Posts tagged ‘hitchhiking’

a little update, the beach life

so a month has passed. a wonderful month, of sun and beach and fresh air and harmonious moments.

after Baeza i went to Canoa, a small coastal town a little south of the equator. it took all day to hitchhike from Quito and by the time we arrived it was dark, i was tired, and i hated my companion for standoffishly displaying all the qualities i hate within myself. a few days later we parted, although i tried to keep some kind of friendliness by visiting him and bringing him fruits. but he isolated himself and stared at me mockingly like i was a fool when we were together. here was the problem: he just wanted to be himself, which meant: passive, hostile, and distant. one of my worst qualities is a kind of verbally aggressive meanness that comes out unintentionally with people who are weak and stupid, and so relations quickly turned into a downward spiral with me finding fault with everything he said. it was an ugly situation and made me feel bad, firstly because i hate to instigate negative emotions and second, because i didn’t expect it to escalate into a complete break in the friendship. and third, because his arrival from Switzerland was long awaited, and had altered the course of my trip. had he not decided to come, i’d likely have gone to Peru through the jungle…

anyway, then Andrej came and we camped out in his tent in one of the camping grounds in Canoa, cooked delicious breakfasts in the morning, and swam all day.

a few days later we hitchhiked to Montañita, another coastal town about 250km south of Canoa and a lot more touristy. hitchhiking along the Ruta del Sol (“highway of the sun”) took us longer than expected and we spent a night camping out in Andrej’s tent on a cliff on the beach, washing ourself in the ocean under the full moon, being lulled to sleep by waves.

like most other south American coastal resort towns Montañita is full of “artesanians”, youth mostly from northern Argentina who make necklaces and bracelets out of string, metal, beads, and rocks they acquire along the way. they remind me of gypsies. always stoned, playful, and content to spend all day beside their little tables.

in Montañita i almost drowned. it happened because i felt invincible not knowing what a “tidal wave” is… the kind of wave that takes you under and pulls you far far away from where you were, into a strong current that pushes you out into the sea, into turbulent waters that want to drown you. the lifeguards who rescued me said it was the worst day of the month because of the position of the moon (it was 3 or 4 days after the full moon) and that on this day there were 5 of them instead of the usual 3 on duty. i had always thought that lifeguards were just like dolls on shelves, their purpose to evoke a placebo sense of safety. in Brooklyn, no one ever drowns. the lifeguards job is to take sun and flirt. but in Montañita…they work…. and had one of them not been using his binoculars to inspect the ocean yours truly might not be here today…

a video i took half hour later of 4 more men stuck behind the wave and several lifeguards trying to help them. it took about 20 minutes to get them to the shore…

after Montañita i went to Cuenca, which is the 3rd largest city in Ecuador and according to one Ecuadorian, the “Athens of Ecuador,” abounding with artistic activity.  the famous “Panama hat” is made here from the leaf of palm that grows in abundance. it carries the name of another country because it first became famous during the construction of the Panama canal when all the workers were wearing the hats, which were being shipped abroad through the canal from Ecuador. i’d bought one earlier… and then went into the ocean with it and watched it turn to nothing :(

after Cuenca i stopped in Guayaquil for 2 nights. Guayaquil is the largest city in Ecuador and i imagined it would be large beige industrial flat and barren, full of women who feed escopalomina to unsuspecting foreigners before they rob them of everything including their clothes. the drug is absorbed through the skin, so once chosen the target is defenseless. in one anecdote a woman received a hug from another who pretended to have mistook her for a friend…and several hours later she “woke up” on the street without her things and later learned her bank account had been cleared out. in another case, a man was sitting by himself in a park when an ugly woman sat next to him and started to talk. he avoided her but she insisted on using her napkin to clean up the drops of perspiration forming on the outside of his beer… and the next thing he recalled is wandering in his underwear through Guayaquil.

instead i had a very nice time in Guayaquil.. walked the 444 steps up the Malecon at night, saw the iguanas in the park, walked the streets comfortably at night. unlike Quito, which feels empty after sunset, Guayaquil is illuminated by lights and people, and feels safe and boisterous.


