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What would you be prepared to do in exchange for a ride when hitchhiking? Because my friend and I received a rather strange request when hitchhiking in Kosovo. Don’t worry, it was nothing sinister and turned out to be something we were totally willing to do. But it was still a rather unusual way to repay a kind local who was giving us a ride back to the city of Peja in Kosovo’s west.
Hitchhiking in the Balkans
Context here would be probably help. My friend and I had just finished up three days hiking in Rugova Valley and the Peaks of the Balkans. The last hour of our hike had been through rain and down a rather slippery, muddy path. We’d wisely chosen a roadside restaurant as our end point and rewarded ourselves with chips and soft drink.
Besides the food, the other main benefit of this spot was that it was by one of the few bus stops in the area. Early on, we’d decided to try for the bus back into Peja rather than add 2 more hours of hiking, given the weather. The thing was we had actually made good time and arrived early for the bus. Even after some time at the restaurant we had 1.5 hours to wait for the only bus that afternoon.
That’s where the idea for hitchhiking came into it. Through my travels in the Balkans I’ve hitchhiked a couple of times with success. In fact, it’s the only place in the world where I’ve done it oddly enough. Ride sharing is quite a common practice in the Balkans, which means our chances were better than they’d often be. You’ll often have cars waiting at or pulling into bus stops offering people a lift for a small tip.
First Time’s the Charm
Deciding we had nothing to lose by trying, we went up to the road and waited. Little did we know, the very first car to come by would stop. Thinking back to the one time I desperately needed a lift with no luck, it was almost comical how easy it was to get a lift back to Peja.
The sedan pulled over by the bus stop and the driver look out at us. It was a father driving with his son back into Peja. He took one look at us with our hiking gear and a few hints of mud and surely could have guessed what we had been up to. Our one word question “Peja” was met with a nod and he beckoned us to the backseat, as we thanked him with our limited Albanian “faleminderit’.
Squeezing into the backseat, we couldn’t believe our luck. We were going to return to Peja much earlier than we’d planned without wasting ages waiting.
How’d These Australians Get Here?
I’m terrible with names, so you’re going to have to be satisfied with “he” and the “father” for our kindly driver.
Anyway, as we began to drive, it became apparent that the father had decent English and soon we were making some general small talk. He asked some basic questions about where we were from and what we had been up to.
Tourists in these parts of Kosovo are typically German and on a guided tour, so two lone Australians rambling about is a little unusual. As such it would make sense he would want to understand how we’d ended up in his backseat. While the three of us talked, his son sat in the passenger seat playing away with a smartphone.
The Cost for Our Journey
Eventually the conversation turned to how we had found our way about when we were hiking. In particular he was curious how we had kept track of our elevation while hiking, especially when we had chosen to do a non-standard route.
Upon explaining what app we used, the father promptly told the son to pass the smartphone over to us. After a confused moment holding his phone he asked that we install the app on his phone. It turned out we were repaying our driver with tech support!
And so, as we wove our way back down into Peja, my friend and I downloaded and installed the app for him over a spotty 3G phone signal. Not long after the app was done we arrived near the centre of town and hopped out. Our kind driver seemed about as appreciate as we were, making it feel like a reasonably fair trade.
Have you tried hitchhiking in Kosovo or the Balkans? Would you be game to, acknowledging the obvious safety risks? Please share your thoughts in the comment below.
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