“What would seem a flaw of hitchhiking, is an advantage to us”, says Kamil, teasing. “When you stand by the road and there’s rain, or if you wash your clothes in a river, and yourself in a sink at a gas station, you think to yourself – I should have stayed at home. But then there’s satisfaction. I have my entire home in my backpack, I’m self-reliant and I don’t need a computer or TV”.
They met in high school in Białystok. They moved to Warsaw and began studying at the Warsaw University of Technology’s Faculty of Geodesy and Cartography. Patryk Andrzejewicz is a graduate of Spatial Economy, he is currently studying at the SGH Warsaw School of Economics. Kamil Wróblewski will soon receive a Master’s degree in geodesy and cartography. Together, they form the “onion” duo. “Onion”, because that’s how they call their travels: preferably hitchhiking, without a detailed plan, with their own tent, backpack, to previously uncharted territories.
“It sometimes means that you have to put your patience to the test”, says Patryk about hitchhiking. “You’re standing on the road, there are no cars and the weather is bad. You test your resolve, your own character, how you’re able to endure this string of misfortunes”.
Before leaving for Siberia, they waited 4 hours to catch their first ride from Augustów. It wasn’t easy afterwards either. After 9 hours, they were 30 kilometres from where they began. They joked that they could basically return home to sleep. “It quickly turned out that hitchhiking is deceitful”, says Patryk. “That night, we caught a truck that brought us almost to the Russian border”.
The guys have grown accustomed to such erratic fate: if they ride all day with no problems, they will have to walk a long way in the evening to set up a tent somewhere. On the other hand, if they begin with serious trouble, nothing says that they won’t get lucky in the evening.
And What If…
Their first serious voyage together was the trip to Norway. It was also the first and the last time when their trip included planning: purchasing tickets, reading online opinions by people who went there, planning each day of stay. “It was completely different from then on”, says Kamil. “We set ourselves a goal, e.g. a mountaintop to conquer. We have a general travel plan, but if the driver proposes to go somewhere else, because there’s something interesting there, we will probably change plans”.
“Three years ago, a week or so, before the canonization of John Paul II, I saw an ad about a free campsite, and I thought that maybe we should hitchhike to Rome”, reminisces Patryk. “Kamil came and I asked him: ‘Want to go to Rome next week?’, and he said: ‘Fine with me!’
Even though they began their adventure with travel by touring Western Europe, they slowly grew closer to the East. “We knew that it was beckoning us stronger”, admits Kamil.
Mountains are the common denominator of their journeys. They quite naturally became a spot on the map of their interests. “We want to minimize costs and, obviously, touring cities, especially in Europe, is quite expensive, while mountains are free”, explains Kamil. “Fees are limited to overnight stays in lodges, or entrance fees to national parks”.
Even though they talk a lot about happy fate, unplanned adventures, we can see in their stories that everything happens for a reason. It was December of 2013, Patryk was in Georgia. Standing at the foot of Kazbek, they decided to reach the summit. “I thought that climbing Kazbek must be a special feeling”, he reminisces. “After a while, my companion Marcin said: ‘I have an idea. Let’s reach the top within two years, what do you say?’ I looked at him, pleading: ‘You have to be joking, I haven’t even been to Bieszczady in winter’”. Two years later, Patryk and Kamil stood at the summit of the highest mountain in Georgia.
From that time, mountains have been taking more and more space in their plans and travels. Of course, cheap travel has its limits, especially when it targets high mountains. Proper equipment is expensive. “Our friends have cars, but we have down jackets and good shoes”, laughs Patryk.
You can reach mastery in “onion”-travelling. “We take less and less things with each trip. 75 per cent of the backpack is full of mountain equipment anyway: crampons, ice axe, winter jacket and boots”, lists Kamil. “Suddenly you realize how little you need”, adds Patryk.
You can also learn a lot from people you meet on the way. “It’s morning, we’re folding our tent by the road; last night, we went hunting (we’ll probably talk about this too), we didn’t sleep much, we were tired”, says Patryk. “An old man comes to us and talks, and talks, and we weren’t in the mood for conversations, we just wanted to fold the tent and be on our way to Lake Baikal. Then it turned out that the man was a hitchhiker doing a loop around Lake Baikal. We stand next to each other, there’s almost no traffic, and no one can catch anything. And he decided to teach us hitchhiking: he said that we need to put our backpacks behind the bus bay, so they look tiny. He practised this because he had a huge backpack, and he left it about 30 metres behind him. From the car’s perspective, the backpack looked like it stood by the hitchhiker and was really small. We decided that if we don’t listen to him, this curse will remain forever, and we won’t leave that place. I moved our backpacks to the end of the bay. Three minutes later, we were sitting in a car”.
