My first full day in Serbia, although I’m still in the Hungarian speaking region. A clear example of political borders amounting to little more than lines on a map – here the majority lives beyond the official borders of their nation. I notice that all the signs are written twice in Serbian, in cyrilic and latin alphabets, and once in Hungarian.
The wind from the south is brutal. Here it is flat, open country. The roads are long stretches that fade into the horizon with that fuzzy heat haze always visible in the distance. The wind slows me down considerably, where I would usually ride at 25km/h or atleast 20km/h it is a struggle to maintain 15. Big transport trucks knock me about with the air pockets that form in their passing.
Yet there’s a profound philosophy in riding against the wind. Like the water that slowly, oh so very consistently and slowly, erodes the rock, so I too cycle steadily on. I know that the wind can decrease my daily mileage, but it cannot stop me.
But, all in all, there is no real reason to complain. The secondary roads are well paved, and only marginally inferior to those of Hungary and Slovenia. Signs are accurate and roads well indicated. I’m finding the Serbian divers very considerate, supportive and curious. I get a few honks here and there (I’ll attribute those to the tight shorts) and even a few honk-songs, beep-bibbity-beep-beep-bop, which I think is showing real support and appreciation for my efforts. Cars are noticeably fewer and the ones present fuller with people; for the first time this trip I see back seat passengers turn around when the car passes me to gape out the back window. I wave, and they wave back
So the day passes in it’s continuous hot daze. Around 17:00 or 18:00, as usual, I ask myself the daily question: where will I sleep tonight? I’m freshly laundered and showered so camping is my best bet, but not in a campground, since there are none, but rather free camping. Tonight, I’ll find a house and owner and ask to put up my tent for the night.
I continue to cycle, thinking out my plan carefully. I’ve been warned that this region is poor, that there are gypsies and Turks galore. “Watch your stuff! Don’t get robbed!”…so they tell me.
I ask for a sign – from my angels, from the universe, anything. An indication of which house, which family, which person to ask for one night’s safety and rest.
There is no need to wait long.
I see my host-to-be pushing a wheelbarrow along, she is going to see the neighbour about some milk. I think to myself, she reminds me so much of my friend Elise in France (first ever WWOOFing host-turned-friend); they have the same posture, frank and open expression, trustworthy body language. My heart swells with the affection it makes me feel for my friend whom I have not seen in a year. I realize that I have my sign.
I make my approach and ask, in mixed Polish-Serbian, if she knows where i can put my tent for the night? She says, my place is right over here, come with me.
It is a farm, right next to the main road. There are plenty of hens, sheep, cows and calfs in pens and several dogs hanging around. There’s a big garden with rows of tomato plants heavy with fruit that is still green.
I am welcomed warmly and served water, juice, coffee and home made liquor,the infamous Rakia. I am learning Serbian at an alarming rate but after a week of living in total incomprehension of the local language (Hungarian) my vigour to learn this one is double if not quadruple the normal passion. Their son speaks Russian too, so with three slavic languages at our disposal we are able to get beyond rudimentary interrogation to somewhat smooth conversation.
Where am I from? What am I doing? Are my parents worried about my cycling trip and do I have any siblings? Am I married?
Their son is still single, they announce suggestively. The father points out a house 100m behind us which is empty and also belongs to the family. You can live there together, he says to me, smiling.
I set up my tent in what seems to be neutral territory; neither the chickens or the dogs go there too much. I’ve become so used to not eating in the evening that at first I don’t understand why they are ushering me into the house when, by 21:30, I am ready to go to sleep! You must sit and eat, I am told. Everything is home-made and from the farm: the thickly cut slices of fresh bread, the pork sausage and bacon, the hard-boiled eggs. I indulge in real, quality food, to refuse to do so would be a shame, not to mention a big insult to my hosts.
Over slices of watermelon for dessert I am shown some family photos. The father worked all over the world in his youth, or so it seems: here he is with a camel in Syria, there near a lake in Iraq.
We delve into some Serbian poetry. I convince them to read me some (my knowledge of cyrilic is still too weak to attempt to read it myself) and the beautiful language flows over us. To my ear it is a jumble of understanding and unintelligible music. It speaks of the homeland, of nature, of war. The pleasure of listening to his reading must be written on my face, they tell me:
“At this rate, in five days you learn our language and in three months you too will write poetry in Serbian!”
I do love Serbian. This latinized slavic tongue has quickly moved up in my personal rankings as second favourite Slavic language.
Polish takes first place by definition (no personal bias there hehe)
It’s nearly 1:00 by the time I’m in my tent, and I know, from where the hot sun will rise, that I won’t be able to sleep past 6:00 tomorrow.
So worth it though, to give up rest for this incredible experience
Kasia – your Serbian-ized cyclist