Totes Felt Like Napoleon

when we got to slovenka very unceremoniously, nothing around but cold air to greet us when tomas a trucker from poland delivering express mail dropped us off. at the border to hungary from slovakia on the western side, coming in from bratislava, it was abuzz with an exchange, a place to buy mandatory vignettes and lots of traffic. but not this northern border. tomas dropped us bc i told him i had read it was easier to catch rides at the border than in bfe, slovakian truckstops and he agreed. after we got out of the truck and tomas was gone, catching a ride seemed like the last thing that would happen in this morning that was quickly approaching the midday period. catching a ride with tomas, an english-speaking polish fella (who said british cops are hilarious and german cops suck) out of budapest after only 20 minutes of wait time was a miracle, and that kind of magic doesnt happen twice in a day. “krakow” our sign said. we had made a couple standing on the side of the road at 9am. “americans!” “SK!” because some people like americans and some people wont pick you up if your sign indicates a distant location and some people wont pick you up at all. now that we had reached the border to SK, the emphasis was PL and the need to communicate nothing short of the border. unable to procure a host in slovakia, waiting in bratislava hours for a ride just days earlier, i did not want to be stuck in the high tatry mountains with my thumb permanently frozen into the hitchhiking position. a truck approached and slowed. he didnt speak english but communicated “yes, krakow, but 15 kilometers.” to me that meant, “i have to stop my truck today in 15 km and will eventually go to krakow maybe one day,” which meant another ride to catch shortly but further from the border, harder to catch. i waved him on and then it dawned on me he meant he was stopping 15km from krakow. golden ticket blown on down the road, the second miracle of the day. no chance of a third. i resolved myself to the idea of staying at the desolate slovakian border. i joked with my brother about the prospect; he didnt find it funny. the traffic came in waves. no cars then suddenly 5 or 6. the pointing down to indicate local, the hand shakes to indicate not going far enough to help, the shrugs to indicate a desire to help if the wife and kids werent in the car, and sometimes just stares of curiosity like “who the fuck in their right mind does autostop in slovakia in mid january?!” miracle number three came less than thirty minutes of thumbing in the form of Tut. that is best i could make out. he told us in turkish to get in and that he was going all the way to krakow. after i was 110% certain he was going to krakow this day, not the next, we headed up the road with our new best friend. tut stopped a few minutes later at a trucker pull off to make turkish tea and lunch. he was appalled at my vegetarianism but liked that i liked sufi music. he called me a punk for having a shaved head under my long hair and let me know that he liked my natural eyebrows. he asked me if i was a christian and told me he was muslim, making the point even without speaking english that he nor turkey had a thing to do with osama bin laden. after 45 minutes of watching tut cook, listening to him talk to his colleagues, and playing charades, we headed once more for krakow. winter finally greeted us in the form of snow on the tatry mountains. europe has experienced a distinct lack of snow this winter. some have said there has been no winter to speak of yet and that when it does come, it will be harsh. our driver honked and waved at an old woman walking alongside the road–jesus and old ladies walking are frequently seen on slovakian roads–not because he knew her but bc he just wanted to say “hi.” we stopped again. this time tut made coffee. back on the road in 10 minutes time. around 615, after sharing pictures, learning some turkish, swapping candy, getting all jacked up on turkish tea and coffee, tut let us out where he had to turn off, a few kilometers from the krakow city limits. i indicated a bus stop and he pulled over. he helped thomas out and grabbed my face, giving me the european style kiss on the cheeks. then he did it again. and then again. and he would have done it again if i had not yanked my face out of his hands, thanking him again in turkish. i was for once on this trip, glad to be in the cold and the dark. thomas and i debated using public transport but opted after 9+ hours of sitting to hoof it the 10 miles to dominika’s place in town. she kindly waited up for us, made us some tea, cooked thomas some fried chicken and was as sweet as she could be even though she had just gotten home herself from a big trip to israel.

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