Impression – Sarajevo, back to base

Sarajevo. Again, that feeling I have “arrived” I dunno why this city does this with me. Actually thinking of canceling my plans for Bihac (no cheap hostels there either) and staying here with coffee & cats. Looking up from my favorite hostel towards Mount Trebevic, where I last year spend that magic day on the bob sleigh track.

Weirdly enough, the street dogs which were here in abundance have almost completely disappeared, and Sarajevo is a cat city again. Met a proud tomcat, who, as the guy working in the coffeeshop told me, was unfortunately badly kicked by some idiot, and now has a broken tail. And, though halfwild, used to be very trusty towards humans, now not anymore.

Four years ago, I met a black kitten at a cemetery near my favorite hostel. Last year, I arrived in Sarajevo, walked past the cemetery, made the calling sound I always use for cats, and he came running to me. Now again :). He’s half-wild and his fur is rough, but the sound I always make for cats made him look up, put his tail in the air, and immediately come to me :). And of course got some well-deserved attention. I was afraid, since I didn’t see him yesterday, he might be gone forever, though I saw a LOT of young black cats around the cemetery, so he left some offspring 🙂 .

My poor boots suffered and suffered, especially while hiking for 8 hours in the rain in Durmitor. But they got some (free!) love from a shoemaker in Sarajevo

In the evening I had to save a kitten from some nasty kid throwing stones at it. Good thing that the “teacher’s eye” works in any language…

Impression – The Pros and Cons of Hitchhiking

Arrived in Mostar safely and yes, got a good internet connection & a great (new!) hostel with a very friendly host and a gooooooooood shower.

Had one hell of an amazing time hiking in the mountains in Zabljak and Sutjetska. And today a crazy day of hitchhiking from Sutjetska to Mostar. Did I already mention my guardian angel? He must be banging his head against the walls again :).

At the busstation in Foca, again, that hospitality & friendliness. Though I speak like 3 words of bosnian, and most people don’t speak english or german, the busstation chef not only got me a relatively cheap ride to where I was supposed to stay, about 30km more south, but also threw about two kilos of fresh prunes in a bag of the huge carton box he had in his office to give to passengers (No pesticides he kept telling me 🙂 ). I will so have to get used to “normal” hospitality back home.

This time I was in Sutjetska on my own, and on my own two feet. Not with a jeep like last year. Though my goal was the mountain of Maglic, this was too much for one day on foot. One day, I WILL make Maglic..

The Czech people I met hiking with full backpacks up towards Maglic, and we chatted and chatted, so even though they were a lot slower because of their heavy backpacks, I stuck with them, and said goodbye when they were preparing to make camp. The officially restricted path into primeval forest Perucica with the remains of another partizan monument wasn’t actually guarded, so I sneaked in for a couple of 100 meters until it became too overgrown, and I didn’t want to damage anything there. Made it down just in time again, and back before nightfall to the place where I slept, thx to (again) some people who just stopped and offered me a ride.

Since I promised my host in Sutjetska to text her that I got safely back down from the mountains, but my phone died after being completely drowned by the hiking-in-the-rain in Durmitor, and no internet connection, I had to find some sort of human contact. So I hiked back in the pitch dark, over a scary, scary, wobbly bridge of which I knew from daylight, was full of holes in the wood, towards the main road. Here I found a restaurant where the cook not only spoke dutch, but turned out he used to live 3 streets away from where I lived in Rotterdam. And I got another variation of the fried cheese, or “kaassoufle” as the cook called it.

Went back through that same pitch dark to the guest house where I was staying, and spend the night looking at simply amazing stars. It being pitch-dark has the advantage of being able to see the milky way (I forgot it has actually a lot of different colors), and just too many stars to recognize the star signs. Even caught the last bits of what is actually a minor meteor storm…

Next day, I left Sutjetska. Took a quick peak at the partizan Monument in Tjentiste, since I was near anyway. Again, people from a little coffee shop down didn’t speak english or german, but too friendly, and guarded my backpack when I went up here in the burning sun.

