Thursday, 7 October 2010

New Blog

Attention all 5 readers of this blog!

I will no longer be updating this blog, since I found a way cooler blog template on Tumblr. So from now on check and bookmark the following link if you want to continue following my Balkan life :)

Lana in Serbia continues here.

Tuesday, 5 October 2010

Makedonija Part 10

Saturday 2 October. Skopje – Beograd. 6 hours. 4 cars. 1 truck.

Just as I think life can’t get much better. Things take a turn for the worse. Let’s just say that last night didn’t exactly turn out the way I thought it would be. So this morning I’m on the road by 9 am. Hmm…what to do, the ride back to Beograd isn’t until 4 pm. Do I want to wait all those hours for a sure thing. Or do I want to take a chance and start hitching now and perhaps get back home earlier?

I decide to risk it.

I catch two fairly short rides with old men. The first one drops me off at the local gas station. The second one at the exit to the airport. Then a truck drops me off a few km further. And another car takes me a few more km. But I’ve still not left Skopje. And the road towards Beograd looks empty. It's eerily quiet. First car passes. Doesn’t stop. 5 minutes later I see another car. This one stops. A man. Late 30s early 40s I’d say. Says he’s going far. I ask if he’s going to Serbia. Niš. Or Beograd perhaps. He says yes. He’s going to Bosnia and Herzegovina. Yeah baby, I got a ride all the way back home.

This dude speaks fluent English. At the border he wants me to get out of the car and walk across the border. Says he had some real bad experiences with hitchhikers in the past. Hmm…I’m curious how bad. But I don’t dare to ask. So I get out of the car and walk across both borders and then get back on the car. We pretty much drive non stop to Beograd. Fine with me. The less we stop, the quicker I get home. We talk about his work. He’s in buying and selling business. In Dubai. Before that he was in Afghanistan. I spent a good 5 hours in that car, so we, I mean I, talk about all kinds of topics. This dude likes to listen, doesn’t want to talk much himself. Every time I stop talking for a few minutes. You know, just to catch my breath. He taps me on my knee to tell me to keep talking. Hmm…I’m tired, since I didn’t sleep much the night before, but then again, I want to keep talking to keep him satisfied. And I’d rather talk, then have him touch me again. Cause the last time he touched me, it was a few seconds longer than appropriate. So I talk about anything and everything that crosses my mind. You see this is the bad thing about drivers who do speak and understand English. In this instance, I feel kinda obligated to talk, since I speak the language. When I’m in a car with Macedonian/Serbian speakers I can just pretend I don’t speak the language. Well, I don’t really have to pretend. But then it’s OK to be quiet.

Then we start talking about movies. I name some of my all time favourite movies. I ask him to name some of his. He says: American Pie. Hmm…this dude is in his 40s and that is his favourite movie?! Anyways, I ask what else. Then he asks me how to call 'types' of movies. I say: genre. He then asks: is erotica a genre? I’m like, uhm… He’s like, I really want to watch some erotica movies...


I’m thinking are we there yet. This ride has been taking way too long.

Then when we finally reach Beograd, I couldn’t be more relieved. I can't wait to get out of this car. I mean, this guy was nice, we had some good conversation, but I guess if you spend a lot of time alone in the car with another man, no matter how decent they appeared to be in the beginning, no matter whether they are married or not, their mind just goes places. And they will try. They will always try. It’s sad, but I guess that’s just what men think who pick up female hitchhikers.

When I’m out of the car, I think to myself what it would have been like had I waited for the ride at 4 pm with the guys from yesterday. Would that have been a better ride? Would they have kept their hands to themselves? Would their favourite movie be American Pie as well? Well, I will never know. And I guess this is the nature of hitching. You never know who you end up in the car with. I ended up meeting some amazing people through this. And some that were not so amazing. It’s intimidating. It’s risky.
“The person who risks nothing, does nothing, has nothing, is nothing, and becomes nothing. He may avoid suffering and sorrow, but he simply cannot learn and feel and change and grow and love and live.”

-Leo F. Buscaglia

I totally agree. Can't wait to stick my thumb out again :)

Monday, 4 October 2010

Makedonija Part 9

Friday 1 October. Struga - Skopje. 5 hours. 3 cars.

