Whenever I set an alarm, I don't actually need it. At 5:30 I woke up, took some food from Cocina Robino, walked to the traffic lights at the Jan van Galenstraat and smiled. After about 15 minutes a painter with an Native American name listening to good old Gabber stopped for me. In an unexpected preview for what was to come he sped through the red light after getting off the highway to pick up his colleague. They were driving to Utrecht and dropped me off at the last gas station on the A2 before the turn to the A12.
My signs were "Arnhem A12 oost" on one side and "Belgrado Istanbul" on the other side. For an hour or so I received a lot of smiles, especially when I told them my actual final destination. I had been smiling and walking around to find a ride onto the A12, in vain. Talked to a guy who would be willing to go out of his way a little bit. Walked back, and then, for the first time in my hitchhike career I was asked to leave the premises (of a gas station at least, some shitty motel manager sent me and amylin away, in the New Zealand rain of 2006). "Company policy", the manager said. "Never experienced this company policy before", I said smilingly. When walking to the Rijkswaterstaat property the guy I talked to waved at me and I was back on track. Arnhem with a trucker, Cologne with a Polish businessman, Frankfurt with a Dutch couple picking up a special bicycle with their bio-diesel minibus.
Before Regensburg I was aiming at a HU car when an elderly guy stopped. "Well", I thought, "never refuse a perfectly good ride". In his seventies, he was still working, driving a big car and, most importantly, picking up hitchhikers at night. Only one gas station further I wrote down "Budapest" and a couple waved at me. Their doglets were not too friendly at first, but in Hungary they were quietly sleeping on my lap and my feet.
Romanians must love (second-hand) German cars. The 1500 km or so from Regensburg to Pitesti was crowded with German numberplates with a little red date mark on the right. Driven by inexhaustible Romanians, but which language to approach them? At the gas station in Budapest there was almost no activity and I spent a couple of hours under a plastic sheet. Since I hadn't been able to find a ride towards Szeged for a while I decided to take my chances and head to Romania.
Three drivers, at least one BMW, many hours on hair rising Romanian roads later it was dark again. And I got into a local bus, to an unknown destination. In the bus, the first angel of this voyage. I was dog-tired and sat down. She asked a question I've forgotten and said "d'accord" at some point. So we switched to French. We went to check a hotel where the rooms appeared to cost more than 60 euro per night. A mix of curiosity and suspicion. I showed her all my papers, my luggage, almost anything I was carrying. Great to see I wasn't dragging around too much after 36 hours on the road. A cold shower, a nice room, some food and big eyes. Started walking in the early morning. Had some local competition/colleague. In Bucuresti it was not clear. People were giving me different indications, but I managed to find a truck stop popular with Turks - right next to one of the country's major continuous traffic jams.
Ahmet was happy to take me to Istanbul. Fortunately my passive-smoking capacity had been greatly increased. Bulgaria was not far away. Nor were the baksheesh hungry Bulgarian border officials. Fortunately (both for me and for them) they didn't bother me. Within Bulgaria we took a break at a truck stop and Ahmet and people around him explained to me in Turkish, Bulgarian, Russian and German that the police were checking a lot. The Turks had decided it was better to drive at night.
We reached the Bulgarian Turkish border at around 3 am. And we got into Turkey when I made a big mistake. Never leave your backpack in the vehicle when you are walking slightly further than 50 meter away.
Now I'm left alone in a hostel in Damascus. A Japanese guy reading, a Chilean couple watching a movie. The fan whirling back time. The streets are full of friendliness, excitement. People genuinely want to meet you here. I don't think I've been able to explain what hitchhiking is to a single Syrian. Confusion plenty, but 30 hours in the Axis of Evil I've mostly encountered unexpecting and unconditional friendliness.
Bijar came all the way from Utrecht. Or rather, from Kurdish Iraq. He was on his way to buy equipment for a business he's developing in the lands of his origin. He signaled his taxi driver to stop for me right before the border. He did almost all the talking (and paying) and we wished eachother good luck in Aleppo.
to be continued...