Got a ride from a truck carrying fresh ALIVE baby fish in the back. Because of the blazing sun, we had to stop regularly to check if the fish were still alive (and boy, were they trying to jump out of those tanks!), and feed them oxygen from rusty gas tanks.. The truck driver didn’t speak english or german, but he was so happy every time I wowwed about the next view on the dried-out mountain highlands of Bosnia (those views… those VIEWS).

The truckdriver dropped me off at Gacko since he was traveling to the sea to deliver the young fish to be grown up. Got a very fast ride from Gacko to Nevisinje from 3 bosnian guys. None of them spoke english or german, so I had to improve my little bosnian fast.

Got a ride from a wonderful guy who not only gave me the ride, but insisted on buying me good bosnian coffee on the way, insisted on inviting me in his house for food and more coffee, and gave me two kilos of grapes and figs before he dropped me off close to the hostel in Mostar. And though we didn’t speak each others language (he had 3 words of english and german, I had, again, to pick up bosnian fast… hitchhiking is a frikkin good way to be forced to learn a new language quickly!), we got along really well, he had great music in his car too :). The hospitality here is making me feel reaaally guilty. (and no, not once I could sense some “hidden meaning” behind his friendliness)

Everywhere in Mostar you see posters with “Refugees are welcome”. Yep, even though Bosnia isn’t the richest country *cough*, they ARE welcome here. Just as the host of the hostel where I stayed said, yep, we know what it is to live in a country at war.

In Mostar, at the ruins near the bridge, someone called me “hippie girl” and invited me to smoke pot….. “Hippie girl”. HUMPF. I’m 48, all dressed in black, with worn down boots, smelly and sweaty.. and I’m a “hippie girl”?

A portuguese couple from the hostel offered me a ride from Mostar to Sarajevo. Original plan was to go to Kravice first, but since that was 3 hours back end 3 hours forth, we decided against it, and in favor of another tourist attraction, a 15th century monastery half in a cliff near Mostar. Well. tourist attraction indeed. But beautiful, yep.

Between Mostar and Sarajevo, every time you think: I’ve seen enough beautiful mountains, I’m immune to it by now, there’s another view to prove you wrong…

Sometimes during my trip even I myself thought, FUCK, I’m insane. Hitchhiking on my own through wild, empty mountains and hills in a country I don’t speak the language….

But I keep meeting the most wonderful people…

Impressions – A Tourist Haven in Montenegro

Tara Bridge. The bridge is amazing, it’s actually a WOODEN bridge… All of a sudden I’m in tourist country. Souvenir shops and the like. Yep, time to leave Montenegro, though I most definitively will come back.

The busride was fun, again, the hospitality and helpfulness of the people here is amazing. They helped me make sense of the bus system, for the second leg to Tara bridge (turned out I the bus I took from Kolasin actually went further in the right direction) I didn’t have to pay. Left the minibus with telephonenumbers of people who said I should please stay with them the next time, and should consider moving there. And the couple I stayed with in Kolasin not only brought me to the bus station, but they packed me a HUGE lunch with still warm, self-made sweet bread (sort of an “oliebol” for the dutchies) and home made plum mousse. I keep getting adopted….

Zablak/Durmitor Park used to be a popular holiday destination for eastern europe people. Therefore, there’s still a lot of abandoned hotels and the like around. For the “new” western (more spoiled?) tourists, they build new hotels and apartment buildings. Good thing I immediately started hiking, since the next day these mountains were hidden in the clouds. But it was VERY touristic… Did one day of hiking and decided to move on.

The mountains are extremely beautiful, but even after the tourist season is actually over, the place is still crawling with them. And the village looks like it gets a lot of them, unfortunately. So, no matter how beautiful it is, and again, the people here are so friendly it’s almost scary, I will leave for Bosnia on Friday. I sorta prefer the less busy tracks, such as Mrtvice canyon where I actually left a piece of my heart. A Serbian couple I met told me later Mrtvice means Little Dead Things.. Weird I always find the morbid things the most attractive 🙂

The internet connection here is not trustworthy, also the electricity doesn’t work 100% of the time (and the water switched off between 22 and 6). Here up in the mountains the people are preparing for winter, it’s almost zero degrees at night and the wooden furnace, which is used both for cooking and heating the house, is blazing hot.

