Friday, July 30, 2010
The Second Rule For Hitchhiking in Bulgaria
There is only one major rule surrounding hitchkiking in Bulgaria, one which was relayed to me in sincerity and angst - "If gypsy stops, you don't get in. Even if they smiling at you, please, don't get in." I nodded my already sloping brow, trying to realise I may have to take heed to this strange, bearded Bulgarian stoners muddled advice.
Racism aside, it is a fair enough rule. Especially considering how I value most of my teeth, toes and fingernails. Okay, so most of the teeth are deadweight, and the toes and fingers could use a clean, but what do they care? They're gypsies, and by my imagination, they have bolt cutters. Anyway, the basic rules are set, and we were ready to take the fifty-one bus down to the sixty-four-highway, where the odds were eighty to four that we would find a ride and be able to make it to Irakly, on the Black Sea coast, anywhere before four thirteen in the morning of Thursday, ten weeks and six days from today (due to the six thousand, twenty two hours spent tied to a car radiator and choking on a gag in a gypsy basement).
So, thumbs outstretched, myself and my feline companion, Carla, we took to the desolate highway with our scrap packs and tent in tow.
We started our testing ordeal without knowing more than vague snippets of Bulgarian language, snips which didn't include "please don't kill or rape us".
And as it were, we began out in the scorching sunlight, thirty plus celsius, like unholy Jesus' marching through the desert. It made us remember the story of Peter Falconio and the Sturt Highway, though we brushed them aside like flies from a birthday cake.
The further we hobbled, the more we knew: We were hobbling along down the WRONG HIGHWAY. Just an oblong stretch of gravel obviously not a correct way for hapless trawlers as ourselves, wrong as a donkey's shlong to anyone with a tenth of a brain cell left. We were heading into a no-man's industrial graveyard, not towards the untouched kilometres of white sand on Black Sea where we were searching for.
A truck driver waved us over to him in feverish trepidation, as cars began to bank up behind. There was no obvious shoulder for a truck of its size to pull over.
I ran across. In broken english, he screamed at me,
"NO! This highway, it go to hell. You not want this highway."
Highway to hell? He must mean back to Wollongong! That's a long fuckin' way, and we'd already been scorched by that place vowing never to return years ago. Time to find a different route.
So after much discussion and ridiculous map turnage, we climbed an embankment, Goliath's back bone, and tumbled up on to the savage grey runway. This time, the right coastal road.
Thankfully, there was a decent shoulder here to flag the cars over. Though, a wily hitcher had beat us to the punch. A one-eyed gypsy, (it seemed he was either one-eyed or simply his right eye was gnarled and the skin was folding over the rest of his face like a pocket for his nose) clutching a walking stick and a plastic bag, held his thumb out in the same direction as us. Striking up conversation was not possible, as his glazed working eyeball penetrated the clothing of my female companion with a depraved and empty lear... We had previously been alerted that if we really wanted to get the quickest ride possible, Carla should be wearing the shortest skirt in her possession. As it happened, I ended up wearing the skirt (mentally, at least)and she a fine white jacket with a pack of cigerettes lining the breast pocket.
"Puff, puff?" Old one-eye motioned at his mouth with his ring and index finger, both yellowed and charred. Ah! Our hapless pervert was not a demented rapist after all, he simply wanted a cigerette. Slightly offended at not being gawked upon, she handed him three of her disgusting Romanian mixtures of arsenic and saw dust and sparked him a light.
He guffawed with thanks as we slowly, slyly, ambled ourselves as far away from him as possible so he didn't effect our further chances of getting a lift.
A fine idea this was, and our movement paid off in merits within minutes. An off-duty taxi rolled to a halt, and we poked our heads in through the window to question our potential murderer.
"We - ahh-- We go to Irakly. You know this place?" Speaking in broken english always makes you feel like you're recovering from a stroke.
"Yes, I head past there. Only, sixty, seventy kilometres. You come with me."