May 14, 2011 at 2:17 am 4 comments

Tkibuli, development, hitchhiking, more

On Wednesday I left Tbilisi, taking a small backpack with one change of clothes and a tooth brush with me. I was headed to Tkibuli, a small town 3.5 hours from Tbilisi where one of my couchsurfing guests Petra works. From Petra’s descriptions of Tkibuli I imagined that it was a nice, untouristy town, where I could go to see the “real” Georgia, the kind unaffected by tourism and commercialism.

On the way I met a Belorussian guy and together we stopped in Mtskheta to see the Svetitshkhoveli cathedral and in Gory (the birthplace of Stalin) to see the Stalin museum, which cost 10 GED and included an entertaining nationalistic tour.

In Gory I split with the Belorussian who returned to Tbilisi, while I hitchhiked alone towards Tkibuli. One of the exciting things about hitchhiking is that you never know what kind of ride you’ll get and how long it will take. I’ve had rides in air-conditioned Mercedes on dusty roads that drove me faster and more comfortably than any bus could, and on the other extreme, I’ve sat in the cargo space of lories and gotten to so dirty from dust that I may as well have rolled in dirt.

The ride I caught outside Gory as a medium size lorry that was the slowest car I’ve ever ridden in. At one point, my driver even turned off the engine and let gravity propel us forward, meaning for nearly 40 km everyone on the road passed us. Since I had told him where I wanted him to drop me off, and since he wasn threatening and had shared the delicious peaches he’d bought on the side of the road with me, I didn’t want to hurt his feelings by asking him to let me off sooner on some mountain road to be picked up by another stranger. Plus I was comfortable. Relationships aren’t formed just with friends and lovers. They are entities formed with people you share circumstances with and the relationship formed between me and this driver was a good one.

In Tkibuli, Petra works for the Tkibuli Community District Development as an EVS volunteer and is the only foreigner in the town. I imagined Tkibuli would be a large village with flat homes amidst scenic peaks. But no, industrial high rise apartment blocks obstruct the panoramic view, while the industrial dirty feel of the town is accentuated by the unkept center. The town’s cinema and sports complex have been closed for years, though the swimming pool and hospital remain open. During the Soviet times, Tkibuli was famous for its coal mines and it’s population was relatively well off compared to other Georgian cities. Today all but two of the mines are closed, while the two that work do not run at full capacity. Petra said that most recent statistics claim that 50-60% of the population is unemployed.

Petra’s organization works with people in Tkibuli, Kutaici and several villages in between, helping develop small businesses. Every year they hold a tandem for business proposals. Those who are accepted, receive materials that they need to expand or start their business and pledge to donate half of their proceeds to their community, half in the form of output and half in cash payments that are to be used for financing projects in their community.

On Thursday we visited a farmer in a village, an hour’s distance from Tkibuli, who had been provided with materials to grow tomatoes and stevia. Now that his tomatoes had grown, he was helping finance repairs in the local kindergarten and distributing tomatoes from his harvest to some of the poorest members of his village. When we met him in the village, he was waiting for us with 182 kilos of tomatoes. Petra and I prepared 5 kilo bags of tomatoes for the poorest 50 people in the village and then they started to come, as word in the village spread (no phones were used). Old and middle aged women, men with canes. To distribute the last 10 bags or so we drove to find the people, some of whom lived a distance away. All were happy to receive free tomatoes and nodded happily as they were told about the project. But I wondered still – how effective was it compared with Kiva’s model for business development? This way inspired feelings of gratitude amongst the people who recieved the tomatoes, but it also inspired negative emotions among the few who didn’t and felt they deserved them also. The process by which the poor were selected was pretty arbitrary and at the whim of the village mayor plus the farmer himself who said he knew who was poor and who wasn’t. I wondered whether it wouldn’t have been better for the farmer to pay back in cash which could use to reinvest in more local businesses, rather then through products and services to the community (which sounded good in theory but was actually time consuming and it’s effectiveness on the poverty in the community questionable)?