It was a rainy day in Durmitor National Park. The bad side was the paths were slippery and the clouds hanging too low, so no beautiful views, & I had to cancel any ideas about hiking the high mountains. And well.. I was wet to my socks.

The good thing was, even though the village was crawling with tourists, only hardcore idiots like me were still doing the trails. Plus, my feet loved me for not doing elevations of over 1,000 meters. Plus, actually walking THROUGH the clouds has its own charm. So I only did three of the seven lakes.

Crno Jezero (Black Lake) was a beauty, even without a view on the huge mountain peaks around it (good thing I saw them yesterday), and the easiest accessible. The other two were actually a disappointment after that, though the hike through the misty forest was very beautiful (though…. yes.. WET).

The second Lake, Zmijinje Jezero, in Durmitor National Park is not as deep blue and beautiful as Crno Jezero, and a lot harder to find and reach (especially because the forest paths were slippery from the rain), still very beautiful.

The third lake was Barno Lake. Well, actually more a swamp. A very dutch lake imho. I was already pretty wet after 7 hours hiking in the rain. Trying to reach this one and sinking knee deep in the swamps soaked my socks.

Utterly btw. WHY do I tend to pick places with names with dark associations? Crna Gora (Black Mountain), Crna Glava (Black Peak), Mrtvice Canyon (the canyon of little dead things) and now Crno Jezero, Black Lake?

And last but not least :(. Sitting with my hosts in their living room I saw what the rain did to the refugees in Belgrade… I tried talking some german backpackers, who were still undecided where to go next, one of them wearing a “Refugees Welcome” shirt, into going there & volunteering. I still sorta feel bad about traveling on for my own leisure, & not staying in Belgrade or Budapest to try to support them.

But one of my plans when I go back home, is not only to try to find a way to get necessary stuff (of which we have more than plenty) on a structural basis to Belgrade, but maybe, if the situation continues, or worsens, to apply at my work for a 3-month “sabbatical” next spring/summer, and go there..

Leaving Zabljak by minibus. The roads were good in Montenegro, notably worse in Bosnia, where I had a good view from the window of the minibus HOW close we where to the edge sometimes. Crossing the border and getting a stamp in my passport without any trouble…

Impressions – How to block a hiking trail

Hiking in Biogratska National Park, over the high mountain valleys towards Crna Glava. Almost reached the top, looking down at a mountain lake, and a view on the huge mountain ranges surrounding it in any direction.

Crna Glava. Started by taking the “red” relatively easy path up, taking the “orange” difficult path over the mountain tops back. The map didn’t tell me they put a television tower right on top of that path.. which resulted in me balancing on the edge between rusty razor wire on the right and a fall deep down to that nice lake on the left. So, as soon as I saw a gap in that fence, I went through. On the other side, I saw a sign you were not allowed to trespass or to make pictures… Well, I did both :). Good thing I came from the other side..

Impressions – Mrtvice Canyon – The “Canyon of Little Dead Things”

The good luck I’m having on this trip is getting close to truly absurd, or my guardian angel is getting way too good in his job (he’s pretty well-trained anyway). It’s too weird, I do stuff most people with common sense wouldn’t even start thinking about (going up slippery mountains just after a cloudburst, yes, alone, hiking (yes, alone) into a canyon the tourist office deemed too risky to not do in a group, hitchhiking after dark in a country where I don’t speak the language) and I experience the most wonderful stuff and meet the most awesome people…

Today I met a 60+ guy, the last guy still living in his village. I had to walk over his land to get to my goal of today. So, within 2 minutes, I sit in his orchard, with a cat on my lap, tasting his self-made raki, honey from the local bees, and a few fresh apples. Within no time, we exchange life stories, and I almost forget I wanted to hike. He walks me to the right path, and tells me he’ll make food for me when I come back. Since I still would need to hitchhike 35 kms back, I didn’t want to say yes. I start descending to Danillov Most, a medieval bridge. Not easy to find, you had to fight a few bushes 🙂 The road crossing the bridge didn’t lead anywhere, just to forest paths.

