Sunday, January 6, 2013

Hairy Hungarian Hitchhiker: Belgrade to Budapest

That is an impressive beard!

In hitchhiker language "H" is for Hungary
That is the first thought that came to my mind when I got picked up by the truck-driving Hairy Hungarian Hitcher.  His massive beard, short stature and round figure gave him the appearance of a dwarf who had crawled out of a mountain from Middle-Earth.  I had no way of expressing my thoughts since I discovered with a simple "Hello" that my driver knew not one word of English.  Magically in my travels I had acquired 6 words of Hungarian, which were enough to make the Hairy Hungarian Hitcher (now referred to as the HHH) smile with delight and chat to me as if I were his long-lost friend.

"Szia. Eg, Kete, Haram"
"Ezhgie okjoklkomun keszelk?"
"Kegeskszouem keszerss!!! Gskgetlkl zeguk eguszoj ...." 
Truck drivers.  The true saviors for many a desperate hitchhiker.  Lonely, creepy, smelly and uncouth...they receive a bad reputation even though most of them have a heart of gold.  All most truck drivers need is some entertainment since being on the road for a million hours can get mind-numbingly boring.  Hitchhikers have received the same bad reputation as truckers thanks to a few bad apples; and we get bored standing by the road.  Naturally, we bond quite quickly.

Lost in Serbia
Somehow my conversations with the HHH were more interesting than Dusan, my first hitcher who had taken me from the northern side of Belgrade to the desolate, hot highway where I got the next ride.  Dusan and I had rambled on in my broken Serbo-Slovak-Polish language and he was happy to leave me with two wonderful gifts.  The first was a wilted cellophane-wrapped sandwich that I greedily accepted (when traveling never turn down free food.)  The second was a fine map of Serbia.  It was not a standard highway map but it was detailed and included all the major roads and cities I needed to know for traveling.

Too bad I'm leaving Serbia today.

I was showing this map to the HHH, who laughed and then suddenly looked concerned.  He pointed at the northern-most point on the map and said something with a rather regretful tone in his voice.  He repeated it with the same sadness and I looked at his hairy, dwarf face.  I gathered that was the point where I had to leave.  Only when I when we reached the border did I understand that the border police was his principle concern.  No hitchhikers.  Were it not for that I would have had a ride on highway E75 all the way to Budapest.  I shouted, "Egészségédre!" and got out.

My next two rides were spent in silence save for the Hungarian greetings.  These people weren't as excited as the truck-driving HHH to venture a conversation with a foreigner when they couldn't speak English.  My final ride dropped me off in central District IX within the vicinity of a metro stop and a shopping mall.  The mall had a bookshop where I quickly checked my email.  My last-minute planning skills were in effect, and I was hoping for a last-minute Couchsurfer to give me a place to stay.

There was no last-minute Couchsurfer.  I received responses, but they were offers for other nights or locations too far outside of downtown for me to handle getting lost at 9 at night.  This left me to search for hostels.  I already knew of some from previous stays so I headed to my favorite of them all: Budapest Bubble.  It's perhaps one of the smallest hostels in Budapest, but by far the coziest and friendliest one.  And one of the co-owners, Olga, has received praise and admiration from far away for her smile and indie-girl good looks.  I took the nearest metro there.

Budapest Bubble was full.  No surprise for a place that only has 20 beds.  However they did send me to their sister hostel, Aboriginal Hostel, which was a mere 500 meters down the road.  I thought I would get some sleep.  Instead, as a card-carrying hostel manager from Costa Rica, I met some very important hostel people who revealed to me the rather sordid and often dirty business of hostel management.  This is gonna be a long night.

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