The International Writers Magazine: Hitching the World
Hiking the World with Kinga
Five years ago we published an extract from Kinga and Chopin's
diary as they hitched around the world. Only noware theyback and
written a book about it.
one-way ticket, two backpacks, close to six hundred dollars, few
plans and lots of dreams - that's all we had when we landed in
New York. We knew one thing - we wanted to see the world. The
whole wide world! How to do it wiht almost no money? What's the
best way to get to know the people and cultures of the countries
along our way? By hitchhiking, of course! Thumbing a ride with
destiny... We never expected it would take us five years."
Welcome to America
(New York Vancouver)
30 September 1998 Life is a journey, enjoy it, I read in
a card from my best friend, as my train slowly pulls out of the Gdansk
train station. I am leaving my beautiful city behind, and soon, my country,
to see the world. I just have to arrange a few things in Warsaw first,
and Chopin has to get his American visa. Its not easy, especially
if you only have a one-way ticket, but I know well make it.
Mom, look at that baby plane. Oh, and over there, thats
his daddy, the big one, we hear a kid saying at Warsaw international
airport. Our two backpacks packed, visas in our passports, were
ready to go. Ready to see the world. We board a little Finnair plane
and watch Latvia and Estonia pass quickly below us as we enjoy a vegan
breakfast. Everythings happening so fast. What once took me a
week by hitchhiking now takes just two hours. We land in Helsinki and
change planes. All I have as hand luggage is my camera bag and a notebook
with a map of the world on the cover my travel diary. As we fly
over Greenland, I photograph neat rows of white clouds that look like
a freshly ploughed snowy field. We set our watches six hours backwards,
so its a quarter to two again. Soon well be landing in New
York. And then what
? A pretty flight attendant interrupts my writing
with another vegan meal, so well worry about it later. Actually,
why should we worry? Chopin peeks into my diary and tells me to write
that he loves me. What an amazing feeling, sitting in the plane and
watching your dreams come true.
Kennedy Airport, New York.
Everybody told us that with a one-way ticket and almost no money theres
little chance theyll let us in. Chopin tries to convince the big
African-American immigration officer:
We dont have a return ticket because were not going
back this way. Were going to Canada, Mexico, and further
around the world. The immigration officer smiles as he stamps
our passports with a stamp good for a six month stay: Welcome
to America. So here we are. What now? We call the Servas office,
an organization for travelers and hosts, where we are hoping to get
a booklet with addresses, but its too late, and we only get an
answering machine. Well have to find a place to stay on our own.
New York the first thing that comes to our minds is Central Park.
So we spend our first three US dollars on the subway, and half an hour
later we get off at Central Park in Manhattan. Ive never seen
so many people jogging. Were walking around the park and its
already getting dark as we look for a quiet, secluded place to camp
for the night. Chopin says hes thirsty, so we go to look for some
water. We see a church and without thinking much, we enter.
Hello, welcome, welcome
yes, you can bring your backpacks
inside. Every Wednesday at 7:30 they have Christian Science testimony
meetings. We happen to enter at exactly this time. We sit down, listen
to the organ play, a woman read from the Scriptures, and people testify
their faith. After the meeting is over people gather around us:
Where are you from? Really? Wonderful! Welcome. Where are you
staying tonight? Central Park? No way! Ellen and Eddy, who take
care of the church and live in an apartment in the same building, on
the next floor, invite us to stay with them. They have just retired,
and in a month theyre going south with their beloved English bulldogs.
Amazed, they listen to our story.
The magic of our journey is starting to work. The magic of not planning,
not worrying in advance, of simply letting things happen.
This is the largest and most cosmopolitan city weve ever visited.
The jungle of Manhattan is impressive, but I wouldnt like to live
here. We see New York mostly by walking. I photograph the Statue of
Liberty from the ferry, we visit the United Nations building, and to
have a look at the city from a different perspective, we take elevators
to the top floors of various skyscrapers. Most of them are office buildings,
but still they usually let us see an incredible view from the top.
Back on the ground level, we walk along a street with camera shops.
We make the mistake of entering one of them. We dont plan on doing
any shopping but the shop owner, an energetic Hindu man, shows us an
amazing lens called the fish eye, and starts demonstrating
its qualities. Seeing the price on the box - $399, I say: Thats
great, but there is just no way we can afford that. Hold
on, whos talking about the price here? the enthusiastic
seller says. Ill give it to you for a special price. Youre
going around the world? Youd be crazy if you didnt get it.