August 22, 2010 at 2:52 pm 2 comments

Hitchhiking from Baku to Tbilisi

I missed the night train from Baku to Tbilisi on Saturday night because I was too slow to leave the flat. The station, which is actually only about 15 minutes away, seemed menacing at a quarter to 10 (the train was scheduled to leave at 10pm). There’s no way it will leave on time, I thought. If trains are anything like the post office system here, I’ll be lucky to leave by midnight. But just in case we took a taxi…

The first driver we stopped wouldn’t accept 1 AZN for this very short distance. And then we had trouble finding another taxi. When we finally did it was so late that we paid whatever the taxi wanted, which was 5 AZN. And when we got to the station and ran to the platform, my heart heavy with apprehension, it was with a quite blow that I heard “the train left 5 minutes ago.”

I sat against some wall, out of breath and panting, empty-headed and stupefied at my own stupidity. A half dozen taxi drivers surrounded us, promising that they could drive me to the next train station stop 150 km away for 50 AZN. Leave us alone, I groaned, irritated more by my own irresponsibility than their presence.

Ulrich was bargaining with them on my behalf. Stop it, I don’t want to go, was all I could muster to say. And then I had an idea. We’ve had several couchsurfers visit us from Georgia by hitchhiking from Tbilisi to Baku and then hitchhiking back. The distance is only 750 km and if Ulrich joined me till the border, it might be quite an adventure.

And so it was decided. We’d wake up early the next morning, hitchhike together to the border and than Ulrich would hitchhike back to Baku, while I’d continue by myself to Tbilisi.

We bought some ice cream to celebrate.


The next morning we left the house at 7:30am. I ate 3 eggs, Ulrich had some meet and rice given to us by our neighbor the previous night. In Azerbaijan, when a person dies his/her family lay out a large tent on the street and hold a ceder like meal for relatives and neighbors who want to honor the deceased. We didn’t attend because we didn’t know how.

We took a bus to Yeni avtovagzal, thinking we’d find the highway near the main bus station. It was there but it was completely inaccessible for hitchhiking because there was no spot for a car to safely stop. After walking along the highway for a quarter of an hour we decided to go back and find a bus out of town. The bus took us a mere kilometer further to the parting point for Sumgait and Shamaxi. We needed the Shamaxi direction..

Ulrich in the front seat talking to the driver in Turkish/Azeri

The first ride we got was going all the way to Sheki in the northwest. He was an old funny man. The first thing I said to him was “are you a taxi?” in a haughty frustrated voice because of his white Lada. He wasn’t. He drove us to Mingechuar, which was almost half way to the border. On the way occurred the first of the two meetings we had with police. He was telling us how shitty police are in Azerbaijan, always bothering him, when somewhere outside Ishmaili he was pulled him over for not wearing his seat belt. Ironically, he’d been wearing it most of the time and had just taken it off 2 minutes before the policeman muttered something over his loudspeaker and we stopped. Our driver walked over to the police car agitated and started arguing. Minutes later he came back saying “the swine took away my license.”

We drove to a store. The driver bought some more credit for his phone, called his friend and then drove back to find the police man who was busy laughing with another driver he’d stopped. Our driver ran to him and handed him the phone. Then he got into the police man’s car. He’s probably paying a bribe I said to Ulrich. Before he left the cop he shook his hand and spoke a few gregarious words in parting. Then he told us that the policeman had agreed to be friends instead and returned his license to him…

The other episode we had with the police was less pleasant. The police stopped our driver at one of those narrow passes on the road between the “sidewalk” and a stopped truck. Our driver didn’t turn of his engine, so the angry policeman reached in and turned it off himself. After some yelling the policeman tried to pull our driver out of the car by his grabbing his neck. I tried to “help” by offering the police some candy we had but I was ignored. When our driver left the car voluntarily after some time, another policeman (who’d been observing the whole episode from a distance) came by and said to us in English with a toothy smile “Azerbaijan good, Azerbaijan good.” But our driver’s license was taken and he couldn’t get it back so easily..

Watermelon is sold everywhere in Azerbaijan

With our new friends in Mingechuar

Our second ride, which we picked up roughly 10 km before Mingechuar was with two young men who invited us to their home for tea. There the young man’s mother and wife served us tea and sweets, while his young daughter ran around. I ate the most delicious fig jam I’ve ever had. Before we left, they put many of the sweets in a plastic bag for us and gave them to us to take.