I have a most amazing hike in that hidden canyon… Mrtvice Canyon. Later some people told me it translates to “the canyon of little dead things”. Well…. it sure is alive: the climate in the canyon is steady all year around, warm and VERY wet. And no people, so nature can go wild. The trees grow beards, the moss can grow wildly, and create a true “Moss Cathedral”. To get there, you have to cross some private property, and the owner hung signs everywhere to point this out to the few people trying to reach the canyon. I didn’t meet him, and anyway, the wonderful elder guy who lived at the beginning of the canyon and invited me in his house had given me a “freepass” 🙂

I found the “Gate of Wishes”, a strange rock formation with a view on the unreal blue water of the river. This is where I met the only other hikers, who were followed by some local puppies :). And this is where I left a piece of my heart…. One of the most hidden treasures (& not easy to find!). The path I was taking was not risky at all, just, well… don’t stumble :). Made by the partisan army during WWII. Very grateful to them, since otherwise I couldn’t have hiked there. It’s not a canyon for rafting. Water, however, always finds a way. No matter how big the rocks are which are trying to block its flow. Sometimes, you only realize the size of a block of stone in the river in comparison with the trees around it.

Going out of the narrow part of the canyon, found a way down the forest to the old wooden bridge (with roman fundaments!), had to get up through more bushes again and another sorta-bridge made out of a few logs. Again, no roads lead from or to it, just forest paths.

It’s close to dark when I pass his house, but I just had to say goodbye to him. Within 1 minute however, I sit in his orchard, with a cat on my lap, a fresh huge cup of turkish coffee, that honey, great cheese of the local cows, and more apples. And the guy tells me he’s very sorry, but he doesn’t offer meat, since he’s a vegetarian, and all he needs he gets from his garden, or trades (he makes his own raki.. good stuff.. even in montenegro he sells it for 20 euros/liter).

Ok, how lucky can you get? In the middle of nowhere, I meet a vegetarian… a 60+, almost toothless raki-maker, who pretty soon after I trespassed discussed the situation of the refugees in europe with me… Oh, and he has a well-equipped guesthouse in the middle of nature. He doesn’t “run” it, since he asks no money for it, maybe a donation or what people are willing to pay. This guy, who grew up in the half-wilderness in a country like Montenegro, is a vegetarian, and lives the principles of the solidarity economy to the max..

Of course, it gets really dark, so he gets me in his 42-year old, Never would have found it if not local people stopped their car and gave me directions, Tito-car, drives me to the bigger road, and no, he will stay with me until I get a ride.. Which I in the end got from two Montenegrin police guys after their shift :). And I say goodbye to another friend I just made (though I guess from his side, and the amount of pats on the head (!) he gave me, I got adopted…)

And I already was so lucky today… After two busdrivers refused to take me with them to drop me in the small village on the road between Kolasin and Podgorica, I decided to hitchhike. After all, I got a spontaneous ride when I came back from the mountains in the dark yesterday. Got a ride pretty quickly from a guy who I made really happy because of me constantly omg-ing when we turned around the corner & the next beautiful mountain view. He dropped me off in the village, after asking in a local pub where it was best to drop me. Started walking (I had a vague internet description, and knew the path would be hard to find), a few cars drive by, stop, and ask me where I want to go. In between two old iron bridges, I walk past a woman waiting near a crossroad, turns out one of the drivers stopped there, and asked her to give me directions in english.. Never would have found it if not local people stopped their car and gave me directions.

And these are just a few examples… I keep meeting such absurd friendly people… it almost scares me 🙂

Impression – The magic trees of Biogratska

Got off the train in Kolasin, Montenegro and immediately stunned by the view on the mountain ranges.

