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The International Writers Magazine
: Hitching the World

Hitching 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.

"A 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."
Kinga Freespirit

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. It’s not easy, especially if you only have a one-way ticket, but I know we’ll make it.

7 October
“Mom, look at that baby plane. Oh, and over there, that’s his daddy, the big one,” we hear a kid saying at Warsaw international airport. Our two backpacks packed, visas in our passports, we’re 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. Everything’s 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 it’s a quarter to two again. Soon we’ll be landing in New York. And then what…? A pretty flight attendant interrupts my writing with another vegan meal, so we’ll 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 there’s little chance they’ll let us in. Chopin tries to convince the big African-American immigration officer:
“We don’t have a return ticket because we’re not going back this way. We’re 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 it’s too late, and we only get an answering machine. We’ll 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. I’ve never seen so many people jogging. We’re walking around the park and it’s already getting dark as we look for a quiet, secluded place to camp for the night. Chopin says he’s 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 they’re 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.

10 October
This is the largest and most cosmopolitan city we’ve ever visited. The jungle of Manhattan is impressive, but I wouldn’t 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 don’t 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: “That’s great, but there is just no way we can afford that.” “Hold on, who’s talking about the price here?” the enthusiastic seller says. “I’ll give it to you for a special price. You’re going around the world? You’d be crazy if you didn’t 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.”

14 October
We have Canadian visas in our passports and another hundred dollars less in our wallet. It’s time to start moving and see how hitchhiking works here. We don’t 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 couldn’t 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 money’s 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 can’t 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 can’t 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 it’s 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 don’t know if it will always go so smoothly or if it is just our lucky first day. And that’s 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 aren’t holding it up anymore. I must have dreamt strongly enough! He’s also heading towards Niagara Falls on the American- Canadian border.

17 October
Toronto. I don’t 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 can’t believe her when she tells me she’s 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. It’s 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 love.

18 October
This morning in Toronto the sun was shining, but now, as we’re 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 can’t take my eyes off the trees, rocks, and thousands of lakes. An older lady picks us up before Sudbury. Because it’s cold, windy and starting to rain, she doesn’t 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. It’s not the right time of the year, unfortunately, but we’ll see. If not now, then some day for sure.

21 October
It looks like our Protective Spirit which travels along with us, not only hasn’t 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! We’re 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 won’t 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 we’re 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.

25 October
Vancouver. We’re staying with my family whom I haven’t seen for a long time. Tania is my dad’s sister, so she’s technically my aunt, but because she’s exactly my age, she’s 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. I’m 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 she’s a real character.

31 October
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. It’s Halloween today!

© Kinga 18.01 2005

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