In Ganja we were picked up by a group of 3 young people, two Azeri guys and one girl. They had a race car and drove really fast, and I wondered whether we’d have a third encounter with Azeri police. It was the first time I’d hitchhiked with an Azeri woman in the car. This woman, who was about my age, held hands with one of the men, and laughed loudly. She was definitely part of the group, which was nice and unusual, since I’ve rarely seen women in the company of Azeri men who were not their family.

Ulrich carrying my backpack...

Our last ride to the border happened quite late in the day. It was a lorry driven by a Turkish man who’d stopped for us earlier. But he took too long to stop and as he did so, another car pulled up, and so we were distracted by the other car and he drove away.

He was married to a Georgian woman and lived in Georgia. His job was transporting things from Istanbul to Baku and now he was returning with an empty truck back to Istanbul. The sun was setting.

goodbye Azerbaijan

He left us at the border and said he could wait for me if I wanted to drive with him into Tbilisi. But I wanted to say goodbye to Ulrich and so he didn’t wait. My last meal in Azerbaijan was in a café by the border and it was surprisingly tasty. By the time the food was served the sun had set completely, and I ate in the dark – grilled potatoes, eggplant, fresh white cheese and a salad.

Ulrich and I parted at the border – “Red bridge” and I walked into a small room for an inquisition. “What is in your backpack?” asked the young female border officer. Just a laptop and a book, I answered. “What kind of book” she asked? “What does it say about Armenia?”

She was worried I had the lonely planet, which described Karaback as part of Armenia rather than occupied territory. Don’t worry, I assured her, I’ve spent three months working with IDPs and I have much sympathy for the Azerbaijani people.

Without problem they stamped my passport and I went out into the dark empty alley that separates Azerbaijan from Georgia. An old woman carrying bananas tried to sell some to me. Ahead was a small building full of people awaiting their Georgian visas. “How  long have you been waiting” I asked. “3 hours” said one, “4 hours” said another. “At least give us the forms to fill out” pleaded a middle-aged man with the security. I stood around, detesting the dryness in my throat and regretting not taking more water. Then I realized that everyone was Russian and that maybe with my American passport I didn’t have to wait. I approached the patrol and asked. It took her a minute to stamp my passport and there I was ..alone in Georgia. I apologized to the Russians and left hoping to catch one of the lorries I saw waiting at the border.

There were several dozen cars waiting to leave Georgia, but none of the lorries I had seen on the Azerbaijani border were entering Georgia. And the cars I had seen parked outside probably belonged to the Russians who were stucked in the beurocratic limbo without their visas.

A taxi man offered his services. I told him I had no money to pay for a cab. The truth was that I simply didn’t want to pay. I wanted to hitchhike all the way. I wanted an adventure. Not an ordinary taxi ride. He said he’d drive me anyway, so long as I had a coffee with him first. “No thanks” I repeated.

A car pulled up from the Georgian side and did a u-turn, parking right in front of me. I saw some lights flashing from the Azeri side. Someone is finally coming and now this bugger blocking my way!

I ran towards the driving car when it approached. It stopped. “Where are you going? Tbilisi?” “No just a village not far away from here.”

“Are you going to Tbilisi?” asked the man who’s car had been blocking my way. The border patrol was now urging him to move his car and he was in a hurry to leave… “Get in and I’ll take you.”

We drove along the very dark and empty road to Rustavi. All together, it only about an hour to drive to Tbilisi from the border. He drove me all the way to my hostel and here I sit writing this on a sunny Tuesday afternoon surrounded by travelers from Poland, Czech Republic, and America =)

August 17, 2010 at 8:29 am 9 comments

Kyoto & Osaka

Yesterday I hitchhiked back to Tokyo after spending a week in Kyoto and Osaka.

I recon I saved about $300 by using cs for accommodation and hitchhiking. In Kyoto, my host was Shoji, a Japanese farmer who set up a house for his guests and has hosted over 250 since he began last year. There was a Danish couple, 4 Belgians, and two French girls staying there besides me.