Almost missed my stop because two kids age 4 and 5 were teaching me serbocroatian (montenegrian?) while playing memory on my laptop, and having a chat with a young guy about what happens to “west-balkan” refugees in Germany. I wasn’t too positive I’m afraid. The whole wagon helped me drag my stuff together and get off the train in one piece, and with my backpacks packed & closed tightly 🙂 (luckily after delivering the stuff in Belgrad they were a lot emptier & lighter).

First day I hiked in Biogratska National Park. A forest untouched by men for 600 years, with many magic trees.

Trees like towers, tree stumps with lots of spiderwebs which make a beautiful sight in the last rays of sunlight. Some lost EU-financed project: and observation tower which was not officially accessible (and the view was actually not that spectacular.

So I go UP those mountains. I can’t help myself. If I see a mountain, everything in me urges to go UP.. UP.. UP…  And end up with coffee at a mountain hut near the top of Mount Bendovac. If I had known before of this “eco village”, I would SO loved to sleep in these little mountain huts, and then, hike on to the next mountain over the high valleys. The last few meters up to the top of Bendovac itself, I kept telling myself, up a Berlin staircase to the 4th floor is worse…
The sun is slowly going down, I always slightly miscalculate. So I leave. I look back at Mount Bendovac while doing a quickie around the center lake, realizing I was actually up there. But I made it down before dark, where I got a ride from a ranger back to civilization.

Back at the guest house, there’s a montenegrian kitty waiting. She blatantly puts herself in the door of the house where I sleep. She can. and WILL not be avoided or ignored. Her meow is… well…somewhere between ear-piercing and very demanding. Yep. She owns me and every other guest. My companion at breakfast & late at night after hiking. How come the freaky cats always pick me.

Rant – Don’t panic. Organize.

(warning, long read… this is a resume of just a few days of intense, personal, experiences…)

The past week I traveled against the stream of the refugees, saw the actual situation in the improvised camps & talked to a lot of local and international people on the way.

I’m no journalist. Just a simple human being. I have hardly any words for what I saw, getting off the train in Budapest, seeing the border situation between Hungary & Serbia, the people literally sleeping on the streets and in parks in Belgrade.

Again and again, I bumped into a heavily changing situation. In Budapest, the border fence being closed, and arriving while the people were protesting “this is not my country”. Leaving Budapest at the moment all the trains in the direction of Western Europe were stopped. Entering Serbia, and the now closed border at Subotica. And on a smaller scale, the first rain & cloudburst in Belgrade, and the refugee camp being soaked.

If you witness this, you can do three things. And I did all three. I’ve cried. I’ve hardened my heart and walked on. And I did some small things, to help just a few people…

But basically. Don’t panic. Organize.

Ok, let me make one thing clear from the start. No matter how desperate the situations of the refugees sometimes was, what is so frikkin great is the amount of support, both material, moral, political and in many other ways. . And no matter how bad the politics of a country seem to be, and Hungary is unfortunately one of the greatest examples, this does NOT represent, at least what I witnessed, and from the people I talked with, the general opinion of the people.

Of course, I might be biased in who I meet. But also in the hostels where I was staying, and I seemed to have a great talent for picking hostels where the refugees literally slept in the doorway, I’ve not heard one negative word about them. More a lot of understanding, and a wish to help… And this is seen everywhere in Europe.

There is no migrant or refugee “crisis” (statistics told us this long ago). This is not even a political crisis, though a xenophobe minority tries to present it that way. It’s a politician’s crisis.

Every time some politician shouts “not in my backyard” or screams to close the borders, there’s an uproar from all corners of the people they should represent. Every corner. Even the most unexpected ones.

