The Way Is The Goal

Tag: couchsurfing (Page 1 of 2)

Fainting in Romania

From a bike in Romania, back by plane to Holland. Happy I was, cycling from village to town, over mountains and rivers, coming to places where no sane traveler would ever come, finding myself on that same very day, just after sunset, bleeding and scratched, fainting and screaming for help.

Three weeks ago, I was in this small town close to Sibiu in the Transylvanian region of Romania. It was a marvelous day, with great blue sky, big white clouds and a warm sun. I was cycling just by myself, enjoying one of the nicest tours of my life, while my travel-partner was out on a museum-day.

As I was cycling through a beautiful countryside with hills and greens, I realized yet again how priviliged I was. Passing through the numerous small villages where hardly a stranger ever comes, I was greeted by many. I waved back and asked how to avoid the high hills, as I explained I am from Holland and that I like flat land.

But these events soon turned differently and my laughing turned into crying. A man send me up a different road and an hour later I had to walk up a hill with bike in hand to find my way home. Seeing the sun going down, my pace increased as I went down the hill on the other side.

I lost track when a big hole in the ground appeared in front of me. Breaking turned impossible to avoid falling so I jumped high and landed well. But I couldn’t avoid falling as I landed in yet the next hole and I had to dive, away from the bike, towards the ground.

That hurts.

I deny the pain and get back up the bike again, only to faint 3 seconds later. I look for help when I wake up and spot a horse with some people slowly driving away from the scene. I call out for them, without result.

Thanks to a stranger that appeared, a taxi driver who was his friend, some villagers and an older lady, I got to a hospital an hour later with my travel-partner and our hosts who were able to locate me after a phone call and a long search. The doctors took away the pain and told me to get straight back to Holland.

Three days later we were on a plane, a particularly funny event when you know your travels are over. At the hospital here they explained me my collar-bone was dislocated. No operation was needed. All I need to do is rest and relax…


Hey Stranger

Have you ever been on your own wondering in a town, a city or countryside? Imagine being lost and somebody comes up to help you out, explaining your route or maybe offering some water, tea or a ride.

Imagine this feeling. You’re lost, insecure, uncertain, maybe stressed out, not knowing if you will find your way again. Unsure maybe if you will have a place to sleep tonight, and just when it gets dark, suddenly a stranger appears and helps you out.

While traveling I depend on the help of these strangers. I hitched over five thousand kilometers, and waited for strangers to pull over and to give me a ride at least eighty times during this trip.

Equally I was also dependent on strangers for a place to sleep. I never stayed at a place where I was a customer, using money to get a bed.

But I still did the accommodation thing the ‘easy way’, through Couchsurfing and other hospitality exchange networks I was able to stay with people who offer their place and hospitality for some days and nights, sometimes for more than a week.

Knowing there are always strangers who can help gives me the feeling of never actually being lost. Knowing how to trust these strangers gives me a lot of confidence: there is always someone out there who will bring you further. In fact, the more ‘independent’ I make myself, with money  and taking up the consumer-role for example, the more fragile I actually may become as I may forget how to trust strangers.

Before this trip I used to think I was more independent if I would be able to take care of myself completely. It would give me confidence not to have to go and ask anyone for anything, but to have all the resources at hand myself: my map, my food, my fuel, my car, my money.

Now I know the world works better the other way. If you know how to make yourself dependent on strangers, while traveling, you have more confidence and your needs are less.


Plus, the feeling when helped by a stranger is something you may remember for a lifetime. I still remember clearly – though ten years ago – how an Irish farmer helped me out as well as two of my buddies while hiking in the South of Ireland and a storm was about to fall over us. He helped us down the hill where later in a hostel we learned a rescue-team was looking for some other people who were lost in those same hills.

Strangers can leave a deep impact on your life. Independent of how small it may be for the one offering help or giving something, for the one in need it leaves a deep positive mark.

And all this reminds me of one good song of a band formerly know as Moondog jr. “Shall I let this good man in?”

Picking Cherries

Lying in a tree, picking cherries. How wonderful life can be. One day earlier, in Belgrade, I didn’t even know I was going to be in this place as I was trying to hitch out of Serbia, to Macedonia. But there I was, a day before departure to Istanbul, in a cherrytree in the beautiful and extremely relaxed countryside of Serbia.

Before arriving in Istanbul, I had my last stop close to the city Niš, the third largest city in Serbia. I stayed with a family who hosted me through couchsurfing in a nice and self-build house on one of the hills around the city. Staying here turned out to be one of my more distinctive experiences during my four months of traveling.

First of all, I arrived in Niš totally unexpected. In fact I was on my way to Skopje, the capital of Macedonia which is 200 km further south. However, while hitchhiking you surrender yourself to a higher level of randomness and you cannot always arrive at your destination. With over 20 hitchhiking days during these four months, this was nevertheless only the first time.

The road from Belgrade to Niš is only 233 km but it took me ages. I left Belgrade at around 10 as I was dropped by my host at the highway, and I even woke up at 8. I arrived at Niš at six in the afternoon. No more than 30 km per hour, my highest low-speed record.

I thought that Serbia, like all other Balkan countries, would be a great hitchhiking country but it was not. The people are less friendly on the road and there are not many cars driving very far in fact. My first hitch was an old hitchhiker himself who owns a bar. He dropped me at a minor exit, where I had to wait in the burning sun for at least 2 hours for a truck that was bringing me just 20 km further down the highway. But this was the ride I needed.

As a pretty common thing already in the Balkans, the truck-driver dropped me at the highway where I was lucky enough to find a quick ride with an older marijuana smoker driving 60 km per hours. He brought me to a rest-area where after an hour and a half I finally had a ride with a young guy driving a dutch Unilever van towards Niš. So I decided to stay in Niš.

Sometimes you just have to surrender yourself to the moments or the randomness, so I thought. Arriving in NiÅ¡ at six would give me enough time to contact people in that city and since it is not a very popular city, it shouldn’t be very hard to find a host. And who knows what comes up?

I was picked up by my new host several hours later, which gave me enough time to discover some nice elements of the city like the old fortress. Finally I was sitting in a good old Yugo car while we were driving through an old dirt road leading far up the hill some hours before midnight. Where was I going I was thinking for a moment.

But some time later I had a wonderful diner and the next day the couple invited me to their land to pick sherries. And there I was, one day before departure to Istanbul, in a cherrytree in the beautiful and extremely relaxed countryside of Serbia.

The same evening I was introduced to the rest of the family at a birthday party of a new young member of the family, while the whole neighboorhoud came for a visit, and later to the daughters of the family, when they showed me the cosy inner city of Niš. Just like my stay in Belgrade, it was one of my first real distinctive couchsurfing experiences where I was immediately part of the local culture.

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