With pounding headaches, and dry mouths, we raise our trembling thumbs to passing cars. 3 Polish hitchhikers approach us with despair in their eyes. ‘We’ve been hitching here for 3 hours’, gasps one in amazement. We try to find our way out of this conundrum, by hiking to a sevice station which we suspect might be there. It’s not. After two hours we hike into the village and take a 10 min bus trip to break through our sleep deprived hung over slumber. While enjoying our breakfast kebab, we meet Tom, a Croat, who used to sky with Body Miller in the U.S. and just got out of jail. From Boston, Massechusetts. He repeatedly bursts out in laughter, in this kindof bad guy bankrobber-western-movies. Tom reminds us of that guy in Brother Where Art Thou: George Baby Face Nelson, who would shout: “I AM GEORGE NELSON! BORN TO RAISE HELL!” while shooting his shotgun bullets in the ceiling.We take a tram into the city center, we meet Ramal, a Kosovar muslim, who just got married. His English is very good and we ask why. “I had to communicate with Marines during the Kosovo wars. They would point their guns at me and say: “Freeze! where you from!” I would answer i was from a village nearby” And of course, from the movies, he grins. He urges to get married also. If he asks if we believe in god we dont give him a satisfying answer, appearantly. “When you breathe, can you see the oxygen you breath in your lungs?” We shake our heads. “God is exactly the same. You need him to survive.” He married a girl 5 years younger than him, but if he had the money, he would marry 3 or 4 girls, because Islam allows him to. “I would marry a girl preferably 10 years younger than me”, he laughs, “but I can’t afford more houses and women you know. One is enough.” Encountering a native European white Muslim is kind of a strange sensation for us. But there are millions of them, scattered around the Balkans, a heritage from the centuries of Ottoman rule.
Devran, one of Lukas friends, is our host in Zagreb. A couple of minutes after catching some necessary delicious rest in the sunshine of the mainsquare, there he is, on his bike: ‘He guys! welcome in Zagreb!’, he shouts out joyfully. Devran is an interesting, more than amazing being. He takes us to his office, of this Bird protection NGO, with these typical hippie green bearded sock-in-sandal wearing dudes sitting behind their computers. He offers his coffee. Then he sees we are tired, and he offers his couch, the latter we graciously accept. After two hours of delicately powernapping, we slowly wake up by the african bongo music, echoing through the office. Devran takes us to his appartment, where we cook a vegetable only feast, sweet potatoes, all in the oven, with rosemary. Slowly we feel life juice flowing in our veins, after this absolutely horrendous day. After 12 hours of sleep, the sun makes its way thru the thunderclouds. With happy faces of joy and rejuvenated we follow our dear friends hitch wikis advice and take trams and buses to the outskirts. For some miscellanous reasons hitching out of cities in the balkans does not take place on service stations, at least, not from hitchwikis perspective. There we find ourselves on a motorway, on an onramp bus stop kinda thing, not even really outside of the city. The ZG number plates flash by. Bad news. Lotsa locals here. We flash our BELGRAD cardboard to passing cars, unsuccesfully, for like 1.5 hours.
But then. A Finnish car pulls over and we are cheering like happy kindergarten kids, without even knowing where this vessel might be heading. Henrik and Tiki, tattoo-covered, car-loving dudes on their way to the party capital of the balkans Belgrade, a trunk filled with delicious pear cider. Mathieu shares with them stories of his Scandinavian hitching adventures. And we talk with them of the crazy drinking culture in Finland. They agree with our theory that people drink more the farther north you go, to deal with the depression due to lack of light.
After saying our goodbyes, we meet Jack, an American with burmese roots, who just quit his classified job in chemistry at Stanford. We have deep and light talks with this laidback, wise enjoyer of life and travel. We stroll through town with him, he tells us about the 6 friends he lost in Iraq and Afghanistan, a lot of them young, going into the army after following the US Army high school program. He also tells us about his plans to become a Buddhist monk in Burma, and his experiences with meditation which are very interesting. After one psychedelic band on one of belgrades famous party boats, we hear the echoes of a beautiful, jazz-R&B cover band with violins and a wonderful singer. They are playing in a courtyard which reminds us of the romantic feel of the movie midnight in Paris. Spread out lights, classy tables, wine drinking, smiles of night, in the remains of a fortress, underneath a tree sprouting out of the wall, two beautiful girls, are drinking with 2 smooth looking corporate almost thirty german guys, using the age-old tactic of buying alcohol for women, they probably got their style from a book on how be a gentleman. We sit there and enjoy the moment. The guys leave, we overhear the conversation of the girls about sex, in dutch. This immediately breaks the ice, in a magnetic turn-around we suddenly find ourselves conversing with Amy and Irene in our native dutch. Usually you try to avoid your compatriots, but this time it is a wonderful interlude to our slavic holidays. We go to their hostel, pick up a guitar and some beers, say goodbye to jack, and go to a magical medieval fortress. We find ourselves sitting on the walls, wonderfully illumanted by spotlights, playing guitar and singing our lungs out untill the crack of dawn. A patrolling cop checks with the girls if everything’s alright, they nod. The morning sun shows the Danube river in all power underneath. A street dog follows us back to our hostel, we hug the girls goodbye, and embark on an hour hike back to our dormitory, with our four legged friend. In the spur of the moment, we almost adopted this loyal creature.