Football-fans holding up huge banners with “refugees welcome”. The frikkin Bild-tabloid starting a campaign in favor of refugees. The people from a far-from-the-heat-country such as Iceland who put up the middle finger towards their government which only wanted to take up 50 refugees. People in germany starting an “AirBnB”site for refugees. The rich-people-village of Haren in the Netherlands which as one of the first communal governments says to the dutch national government: no, closing the borders and deporting people is not the solution, stick it with your laws, send them here, to us, to our backyards. People from Austria who, after 5 people were arrested in Hungary for bringing refugees over the border (no, these were not the money-grabbing smugglers, these were dedicated people) organized a convoy for next Sunday, and already over 2,000 drivers (ok, it’s facebook, so maybe 100 will actually show up….) have said they will join the convoy to go to Hungary and load the refugees in their cars & vans.

Don’t panic. Organize.

This is not even counting all the initiatives I have seen popping all over my facebook timeline. For Calais. For the refugees on the LaGeSo in Berlin. To protect the refugees there, where they are unfortunately met by aggression and intolerance in small villages in Germany. People who physically block the cops trying to deport refugees in Germany and Holland. All the stuff happening after the eviction of the refugee camps on Oranienplatz, and all the small initiatives in every neighborhood to “support your local refugee”, also after a refugee’s request is denied and his stay has become illegal. The huge turnup a few months ago when the “Center for polical beauty”decided to literally turn the lawn in front of the german parliament into a graveyard, and thousands of people digging makeshift with their hands, and peacefully protecting this “cemetery” against the cops.

I saw the pictures from when the refugees started walking from Budapest to Austria, how many individual people decided to bring food and water on the route. I’ve met the people who, even in not very wealthy countries, work their asses off to support the refugees with food, shelter and clothing. I’ve met people when traveling who risk their lives and their freedom to get refugees over the border, who break the fences again, and who have been to northern Africa and on the Mediterranean sea to literally pick up refugees and save them from drowning. They showed me the pictures of children, up to age 13, in overfilled prisons in Northern Africa… They told me stories, how they visit the deportation centers, and people shouting through the small holes in the doors: “I’m a doctor” “I’m a teacher”… They are imprisoned for fleeing a war.

Because Europe, the politicians say that “we”, the people, don’t want them here. Which, seeing the enormous amount of support, is simply NOT TRUE.

And the support is practical (food, shelter, clothing) but also political. Mostly practical at the moment. I luckily live in a city where there always has been a good “network” of small alternative initiatives. So it was relatively (relatively!) easy for these little hubs in the network to finetune their normal activities (the foodsaving, the huge network of re-using and sharing-economy, the many initiatives which exist to support homeless people..) for that which was needed for example on the LaGeSo.

This isn’t the same everywhere. In many places, the people who want to support the refugees (independent from governmental or bigger official organizations) have to start from scrap. And that’s frikkin hard.

But you know what? These small, unprofessional, spontaneous, local initiatives seem to work a lot better, are a lot more flexible and efficient, than many “official” organizations, let alone the governments. Don’t panic. Organize.

It seems the “general public”, the laymen, have a better idea about how to handle the situation, or are at least a lot quicker to learn by doing, than the, well.. dinosaurs. And though these small initiatives started very local, I don’t know if it is my bias, since I was literally traveling from situation to situation, it seems they are spreading like ink stains, and it slowly seems to become an actual, international, network…

At the moment, I see a lot of initiatives popping up for Calais. The “Jungle” has been there for some time, but now the support truly goes international. I somehow hope (duuuh… hippie….) that my little sidetrip and meeting up with the people in Hungary and Serbia will result in maybe really practical, trying to transport the stuff, of which we have excess, and which is seriously lacking somewhere else. Already friends of mine told me they would like to support the people in Serbia with stuff… (gosh, I want Scotty to do some beaming up…)

It ‘s not that the situation there, or in the other places I saw on my travels, are all of a sudden heaven, just because some people are trying the best they can. In Germany, or at least in Berlin as well as in Budapest the problem is not too little material support, more, well.. too much of things that weren’t needed. But it was quickly coordinated. In Hungary, the political situation is really, really bad. So are the cops and the police brutality. That’s the main problem, at least, my impression when I was there. Material and moral support is plenty. The demonstration against the government because of its refugee policy on Wednesday says it all.

