BALKAN EUROPA

Last steps in Balkan – Macedonia & Greece

on
19/01/2016

Abdullah leaves me on the border and disappears in the distance.
It took 10 minutes to catch a stop at Kosovo-Macedonia border. A man with a very small car in a very big hurry stopped. He was driving like he kidnapped me. The road was narow and full of curves, and my backpack had grown legs and started walking on the back seat. For the sake of feeling uncomfortable and unsecure for the first time in my life I used a jocker and asked: Excuse me, can you slow down a bit? The man laughed and said: Don’t worry, I know this road by heart. I drive here every day for work. After that, he slowed down for full 5km/h. Of course, he also worked all over Yugoslavia when he was young. This is maybe fifth driver telling me the same story. The story about working in ex-Yu and Croatia.
And I have first records in couchsurfing. Vlatko who hosts CS-s for a while and who had a lot of people pass through his apartment, told me that I am the one who stayed the longest. I was there for full 6 days. I would’ve stayed at least that much longer if I hadn’t had to go forward with my journey. He hosted me like a friend who he knows his whole life. Maybe after this trip I move to his place and become his roomate. Hear that, Vlatko? 🙂

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Hanging out, going out, sightseeing, cooking (of course), taking photos and videos, philosophy, and in the city again encountering with another „balkan“ who worked all over ex-Yugoslavia. From Rijeka, Zagreb, Split, Sarajevo, Beograd… to Macedonia. He already said he’s coming to Varaždin.

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It is realy unthinkable where only one hitchiked car can take you. After 4 hours of waiting at gas station (longest waiting for now), Alex stopped with his rent-a-car. He is Austrian, living in Switzerland. Two weeks ago he rented a car in Beograd an is visiting all refugee camps, from Croatia to Greece. There he volunteers and collects information which he spreads on. To volunteer, you have to be a part of some organization because it is more difficult to do it on your own. Yes, a lot of paperwork, approvals, seals, signatures, recommendations, passports and documents. Very interesting and sad facts. So, you can’t just come at the camp and help, but you have to go through this procedure. But inspite of all that, Alex still volunteers on his own.
After he picked me up, conversation about refugees and his volunteering started really fast. He was on the way towards two camps on the border of Macedonia and Greece. Each camp is on one side of the states. Alex’s speach inspired me so I decided to go with him and visit both shelters. But first, of course, I, as some „random“ volunteer also needed to have some kind of paper-licence from an authorized person. Before the border we went to the consulate which deals with checking up and controling all the organisations. When we arrived there, we contacted a young man on the enterance who told us to wait for half an hour until his boss arrives. Half an hour later he arrived, more of a sheriff than boss. Sheriff- ranger. He took us to his office and started unnecessary questioning. Who are we, what are we, why are we, what do we want, why do we want it, what are our interests and what do we have from it. Sheriff-ranger knew better croatian than english, so after 20 minutes explaining on macedonian-croatian language, he gave us two A4 papers as confirmations to enter the camp. Of course, all signed and stamped.

Well now, for months, media have been talking about refugees.. so I won’t speak about it much, but I’ll say those people really go through a very difficult time..physically and emotionally. There are stories that currently this is the middle class of imigrants. First, the rich ones came, then middle class, and in the end, poorest ones who will go through worst conditions since winter is arriving, and some borders might be closed until then. And then what? Nothing, they will stand and sit infront of the closed borders, on winter, waiting for Gods blessings. Ok, enough about that. I’m not qualified to go into that subject. It is more political stuff.

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In the camp, I found a ride to 100km away Thessaloniki, where I had arranged to stay with two CS girls, Alexandra and Ioanna. I got into their appartment in 3am, and Alexandra was looking for me in her night gown around the street. Sometimes I wonder if I deserve all this.
By arriving to Greece I ran into the national celebration day. Independence day. Day of victory. The streets were crowded with people who all headed into one direction. To the main square to watch the parade. Flags were up and parade began. I haven’t seen so many soldiers, tanks, helicopters and airplanes. I’ve been skillfully avoiding Croatian parade and then I run into the Greek.