Success- and an english speaker to boot, and not even a hinting glint of conning gypsy from shiny silver teeth. (I truly am sorry to all the gypsies, I mean no offence, I love the way your sparkling teeth shimmer in the Bulgarian sunlight as you pickpocket my precious wallet, I really do).
We jumped into his beat-up wagon of yellow and black, and spooned off back on to the tremulous serpent of a highway, south toward the beach.
One of my tent-poles, immediately as I entered, scraped across his dashboard marking the clean stereo with a horrible sideways gash. Idiot. Terrible fucking idiot. I gulped and cursed myself mutely, as he smiled and laughed it off.
"What do I care? Only my new stereo anyway."
I gulped again. Bulgarians have a funny sense of humour...
A humour which would become not only disturbing, but confusing also. A nauseating mixture of gloom and hilarity, like mixing orange juice with milk. Some of the jokes he pushed upon us, his passengers, slaves to his sundries as we rode on toward our destination, were incomprehensible in their meaninglessness.
"Two Bulgarian brothers. One, he dig well. One, he drive tractor."
Yes, so... punchline?
"This is the joke. Want to hear another?"
I'd rather eat rat-sack, I think though I answer politely, "Sure, why not?"
"Two birds are flying. One bird flies faster than the other. That is the joke."
And he kept going, mindless riddle followed by grinding twiddle. Don't get me wrong, I was beyond grateful he stopped for us. I would bow in a million praises to thank him for his benevolance and offer him my sister's virginity in payment for his illuminating kindness (thank the world I have no sister) but I still, uncontrollably, began to grow irritated at the irrationality of it. Just the slightest. though I broke out in wheezy laughter at the bizarrity of his sentences. He couldn't be for real.
So he starts up again, "One more. Where you from?"
"So this is a joke about toilet. You, do you mind joke about toilet?"
He sounded like an obscene Soviet comedian asking Carla in his thick Bulgary accent.
"Of course not! They're the best ones."
"Okay! So... When you're in Australia, what hand do you use to wipe your behind with, after you're finished using toilet?"
"Ahhh, let's see... the right hand I guess."
"WELL, in Bulgaria, we not use hands! We use toilet paper!"
Ah, ha ha. Be careful with that joke fella, it's an antique, I wouldn't want to see you break it.
An hour or so after pouring down the muddy highway, in sweat and in uproar, he dropped us off at the dirt-end of the beach road we were setting up to trek along to find our infamous black sea. He waved us off in Bulgary hospital style, like a colourful doctor of the damned. So with a wink and a grimace, and chortled, "Maybe one day I see you in Australia!" and cracked his horn, which sounded like a hog on heat, and careened off back down to wherever except the travel agency to purchase a plane ticket to Australia. That would not be happening.
As we strode on down the narrow, crawling passage, the blue tinge of the water already gaping open through the shrubbery on the horizon, a vision of wonder for weary travellers; bumblebees cavorting and singing and slender storks nesting in hollow stumps, the cachanations of crows and the endless drone of the insects in the brown fields, and our sweat, and our backpacks and our longing for swim, amid all this as we strode and sang and played harmonica, and we realised, oh how it dawned, we had learnet a new rule about hitchhiking in Bulgaria.
! A rule which we must spread to the masses, however few of them may listen,
"Man, Bulgarian humour is terrible isn't it? Next time, I think it is better to ride with gypsies. It should be a rule- listen to no more opinions on Bulgarian hitchhiking" We agreed and I thought of the huge crack I had made in the poor driver's car stereo, and gulped and began to ponder possibilities for the way home tomorrow.
"There must be an ulterior passage" I mumbled as images of a foul, fish-stenched and booze-drenched Romanian bus driver picking us up for the way back fondled its way in to the frontal lobes of my mind. I quivered and shook my head in acceptance of tomorrow's destiny. Boat building was never my forte anyhow.