I’ve done a fair amount of travel, and most of it not only off tour, but off the beaten path. I was particularly pleased when a German visiting America asked where we had traveled in Germany, and on hearing the answer, responded, “You’ve gone places only Germans go!” Not true, but fun to hear, nonetheless!
But traveling in such manner inevitably results in getting lost now and then. Sometimes this just makes the trip into an even greater adventure. Sometimes this puts a big enough damper on the trip that it threatens your overall peace of mind. We’ve been lucky…all of our “getting lost” moments have turned out well, thanks to the in-country folks we ran into that put us back on our way no worse for wear.
Getting lost in an unfamiliar city is of course normal, and finding yourself in a neighborhood you can’t find your way out of again is perhaps par for the course. But losing yourself in a labyrinth of surface streets, well after dark, with the little light on the fuel gauge illuminated…not such a happy time. So before our questionable evening got any worse, we deperately sought out anyone who could tell us how to escape! We finally found someone, but he only spoke German. However, through pointing at the gasoline indicator, we were able to communicate at least part of our concern to him. He motioned for us to wait, ran back in the house, and emerged soon after with several young men. These young men leaped into a nearby car and took off. Using more hand motions, he indicated we were to follow them. We waved our thanks and followed suit. Wow, were we lost…we had no idea how lost until we were following these guys. We would have never found our way out, especially at night!
The Back Country, Bulgaria.
I cannot properly explain how we got lost out in the countryside. True, we were off the beaten path (smallish roads) but they were all paved. But the problem in Bulgaria (for us) was the actual language on the signs. It’s the only country we’ve been to thus far that uses the Cyrillic alphabet, as opposed to the modern Latin alphabet used by most European countries. [Serbia and Bosnia/Hercegovina apparently do, too, but not on their regular signage] That really tangled things up for us as the map we were using had Latin terms (like Sofia, the capital of Bulgaria) but the highway signage had Cyrillic terms (like София, the capital of Bulgaria). See the problem? It wasn’t that bad…we had a Lonely Planet book with us, so I just looked up the name of the city we were headed to next, and there was the name both in Cyrillic and Latin. Sofia/София , for example. Then I tried to match up the letters in the book to the sign on the road. I did quite well with this method, until we visited the Rila Monastery. If you ever get the chance to do this, please take it. The wood-carving and articulately painted frescoes are just unbelievably detailed and exquisite.
It’s when we left there and tried to proceed east to the Black Sea that we ran into difficulties. Yes, when we saw a highway sign it had numbers, but our small map from Lonely Planet could only do so much, and while we weren’t on the main road, we had no clue where we were. Once we realized we were good and lost, Travel Buddy suggested we look for a policeman to help with directions. “How are we going to find a policeman way out here in the middle of nowhere?” I asked. We drove around the next bend, and…there they were: two Bulgarian police officers! Luckily, they spoke English and were able to send us on our way within minutes.
We had been driving through this sweet little town, admiring the surrounding mountains, when suddenly we realized we were out of town, had been for some time, and had no idea which direction to head next. While worrying about this, Travel Buddy suddenly came up with a plan: “We need to find a couple of Mormons!” A couple of Mormons, I repeated. What good would that do? “They’ll know the area really well, and they’ll speak English!” We drove around the corner, and there they were! Two young Mormon men on bicycles, in their white shirts, black pants, and black ties. I don’t know who was more excited to meet up with whom, as it turned out the young men were from California, and we knew their hometowns, quite well. Anyway, they were able to set us back on the path very easily, and after some very enjoyable conversation, once again we were on our merry way in no time.
Thank goodness for the kindness of strangers…wherever you happen to be!!