I say goodbye to A. and walk to my HH spot. There, an old man walks up to me. Asks me where I'm going. I say Skop...Before he let's me finish, he asks for sex. Come on. Give me a break. But this freak doesn't want to leave me alone. The thing is I don't want to leave this spot, since it's a great HH spot. But this guy is blocking the path. He clearly isn't planning on going anywhere either. So, I get on the first car that stops, which takes me to Ohrid. Not really my way, but anything to get away from this creep.

The nice couple drops me off at the exit to Ohrid and I walk towards the road to Skopje. I stick my thumb out and first car stops. Two men. Going to Kicevo. Hey, that's my way. So I get on. They don't speak English though. But the driver calls a friend of his and gives the phone to me. Nacko, the guy on the phone, assures me that the guys are good people and that it's safe to get in their car. That I don't have to worry blabla...I tell him I already got on the car.

Silence on the other side of the line.

Oh, he says.

I guess he didn't expect that.

He tells me he wants to meet me in Kicevo. I tell him, I don't have much time since I've got to get to Skopje. He tells me to stay in the car with these two guys and just meet him in Kicevo. So pushy. Of course I stay in the car. So we get to Kicevo. Sit at some bar and we wait for Nacko to show up. Then he appears. First thing he says is: "I have to tell you that you are really brave". Uhm. I thought you said your friends are good people. So what's the big deal? But he is like there are so many bad people out there. Yeah, I know. Why do people keep reminding me of that? It’s not helping me at this point, you know. I still have to make my way to Skopje. And all the way to Belgrade. So stop saying these things and just let me be.

Anyways, we talk some. Actually I talk. Cause this Nacko guy is firing all kinds of questions at me. I know we don’t have much time, but there’s no need to interview me like I'm applying for some competitive job, y'know. But I like Nacko. His English is excellent (studies English Literature by the way). And he tells me his two friends are actually driving to Slovenia the next day. And if I want, I can catch a ride with them to Belgrade…Hmm…sounds like a pretty good deal. That means I don’t have to hitch. No hitching means less chance of running into more creeps. I know these guys already and they seem to be decent. So, he tells me that if I want to get that ride, to be at Continental Hotel at 4 pm the next day. They drop me off at a good HH spot and all get out of the car to wave me off. Ahh…they are really sweet. Good people.

At this time it’s late afternoon and I’m getting a little worried, since there isn’t that much traffic on that road and I still have a good few hours to go. But the second car stops. Small red car with two men. They are going to Skopje. Yippie. I get in. I meet Murat and his buddy, whose name I didn’t catch. They are army officers. Based in Ohrid and heading home for the weekend. Murat speaks fluent German (he lived there for a few years) Before that he was in Croatia for one year. And now he’s been working in Ohrid for the past 5 years. Before I get out of the car, he gives me his number. If I ever come back to Ohrid, he says, he can show me around all the nice places in and around the lake. I thank him.

WOW, I’m blown away by the generosity I experienced today. People were so incredibly considerate. Nice. Decent. Normal. That's so refreshing for a change. People really seemed to want to help me. And not want anything back in return. Today was a good day. And I even scored myself a ride back to Beograd the next day. Things don’t get much better than this. I'm loving life.

Makedonija Part 8


The next day is my last morning in Lagadin. I spent 4 wonderful days there, but as much as I want to stay in this lovely house with all these like minded people, I know it's time to move on.

So I hitch a ride with a couple back to Struga. Yes, Sruga again. Because I want to see A. and J. again (fellow EVS volunteers).

Speaking of the latter, I just happen to bump into him while I was walking the streets of Struga. I didn't tell him I was arriving that day. But I guess it's a small world. Speaking of a small world, J. tells me R. from Bitola is apparently in Struga as well. So that evening I tell J. to not tell R. I'm in town, so I could surprise him. But J. just couldn't keep it to himself and ruins the surprise. But it was still great to see R. and all the other volunteers together in Struga. We reminisce over Smokies and Rakija...

Makedonija Part 7

Lagadin Part Deux

On Day 3 four girls arrive. By car. From Rainbow gathering. 2 Germans, 1 American and 1 Lebanese. These girls tell me about Rainbow. Totally fascinating. Makes we wanna check out the next Rainbow meeting. We share travel stories. These girls are experienced hitchers and it was great swapping tales and experiences. The American and Lebanese have been hitching for years. Neither of them have experienced anything bad. Just a few unpleasant experiences here and there, but nothing too alarming. Hearing their stories makes me wonder what I was doing wrong my first time hitching...Maybe it was the fact I was hitching alone. And it was quite a long distance. You see, their first time they were hitching with others. And they weren't going far. Well, I guess I was just braver than they were. And stupider.

