A slower pace and slow hitchhiking to Croatia (Poprad, Slovakia to Zagred, Croatia)

We made it! And while it was technically not the intended way, across Mt Rysy at 2400m high, still we walked across the boarder! With Poland behind us, and 72km of hiking, we reached Slovakia and walked straight to a small market shop. 3€ of loose change, bought a packet of chips, two chocolate croissants and a chocolate bar each. A reward. Never had we experienced such exhaustion, climbing over 2500m of elevation in 18hrs over two days. While our intended route would have taken us another 7hrs and 1500m of climbing, we still felt content as we devoured our treats and stood beside the small mountain road, thumbs out.

It was 4pm and the few cars which drove away from the popular mountain walking tracks showed little interest in picking us up. We had just finished talking to an Australian guy who asked if we were waiting for a bus before hailing one and jumping on board. He yelled out it was only 1€ to our destination, Poprad, however we vouched to continue hitching. An old Slovakian lady, perhaps in her 80s and carrying a days collection of wild berries then came over, comfortably speaking english and asking how hitchhiking was going. We were surprised and even more so when she left and began knocking on car doors, asking if they could take her to a nearby town. An hour and a half past before we all decided to catch the bus when it came. Feeling exhausted, it was the better option as no longer was the northern sun looking over us and a comfortable place to sleep before dark was well required.

The 1€ bus drove us to Poprad, 25km away. It was a larger, yet still small, Slovakian city at the base of the Tetra Mountains which we had been hiking on the Polish side. We had no plans for accomodation and having seen a building next to the bus station which said hostel, thought perfect and walked over. The front door was barred shut and a sign stated it was closed during summer time. Seeming odd, we walked next door to a hotel and asked their price; 250€ a night! That was well out of the budget so after searching with their wifi, we found the only campsite within 50km, situated back on the bus and in the mountains. It was 7pm by this stage and we were crawling from exhaustion. Back onto the bus we had just caught we were dropped in the town of Tatranska Lomnica where we bought supplies for a few days then walked our final 5km to the campsite. As it was now dark we attempted to sneak in and were caught, confessing we were going to pay, and cooked dinner before passing out. It had been an incredibly long two days however now behind us, it was time to relax.

The next 3 days consisted of sleeping, eating, writing and exploring Slovak Paradise National Park. Had it not been for meeting an amazingly kind Dutch couple, Iris and Rik, this would have not happened. Waking up one morning and sitting by the tent, Iris came over and having noticed we were without a car, offered us to come with them to see the national park. While it was the next day and we were hoping to relax, we could not pass up the opportunity and some hours later, were walking along a small creek as it flowed down a narrow gorge, thick vegetation of pine trees each side. The path followed the running water, crossing over multiple wooden steps and boardwalks. The entire time nestle between lush moss covered rock gorge walls. At two points we reached waterfalls, a steel ladder running 10m beside it to continue on the track. We were blessed to have been given the lift, and before returning to our campsite, went out for dinner at a small village restaurant. Our mains were only 5€ each and Rik kindly bought us a shot. That night we hang by their tent talking until a storm came by, flooding our tent once again 🙁 and giving us little sleep.

(Thank you Iris and Rik for continuing the pure kindness which we have experienced on this trip!)

The next morning we said goodbye to our friends then had our day of relaxation. While the campsite was 15€ a night, Slovakia is quite cheap so we comfortably lived off the remaining 5€ and what we already had. Our next plan was to reach Croatia and our friend Johl in Dubrovnik however because this was not for quite some days we had the rough idea to visit Bosnia and Hercegovina before hand. That night we teed up a couchsurfer host in a small town named Székesfehérvár, just past Budapest, Hungary and made preparation to reach it the next day. Due to the multiply routes, and lack of information on hitchhiking, we only guessed which would be best.

