Getting up in Laza was an easy thing. Pack up the tent, a couple of vagabond dogs and thumb on the road. A father with his child appeared and took me to the next town (Vaslui), where I could ride a van that left me in a crossroad to the village of Crasna.
There I met Constantinu, a man who was working and living in Spain and was temporally in Romania because his mother was ill in the hospital. He was with his two children, picking some plums from a nearby tree. He had the double nationality, and showed me a crumpled paper that truly proved it. He was working in Oviedo’s El Corte Ingles as furniture fitter, but had lived in Valencia, Tarragona and, as many other Romanians, in Alcalá de Henares. He was a man worn out by work, with tired honey eyes, with plenty of stories about the ages he had been working.
I stayed with him and his children one hour or so, until their bus came and we said goodbye. I kept hitching in the same place without much luck, until it came a lightly dressed beautiful girl, asked me if the bus was gone and, as I answered affirmatively, began to hitchhike by my side. I knew that was going to be fast, and I was right. The first car that passed in front of us stopped.
The girl sat in the front seat. Nobody was saying anything. Until the girl got down.
“Can I stay in the car?”, I asked.
“Oh! I thought you were together with the girl”, answered the driver, “of course, you can”
And then it turned to be some familiar thing. His wife was living in Barcelona and knew Spanish, and he had been many times there. He had made money in the timber business with wood from those Carpathian forests, selling it to the growing Chinese market. He knew some words in Spanish and said:
“Ven a mi casa, this must be celebrated”
His house made me remember a typical Mediterranean house, a big pitcher, a giant decorative mortar and a grapevine covering with shadow the front of the façade. Further, apple and lemon trees, and a couple of dogs wandering or sleeping around. And three women talking bla bla bla under the shadow.
One of them was the wife of Laurian. She knew Spanish very good; she was a designer living in Barcelona, now on Romania for vacations. Their newborn baby was there, so I congratulated the family. At her side, her sister was a little bit shy, beautiful 25 years and dark brilliant hair falling down the neck. She demonstrated her good English as we were making a small talk, but the sister insisted to put me inside the car and drove right to the border of Moldova, with Laurian speeding up a big motorcycle at our side.
I stayed a long time on the border. Picking up a foreigner can be a funny thing when you are driving alone and you are a little bit bored, but nobody sees it so clear when it’s the time to cross the border. There, it wasn’t an exception. Golden dry grass was covering a flat zone without any shadow in the deep hours of the midday and my head was starting to burn. My hat was lost in a lonely Bosnian road, so I had nothing to cover, but suddenly a van stopped.
It had many seats and some exhausted people. They were Moldovans living in London, and came all the way by bus for the summer holidays. The bus was half empty, so half of the people were Romanians who already went down. A couple of them talked a little with me, but they were so tired, so the conversation was not fluid. A woman who only spoke Russian was repeating “Samaliot, samaliot” and the customs guards let us go without many hassle. Then happened something strange. There was some misunderstanding when they were talking about me. There was a discussion about how I got there. Some said I came by plane, another said by train… I told them I came hitchhiking, but nobody wanted to listen. They were very happy with the discussion, and I was having a funny time. But it didn’t last quite long. They were tired.
The green and yellow beautiful Moldovan rolling hills passed upon my eyes as the car was making kilometres until half the way between the border and the capital, where I decided to get down in the harmed town of Hincesti.
I thought that in that decrepit place I would be able to find something cheap to sleep. But cheap or expensive, I couldn’t find anything, so I followed the road without any hurry, sitting in a bank, and eating some smashed berries I had in my bag. Those berries really looked bad, but they seemed to calm the need of asking for something of two gipsy woman. But they were two nice fat old gypsy woman and I sat with them and laughed and made some tricks and I kept following the road, stop at a couple of bars and at the end of the town there was a beautiful road pub near a forest in the foot of a hill, and I decided to take a couple of beers and plant my tent near the pub because I was still afraid of bears and wolves and all the fucking beasts in the world.
And that was all. And goodnight.
With the daylight it came the calm. But when I got outside and thought the last night’s tight spot, I discarded that it was a bear. For the trajectory of the beast, when it touched my little tent had surely passed under the guy rope, so it couldn’t be that big. And as Romania is the country of the vagabond dogs, I supposed it was one of them.
