Would this be the final day of hitchhiking on this trip? Only a few days earlier I started hitchhiking from Croatia and yesterday I arrived to Macedonia. I had heard some years ago, when thinking to visit Skopje from Sofia, that this part should be super easy to hitchhike as there is only one road between the two cities. Well, it was not super easy and there were more than one road.
I started my morning early, waking up at 8 am and at 9 am the hotel worker came to “wake me up” because of a misunderstanding. Starting with a nice walk through the town in search for a coffee I walk past the pizza place from yesterday. I take the opportunity to tell the pizza guy, which was now instead the guy who tried to find me a hotel the day before, that I finally found a place to sleep not to have to worry about me.
I continue to walk out of the town, already with a strong sun keeping me company. There are two roads out of Kumanovo towards Bulgaria and I take the one that goes more direct to the highway to catch cars from Skopje. Just out of town I arrive to a gas station where the turn for Sofia is 2 km away and when starting to walk instantly getting stopped by a police man not allowing me to walk on the highway. I go back to the gas station and manage to get a couple to drive me the two kilometers even though they seem skeptical and ask me if I have the right documents if the police stop us. I get dropped off a bit after the turn at a good spot and start to hitchhike on the highway. But after only 2 minutes I get accompanied by two policemen. First I am thinking what to do, not knowing if it is illegal or not to hitchhike on the highway in Macedonia, but because I really have no choice and they don’t start talking to me although they must understand what I am doing, I continue to try to catch a ride thinking that this will be impossible with the policemen standing there with me. After a while they stop the traffic on the incoming road and let two cars pass by themselves on the highway. Some minutes later they let the cars go again. Then they come to stand with me on the incoming road, and I ask them if I can instead stand on the highway, which they agree to. Not many minutes pass by and a car stops.
Inside is a Macedonian family which first seems not so talkative but after a while we are all chatting happily. The family consists of the father, the son and his girlfriend which for the first time is going to visit the father’s hometown. She is the only one speaking English but only a little bit and mostly when the others are out of the car. They give me some bread (similar to the Bulgarian Banitsa) with chocolate and even stops the car two times to refill my water or buy me a coca cola. I ask them why there are policemen everywhere along the road and they tell me something about the president, maybe it was the cars that I saw? The father drops of the “kids” and continue for a while to take me to a better hitchhiking spot. Again, I am finding myself standing in midday under the sun with very little shadow and cars, just on the outskirts of a village. At least I have a huge outdoor pool to look at, which gets more and more filled with people as I wait for a car to stop.
Finally, a guy stops and drives me 1 km near the border where he has to turn. The rest I walk, realizing that this is the first border crossing that I will cross by foot on this trip (in Central America for example we always crossed by foot). When I reach the first passport control the guards ask me why I took a picture of the border area. Well, there are no signs telling that this is illegal but I don’t want any problems so I just tell them that I took a picture of the Macedonian and Bulgarian flags together. They seems pleased with that explanation, and I am happy I didn’t take a picture of the sign “declare smuggling and corruption” next to the guards. Three minutes later I have passed all of the border controls and am finally in my lovely Bulgaria again. In the last border control the passport controller barely cares to open the window to check my passport, and when I ask him how far it is to the next village and he tells me 20 kilometers I do not know how much I should believe him, but start to walk.
On this side of the border the only thing I see is a diplomatic truck, a few Bulgarian cars and a big group of older men which starts laughing at me when I ask if I can get a ride with them (without paying). And of course they laughs even more when I start walking towards Sofia (120 km away). Anyway, soon the first and only sign for the next town is visible and it says 18 kilometers so I guess the border controller was correct. Ok, no cars in sight, and almost no shadow. But if I could walk for 11-12 hours yesterday I can definitely walk for about 4 hours today, or maybe 5 because my foot has a small cut which I dont know where it came from but it hinders me to walk full speed.
Some cars passes by in high speed but nobody seems to even think about stopping. Two different Macedonian cars show me the sign that they will only drive a short distance, but that is impossible because there is nothing else to drive to before the town where I am walking and that small bit for them would save me a five hour walk. Two Roma men joins me. They have been working picking berries for 10 days in a row in the mountain, but now they have some days of rest. We try to have a conversation and then parts in different directions when they visit a friend of theirs on the way, which also gives me a bigger chance of getting picked up by a car. Finally, after 1 hour I get a ride by a man who drops me off in Kyustendil.
I decide to try to hitchhike directly but because of hunger I soon go to find some food before continuing. Again I see the two Roma men and we have a quick smiling greeting before we all continue our ways. Now I am back on my hitchhiking spot and the sun is killing me without any stopping cars, so I take a break laying down in the grass under a tree. Some 40 minutes later I try again, but without luck. Time to start to walk. There are several small intersections and at every one I stop for a while trying again, but the sun is burning and nobody stops so I continue to walk every time. Sun is starting to disappear and I am creating backup plans in my head of where to sleep if I don’t get a ride, but at the same time trying to not think about it too much. Finally after a few hours a Macedonian guy is stopping and drives me a few kilometers in the opposite way of his direction to a bigger road where I even can stand in the shadow of a bridge, even though its almost no sun anymore. This area is filled with Roma people which makes the chance of cars stopping even less, but it makes a very interesting and beautiful surrounding with a lot of animals and families riding horse carriages in the sunset.
It takes some time, but eventually a Roma guy with a really “personal” car is stopping and driving me to a better place about 5-10 minutes away. For every meter that the car is passing I feel I am getting more near my goal, but at the same time I know that it is still about 80 kilometers to Sofia when he drops me off near a gas station with a cafe. Anyway, this is a perfect spot with even a backup plan for the night if I have no luck. I try to hitchhike for a bit more than an hour and during this time two buses stops and picks up a group of people, almost like a last test to my will (I challenged myself to only travel by hitchhiking). Now it is completely dark and when a truck parks in front of me and blocks the place for cars to stop I finally takes a dinner pause at the cafe, changing clothes to protect myself against the mosquitoes and cold which are now appearing.
A short while later I am again standing next to the road, and after adjusting my clock to the new time zone I realize the time is around 10:30 pm. I try again with the truck driver who is walking around his truck with a flashlight to control the tires, but he tells me no and shows me a sign on the back of the truck saying “army” while aiming the flashlight to his face saying “military” with a smile. At least now the truck is driving away, giving me more chance to get a ride.
At 11:30 I am almost giving up, but I decide to continue to at least midnight. Many cars seem to stop but are only slowing in to go somewhere else, or to the gas station. One post car stops and backs up to me at the same time I am walking towards him. This seems promising. He asks me where I want to go and I say Sofia/Radomir, he says something else which I do not understand but it only takes me a few seconds of thinking and then I jump into the car, knowing he will pass by Radomir at least and hoping that I can find a place or cafe there to spend the night, or at least a place with a lamp where I can continue to hitchhike.
The guy is really friendly and we talk a lot, some things we understand correctly and some misunderstandings his friend on the phone translates for us. Even though he initially wanted to drive me to Pernik, he changes his mind and now offers to drive me the whole way to Sofia (after a 10 minute work break in Pernik) which I of course agrees on. His friend even asks me in which area I want to be dropped of, so I SMS my friends telling them I will be back soon. Well, in the end he drops me off a “bit” outside the center and I have to walk on a straight road for an hour before I start to recognize the center of Sofia. 15 Minutes later, at 2:30 am, I am home with my feets hurting and a big smile!
..and this is where the story of one week of hitchhiking through 7 countries ends, Croatia to Bulgaria, a total of 750 km.