The cs house is a traditional Japanese house (not a condominium in a building) and Shoji’s walls are covered with graffiti left by his guests. My contribution was not so nice… (one of those times when I should of stopped closer to when I began)

Kyoto is a very small city compared to Tokyo and famous for its temples. But I visited only a few. For one, I had trouble waking up early. And two, I am navigationally retarded. And being that this is the end of my trip… i feel tired of being a tourist. I just wanted to sit somewhere and read…


July 14, 2009 at 10:54 pm Leave a comment


I spent 5 days in Tokyo staying with an American teacher of English i met in Thailand 2 months ago. The flight from Bangkok was only 6 hours, but because i spent my last ‘night’ at the airport – and slept only 2 hours – I was very tired when i arrived my friend’s place. This fatigue lasted for the next several days and worst of all, my lower back hurt (probably from the monster that my backpack evolved into after i crammed in all that junk i bought in Bangkok 20 minutes before i left for the airport)

I spent my days very casually, waking up late, visiting museums and walking, and returning home around 7 to make dinner with my friend. I almost mastered Tokyo’s complex subway system consisting of a million privately owned lines requiring new tickets and exits for the transfers. Every station is almost as busy and large (or busier and larger) as New York’s Grand Central, and usually more complicated. But Japanese people will often go out of their way to help you and even as i stood momentarily paralized by the grandiosity i felt wonder not anxiety.

ticket machines and a map of JUST one of the metro lines in Tokyo

Queueing for the subway. Can you imagine this in NY?

View of Shibuya intersection


July 8, 2009 at 11:51 am Leave a comment

Ko Chang

We had some trouble hitchhiking on the way to Ko Chang – the total distance was about 300km but we started out late and by sunset we were still a long ways from it. Worse still, no one wanted to pick us up. We had already accepted that we wouldn’t make it to Ko Chang today because the ferry that takes you onto the island makes its last run at 7. Than a driver stopped, a long haired hippy looking Thai and offered us a place in his home by the sea not far away. We accepted and slept well. The next morning we got lucky when the driver who stopped turned out to be going to Ko Chang also. We finally arrived at our destination – Lonely Beach – by sunset. It was a magnificent one, full of oranges and reds against the darkening bluish sky. Although Ko Chang suffers from no lack of pretty sunsets, this one was the most grandiose.

We settled into a bamboo cabin for 150 baht a night (approx. $5) It was the sort of cabin one of the pigs from the 3 little pig’s story could have built… and then the wolf came and blew it away leaving the little piglet to scurry elsewhere. But we had no such problem. Throughout its 9 days of occupation it sustained all the thunderstorms and lightnings and when I left it was still standing cheerfully upon the bank of a stream waiting for the next human life to enter it.

Ko Chang is located in Trat province (which is only 1 hours drive away from Ko Kong in Cambodia). Its the biggest one of an archipelago of islands most of which are covered in lush rugged rainforest. Ko Chang is also extremely mountainous.


The ferry from the mainland takes about 15 minutes and drops you off at the tip of the island from which you need to take a share taxi (or hitchhike) to your destination on the island. Walking is unreasonable because the distances from beach to beach are grand. Lonely Beach, where we stayed, is in the middle of the island and considered the backpacker hub. It was probably the cheapest and most fun place to live on the island.


There is also a beach called Long Beach, also popular with backpackers for its beauty and seclusion. But the road to Long Beach requires expert navigation and gets very little traffic, so visiting it just for a day was unrealistic and I never got around to packing my bags and going to stay there. I did visit some of the other islands, the most beautiful of which was Ko Wai because of its warm transparent waters and golden sand. It would have been really nice to set up camp on this island, hammocks and mosquito net somewhere amidst its forest. We could go snorkeling every day (it has really good snorkeling sites).

Besides the guesthouses and restaurants, Ko Chang is full of dive centers (offering PADI certification and more) and tattoo shops. Actually all the areas where foreigners conjugate in Thai cities are full of tattoo shops (Khousan Rd in Bangkok, Pai, Ton Sai)


In Ko Chang, I spent most of the day time on the beach, swimming and reading. I completed 4 books, a strange Japanese novel called Sputnik Sweetheart, 2 books in a series about a lady detective in Botswana (highly recommended for its simplicity, elegance and abundance of interesting ideas and questions), and Hesse’s Narcicuss and Goldmund. Dmitry left on the 3rd day. At this time he’s somewhere in China hitchhiking his way home to Moscow. I stayed by myself another 6 days. I wasn’t ever really alone though. One of my new friends shaved my head:

He shaved lines in my head.... Reminds me of rice rows.

