Thirty minutes later I was still standing there. Things weren't going well and the sun continued getting lower in the sky. I had just moved to another spot on the highway when I saw my omen. A man dressed in black.
No, he wasn't the reincarnation of Johnny Cash, but a Bulgarian Orthodox monk. He was standing in a small roadside parking lot and had a look of complete serenity despite wearing head to toe, all-black garb in the heat of the afternoon. I would have expected to find him in a monastery and not standing on the side of a lonely highway. Why was he there?
The same reason as I was. He had a suitcase and was waiting beside a parked car. I hoped he might pass his mystical hitchhiking powers on to me, so I approached him with a wave and a "Dober Den." I knew he wouldn't speak English, and indeed he answered with a Bulgarian response and a question which I didn't understand. I grinned like an idiot and asked, "Serbia?" He pointed down the highway and responded, "Autobus." I hadn't received his magical hitchhiking powers, but at least I had been blessed with an alternative route to get to Serbia.
I thanked him graciously, "Blagodarya."
I never feel comfortable saying this phrase out loud, because in English its sounds like, "Blog 'O' Diarrhea." As follows...
"Its been great meeting you. By the way, check out my travel website, "Blog 'O' Diarrhea." It follows all of my horrible experiences I've had with foreign food around the world. It has many color pictures....hey...where are you going?"Poof! The man in black departed in a cloud of dust with the car he had hitched. I stood there on the deserted highway wishing I had had his fortune. He had told me of a mysterious bus, but finding it would be as difficult as gaining financial support for the "Blog 'O' Diarrhea."
I walked towards the center of the small town, while keeping my eyes open for any stray buses that could be parked on the side of the road or at random gas stations. The sun created long purple shadows on the streets and hills of the surrounding area. The heat and dimming light gave everything a hazy, out-of-focus quality. Or possibly it was my fatigue. Sunset would come soon and I was anxious. The bus finally manifested itself.
It was sitting in the parking lot of an abandoned gas station. I ran towards it as fast as possible and repeated my usual lost foreigner routine. "Idem do Serbia? Serbia? Serbia?" There were no signs nor marking on the bus to indicate it actually went towards Serbia, but the driver seemed very concerned with my predicament and tried his best to explain in Bulgarian where we were going. I paid with my last Lev and blindly jumped on a crowded bus that for all I knew went to Romania.
After 30 minutes on the highway the bus veered off onto a small dirt road in a small village. By this time I had gained support from practically the entire bus. Everyone seemed surprised to find an American on the side of the highway in Dragoman and they were explaining in that - yes - indeed I was really going to the Serbian border. I wished I could stay on the bus with the friendly locals.
We continued down the dirt road for a stretch before the bus stopped - seemingly in the middle of nowhere. The driver waved for me to get off. I looked around frantically at the wide open country and endless rolling hills, desperately searching for a "Serbia This Way" sign. When I asked, "Serbia?" the entire bus shouted in unison, "SERBIA!!!" They practically cheered for my travel heroics as I got off the bus.
I waved at the friendly Bulgarians as the bus drove away on the dirt road. For a brief moment I felt elated from the positive vibes I had encountered on the bus...until the bus disappeared around a corner. I looked around at the empty countryside that was devoid of any human signs.
Johnny Cash echoed in my mind as I wondered out-loud, "Where the hell am I?"