Duncan the Snail and the Confused Cock
(or one mans experience of hitch-hiking through Croatia)

From the moment I went to book my bus ticket, I sensed that this was going to be no ordinary journey. I had been to the ticket office the day before to enquire as to the price and availability of a bus from Prague to Split, and had been informed that there was a bus on Friday, and that it would cost me 1780czk.

Now, as I stood there in the same office, in front of the same person, it was explained to me that there was no such thing as a bus direct from Prague to Split, and so my best option was to get a bus to Zagreb, and make my way down from there. The price for this journey was 1300czk.

So I did as suggested, and a few days later I boarded a bus at 9pm on Friday night for the journey down to Zagreb. Estimated time of arrival was 6am Saturday morning, and I had to be in Trogir, a small town just north of Split, and which could be reached by several buses a day from Zagreb, by Monday morning.

So a nice easy journey ahead of me then!

The trip down to Zagreb was uneventful. I spent the night as I always spend such journeys, reading a book and drinking from my two litre Coke bottle, which was, of course, actually 70% Coke and 30% vodka! I had another bottle containing the same mix in my bag for the second half of the journey!

The fun and games began when I arrived in Zagreb.

The bus had arrived 45 minutes late, but this was no problem for me. It's not like I was in a rush to reach my final destination. The job I had been hired to do was beginning on Monday, so I had plenty of time.

Upon exiting the bus, I sought out a place where I could change my money, and promptly found an exchange office on the upper floor of the bus station, who were very pleased to inform me that they did not take Czech currency, and so I would have to go to the office downstairs in order to change my money.

I went downstairs and searched for the other exchange office, and eventually found it inside a bakers shop. This gave me a fair idea that I was about to get seriously ripped off on the exchange rate, and I am confident that the young man behind the counter did exactly that.

Nevertheless, the transaction completed, my 800czk was now 160 Croatian Kuna. It was time to head back upstairs and find a bus to Trogir.

Approaching the ticket desk, I was confident I would have more than enough to get where I needed to go. So I was shocked and a little dismayed to be told that the price for a ticket from Zagreb to Trogir was 170 Kuna. !0 more than I had. I was fucked, and the only available option now was to hitch-hike the 380 kilometers or so to my destination.

This did not perturb me as much as it may have done many other people. After all, I have extensive experience when it comes to hitch-hiking, and knew that it was one straight road all the way to Trogir from Zagreb, so I was confident I could make it there by early evening.

The first thing I had to do, however, was make my way to a main road heading south, in order to be in a position where I could begin the hitching process. Of course, having never been to Zagreb before, and having no idea whatsoever of where I was in the city in relation to anything else, and without the benefit of a map, this was not going to be an easy task.

So I started off with some logical thinking, and, with the sun off to my left, I headed off down the road in what I was relatively confident was a southerly direction. It was possible that I may be wrong in my assumption that the sun rose in the east, of course, but I didn't think even I could get that particular fact mixed up!

So off I went, and after 45 minutes or so I was fortunate enough to find a gas station. For most people, the appearance of a gas station as you were heading for an as yet undetermined point from which to begin hitch-hiking might not have much significance, but for me I knew it was a vitally important first step on my journey.

Walking inside, I had a quick look around before purchasing a pen, a notebook, and the main item for which I had entered the place, a map of Zagreb. The significance of the pen and notebook will become clear soon enough. The map of Zagreb, however, was the vital ingredient, as by studying it I was able to work out not only where I was, but also where I needed to be in order to start my journey south.

Which, as it turned out, was about 8 kilometers west of where I was at that point, so I set off in that direction, and a little over an hour later I finally reached my target.

Upon first inspection, it seemed an okay spot, being an access ramp onto the main highway. But after a short time a few things became apparent.

Most of the traffic coming down the road was turning just before me and into the adjacent supermarket car-park

The majority of the vehicles that actually did go past me were taking the next exit, a few hundred yards further along.

This meant that I had little chance of getting a lift here, as very few people were even heading in my direction, so I traipsed along to the next junction, a distance of a kilometer or so. Again, the access ramp seemed a reasonable spot at first glance.

The problem was that it was a junction that had been built specifically to accommodate an adjacent sports arena, and so, as there was no event taking place there, there was also no traffic. I was encouraged, however, when I looked up the access ramp and saw the unmistakable sign for a gas station, and decided to make my way there and start trying to get a lift.

Again, you may be wondering why the sight of a gas station was of such encouragement to me. Well, the simple answer is, I knew that every vehicle using said gas station would be heading in my direction once they had re-fuelled. And those people that were putting oil in the car, or checking tyre pressure, were probably embarking on a longer journey.

This meant that instead of 1 out of 40 vehicles at the first spot I had tried being likely to head my way, I would be looking at 100 out of 100 going my way, at least initially. This meant that although it was a small gas station, with not a great deal of traffic at that time of the day, as it being early morning most people were heading into Zagreb instead of leaving, my chances of getting a lift were very good.

Of course, the downside of this discovery was that it was on the main highway, where pedestrians were not permitted due to the 150 kilometer per hour traffic, and so I had to put my life, and, should there be a passing police vehicle, possibly my liberty, in jeopardy for the five minutes it would take me to walk there.