Reminds me of rice rows

I left Ko Chang on a Friday. Hitchhiked my way to the ferry and then to the center of Trat. I spent the night in Trat, visiting its lively market and food stalls. I bought myself lots of fruit – mango, dragon fruit, mangosteens, durian. Thai markets are one of my favorite attractions in Thailand, I love the activity and people and the overabundance of cheap tasty food of all kinds, from fruit to desserts to buffets to fried things…

I only paid $1 for one of these...

25 baht per kilo ... I paid only $1 for one of these...

I decided to hitchhike to Bangkok from Trat. By 11, I was on the main road, prepared with my list of cities I needed to ask the drivers about, and all the enthusiasm I needed to hitchhike such a long distance by myself for the first time! But no one stopped. And I stood there in the sun, my hand painfully heavy from waving it, perplexed. Was it my strange haircut, my clothes, my glasses? Was the area I selected not good enough and did I need to walk another kilometer away from the city? No I was just unlucky.

The man who stopped first was a sales man of some sort. He was on the way to Chanthanaburi and gave me a ride the 60+ km there. His English was fair and we chatted briskly along the way. It was pouring rain as we approached Chanthanaburi and I worried about hitching in this storm. Who’d want to pick up a soaking wet girl with a soaking wet bag? Fortunately, we were out of the reach of these stormy clouds by the time I left his car. My next ride arrived a minute later. It was a lorry with two non-English speaking Thai men inside – they were going to Bangkok. And so I rode with them the rest of the way. They were kind and fed me green mango. In Bangkok they left me in some section I’d never been to, 20 km away from the part of the city I wanted to go to they said, so I decided to take a public bus there which took 50 minutes and delivered me expertly. I couldn’t have ridden better had I taken a taxi; in fact, I would have been deprived of the chat-mate I acquired on the bus. And so for only 22 baht (about 65 cents) I traveled from Trat to my destination in Bangkok.

On the way we passed a lot of cars transporting durians and other fruit. It's harvest time!

On the way we passed a lot of cars transporting durians and other fruit. It's harvest time!

In Bangkok I met Asya, my friend from New York, the only childhood/school friend I have who also likes to travel. I looked at her passport – like mine she’s had pages added – it is almost completely full, there are only 3 empty sheets left.

Tomorrow I’m going to China. I’ll arrive in Guanzhou late at night and will go to my host’s (from couchsurfing) place. Today I need to take my things out of storage here in Bangkok – I’ve decided to mail the things I no longer need but want home. The cheapest way to mail is by sea – so mother, expect a big box of crap in 3 months.

May 18, 2009 at 11:45 am Leave a comment

Notes from a Russian super-duper

Tomorrow marks the 1 month anniversary of my travels with Dmitry. So here are some words from him so you can get to know him better…

Dmitry, 23 years old, Moscow
Studied history before going to China to study Chinese language.

Why are you traveling?
Because I want to see the world, meet new people, see new views, learn new tongues, meet new women… also because I have no job at home and had gotten ready to go work in China before being told the day before my departure that my presence was no longer desired because of the economic situation. So I decided to go anyway =)

What is your route?
Left Moscow on October 30th, 2008 by train to Orenburg, crossed into Kazakhstan, took bus to Aktobe and then a train to Shymkent, hitchhiked to Almaty and reached China on Nov 7th. Traveled through China’s provinces of Xinjiang, Gansu, Shanxi, Guizhou and Yunnan (by trains and hitch) for 3+ weeks before crossing into Laos. Near Luang Prabang met a Russian guy and traveled to and in Thailand with him. Friends arrived from Russia on Dec 31 in Surat Thani. After a week and the half in southern Thailand, traveled to Malaysia for another week, then split up with most of my friends and went to Sumatra, Indonesia with Pasha. Hitchhiked for 3 days nonstop to get to Jakarta where another friend was arriving by plane from Ukraine.

The most southern point reached was Gili Trawangan, near Lombok where everyone decided to go back home, subsequently getting into a taxi and saying “Kharkov” to the baffled driver. Returned to Dumai after an unsuccessful attempt to reach Kalimantan by the sea, arrived in Thailand after two days of nonstop hitchhiking through Malaysia, spent a week in Ton Sai and another in Chaing Rai, went to Cambodia (and met me!), returned to Thailand…

How did you prepare for your trip?
Read many online publications and forums on low budget traveling and hitchhiking, and one guidebook on traveling in Malaysia and Indonesia.

