The last time I wrote I had just crossed the border of Slovakia. Now I’m in Bosnia and I don’t know where to begin.
Let’s try a Friday morning, the sun chasing mist from the horizon, casting shadows on my face. I had awoken at 5 a.m. to be sure the Canadian embassy would be open when I arrived. At noon I glanced at the clock on my handlebars and swore. The ride had been too hot, too hilly, too far for the time I’d allowed. I wasn’t going to make it.
By the time I reached the embassy, drenched in sweat, I wasn’t surprised to find my nose pressed against a dark window. I’d biked 110 km and missed closing time by one lousy hour. The office would reopen on Monday morning, leaving me in Budapest for three nights without a plan, without a place to sleep.
I raced to the city centre to find a computer. The only card up my sleeve was Couch Surfing, though I doubted I even had time to play it. Sending last-minute requests on a weekend in a city like Budapest is a recipe for a night on a park bench. I didn’t expect much.
But within half an hour a girl replied saying that although she couldn’t host, she knew a friend who would be happy to have me. I glanced at her friend’s profile to be sure she wasn’t an axe murderer, then hopped on my bike and pedaled the 20 km to her house in Dunakeszi. I had no idea how lucky I was.
Panni hosted me for three nights at her parent’s home, and from moment one I was accepted as part of the household.
We shared meals, laughed around the kitchen table, and in the quiet times I lounged under a cherry tree, the dog Malvin snoring on my chest. It was so comfortable, so natural to be with her family, that I realized with sadness how much I miss my own.
On the second night of my stay, Panni and I took the train to Budapest to catch an outdoor concert. At least that was the plan.
Mostly we just sat on the grass with her friends, drinking palinka and cheap wine, grinning at the sky as the music played in the distance. When the last song was done and people filed away, we sat on a stone wall beside the Danube, laughing at city lights too beautiful to take seriously. I wanted the last train home to be late, to not come at all.
But it did, bringing Monday with it. I packed slowly, looking for excuses to stay a few minutes longer. Funny how I left Canada to be alone and all I’ve done in the past year is hug people goodbye. It doesn’t get any easier.
I looked back once, to Panni and her family waving on the grass, then I turned the corner to Budapest. After gathering my new travel documents amid a sea of red tape, I headed south, into rain and mud and everything that makes the good days so sweet.
The road was cracked, uneventful, although I did meet a group of cyclists making the trip to Pécs. They invited me to tag along but I declined. We shared a night of goulash and in the morning I split for the Croatian border.
I cycled across Croatia in two days. It was hot, the roads were narrow and I was afraid of landmines.
And that’s where we end – in Bosnia, which feels like a different world altogether.
What isn’t broken here has been repaired too many times. The faces are hard, deeply lined, and I feel ashamed of my own. I’ve spent a year on the road and only now do I see the other side.