kilo of apples. My impression is that Norwegians in general are extremely assertive and never feel intimidated to settle up, even when it comes to silly small amounts.

On the ferry I finally got a chance to take a few pictures of the mountains. A Norwegian gentleman laughed when I asked him to take a picture of me. To him the view was so ordinary.
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I asked the driver to drop me off just before Narvik, so that I could set up my camp. I guess we didn’t understand each other, since he left me in a middle of a town. I tried to hitchhike from there, but I knew I didn’t have much chance. And after hour or two of futile waiting, I made up my mind: I would spend the next day in Narvik, use the time to relax and explore and get back on the road the day after. To my surprise (and relief) it took only 3 or 4 km walk to get to the far end of the town, where I set up my camp:
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Just by the beautiful Herjangs Fjord:
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I also learned how trusting Norwegians can be. When I asked two ladies who apparently owned a garage near my campsite, they not only had no problem with me camping there (and seemed surprised that I had taken the trouble to ask), but even suggested a spot that might be more convenient. Neither of them seemed to be bothered by my presence at all.


Norwegian Adventure, day 3

The third day of my trip was quite uninteresting. First I went to a sporting goods store I had noticed the day before and got some fuel for my stove. From now on I would be able to cook a hot meal, yay!

I went to a gas station to ask for a ride, but all the people were either going the other direction or unwilling to give me a ride. I was surprised how frank people were with me: ‘No, I don’t want to’. To some it might seem rude, but I really appreciated it.

So despite the rainy weather, I went to a highway ramp, wrote ‘Nordkapp’ on my sign and turned down two offers before I realized that I wouldn’t find anyone going any significant distance. So I went with the third driver that pulled over. It was an elder priest who was going back home from a funeral. He complained a bit about Norwegians not being religious but other than that was a nice fella. After about 20 minutes he dropped me off just before Trondheim.

After a couple hours of putting a backpack raincover on, off and on again, I got picked up and driven almost 200 km to Steinkjer. Then literally the first car approaching me pulled over and picked me up. The driver was a young kid who had never picked up a hitchhiker before. He really wanted to take a picture of me to show to his friends who, by the time he dropped me off, already claimed him insane for picking me up, even though we were going together only for a few minutes. I ended up in Aspaugen. Some locals looked really surprised to see a hitchhiker. But they didn’t get a chance to get a close look because very soon I got picked up again. This time by an older gentleman going to inspect his forest in Kram.

When I got there it was already 7:00pm or so, so I doubted I would get another ride that day. Still, it was early enough to give it a shot. And when I was just about to go seek a camping spot, an elder lady picked me up. She explicitly said she wanted some company to keep her awake for the remaining hour of driving. So I did my best to be an interesting conversation partner. She was going to Grong but was kind enough to drop me off a kilometer or two farther down the road, in a nice rest area where I could camp.

The place itself and the view it offered were very charming:OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

And the two beautiful trees growing in the very middle looked like they had been planted there with hammock lovers in mind:
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Having set up my camp and cooked some hot meal (an instant soup with couscous), I called it a day and went to sleep. It was all perfect… except for the guy who arrived at 1:00am and spent like 20 minutes inflating his air bed with a very loud, annoying pump.


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