Makedonija Part 6

Monday 27 September. Struga - Ohrid. 0.5 hour. 1 car.

But the hangover wasn't so good. I walk to the end of the main road. Get a ride with a mini van. Thank God this dude doesn't talk. I wasn't in the mood for chit chat. At all.


So, I get to Lagadin (which is 7 km outside of Ohrid) and meet my next host. T. a lovely young woman with a big house with amazing views of the lake. T. is the kind of CS host that every CSer dreams of. She welcomes everyone with a huge smile and hug. And tells them to consider her place as their home. She hosts multiple travelers at a time.

So, when I got there, another traveler from South Korea had just arrived as well. He had been traveling for 4 months. On his bike. He started in Spain and had worked his way through most of the countries in South (East) Europe and was on his way to Greece. Totally weird guy. But in a good way. He was like the first Asian traveler I met in a long time. So when we were walking and exploring around Ohrid the next day, everyone thought we were together. I mean it's not like they see Asians walking around there everyday. So, I don't blame them for thinking we were a couple. Although I don't think we were exhibiting much couplish behaviour. Well. Maybe. We were kind of arguing. About vegetables. You see we were at the vegetable market discussing whether we should buy the veggies there or in a supermarket. I mean a supermarket can't offer the same quality a 'real' market does. But he didn't agree. So, yeah, this market dude selling peppers was staring at us, while we were debating the pros and cons of buying in a supermarket vs. real market. In English of course (so everyone who understood English could enjoy this spectacle). "Have fun tonight", he says...with a look that says everything. I don't know what he was thinking. Well, actually I do know what he was thinking. Let's just say, he thought me and my supposed lover were probably not doing much lovin' that evening.

But there were a few other travelers. D. was traveling with his mom. They were from Brazil. And this trip around Europe was his birthday present to her. nice. I didn't know these sons still existed. I mean, I cannot see many young men traveling with their mom around Europe for one month. Voluntarily. So, I was totally impressed and intrigued by this Brazilian boy. He lives in Manaus, which is right in the rainforest, near the Amazon. He invited me to come to Brazil. Hell yeah! Always wanted to go there. South America has never appealed more to me than now :)

That evening we all play CRANIUM. Awesome game that includes charades, drawing with eyes open and closed, humming songs, spelling, definitions and more. The Korean and I were a team. We showed the Brazilian/Macedonian duo what Asian power is all about and beat the hell out of them :) I guess we didn't make such a bad couple after all ;)

Makedonija Part 5

Bitola Day 2

At 13.00 I'm supposed to meet R. another EVS volunteer, at the Clock Tower in Bitola. At the fountain I walk past a group of youngsters who appear to be preparing for some kind of performance. I'm intrigued, but walk on to meet R. When I do, he tells me he is supposed to meet some other volunteers at the fountain. So we go back and check out this thing. Turns out to be a youth exchange on Dance. Around 40 youngsters from 8 different countries in Europe were together in Struga for 10 days to exchange practices on dance. They were giving their final performances that day. I stay around and watch them perform. Twice. They were not bad. Especially the two Albanian break dancers get a lot of cheers.

After the performance the organizer. S. starts to talk to me. He asks what I'm doing there. I say I'm an EVS volunteer and just happened to be there. He asks what my plans are next. I say I don't have any. He asks if I want to come to Struga with them. I'm like...hmmm...He's like, you can catch a free ride with us on the bus. You can sleep in the hotel. And you get food. I'm like, where's the bus?

So, I hop on the bus with these youngsters. Talk some more with S. He is an interesting guy. Actually, he works for Volunteers Centre Skopje. The NGO who has an interesting project I ALMOST chose. I didn't in the end. Do I regret my choice? Hmmm...Good question. I mean I'm pleased with my choice of Belgrade, but meeting these people makes me think I would have easily fit right in Skopje as well...

In the lobby of the hotel I meet a guy. Looks like Paul McCartney. Macedonian by birth. But he lived and studied in Belgium for ten years. He is all excited he gets to practice his Flemish with me. He plays guitar and sings. He says he's got a surprise for me. He starts playing Abel's "Onderweg". Didn't expect this. It's one of my all time favourite songs. Actually one of the few Dutch songs I like. He sang it so well. It gives me flashbacks. So many memories.