What did you take with you?
3000 rubles (aprox. $120)
a 50 liter backpack
several shirts, one pair of pants, some socks, sneakers, sandals, cap, 2 sweatshirts, 1 windproof jacket, sleeping bag, a rug for sleeping on, toiletries, simple first aid kit, and a multi-use knife I’ve already lost part by part…

What are some problems you encountered?
In the beginning of my trip I had planned to hitchhike to the south of the country but hitchhiking on Aktobe’s roads turned out to be more difficult than I expected so I ended up buying an expensive ticket on a train to Shymkent. Within my first few days in China I had no money left because of the exchange rate that resulted in a 35% loss with each withdrawal. I hitchhiked for 3 days without money relying on Chinese hospitality (drivers, guest houses who allowed me to stay and fed me). At this time, China was cold and snowy – not the best time for spending couple of hours on the highway without moving =)

Hitchhiking in Indonesia was difficult. The roads and cars are slow and tons of people gather around you like you are a circus attraction when you try to hitch and it is very difficult to make them understand that their presence is interfering with your plans. We also made the mistake of traveling in the most touristy parts of Indonesia.

In Trawangan, we bought air tickets to Kuala-Lumpur from Kuching, but because of a storm it was impossible to get to Indonesian Kalimantan from Java, and so we missed our flights and lost over $100…

Where can you sleep for free?
In Buddhist countries, you can go to the first temple on your way and say “non” (Thai for “sleep”). According to Buddhist tradition, temples provide shelter for all travelers regardless of religion or gender. Almost always the answer is yes. It’s better (but not necessary) to be dressed modestly, avoid speaking too loudly, and smile a lot (you knew that!). Be humble and enjoy the monks’ hospitality.

How can you travel for free?
For hitchhiking go to the edge of the city, find the right direction (look at a map), and choose a good position on the road (one where drivers can see you from a far away distance and where it’s safe for them to stop), pull out your thumb and smile. Know some words in the local language because not all of the people who stop will speak English. You should be able to say where you want to go and where they can drop you off if they’re not going so far. Regarding money, you can say “no money” in the local language. Truck drivers almost never ask for money. Cars that look like minibuses are usually taxis – either avoid them or explain your position thoroughly. Most of these kinds of taxis usually stop for foreigners regardless of whether they’re waving their thumb or not. Some drivers seem to ask for money as a reflex because the idea of hitchhiking is very foreign to them. Many are happy to have a foreigner in their car, especially if they speak a little English and are driving alone a long distance. An unintentional consequence of telling drivers that you have no money to pay for the ride is that some will try to feed you, share with you, and otherwise offer you things. Sometimes they’ll even push bills in your pocket despite your protests against it.

What do you eat?
A lot of fruits and cheap street food from the markets. Also whatever drivers share with me which happens often.

How much money does a traveler need?
It’s possible to travel without any money but one needs to be more prepared. Depending on the destination and number of people in the group, a budget of $6-10 a day per person would suffice. When you’re traveling via hitchhiking and visiting less touristy places, you often don’t have time or possibility to spend much money.

I spent about $600 in the first 2.5 months and ran out of money soon after the New Year.

I traveled for 35 days through China and Laos and paid for accommodation only once (in Luang Prabang).

In Loas, I lived for about 10000 kip ($1.25) a day.

In Xinjiang, I spent 3 yuan ($0.45) in 3 days, which was given to me by a truck driver.

In Surabaya, when we tried to hitchhike a cargo ship in Kalimantan, one sailor I’d befriended gave us 200,000 rupiahs ($19) as an “apology” for being unable to take us with them (We needed to go and they didn’t know when they’d depart due to bad weather).

I lived in a bar in Vang Vieng for a week, getting food and shelter in exchange for occasionally helping the staff.

One driver in Yunnan became my first Chinese friend, as we spent 4 days together in Kunming (solving his business problems) and in Dali (smokin’ pot).

April 6, 2009 at 10:05 pm 2 comments

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