Hitchin’ a Ride (For the First Time)

10 Jul

Adventurous Europeans often choose to travel in the Balkan countries due of the normalcy of hitchhiking and camping, two logistical practices that keep costs at a minimum. Bring your tent, your thumb, eat cheap food, and voila! Gute Reise. After hearing several impressive hitchhiking stories, I was curious to give it a whirl myself, but felt wary as a solo female traveler. However, after meeting a fellow Michigander at my Plovdiv hostel who had just hitchhiked from Shanghai, I became inspired to undertake the previously unthinkable. Gathering a small group of Sofia-bound hostelers, a unanimous decision was made: it was time to chance a lift.

Our rag-tag group of three mid-western girls and one Californian boy set out in the heat of the early afternoon, heavy packs burdening our shoulders, and the warm sun overhead .

“I have some knives and pepper spray” assured Molly, the motliest of our crew.

Sure, the bus from Plovdiv to Sofia was only seven euro, but this seemed like a good time for a test hitch, since we could easily make our way back to the bus station, heads hung low in shame, if the plan failed. As I led us down a busy road, I realized that somehow I had become the leader. Perhaps it was my status as the wizened 25-year-old to 23-year-old youngsters? I couldn’t be sure.

Anyway, there we were, standing by a gas station and holding out our thumbs like some teenage runaways in a cheesy Hollywood movie. After thirty minutes of frying under the Bulgarian sun, our digits were cramped and the only acknowledgement of our tacky ‘Sofia!’ sign was a flirtatious wave. What were we doing wrong?

Eventually, a taxi driver pulled up, and informed us in broken English this this was not the way to Sofia, this was, in fact, merely a small road in central Plovdiv leading to a small village. We needed to get to the Motostrada, the expressway, and he would take us there for ten leva, the equivalent of five euro.

“We’d better get picked up after this” said Elan, as we reluctantly piled our packs into the taxi, already sensing an epic failure. As if it wasn’t laughable enough to take a taxi in order to hitch, the comic value was at its peak when we were actually let out on the side of the road in what appeared to be a corn field, just as we had asked. With a friendly chuckle and a mocking hitchhiker’s thumbs-up, our driver zoomed back to Plovdiv, his muffler dragging loudly behind his yellow vehicle.

We were alone on the side of some godforsaken intercity road, a waving green field in front and the Rodopi mountains magnanimously behind, and there was no going back. On that wimpy slice of cement, we assumed our positions, thumbs in the air, sign raised high. It couldn’t have been more than three minutes before a faded red sports car rolled up.

“This is going to be a tight squeeze” said Erich looking grim-faced at the zebra-printed backseat. Two bleach-blonde 20-something females, hopped out of the car, its speakers crackling with the heavy bass of Bulgarian Chalga music.

Merci! Merci!” We chorused, knowing that these girls would understand this universal word of gratitude. One of the girls told us with a friendly smile “You’re welcome!” and proceeded to help us fit our bags in the trunk.

Our driver, a plump young lady decked-out in designer glasses and faux-diamond earrings that matched the gems on her painted fingernails, kept her eyes on the road while her Barbie-esque companion asked us where we were from. The girls were both Turkish, and the English-speaking one was currently studying industrial engineering in Plovdiv. Her friend had driven to Istanbul to pick her up for a wild weekend of clubbing in Sofia. The seating arrangement was not ideal, Eric’s arm was wedged uncomfortably into my rib, while the petite Elan was forced to balance on two of our thighs. But hey, it was a mere two-hour journey and more importantly, we had found what we set out to find: an adventure.

We were definitely weighing down the car, and it seemed to struggle and groan as it drove down the country highway leading to the main expressway. The girls didn’t seem to mind, chatting and laughing in Turkish, pausing to ask a polite question and offer cigarettes.

At the end of the journey, as we pulled up in front of the impressive Alexander Nevsky cathedral the English-speaking engineering student said one thing:

“Facebook?”

She handed us a faded card with her name typed neatly on the bottom. “In English it means pretty sun” she said. “Next time you in Plovdiv, you call me. My house is open.”

Having gained two new friends and one great story, we all agreed that our first experience hitchhiking had been a success.

For more info on hitchhiking: http://hitchwiki.org/

Oh, HEY Sofia!

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2 Responses to “Hitchin’ a Ride (For the First Time)”

  1. Richard February 17, 2012 at 10:20 pm #

    That’s an incredible story and to get left off there is fantastic! I was in Sofia in the summer and did a trip to Belgrade and further north. Hoping to go back starting in Plovdiv, then Sofia then a loop through Macedonia, Albania etc. How many days would you recommend staying in Plovdiv and did it have many attractions? I can’t seem to find thorough information about the city.

    Thanks,
    Richard

    • Sarah Hucal February 18, 2012 at 4:21 pm #

      I definitely recommend the city, there’s so much to do and see! You could stay at Hostel Mostel like I did, there’s also a great hostel in the old town that I’m sure you could find online. Enjoy!

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