Thumbs Up!

2Imagine being in 23 countries in less than 12 months, spending approximately 2.5 Euros each a day, waiting for a lift for as long as 6 hours in the South-West of France with a thumbs up (sadly you  aren’t lucky and have to sleep on the road for the night), getting a ride with anything that stops to give you a lift, which includes a boat in Senegal;  This is just some of  many exciting stories these two hitchhikers have to tell.

On her way to a festival, Lora Vasileva and her friends gave a lift to a stranger named Evgeni; who had been hitchhiking around his country Bulgaria since he was fifteen years old. Two weeks later, Lora joined him on a worldwide hitch-hiking trip and as spontaneous and unplanned a decision as it sounded then, now she knows for sure that the decision was one of the best she had ever made.

While on their hitch-hiking excursion around the world, I hosted them for two days in Kathmandu before they left for a trek to Everest Base Camp.

Why Hitch-Hiking?

Hitch-hiking has become a way of life for us. We want to hitch-hike all around the world- see every mountain and swim in every ocean. . We believe that hitch-hiking makes you open to everything and gradually makes you flexible enough to enjoy the differences  between yourself and the people and culture you interact with. It’s not just routine holiday travel. Its exploring your inner self and the places you go

What are the countries you have traveled so far?

We traveled along Serbia, Croatia, Slovenia, Italy, Switzerland, Germany, France, Belgium, Netherlands, Spain, Morocco, Mauritania, Senegal, Mali, Burkina Faso, Togo, Benin, Niger, Nigeria, Cameroon, Gabon, Nepal and India. But this is just the start. The list will go on and on.

How did you manage to fund your expedition so far?

Well, we had saved some money from our jobs back in Bulgaria, which was enough to buy us food for a year. We searched for sponsors but it did not work out. But we do get some money through our friends who buy the photos we have taken. And (giggling), we also tried working in France. The job was to pick grapes for a vineyard but the language barrier took the job away before we got it.


So is the language barrier a big problem while you are hitchhiking around the world?

It is a problem, but apparently it’s not a big one. The primitive form of communication such as signs and expression is still helpful when it comes to traveling.  We were offered a lift from some Chinese people in Italy, and it was tremendously difficult to explain to them the simple fact that we were from Bulgaria. On the entire trip we were compelled to use sign language, which was quite confusing but funny at the same time.

Have you ever starved while hitch hiking?

(They look at each other and start talking in Bulgarian) In Switzerland, everything is very expensive. We couldn’t afford to eat anything good there. For a week, we had apples, raw food and seeds boiled in water. And it was only after we got to Germany that we actually had food by spending some money. Do you call that Starving? (I assumed that was a rhetorical question)

So any worst experiences other than that?

Yes. Osman ‘a Rasta man, who invited us to stay at his house while we were in Dakar, the capital city of Senegal, turned out to be a very bad person. He convinced us to leave our backpacks in his room for the night, while we slept in our tent on his terrace. The next morning, when we went to get our visas to Burkina Faso, we found out that all our money was missing. After that, we learnt not to trust anyone blindly and we are more careful now. However, we are happy for everything we’ve been through, because without the hard moments we cannot appreciate the happy ones.

Do you miss your family and friends back home?

Lora- I left everyone and everything and started living on the road. Whenever I call my mom, she wants me to come back home. But I have to go on. I need to finish what I have started. I do miss them a lot.

Evgeni – I miss them but not as much as Lora. I lived away from them even when I was in Bulgaria and maybe that’s why i don’t miss them so much.

So you only hitch hike on vehicles?

The main element of hitch hiking is to stop a vehicle, wave hands and smile (with a thumbs up). As simple as that sounds, it requires a lot of patience. We hitchhike in any vehicle that stops. We avoid aeroplanes and trains but on rare occasions when we have no other choice, we have to pay to travel.

How did you find Nepal different from the countries you have traveled so far?

We came to Nepal straight from Africa so the differences in culture did stun us for a moment. The first thing we really enjoyed was the Nepali food and of course the beautiful snow clad mountains. Nepal’s atmosphere is filled with an incredible amount of happiness, freedom and greenery. The people are really friendly and always helping us. We didn’t have to face a language barrier since almost everyone here can speak a little  English. Even the villagers can communicate to us easily. Nepal is really special for us! It’s one of the places that will be hard to say goodbye to and we surely will come back again.

What are your further plans?

We will be traveling around India for six months. We have yet to decide our destination after that. We celebrated our first anniversary of traveling around the world on 19th August. We are running out of money so we need to find more jobs on the way.

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We knew it was almost impossible but our belief was injected with a tremendous amount of hope and courage to have one of the best hitch-hiking trips ever. So despite the strike, scorching sun and the thirst, we went on. Travelling on public transport and motorbikes had completely ruined our reasoning power of distance. We expected a familiar place to arrive after a certain bends but it was only after dozen similar bends that we finally would come to the resting point. The stereotypical Nepal actually begins after we farewell Kathmandu and her two sister cities.