The next morning we were packed and catching the same bus back to Poprad at 7am. We needed to make 450km hitchhiking so allowed the entire day. Perhaps poorly, however we will never know, we decided to head the opposite direction for 100km, following what google maps showed to be the biggest and we assumed busier highway. As a result we walked to the far outskirts of Poprad and thumbed holding a sign for 1hr before a middle-aged man took us 150km. It was the last large town before Hungary and we stood on its outskirts, the border only 15km away. Another hour wait took us just across the border and we hitched with it in view, writing multiply sign as little traffic other than trucks drove by. The area seemed deserted, rolling corn fields stretching to the horizon and we stood in 29 degree heat, sun bashing down upon us. Hopelessly we stood getting desperate and doubtful of reaching our host. As always however, a delivery van stopped and we found ourselves getting dropped another 150km and onto our final highway leading to Budapest. I had told our couchsurfer we would make it by 4pm, and all hope of that vanished as we checked the time to find it 5pm.20160816_122144Dropped at a service station we ate a late lunch then walked to its exit to hitch. Cars were again incredibly infrequent and another hour past. We tried looking desperate and surely enough, a nice new Audi 4WD stopped some meters infant of us, obviously deciding after to pick us up. Slowly it reversed back and once stopped we ran to its passenger window. A 6ft 7 tattooed man sat in the drivers side and beside was a short guy with gelled slicked back hair, reflective aviator sunglasses and  who oddly smiled and said “hi”. Asking whether they were heading to Budapest and receiving no more than a “yes” and after what felt like a long pause, “we can take you” we threw our bags into their boot and were on our way. The larger man spoke no english and together they mostly laughingly talked. The small conversation we tried to make with the aviator guy returned very short one answers and something felt strange about the scenario. They were driving to Budapest to see a “friend” only for an hour and seemed quite secretive. Surely enough however we arrived and were dropped at the central train station. Oddly again, they politely told us we were hungry and they would buy us some dinner. The four of us walked to a nearby bakery and pulling out a thick wad of cash, the tall tattooed man pointed at several foods, filling three plastic bags. We returned to where their car was parked and stood eating a mass of pastries and sandwich rolls. We could make little conversation and finally not being able to hold back my curiosity, asked what they did for work. Our only reply was a wink and “you could say we are business men” before they both chillingly laughed.

We shortly after thanked of new drug lord friends and were on our way to the metro. The time was now 6pm and we still had to reach the next town outside of Budapest. A metro ride to the outskirts of busy Budapest, indicated by hitchwiki, took us to a McDonalds and petrol station. As we walked through the carpark we noticed another three hitchhikers signing in the prime position. We politely voiced we’d wait however another two hitchhikers arrived 10 minutes later and we opted for a different tactic. Having written a sign we read there was another petrol station 100m down the freeway. The only problem was it could only be accessed via the freeway so half resenting our decision we crept along the inside of the busy road, cars flying by and beeping. Miraculously a car pulled over in front of us and blocking the entire lane waved for us to jump in. A young father, having seen our sign as we carried it was a regular to picking up hitchhikers and felt our desperation. Within half an hour we were at our couchsurfers and were stoked to have made it.

Steve, originally from the UK was a bubbly easy to talk with host. He had done some hitchhiking when younger and was an overly generous host, feeling the satisfaction to repay the people who had once helped him by helping others. We all cooked and ate a dinner together before receding to our folded out sofa bed and falling into darkness.

The next morning Steve kindly dropped us at a large petrol station. It was a warm 26 degrees and while the location to hitchhike towards Croatia was perfect, little traffic seemed to stop by and we stood their our longest wait. In the process a couple from Ukraine were dropped off and impressively, waving a festival flags and large cardboard sign, managed a hitch off the freeway. Again in our wait a hitchhiking couple were dropped off and walked over to us. Immediately their voices were recognisable and we were introduced to Natalie and Zac, our first Australian hitchhikers! They had a super positive fun vibe and the four of us tried negating hitchhiking different areas of the petrol station. Although they were heading to Slovenia it was the same direction and with Zac standing on the freeway, myself the petrol station exit and Natalie the town exit road we faired our chances much higher. Surely enough Natalie had a car stop and running over she offered the 30km lift to us, having been their first. The driver spoke no english and through our indecision to take the lift and offering it back the man waved for us all to jump in!

Crammed into the small car, backpacks spread across our laps, our driver called his daughter to translate where he was going. Deciding the petrol station where he intended to stop was too quiet (we think because he spoke no english) he continued for an extra 30km to the next! The four of us thanked him and as we walked to the stations exit ramp a car immediately stopped. We were all jumping with excitement as again the four of us were given another lift to the next petrol station. Now 30km from the Croatian border.

We repeated our actions, heading towards the exit and as we walked past a couple loading things into their car boot, Zac politely asked if they were driving to Ljubljana. The surprised man actually said yes and after some awkward hesitation, agreed to take them! How easy was that! While it was a short time we had a ball hitchhiking with two fellow Australians and saying goodbye felt like we had travelled together for days. Back to two, we walked to another two hitchhikers holding a sign at the exit. They were a French couple heading in our direction and because of hitchhiking etiquette, had the right of way to the best position. We decided to try the Ukrainian way and stand on the freeway, an act illegal over all of Europe. 10minutes past and a car stopped 200m down the road! Running the distance in hope they would not leave, a American/Hungarian and Brittish guy were driving to the Croatia coast and we happily accepted a lift into Zagreb, the capital.

They were funny guys, having travelled a lot and lived in various countries and we had a really enjoyable lift. Zagreb was only 100km once across the border, to which we had to wait 30minutes to cross for some unknown reason. Perhaps it was the odd diversity of the passengers in the car. By 5pm the two dropped us right at our hostel door, struggling to find its location as it was far from the city centre and in what felt like a rural country side. We expected as much due to it being the cheapest option, 7€ a night, however were impressed by the inside. Time to slow down for a few days and plan our Balkan adventures!

(91km walked, 764km hitchhiked)

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