O.K. Especially for you only ninety-nine dollars! So we
leave the shop with a fantastic lens only to see in the next
camera shop window an identical lens for fifty! Right we really
got a very special price.
We have Canadian visas in our passports and another hundred dollars
less in our wallet. Its time to start moving and see how hitchhiking
works here. We dont wait long for the first ride. We start chatting
in English with the first young guy who picks us up until he asks: So,
where are you from? And then he swears loudly in Polish.
We couldnt be more lucky. He left Poland five years ago and has
been living and working in America ever since, without papers and legal
status, but the moneys good. He wishes us luck and hands us twenty
dollars as we get off. The police kick us out of the place where he
drops us off. They say we cant hitchhike on the highways. We know.
So we move and get lost in the confusing maze of interstates, highways
and local roads. Finally a car stops and a man takes us two hours west
and drops us off at a truck stop. I cant wait to hitch a ride
in one of these trucks. Everybody warned us that nobody hitchhikes,
let alone picks up hitchhikers in America any more, and that its
actually forbidden in some states. And here we are, in a roadside restaurant
at a service area, eating a late dinner with the black guy from Rochester
who brought us here. I dont know if it will always go so smoothly
or if it is just our lucky first day. And thats not all. When
we leave the restaurant and begin looking for a place to camp for the
night, we hear somebody calling after us. The driver of a giant truck,
exactly like the one I was dreaming about all day, stops after seeing
our cardboard sign even though we arent holding it up anymore.
I must have dreamt strongly enough! Hes also heading towards Niagara
Falls on the American- Canadian border.
Toronto. I dont know how it happened, but all the circumstances
working together let us arrive here at exactly this time, so that we
can take part in something magical...
Our Servas host Irene, an artist and painter, is an ageless, attractive
woman who goes shopping on rollerblades. I cant believe her when
she tells me shes fifty-seven. Anyway, her friend is leading a
tantra yoga workshop and Chopin and I are invited, as guests. We could
never afford the standard fee of two hundred dollars. Its an amazingly
intense, ecstatic day. Freeing the energy, feeling the music, movement,
and performing some tantric rituals. Our relationship takes on a new
dimension. Irene tells me that Chopin and I look like two angels in
This morning in Toronto the sun was shining, but now, as were
heading north along the Great Lakes, I can feel the chill of autumn.
But at the same time, the Canadian fall dazzles us with the bright yellow,
orange, and magnificent red colors, and I cant take my eyes off
the trees, rocks, and thousands of lakes. An older lady picks us up
before Sudbury. Because its cold, windy and starting to rain,
she doesnt have the heart to leave us outside, and invites us
to spend the night inside her cozy home. So instead of spending the
cold, wet night in our tent, we spend the evening watching a video about
Alaska. And we know where we have to go. Its not the right time
of the year, unfortunately, but well see. If not now, then some
day for sure.
It looks like our Protective Spirit which travels along with us, not
only hasnt forgotten about us, but is working overtime. Everything
is working out better than we could have ever wished for. The first
person who picks us up this morning is a girl in her van going not just
a few kilometers in our direction, but all the way to Alberta,
the province just before British Columbia where my family lives, a few
full days of driving away! Were slowly heading west, on highway
17. Hundreds of kilometers of rocks, forests and lakes. But where have
all the colorful leaves gone? And why is it starting to snow? We wont
enter a new time zone until tonight, but the season has already changed
from colorful autumn this morning, to real Canadian winter. In the afternoon
the landscape changes into boring, never-ending farmland. But were
heading towards the Rocky Mountains, which should be more interesting.
Right now, however, we get a flat and stop on the empty highway in the
middle of nowhere. Chopin helps Alison change the tire.
Vancouver. Were staying with my family whom I havent seen
for a long time. Tania is my dads sister, so shes technically
my aunt, but because shes exactly my age, shes more like
a cousin to me. We used to play together as kids. About five years ago
she came to Vancouver on vacation, married a Polish man she met here,
and stayed. They live in the suburbs, and have two little daughters.
Im happy to meet my cousins for the first time. Manuela, a little
shy at first, is getting more confident, and Chopin becomes her favorite
playmate. Little Octavia looks like an angel, but I can tell shes
a real character.
We walk around downtown Vancouver, and notice some strange creatures
emerging. A fairy with a big, black, pointy hat is an assistant in an
Indian shop. Her helper wears a bathrobe. A hairdresser is a priest.
And a crowd of monsters suddenly files out of three yellow school buses.
Its Halloween today!
© Kinga 18.01 2005
a place for you to stay anywhere out there linking the whole world in
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