The strong rumours that Kathmandu Valley would be closed for the day had ignited this plan in our head. We wanted to do something that was much productive than just staying idle in Freak Street. It was only after arriving at the border of Dhading and Kathmandu that we found out it was a strike in Dhading, not in Kathmandu. But what could stop a heart that has been craving for something adventurous and exciting? We looked at each other and we knew right away that no one wanted to go back to the unplanned and chaotic civilization. We had one tent, and only one sleeping bag since Sarah forgot hers in a shop at Kalanki), a small guitar, a bottle of water, a battery operated Lantern, and clothes to change. Prabin, with his Nikon D80, captured the entire trip.

We took a local bus from Kalanki that left us stranded two kilometers from Tribhuwan Park. By the time Sarah realised that she had left her sleeping bag in one of the shops of Kalanki, the bus came to a halt and going back to get it was simply out of the question. As we left Kathmandu, where one wouldn’t think twice to assist another in trouble, we encountered many people who were ready to help us just because we were there. We first hitched in a micro bus for a few kilometres, but were soon unceremoniously ejected. The truck drivers, who did not give us a lift, gave us an apologetic expression for not being able to help. The fresh water coming down from the mountains were viewed as no less than the Holy Grail to our dehydrated bodies.

Everyone on the outskirts acknowledged our presence and we never felt intruded or unaccepted. It was only Prabin, Shristy and I with flip-flops and after walking for a couple of kilometres, Yuskey and Sarah had to opt for the same since their shoes added to the heat of the sun. There were only speeding tourist buses and a couple of bikes owning the empty highway. We saw landscapes that could never be seen by travelling in a bus or car.

At one point, after walking for almost 30 kilometres, we were completely exhausted when all of a sudden a truck, on the way to Birgunj, stopped and gave us a ride on its back. That hitchhike lasted long enough for Yuskey to sing some folk Nepali songs on his guitar. The truck pulled over in a short while since there was a log of wood in the middle of the road with some protestors making the Banda effective. We stopped for a while and then started walking. Sarah and Shristy, were mistaken for foreigners by the locals when we heard one of them say ‘they have come to Nepal to walk around and see our village life. Strike is good for them.’

Well, strike was neither a good or new thing for Nepal but it surely became momentarily and exclusively for the five of us. A grey coloured Skoda with a tourist number plate, coming from Kathmandu, stopped next to us (you may not be that lucky) and offered a lift. One of the protestors who had seen us walking had requested the driver of the car to take us along if we paid some money. And we did, but very little. On the entire trip that lasted for about 45 minutes, we were smiling and feeling lucky. We knew some divine force was looking down on us and giving us free perks from time and again.

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We wanted to go to this waterfall that Yuskey was talking about but, as it had been a year he last visited, we could not find the way. Finally the driver who was listening to our conversation assured us that he knew of a similar waterfall on the way to Pokhara. And it really was the one we were looking for. We bid the driver goodbye and asked him to join us in Kathmandu whenever he was free. We climbed the hill that had the water fall but then there were some rowdy locals who made it really uncomfortable for us to have a good time so we gave up the idea and walked all the way to Abu Khaireni, where we bought noodles, water melon and an apple.

We had seen a lot of good river banks on the way where we could camp but we still wanted to look out for more. We started exploring Daraudi River from one point to another and, for almost an hour, searched for a good spot. We were searching for a narrower spot from where it would be safe to cross the river. A man in his early forties came to us and advised us not to cross the river since it was very risky. Instead he showed us a better place to camp and went away climbing the cliffs as if he was a lizard.

Though it was two nights before full moon, it looked almost like one of those nights were the moon was at its very best and one could stare endlessly at the beauty of the sky. And, to add to that spell binding night, we were camping by a river indulging in the perfect company of each other. The synergy of the songs Shristy and Yuskey sang on top of that splendid aura was so alchemic that it felt like the wind was drifting my soul away. The girls taught us to swim and we got so hooked with it that we were swimming till four in the morning.

The sunrise was very difficult to wake up to. The hangover of all the fun we had yesterday was filled with a tremendous amount of body ache. We packed our tents, cleaned the river bank, repacked our bags and started on the search of a hotel something to eat. The hotel we chose for our dinner happened to be owned by the same person who had advised us not to cross the river. We planned to swim for an hour before having our lunch but we ended up swimming for a couple. The local boys helped us cross the river, taught us swimming and also rescued us many a times.

‘Oi, ma dubey hai (hey I am drowning)’- With these words, Yuskey drowned as he courageously tried to cross the river alone. One of the locals rushed in for his rescue and brought him back safely. But after all that practice the night I’m pretty sure that Yuskey would have made out himself. An old suspension bridge with some of its ropes stretching down to the river became a good swinging sport for us.

Three chicken set dinner with Karela, and 2 vegetarian sets with 4 plates of Chana, two jumbo bottles of chilled water and a jumbo coke cost us around Rs.700. The lunch felt very replenishing. We started after a break of half hours. We climbed to the highway and, with the hitching hiking adventures over, took a bus back to Kathmandu.

Hitch hiking, unlike typical travelling, is getting to know a place like a local rather than normal travelers. Travelers get acquainted with spots that have been commercialized and altered for them. It helps you become open towards a life style and culture adhered in that place and is really worth it with all the things you get to explore that would normally be overlooked in normal travelling. For instance, local people are worried and concerned about your safety when you swim in the river near their houses. Try hitch hiking and you will know because no one will stop you from diving off a 12 foot rock by the river even if you don’t know how to swim.