Politics have always been simply ignored in Berlin. Here there’s more the problem of the xenophobes, who are more than willing to use organized violence against the refugees.. after all they’ve been through. And I have to admit, from some of the stuff I heard, I’m happy the antifa reacts quickly, and can be there when needed.

The other problem is, Germany IS for many refugees the end of the journey. But many are turned down. Even if a deportation is prevented, even if for example a youth club refuses the orders of the city to kick the refugees out of their building, they still have nowhere to go in the longer run. And no hope left… All you can do is “emergency help”.

What I saw in Serbia, and I guess it will be even worse further down south, is simply not that many “leftovers” from a consumer society, so many, very necessary, materials are constantly lacking. Also, from what I’ve heard, there’s a very good reason to distrust many of the more official, governmental, support (different as in Hungary, where it seems it’s a “power” thing, here it is, well.. simply money). Corruption is not exactly unknown… Also, many refugees, when they finally manage to cross the border to Serbia, risk losing the last of their few possessions because they are a far too easy prey…

The fences won’t stop the people from fleeing. They will only have a bigger chance of dying, or suffer more on the way. The fence in Hungary is a good example. It is closed, but there’s 1.000s in Serbia who will find means to cross it. The people in Budapest are already preparing for the next wave of refugees. The train station in Budapest was blocked for the refugees. So the people started walking. They will come here. They have hardly any choice. You would do the same in their situation. And you’d prolly try to get as far from the danger, just like they do. And you wouldn’t want to try to seek safety in Saudi Arabia either…

They’re human beings. Not statistics. Not a “crisis”. I’ve seen their children, playing with pink balloons donated by volunteers in front of the station in Budapest, and for a short moment, smiling and playing. I shared a video of the kids dancing in the park in Belgrade. But think of the memories they will have, because Fortress Europe rather sees them drown, tear-gasses them and their parents, packs them in overfilled trains to a deportation center, or forces them to walk along the highway, or how they have witnessed their parents getting arrested for trying to get through a fence…As one of the people I met on my travels, who was a refugee as a kid, told me: your childhood stops, when you become a refugee.

Oh, and yes, I’ve had more than enough discussions about how the capitalist system is to blame, or how we should change the system, or how the situation in Syria, Eritrea, or Afghanistan should be improved so there’s no need to flee. Of course I agree. But that won’t happen over night.

And the people are here. Right here, and right now. And they need support.

Practically, morally, and politically. Again. Don’t panic. Organize.

Blurp – Almost empty backpack

Not much was left of my two backpacks utterly filled up with socks, underwear and scarfs after I finally managed to deliver the stuff for the refugees to the right people, and where it was indeed needed.

Again, right across the street from my hostel there’s an improvised refugee camp. And no, again, I don’t take pictures. a. I don’t think that’s “worthy”, b. again, just like in Budapest, pictures simply are not a good representation of the situation. And you don’t want to know how it looked after the really heavy cloudburst this evening. The volunteers here are desperately looking for laundry machines to use so they can clean the clothing again.

But also again. The people I meet are so amazing, though the situation here (and what I heard, indeed in Subotica) is really bad, in a different way from Budapest, and for all, contrary to Budapest and Berlin, there’s lack of so many things here.. For example children’s (boy’s) clothing and shoes.

Again and again, the support and the solidarity of the local people & the people from different countries volunteering, and the work and the heart they put into it… it’s frikkin awesome. You people are the best 🙂

Impression – Stations of Hope and Despair

Budapest Keleti. Even if you have seen the pictures and the video’s made here, nothing can prepare you for when you get out of the train. When you are confronted with the pretty bad situation of the refugees here, the police line blocking the entrance to the station. Some VIP being filmed in front of the station just left, lots of press around. Turns out a pro-refugee demonstration, and against the mostly bad, but always random, way the refugees are treated here, just took place.