Adrian was my first lift of the day. He was a quads mechanic and 4×4 mountain races driver on his free time. He was pretending to be angry because I wasn’t making so many photos of the landscape, which he considered very stunning – and it actually was. Finally he stopped his car in the top of a mountain pass where I was obliged to make some shots. Here you have one of them:
Then we went to his business, a house full of quads, paintball stuff and 4×4 cars, all made to attract tourists on summertime, he explained me something about all the show and gave me a jar of delicious marmalade. From there I jumped into a funny concrete lorry with souvenirs from all over Europe decorating the cabin. The driver had been to the Vatican and was very proud of it, but it was the only thing we could exchange: he didn’t speak any language but Romanian and was incredibly bad in understanding the body language. He even couldn’t understand what my name was. But for some strange reason – maybe instinct – he dropped me in the exact place I wanted to go: the Bran Castle.
The Bran Castle is part of the Dracula industry in Romania. Even thought there’s no historical evidence that Vlad Tepes had been in the castle, its walls are covered with Dracula’s illustrations, genealogical trees of his family and other stuff about him. But why not? It’s a beautiful castle in the middle of Transylvania, so even it’s too modern for a middle ages castle, let’s believe Dracula lived there, make many photos and say “hey, I set the foot on the same floor Dracula did!”
From there, a surgeon brought me right to the center of Brasov. I decided to look for a hostel, it wasn’t hard to find.
I spent two days in the city . With a center full of colors like many other Central European cities, Brasov has a small center that is rapidly seen. Then some tour on the nearby mountains and it’s done. And comes the time to join the every night party in the hostel, drink many beers and meet new friends. That night it was the World Cup 2010, playing England against Australia. There were many Australians and English in the hostel, so it was not difficult to find a subject to talk about. The Koreans were more quiet, and a French girl told me stories of Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan, where she had been to and I was heading for. But I stopped the conversation afraid of getting ti know too many things, because it’s always better to discover them by yourself.
After two nights, on a rainy morning, I was next to Otniel as he was driving me some towns away from Brasov, where Daniel picked me up. He was a dentist going to Hasi to make an exam to reaffirm himself as a good doctor, and he decided to take me until Bacau (that is quite a long ride). He was complaining about his country. He was not agree about the measures to be implemented by the Romanian Government against the upcoming crisis, that was going to cut the public employees salaries by 20%.
“And nobody protests in the streets! We don’t know how to fight for our rights!”
Then he complained about the Romanian drivers, telling that people drive too dangerously in his country, criticizing all the cars that were overtaking us… until he made a mistake and we nearly had a small crash. He said shyly “sorry”.
But despite this, it was a very nice ride, maybe the best I had until the moment. We talked a lot about the revolution against Ceaucescu – killed by Romanian people -, the Franco dictatorship in Spain, and other political facts. In one moment, he revealed himself as gay, so I gave him the advice to come to Sitges, a famous gay destination near my town, and he got happy when I told him gays could get married in Spain.
“You are an advanced country!”, he said. But I didn’t know what to answer.
Once in Bacau, I got a lift with Radu, who had become father some days ago and was very happy. He was still a student, and now was going to spend some days in his family cottage in the town of Ivanesti. There he had a vegetable garden, some livestock and bees that made exquisite honey. He said he liked more to work in the field than the engineering he was studying, but there was no future there.
There I took the last ride of the day. As I was planning to reach Moldova the next morning, I didn’t exchange more money. And the driver of the next car wanted a bit, the first of the whole trip who asked me for this. I told him I had not enough, to stop the car so I would wait another, but he was not stopping. Finally he agreed to take my little money and threw me out of the car after the next curve.
But sometimes fortune smiles to someone, and as I looked around, I discovered I was in a wonderful place near a lake, not far from the town of Laza.
The rain wasn’t stopping. All over the Bosnian valleys, through the happy character of its people and their Balcanic enthusiasm, the rain satisfied the thirst of those green trees and bushes, and filled the rivers to its limit. But I didn’t give up. I kept hitching the road, thumb by thumb, from one car to the other, from a mechanic who went to buy tools to a wedding car all covered by shabby ribbons and bows of doubtful elegance. One Imam, orthodox Serbs, returned emigrants who made money in Italy or Switzerland and now where living an easy and wealthy life in their hometown… resuming, many singular people, all of them with their peculiarities, different and original, genuine as the country itself, talking about a better future or a sad past, and absolutely, all of them, funny and talkative and kind.
One of them was Stefano, a 64 years old man who lived in Switzerland for 35 years. Now he was back in Bosnia for the rest of his life. He spoke Italian very well and, encouraged by my Spanish origin, was saying all the time:
“Si, si, si! Si señor!”
