June 21, 2012 by farbolino
Yesterday was more then just the usual day of hitchhiking; if there is such a thing. It started on the outskirts of Lviv with my hitchhiking parter Guillemes from France. We were picked up Within 10 minutes of waiting and were brought within a few kilometers of the border with Poland. Roman, our driver was a really nice guy despite our lack of communication since my Russian was a little lacking.
We walked to the border, but for some reason the border guard wouldn’t let us cross on foot. We had to ask the passing cars if they would take us across the border. Since the Euro 2012 was happening between Ukraine and Poland there were a lot of international cars. We were successful asking two young German guys who said they could take us. We all got along really well, and they were interested to hear our travel stories, and the passenger was even headed to NY in Sepember, but for some reason the driver didn’t want to take us further then just across the border even though they were going directly past our final destination of Katowice in Poland. I thought it was strange since we got along so well, but they did only agree to help us across the border. We said thank you, and exited the car. We walked around a bend in the road only to find there was one last check point. Even though we were stamped into Poland, we hadn’t finalized the border formalities. There was some confusion on the border guards part as to how we had crossed without a car. We tried to explain that we did cross with a car, but they had left us here. He was still confused, and asked how we had crossed by foot. After some hand charades, more confusion, and a warm goodbye, he sent us to another guard who told us we had to take a car. Shockingly, he hitchhiked for us! He flagged down every car and asked which direction they were going, and in a matter of 60 seconds we had a ride.
Our new driver didn’t speak any English, but we thought we understood that he was going to Wroclaw. Awesome! (we thought) Wroclaw was past our destination and he could take us the whole way. Wow, that was easy! 40km down the road we drove through a city that I thought he said he grew up in, but honestly I didn’t understand. Soon enough I understood very well; this wasn’t the town he grew up in, but the city he was living in NOW. Unfortunately for us, this down had a shockingly similar name to Wroclaw and we had mistaken what he said. Needless to say he dropped us off in town.
So after walking 3-4 km to the edge of the city, we tried to catch another ride with a sign to Krakow. It was peak daylight out and the temperature was reaching 32 degrees Celcius. After 25 minutes waiting in the scorching heat I decided to make a sign that said USA. I figured the drivers could interpret it two ways; that we wanted to hitchhike to the USA and hopefully find it funny, or that we were American. I didn’t care as long as a car stopped. 5 minutes passed and an older VW wagon stopped and picked us up. It was an older man who was Ukrainian and spoke Russian; which was better then Polish for me since I didn’t speak a word. I indroduced ourselves, told him I was from the USA, that my travel mate was French, and asked his name all in Russian. As proud of myself as I was, the conversation ended there; I had reached the limit of my skills in Russian. I knew how to tell him he was a very beautiful girl, ask his age, or tell him I’d miss him dearly, but decided it might be inappropriate and stayed silent.
He drove very slowly, and cars were constantly passing us, but we were in no rush to reach Katowice, since Guillaume’s friends wouldn’t be able to meet us until 8pm. I actually fell asleep at one point in the backseat; a first for me while hitchhiking. Not long after I woke up, there was a loud pop, and the car started to thump down the road. I feel that we were lucky that he was a slow driver because otherwise he might have lost control of the car. I felt we repaid the good karma of picking us up by changing the flat in record time. We were also lucky that he was driving to the airport in Krakow which was on the west side of the city, on the way to Katowice. He dropped us at the highway right before turning to the airport.
Only 5 minutes later another car stopped to bring us to Katowice. This time a young Polish guy named Thomas who spoke English and drove a new Volvo S60. He worked at a car rental place and was driving the rental car to Wroclaw at a record pace. He was driving 200km an hour, which felt even fast then it was since we hadn’t driven faster then 70 while with the old Ukrainian man. In fact, he was driving so fast that he past the exit he meant to drop us off at and didn’t find another spot to drop us for another 10km.
So now we actually had to cross the highway and hitch back in the direction we just came! Like the whole day, we got a ride within 5 minutes from a young guy who was curious why we were traveling. The 10 km was hardly enough time to explain before we arrived at the McDonalds across the highway from the city. A bathroom to wash my sweaty face and an ice cream cone were the perfect way to end an exciting day of hitchhiking.