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You probably heard stories about Croatians beeing lazy and doing nothing, that durring the working hours they sit around drinking coffee, talkinga bout better tomorrow. Well, Greeks… I think Greeks are the world champions in doing nothing durring working hours. All the cafe’s, teraces, bars, restaurants..all is full, crowded with people. When you are walking around the town, from 9am to 3pm :), you have a feeling like it is Saturday evening. They drink coffee, tea, bear, wine, talking, laughing, crying, yelling, whining. I don’t understand how the city functions by itself. They really worked out a strategy to outrun the system, even though, politicaly, it doesn’t seem so. But they seem to be just fine. Who needs European union anyway.
I’ve been getting out of Thessaloniki for two afternoons. First day, I was hitchhiking for 4 hours with no ride, and gave up. I used jocker again, to call the girls I spent the last 3 days with. I complained about not going well withhitchhiking so they told me to come back and sleep over for one more night. Next day I started a lot earlier. I was on the road by 8am. But that didn’t help much, since I set the new personal hitchhiking record… this time for 5 hours, and 2 hours I walked with the sign Istanbul on my backpack.
And again, after hours and hours on the road, a miracle happened. It seems I have to suffer for a few hours, and then the suffering transforms into euforia in a moment. There always has to be balance. Harder it is to hitchhike, the end ends up greater. Next time on the road, I’ll try to get happier and happier as hours pass by. This time, Nikoj stops with his white pick-up truck. After waiting for a ride for two afternoons I didn’t mind that centimeter of spilled machine oil under the passenger seat, or my backpack swimming in it. As I understand, the man was a mechanic of some kind. Nikoj didn’t speak a word of english, so our only communication was „Kavala“- the place where we were going. But Nikoj was one of the warmest people I made contact with. He is christian and every few kilometers when he saw a cross, he would cross his hands. Half an hour later, we stopped at some small chapel near the road whereNikoj went to pray. He did that with so much joy and commitment I’ve never seen before. Without ritual acting, doing it for others… he did it for himself. I watched his „ritual“ and remembered the vicar from two weeks ago (whodidn’t want to open the doors) and concluded that Nikoj destroyed a big part of prejudice I had towards church. As always, the problem was in me.
Two hours later, he left me at the gas station, 40km further than we agreed to go. He bought me large lunch andcoffe. We mimed about truckers stopping here, who go directly to Istanbul. He even gave a man on the gas station a job to look for a driver for me. I don’t have words for Nikoj.

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I found a Turkish trucker, who leaves for Istanbul at 10am. Because of a perfect not-english language, we agreed over the man at the cash register. Deal was made and waiting could begin. Because of this joyfull news I decided to spend the night right here, ond the gass station table, and wait untill morning. I slept a little, walked, moved my head as a sign I’m still here, watched the clock on the wall as a sign I’m waiting for the morning. I had my doubts about this from the beginning. There is not much sense that a trucker will wait untill 10am, and the day begins at6am. What will he do for 4 hours? Wait until 10am? In the morning, his enterance to gas station woke me up, and when he was getting out, he told me to wait for a few minutes. Few minutes later, he was squeezing the throttle of his truck on the road. Without me. Yes, he left me. And he lied. And kept me waiting there whole night with his lies. What a wonderful man. Sweetest guy.
After that, I „hired“ some people working there to find out anything about any ride to Istanbul, be it another trucker, car, motorbike or bicycle. The search went on for 4 hours and ended up with another Turkish trucker, who finally, drove me to Turkish border. You can’t walk into Turkey, so again, I had to find a trucker just for that one kilometer until we pass all the border checks. Of course, first hundred truckers said no. Hundred and one said yes.
And after that hard and tiring day, I remembered my balance. Harder it is to catch a ride, happier the ending. By all my theories, a plane should have stopped by now, or at least a helicopter. And that is exactly what happened. Airplane among the cars, newest Mercedes, dark windows, wide as the road. Driver lowers the window, gets a cuban cigare out of his mouth, showing me with his left eyebrow on the back seat and saying: Get in! Hahahha, I exaggerate. He only said: Hello, and lighted his cuban cigaret later 🙂

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Tomica Kristić
Croatia

Moje ime je Tomica i trenutno sam na svom životnom putovanju. Plan puta je jednostavan; iz Hrvatske do Novog Zelanda, i to autostopom. Sve je započelo u listopadu 2015. godine kada sam samo s 1500 eura u džepu krenuo stao na cestu i počeo stopirati. U početku sam mislio da će mi do Novog Zelanda trebati samo dvije godine, ali evo, dvije su već daleko iza mene, a ja sam već debelo u četvrtoj godini na puta. Pišem, fotografiram, smijem se, plaćem, ljubim, tugujem…živim punim plučima. Na ovoj stranici možete pratiti moje postove u kojima opisujem iskustva s putovanja.

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