It was a good time with Stefano. He talked to me about the war (which he had not lived), about his sons, one working in Italy, the other in Beograd. Happy for the meeting, he drove me 35 km further than he should, dropped me in Bijelina and I began to walk.
Bijenlina is right in the bordering region with Serbia. It seemed a richer place, full of colorful little houses with gardens all over kilometers of road, and I had nowhere to place my tent. Finally I found an abandoned house, and I slept on its backyard. Next morning the house was full of people. In the garden, inside the house… and around my tent. As I discovered, it was some sort of communal house that was burned some time ago, and the neighbours where repairing it. All of them looked at me as I was packing my things, and they didn’t say anything, as if I was a strange apparition. I said goodbye and hit the road with the feeling that something was wrong.
Although I had to wait a long time for a car, I crossed the border and arrived to Beograd in the early evening of a long day of June. That was fine enough. A new place to discover through the slope.
Beograd caused me a good impression. Although it’s lack of some great monument (the castle is less impressing than the ones you can find in many places of Italy, France or Spain), and although the smallness of it’s center, it gave me good vibes. The Serbians are kind people, and the girls are really attractive. On the castle walls, groups of young people drank beer and stronger things inside the warm June nights. I could talk a little about basketball, Partizan and Bodiroga and so on, but I came back early to the hostel to wash my clothes. Something that was really needed.
Bosnia is one of the last really genuine countries in Europe. There’s a great mix, but the difference between every of their cultures remains strong. A massive amount of mountains allows tiny roads that follows green valleys between the diversity of its people. And there are also the memories of the war, which are not funny, but interesting enough. Traveling is something we do mostly for fun, but there’s nothing bad in put a little bit of interest in the history, the circumstances, and the possibilities of the place we are visiting. And Bosnia have plenty of circumstances which can be interesting to know. Since the romans settlements to the slavicisation of the country and the Turks invasions, the assassination of the Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria –the spark that set off World War I-, the other war and the communist times. And then happened what we already know. Me, I don’t like involving too much in the politics of each place. I mean I like to know, but I don’t like to discuss. I better let people talk and talk to me, and expose their visions. It’s by listening that we learn more; the more you listen, the more you’ll have an exact vision of the problems on locals eyes, that can be so different from the visions we get in our houses. And this is important. The less we discuss about politics, the more we’ll learn and more friends we’ll have. Politic talks are discussions if we give our opinion, but are interviews if we ask the people to explain their point of view to us. So my recommendation is to make more interviews than anything else. Everywhere, but specially in a country with a past like Bosnia.
I had some special rides in Bosnia. One of them was Mustafa and his friend. They gave me a lift one day, and next day I found them again on the road and took me for second time. But more amazing was to find myself inside a school bus with a teenagers’ classroom on a three-day trip, where I felt abused with questions about my girlfriends, spanish football and sex.
From Italy I had rain in all my days. Not all time, but all days some rain at all. I was hitchhiking with my waterproof when Namir and Goran stopped and took me to Banja Luka. I have a great memory of them. Namir was the driver. He was a tall ex-basketball player who went to play in Poland, but had to go back to his country for the war. At his side, Goran enjoyed to play blues on the tape. They invited me to drink a coffee on a road bar, and then I went with them to buy things for their house, to pay the electricity bill in the National Electric Company, and to the bank to pay the bill for the water. Then, we went to their house (and mysteriously some slivovica shots came to our hands), and finally we went to a bar. They made me a present, a Bosnian t-shirt which I promised to take into China – and I did. Then, their friends (Zoran, Goran and Zoran) came and the fun increased. They began to explain stories of the war, joking about it and made toasts as the beer was accidentally falling into my stomach. And I limited to listen to them, admire the male ex-soldiers party and drink and drink and drink.
I was drunk when I met Senka at 1 o’clock in the afternoon. She was my host I found on Hospitality Club. We stayed in the same house as her father, a man who passed all the time looking at the wall. I didn’t see him making anything else. Jokes apart, he seemed a tired man, a man who had lived enough to understand things. But I’m saying this judging only his eyes (dark profound eyes), ‘cause I didn’t exchange any word with him.
We went to the center, and Senka showed me an exposition made by her in the center of the city. There were many photo compositions, and some conceptual disposition of elements and furniture. It all made me feel her need to do new things, in opposition of his father. And made me think a little about the differences between two generations, one who had to carry a heavy load and now finds relief in the flippancy of the new times, and a young generation who wants to fulfill their empty bag with something not coming from their complex past.
