He is a student at the Faculty of Administration and Social Sciences, Warsaw University of Technology, she is also a technical university student, but based in Lodz. Janusz Ozdowski and Joanna Ściebura got to know each other on Facebook and set off on a hitchhiking trip to China. This was not only an amazing experience but a fundraising event too, earning them almost PLN 3,000 for the clients of Fundacja Spełnionych Marzeń / Dream Come True Foundation, a charity.
The idea of the trip came from Janusz, a student at the Faculty of Administration and Social Sciences, Warsaw University of Technology. He published a post suggesting a trip together in a Polish hitchhiking group on Facebook. Asia, who is a student of Lodz University of Technology, signed up. “We hadn’t known each other before the trip,” says Janusz. “Having to get on with a complete stranger for 60 days as we did was hard at times. At some points we fell out with each other but we had to make peace as soon as we started. At the end of our journey, me met a guy from Poland on the road; his name was Florek and he was a WUT student too. Thus, we had another one to chat in Polish with.”
“We’ve been hitchhikers for some time now,” says Joanna. “My mom is very supportive. But at first she was very worried and I had to send her the plate number of every car I had got into.”
“We ate things we would otherwise have never dared to try”
Initially, making overnight stopovers in major towns and cities, the students stayed at hostels. They did sleepovers in a tent too. “It’s seven o’clock in the morning. I can hear some yelling coming from the outside of the tent,” the WUT student recalls. “I unzip the tent door and there is a man standing in front of me, aiming a Kalashnikov at me. Apparently, we camped overnight just several dozen meters away from military grounds.”
The further east they got, the more hospitality they encountered and got invited by locals to their homes. When they were hitchhiking, drivers often invited them to stay at their places. Occasionally, they found places to stay overnight by couchsurfing. Was it safe?
“One night, we stayed with some Mongols who had a binge that night,” says Janusz. “When we woke up, our hosts were still under the influence. There was some scramble then. On another occasion, our host happened to be a person with a peculiar sense of humour. At one point, he took out a real gun and said he would kill me. He hastened to assure that he was only joking. Despite all this we decided to stay with him overnight.”
While in Mongolia, Asia and Janusz worked as volunteers in a small village 300 km off the capital, and they painted one class room. After work, they were offered to stay with a Mongolian family in a genuine ger in a remote backcountry. “We rounded up herds of cows on mopeds just as the local shepherds do. We also rode horseback through the steppe,” says Asia.
While on the tour, Asia and Janusz tried local food in each country. “In China, we went to a bazaar. There we had tried a scorpion for the first time; the taste is difficult to describe,” says Janusz. “The skin tastes like potato chips and the inside tastes like burnt meat. We didn’t try spiders though.”
Sometimes, they did not have a choice but to eat things they would otherwise probably not dare to try; a refusal would be taken as an insult by the hosts. “That’s why we devised a system: Janusz would drink what they served and I would eat everything. This helped us avoid tricky situations,” explains Asia.
Hitchhikers travel to make dreams come true
During their 60-day trip, Janusz and Asia supported Fundacja Spełnionych Marzeń / Dream Come True Foundation. Anyone who wanted to get a postcard from the students could make a payment of PLN 20 or more to the Foundation’s bank account. “I got in touch with the Foundation through a friend of mine, Joanna Zakrzewska,” says Janusz. “That’s where the idea to help the charity’s clients came from. Those who made a transfer were sent a postcard from the country of their choice.”
The initiative of young travellers helped raise PLN 2,706.97 for those in need! “We’d like to run another action like that once we are on the long road to a faraway place again. Perhaps, we’ll be able to do make it happen during the summer break next year,” adds Janusz.
Follow Janusz’s and Joanna’s trip on their FB page.