Hardcore and Disco
For people who never tried hitchhiking, such a trip may seem quite risky. Kamil and Patryk don’t have any particular methods to avoid potential danger. In hitchhiking, not only is the hitchhiker in danger, but also the driver who decides to invite such person into his or her car.
“Once, we were at the border between Albania and Macedonia; it was January 1st, it was already dark”, reminisces Kamil. “We got out by the border crossing; everything reminded us of a horror film. A row of trucks, a lamp blinking somewhere. We crossed the border and wanted to catch something. A passenger car stopped by, but they wanted money, so we told them that we wanted to travel for free. Finally, the guy eyed us up, opened the trunk, and said: ‘Get in’. Inside, there were five powerful guys, it was dark, and they didn’t speak English. We hesitated but entered: crowded in this trunk, with our backpacks on us, we just thought about what’s going to happen to us. Basically, they could have kidnapped us, but they drove us to a gas station and nothing happened”.
For them, the main advantage of hitchhiking is not free travelling at all. It’s about meeting other people. “You can always get money, there are cheap flights”, explains Kamil. “It’s that many of our crazy stories wouldn’t happen at all if not for hitchhiking, like hunting in Siberia”.
I’ve been waiting for such incredible stories since the beginning of our meeting.
“It was practically the end of the journey. We needed to reach Irkutsk. We weren’t doing well, and we had to go there, because our Trans-Siberian train to Moscow was there”, Patryk begins his tale. “It was already getting dark. We wanted to start looking for a spot to put up our tent, when suddenly – jackpot – this guy, Victor, stopped and took us 300 kilometres straight to Irkutsk”.
The next day, they wanted to reach Lake Baikal. 250 kilometres – it means nothing to them. Dima stops, a typical resident of the region near Lake Baikal. After talking about standard hitchhiking topics, Dima says that astronomically rich German and Japanese people come there to hunt bears. Finally, he asks the guys a question they didn’t expect: ‘Were you ever on a hunt? If you want to, you can come with me’.
“At that time, we just longed to chill out at Lake Baikal, however…” says Patryk. “Dima saw lights in our eyes”, says Kamil. “And, well, you don’t let such opportunities pass you by”.
They didn’t believe that they were going to hunt bears. They never held a weapon. “I was still wondering if we understood him correctly”, says Patryk. “But we left the road and went to his home, where the preparations began”.
Before hunting, we needed to drink toasts to the spirits of the ancestors, so that the hunt would be successful. Dima and his family practised shamanism. “For example, we had to put the right hand’s ring finger in vodka and give a drop to the gods”, explains Patryk.
When it began to grow dark, four huntsmen arrived by the house in their UAZ (a Russian and Soviet all-terrain vehicle). “We enter the car, such incredible emotions”, remembers Patryk. “We go to the centre of taiga on some road, I don’t even know what’s happening, I don’t know what’s going to happen. Suddenly everyone takes positions; we don’t know what’s going on, they hold their rifles, and we’re like two knuckleheads, we don’t know what to do. Then we enter a forest. The headlamp operator sits on the car top, everything is shaking. It’s like a rodeo. I just looked for wild eyes to shine in the darkness. We spent the entire night like this”.
“It got interesting when we entered a military area of the FSS (Russian security agency)”, says Kamil. “We didn’t even have a registered residence in Russia. Of course, Dima said that we should stay quiet if something happens. Sure, when push comes to shove, we don’t know what’s going on, we’re just hitchhikers”.
It’s certainly difficult to return to a normal life after such adventures. For many people, travelling becomes an escape from everyday life; so much, that they leave their previous life behind. “Travelling should be the best addition to a life, not its meaning”, emphasizes Patryk. “With each subsequent trip, I appreciate our country more and more”, adds Kamil. “Only after my first trips abroad, I began to discover Poland, regions near my home town. This country we live in is quite a nice place”.