I left Banja Luka with the feeling that I could have tried something with her. She was a beautiful girl and I was a free traveler, so there was nothing to fear. Maybe her father in the next room. But there, under the rain, I was a little bit tired for hitchhike. I went to the station and I got into a bus to Doboj.
I left Catalonia with many doubts, but I had a plane ticket and I had no choice. Slowly, the flippancy of the travel invaded me. The plane took me to visit my cousin in the beautiful city of Bologna and then it came the night. It was fine in the young Bolognan nights, full of spanish students. The alcohol stopped in our hands for a while, and some music passed by. I didn’t get any girl those nights. But it’s fine. After 5 days I was on a train that took me to Bentivoglio and it was the beggining of it all.
Outside Bentivoglio there’s a hidden entrance to the highway, a hole in a fence that lets you get inside. I found it, and slept on the service area near the motorway. Next morning I began to hitchhike. Italia is not a good country for hitchhike, but a crowded highway heading to populated areas is always fine. It was early morning when the first car stopped. It was a Russian man, he let me into his car and we crossed the lowlands of the Po Basin until Venice. He was a tourist guide operator and he disliked his job, all the time bringing tourists to see the same monuments and all the time making the same jokes. Yes, the first ride was a nice ride, fast, funny and long, and my spirit was growing high.
After a couple of rides, in Udine, I met Giorgio, a gravedigger who was going on holiday to Croatia, up to my way. It was the first time I was inside a hearse. “Probably, next time I won’t be able to appreciate how it is”, I thought.
Despite his work, Giorgio was a funny and cheerful man. He talked about reggae music, about some joints he used to smoke when he was in Spain, and some other things I quickly forgot. I couldn’t stop looking at the hearse. It was real and I was inside there. There were two rails and a couple of lockers to keep the coffins fixed. Some green hills scattered by the road, but the fun was not there. The car, the leather seats, the curly haired man full of happiness and his heavy guffaws inside that sad envirointment completly impressed me.
We crossed the border to Slovenia and then we made it to Croatia. I got down the car in Rijeka, and kindly gave thanks to Giorgio. It was a small win: it was still lunch-time and I had already covered almost 400 km.
I was walking through the town when it began to rain. That ugly rain… it followed me everyday until reach the Romanian lands. That’s why the 400km didn’t seem that much after some hours waiting for the sun, that made himself visible atop of the sky in the early evening.
The next car to give me a lift was a good one. While the father was shouting loud the names of some football players and talking by cellar phone, his son was changing the gears. They were understanding each other perfectly: the father was taking the wheel and accelerating, and as soon as the car was starting to make sound, he pushed the clutch and the son changed the gear. It had a good result, the son enjoyed his job and the father could talk by mobile phone for a long time.
The shore in Croatia is a thin and steep thing, and there are not wide places to plant a tend, so I just extended my sleepnig bag between some bushes. There, looking alone at the sunset I could feel the satisfaction of the things well done. The experience of the first day just confirmed me something I already knew before: the variety of people I can meet in the cars is awesome. In the next few days followed deep christians, funny grannies with their grandsons, dirty bear hunters, bosnian muslims, old communist nostalgics, heavy metal fans and responsible people going to work. Everyone with their own history, everyone with a story to tell. And they got rougher when I got deep into Bosnia.
I always had the sensation that going to the east was something special. Probably this is caused for my location: Spain is in the very West of the Eurasian continent. My first idea – cross the land from Spain to Magadan – is one of the longest straight ways that can be made without crossing any sea, and this had something that made me dream. The same piece of land should be all the same, but it is not. Everything, the landscape, the people, the nature, the food… everything changes little by little, and in the end you look backward and nothing is like it began. Being an observer of this film was my fantasy for a long time and finally I decided to do it.
Whatever it was, I decided to go straight to the East, always stepping forward with the Sun lighting upon my forehead.
As I look back, the route is quite different as I planned before. But this is something that easily happens in long travels like this. Europe is easy to hitchhike, and arriving to Ukraine was an easy task. Then I had to cross the Black Sea by boat for made it to the crazy Caucasus lands. From there, I passed through Central Asia – probably the most interesting part of the trip – until the Chinese border, and by several means of transport I arrived to Southeast Asia. There I stayed for six months, a one-moth scape to India included. And still smarting from that Russian disappointment, I flew to the north of the country and crossed down until Ukraine.
After all, I came back home, with my backpack full of stories, tips and photographs to share with all of you.