Monday, September 7, 2015

A Hitchhiker's Guide To... Anywhere But Greece!

I am close to perfecting budget traveling, having been to 29 countries thanks to Couchsurfing and still having money in the bank. On our latest travel, my friends Miriam, Olta and I thought about how we could also eradicate those pesky transport costs. The easiest way, of course, would be to just hitchhike, we thought. And once that thought is there, it’s hard to shake it off again because the benefits are ridiculous, and the only disadvantage is that “they say it’s dangerous!” Is it though? Three chicks on the road who have seen a lot weren’t really that scared. Our biggest concern, at that point, were our parents’ opinions. Keeping it a secret at first we made an attempt and succeeded in executing the cheapest trip in the history of trips… until we hit Greece!

Our trip took us to the South Balkans, starting in Skopje, Macedonia. Being one of the cheapest places to begin with the extra two Euros we saved on not getting a bus ticket would really not have made a huge difference at first. But we took about 15 buses, stacking up to a 30 Euro saving we made by avoiding the crappy bus and just putting our thumbs out. Additionally, and probably, even more importantly, almost every single driver was nicer and more polite than any bus driver there is, most likely because drivers take hitch hikers just because they’re nice people and not because they get paid for it. People would occasionally even change their route to take us to our final destination, or a spot we could easily hitch from to the next place. None of them had to, they just felt like helping. How exactly is that really that dangerous?

Yes, yes, I know, there could be a murderer behind the wheel. I agree, there could be. There could also be a WWII bomb detonating adjacent to my house, killing me instantly, or let’s not forget the imminent, perpetual threat of terrorism. Dear Reader, please realize that I’m employing sarcasm. There could always be danger, and if you’re always scared it will find you. Danger didn’t find us, yet. Instead, we traveled around 2000 kilometers around South Eastern Europe without paying a dime. All we had to do is do a bit of small talk and wait by the side of the road for a few minutes. In Macedonia, Albania and Kosovo three girls easily found a ride because people rightfully identified we are not a threat to their personal security. Greeks weren’t that smart.

Now, other than the hitchhiking experience we made in Greece it would probably still be a pretty crap country full of pretty vain and conceited people, but the difference in hitchhiking perceptions really says it all. Until now, two weeks into our stay in Greece, we are still waiting to get a ride with a genuinely Greek person except for one single grandpa who was hoping to take us to a music bar after we arrived in Patras with him. All the others had at least lived abroad if they hadn’t been born and raised there. Earlier today, Miriam and I were standing in the middle of nowhere at 35°C without water, being ignored by every single bypassing Greek car until the rescuing Bulgarian drove by and even took us where we needed to go, although they didn’t have to go there.

But worst of all so far was our very first experience in Greece. We started hitching at a toll booth where every single car that was passing by was guaranteed to be going our direction and slowing down to pay the fee. We were then either ignored or laughed at. One thing was for sure: nobody even thought about taking us. In every country, our average waiting time was two and a half minutes. In Greece, make that hours. Two and a half freaking hours until a pastor realized that two girls and a boy of 22 we picked up in Macedonia would probably not rob or kill him. Well, we could have, but the guy’s trust was too humbling, so we decided not to and just be thankful after we’d been dehydrated and sunburnt.

It is unlikely we were simply unlucky that day, especially since we have pretty much not moved in Greece because we know it’s impossible. Now that there are only two girls again, we were pretty convinced things would get easier but they didn’t. Leaving our hair down or wearing shorts also had no effect. People here tell us that Greeks are scared, and the legitimate question at this point is: what from? What are the odds of two girls trying to rob them as opposed to two girls just trying to catch a ride, Greek people? Have some faith? We now switched vehicles and are mobile on bicycles so that we don’t have to ask Greeks for anything anymore. Ironic, isn’t it???

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