That evening S., Paul McCartney and I share conversation and red wine. A few bottles of it. It was good.

Makedonija Part 4


In Bitola I get invited to a handball game between Bitola and Skopje. It was the first time I went to a handball game. Or any game for that matter. Everyone was cheering for the home team of course. Except for me. I was (silently) rooting for Skopje. Why? Because I prefer red shirts over green/white ones. And they were slightly better looking. OK. They were A LOT better looking. Call me superficial. But that's really the only reason why women can endure watching hours of men pointlessly chasing balls. Well, for me it is at least.

Makedonija Part 3

Saturday 25 September. Skopje - Bitola. 4 hours. 2 cars. 1 van. 2 trucks.

First ride drops me off at a gas station in Skopje from where I catch my second ride, which gets me to the pay toll close to Veles. There I hop on a truck with a young dude. He is snacking away on Smokies as I get in. Throws me a pack as well. Asks for sex. I say no. He shuts up. That was easy. If only all pervs would accept my answer so easily. Drops me off at the exit to Kavadarci. There I catch a ride with a mini van. Really comfi ride. Finally a man who doesn't feel the need to talk. Or ask for sex. What a nice surprise for a change. Asking for sex thing was getting kinda old. Near Prilep I catch a ride with a trucker. Nice man. Doesn't talk much either. I like them this way. Gotta catch more of these rides.

Makedonija Part 2


In Skopje I stay with S. on my first night. A Turk from Istanbul. Says he thought I was Kazakh (?). He can't believe I am traveling on my own. A girl. Hitchhiking. He says he doesn't have the guts to do it. Let alone a girl. On her own. Also says, he can't believe I'm couchsurfing. On my own. Asks if I am not scared? I'm like, scared of what? He's like, I could kill you right now, and nobody would ever know. I'm like, no I believe in the good in people, I don't think about bad things. Think positive and you'll attract positive, that's always been one of my motto's. Then he continues to say, how he just cannot believe I'm not scared and that I should be. There are some bad people out there. Well, I wasn't scared. But if you continue like this, I might be.*

*S. was in fact a real good guy, a total gentleman, who spoiled me to death with Turkish hospitality :)

Makedonija Part 1

Thursday 23 September. Beograd - Skopje. 9 hours. 4 cars. 1 truck.

I take bus 29 from Slavija. I get off just after the bridge, take the stairs down to the highway and start hitching. A car stops within 10 minutes. Says he can drop me off at the pay toll. A man in his 30s. Speaks German and French, because he lived in Germany and Austria for a few years. Invites me for a drink with his friend. Then says he's actually going to Nis in a few hours and that I can catch a ride with him then. Asks if I want to wait for him...I'm like, no thanks, I can't wait a few hours. He's like if I were your boyfriend, I wouldn't let you go off alone...I'm like, it's a good thing you're not my decka then.

At the pay toll, I get my sign with "Niš" out and hold it in front of me. Within a few minutes, this trucker stops, opens the door and tells me to get aboard. He says he's heading my way. Daniel is 25, just came from Slovenia and is headed for Istanbul. His usual route includes Moscow to Istanbul. He said he stopped because he thought I looked Russian (?). We talk about his life as a truck driver and he tells me about the 3 main problems: 1. LAUNDRY (no place to do it in Turkey, but Russia apparently has excellent facilities), 2. FOOD (Russian cuisine. What cuisine?), 3. (lack of) GIRLS (and thus SEX). I tell him I really want to go to Istanbul some day. Says I can call him if I ever want to go to Istanbul, since he goes there every few months. Then asks if I have a boyfriend. I say yes. Daniel drops me off after the Macedonian border. I don't get his number.

Then I hitch 2 short rides with old men, who were friendly and dropped me off somewhere near Kumanovo. There I catch a ride with Dino, a 25 year old Albanian, studying law. I look at his windshield, it's kind of shattered. On my side. Hmm...this guy was obviously in some crash before. But he seems like a total respectable law student. Then he starts driving. Fast. that shattered windshield makes much more sense. The bad thing: I felt like I was in a 20 minute rollercoaster ride. The good thing: I arrived in Skopje in no time.
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