50 m from my hostel the “transit zone” starts. This means lots and lots and lots of people, families, an old lady in a wheelchair, young people, old people, sleeping in the underground “walkways” towards the station. And this tunnel system is huge. And still too small…. (on a good, personal, side note, the hostel is great, and there’s free coffee all the time!, and the people here are very much aware of the hopelessness of the refugees sleeping right up the front door….) Note: since the fence went up on the border between Hungary and Serbia last monday, the situation at the station became even worse.

I think the images of those refugees that still made it to a train and were violently separated from “european” travelers are known by now. Again, even when you mentally prepare yourself, nothing can truly prepare you if you’re in the middle of it.

When I left the next day, all train traffic to Austria and Germany was stopped. Outside the station the volunteers were busy again. I saw some small children playing with pink balloons (they organize children’s games too). While grown ups hold up signs such as “we are under siege”… What I watched here, the scale of the situation is so.. HUGE you have either the choice to sit down and cry your heart out, harden your heart and close your eyes, or well…. do some really small things for a few people.

The station looks completely different for an “european tourist” traveling in the other direction. A station woman pulled me to the front of the ticket line for my ticket to Belgrade (otherwise I would have missed the train), and because I couldn’t find the platform, another guy actually helped me cross the railway tracks and brought me inside the train..I’m very thankful for their help… but…. Ok, the woman said my smile helped too… but I guess a refugee can smile all he wants…

On the way to Novi Sad –  Subotica. Not only is the border control on both sides pretty hectic (and all the time, I can’t help but notice how their attitude changes when they see my passport….) But they actually check under the trains going to Hungary for “stowaways”. The bus station at Subotica looked a bit too full imho too.

All the time I’m torn between staying and helping out, and doing the usual tourist things. But I do enjoy meeting great people all the time, such as two weirdo guys on the train. Us misbehaving resulted in non-functioning outside doors of that train, and a painful head because the doors in the end DID close on the back of my head after we somehow found out we could open them while the train was riding….

Novi Sad. Where I said goodbye to a wonderful young family. I arrived as a guest, and left as a friend. When I came back from hiking to the fortress and along the river, my host didn’t have good news for me about the situation in Budapest. The only solution left for the refugees there is to frikkin WALK to Austria 🙁

When the train to Belgrade came into the station, I first only saw it as a “graffiti artist’s wet dream”. the whole train was spray-painted. Until I realized it was the train from Belgrade to Subotica, the last Serbian station near the now closed border to Hungary. And the train was more than full.

Trains of hope… or hopelessness.

Impression – Traveling against the stream

Slowly but steadily it’s beginning to feel less surreal. Though I’m actually wondering WTF am I doing (again).

Tomorrow I will be traveling by train to Budapest, Novi Sad (on the serbian side of the border to Hungary, where they just erected the fence) and Belgrade.

Yes, in the opposite direction of all the people looking for safety. I planned my trip weeks ago.. before everything happened. So now, instead of looking forward to hiking in primeval forests and up & down rugged mountains, I wonder if I can face that much human suffering.

My backpack is full of clean & new underwear & socks and sleeping gear for the refugees at the station in Budapest, in camps near the border, and in the parks in Belgrade… (good thing this stuff just was donated to the free shop), but it will still be a very small drop in the ocean. I do wonder if I can manage to close my eyes and travel on to my planned destination and not stay in Budapest or Serbia to help out… And since a lot of people already have expressed their worry because I’m traveling that way (and on my own of course), I will report here regularly if I have an internet connection available.

After Serbia, I plan to travel on to Montenegro and Bosnia, and back over Croatia, doing as many forests, mountains & waterfalls as possible in 3 weeks time :).

I packed my bag. Since I usually travel light, only 1/3 of my backpack is filled with my own stuff. The rest is socks, scarfs, underwear, blankets, (children’s) drinking containers and today, two good self-inflatable camping mattresses arrived in the giveaway shop, so taking those too. Still, I seriously wonder wtf I’m doing, Are they really waiting over there for some (relatively) rich tourist who dumps some random stuff from a giveaway shop in their lap? On the other hand, 30 pair of clean socks… for people traveling for weeks, if not months without a change of clothing.. I think I would be happy with clean socks or underwear…