I considered this an acceptable risk, however, and made my way up there as quickly as I could. Once at the gas station, I took out my newly acquired pen and paper, and set about writing a simple sign that said 'TROGIR'. This, of course, was so I could let drivers know where I was going, as I knew from my map that a few miles further down the road the highway split into two, with one continuing south, and the other being the main east-west highway for the region.

Within twenty minutes or so, my decision to take the chance on the gas station paid off, and a guy pulled up, barked something at me in Croatian, and beckoned for me to climb inside. 10.30am, and I was officially on my way south.

He took me around 80 kilometers, which wasn't a bad effort for the first lift of the day. However, when it came time for him to drop me off, the words he had barked at me before I got in the car suddenly became clear.

He had been trying to tell me that at a certain point he was going to join another highway. And this spot where he was dropping me off, that was where the other highway began. I was now stuck between the two major roads, with no safe place to stand, no chance to hitch-hike, and from what I could recall the previous exit had been about 7 kilometers earlier, a distance I did not want to try to hike along.

So I decided to head in the direction I needed to go, and hope that I would come across another junction fairly soon. There is a knack to walking along the hard shoulder of a highway, with traffic flying past you at 100 plus kilometers an hour, and this is to basically get as close to the barriers as you can, walk as swiftly as possible, and hope nobody picks the spot where you are standing at any given moment to test the effectiveness of the afore-mentioned barriers.

If you are a religious person, prayer might also help. Regardless of what you do, however, it is not a fun task, and I would not recommend anybody try such a journey unless, like me, you have no choice in the matter.

An hour and a half later, there was still no sign of a junction. Obviously, the longer I walked along there, the more chance there was my luck would run out, and either someone would slam their vehicle into me at a speed greater than that which might allow me to survive such a collision, or the police would arrive, and I would almost certainly be arrested. So when I saw a bridge up ahead, I decided I had nothing to lose by climbing up the embankment and seeing where that road might lead.

Judging by the forests on either side of the highway, I could guess that it was probably not a particularly well travelled road. But it would have to lead to somewhere, and from there I could find my way back to the highway at a safe spot, and it had to be a better option than staying where I was. Five minutes later, I climbed over the fence onto the forest road, and choosing a direction at random, headed off to the left in the search for civilization.

Now, try to picture the scene;

You are a Croatian driver, and are employed to drive a truck through the local forest, hauling wood from where it has been recently felled to the nearby factory. It's Saturday, round about lunch-time, and you are driving your truck up the extremely treacherous, muddy track, heading to the factory with your load. You turn a corner, and up ahead you see;

A tourist, walking up the hill, dragging his luggage along behind him through the mud.

Seriously, how do you think you would react?

Fortunately for me, the driver in question reacted, once he had gotten over his incredulity and I had explained my situation, with great kindness, and offered to take me to the nearest on-ramp for the highway. I thanked him many times and profusely, and climbed aboard, relieved. It was almost 1pm, and I was on the move again.

The nearest on-ramp turned out to be the last one I had passed before being kicked out of the car by the previous driver. So, in the last two hours, I had effectively travelled 7 kilometers. Backwards. This was not good progress, but on the plus side, at least I had managed to hitch-hike successfully on a Croatian forest logging road, and I am sure there are very few people out there who can add that particular attribute to their CV!

I have to confess, that I did not hold out much hope for a good lift from this new location. I knew that people joining the highway here had a choice of north and south, and that in itself wasn't too bad. But I also knew from hard experience that a few kilometers down the road, the highway split into two, and so people joining here could easily be doing so to join the highway that was going the wrong way for me. That, plus the fact that I was stood at the on-ramp for a very small village, meant that there was little traffic likely to come along anyway.

I realized at this point that in my climb over the fence earlier I had torn a big hole in my jeans. Well, actually, I had realized that I had done this at the moment it happened, but I had more pressing things to worry about at that time. However, the gaping hole, coupled with the mud that had transferred itself from my bag to me jeans when I climbed in and out of the truck, made me look a mess, and so I decided the best option was to get changed, and so I opened up my bag and changed out of my jeans and into a pair of combat trousers.

Once I was looking a little more presentable, I picked a spot, grabbed a book from my bag to read as I was expecting to be there for a while, and settled down to wait for someone to come along who was heading my way.

Miraculously, the third car along was not only going my way, it was going a huge chunk of my way, to a place called Zadar. This would mean I would be within 100 kilometers of Trogir within a couple of hours, and so my hope to arrive there by the evening was still valid. I happily accepted his lift and climbed aboard.

Within a few minutes, we had passed the place that I had been dropped off earlier, and then the bridge I had chosen to climb up to. The next junction was another 8 kilometers beyond that bridge, so I had made an extremely good decision to abandon the highway for the logging road at that point.

At around 4.15pm, the car pulled off the highway, and I was dropped off, with the driver wishing me luck as he drove away. It was starting to get dark, and so I was hoping to get a lift pretty quickly. However, it soon became evident that I had a problem. I had been dropped off on the north-side of Zadar, and from the road signs I had seen just before the junction, Zadar itself was some distance away.

This meant that people joining the highway were travelling a certain distance north before doing so. As this was a toll road, I doubted people would be driving north to join it before heading south, and by studying the cars that were heading into the junction, it quickly became evident that I was assuming correctly. Everybody was heading north. I was back in a spot where getting a lift was going to be tricky, if not impossible.

As darkness fell, I tried to work out what the best course of action might be.