I realize it has been a while since my last diary post about my hitchhiking adventure. The second part of my trip went even faster then the first and didn’t leave much time or computer access to describe my experiences. After arriving back home there were exams, a graduation and student job that got in the way. Before embarking on a new and completely different kind of adventure (but that’s a story for another time) I wanted to finish my account of the hitchhiking trip first. So I’ll just pick it up where I left off: in Riga.
Distance travelled: 4078km
Number of lifts: 38 cars, 7 ferries
Number of countries passed through: 11
Days on the road: 20
Money spent: 242,43€
The night I arrived in Riga I literally slept inside of a bush. Its was almost like a lush cave, completely covered with leaves to the ground, but with a hollow center that somehow precisely fitted my tent, which I erected not without difficulty. Lying there in the dark I could hear cars and trams passing by less than 25m away from me. People were laughing and drinking all around (after all it was saturdaynight), not realizing that some unshaven vagabond was listening to their unintelligible conversations in the darkness. After a while, accustomed to the sounds of my new environment, sleep came naturally and I dozed off.
Pretty early on sunday morning I woke up, packed my gear and crawled out of my shelter, only disturbed by the surprised look of a gardener who stared after me as I took off. I wandered aimlessly around town until my back hurt, and took a break on a city bench to consider my options. I was tired, needed a shower and my phone battery was good as dead. I wanted to see a little more of this beautiful city before taking off again and in the end I came to the conclusion that finding a hostel for the night would solve all my little issues. I found a nice hostel called the Naughty Squirrel Backpackers Hostel in the middle of the old town, and it became my safehaven for the day. After freshing up I did some exploring and bought numerous 0,35€ euro ice creams on the street, since today of all days Latvia’s heat record was expected to be broken with a staggering 37°C. Luckily it cooled off quite a bit at night and after a few drinks with some hostel people I was happy to seek the comfort of an actual bed for once.
The next day my target was to reach Poland, meaning I had to cover about 400km through Lithuania and aim for a narrow Polish border passage between the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad and Belarus, both of whom demanded a visa which I didn’t have. This meant there was only one road I could take, limiting the number of cars that went in the right direction. Aware of this small obstacle I left the hostel early, bought food for the day in a nearby supermarket and freerode a city bus to the outskirts of Riga where I was picked up within minutes by a teacher on her way to visit her parents. The hot weather of the past days decided to torture us some more and by the time I got out of the car some 50km further the sun was burning unmercifully. Within minutes I was sweating like a racehorse and glad when a truck stopped to pick me up. The driver and I didn’t share any common languages (the reason of which being Russia’s influence in these countries in recent history), but I won him over with sign language and a few well-placed Russian words (nazdrovje, spasiba, vodka), and he decided to take me along to Vilnius, a 250km trip that was only a little out of my way. After the usual courtesies we both went quiet and spent the rest of the trip in graceful silence.
Once arrived in Vilnius another problem emerged: getting to the other side of the city in order to reach the entrance of the motorway to Kaunas, and Poland afterwards. Surprisingly even here the public transport system was quite extended. After two short, tens busrides (I had read that fines for blackriding were huge here), a pitstop in a supermarket for an ice cold coke, a 5km walk and an encounter with two sympathetic Lithuanian boys in a mercedes I left the capital behind me and was headed towards Kaunas, Lithuania’s second biggest city. Along the way we talked at length about the history of this young country and its invasion by Russia during the Cold War, the destruction it was in after independence and the recent swing to anglo-saxon Western Europe by new generations.
An hour later I was dropped off on a gas station on the road between Kaunas and the Polish border. The sun was already setting and, exhausted by the busy day that lay behind me, I lay down on my back with a box of grapes and shut my eyes for a few moments. When I opened them again there was a girl in front of me that smiled and asked me if I was hitchhiking. I told her I was. Coincidentally she was doing the same thing, and we sat down together to tell each other our stories. Vaïata was an 18-year-old Swiss girl who had just cycled 1500km from the North Cape through Norway and Sweden where she decided to send her bike home in the mail and to hitchhike back to Switzerland in order to enjoy a few more weeks on the road. We got along and decided to try to do a last effort for the day and to catch a ride to the Polish border together. We persuaded a very sympathetic Polish couple to take us along despite our big backpacks and all our stuff. Eventually we reached Poland, and they invited us to stay the night at their summer cottage, where we pitched our tents in the backyard and enjoyed a beer and some delicious Polish potato pancakes with them, their daughter and grandson before turning in. Yet again we experienced some genuine goodness in this world. And we were grateful for it.