BY: JESSICA BEUKER
All too often the raw, untamed aspects of travel get overlooked by smartphones, GPS and tablets. Screen addiction has created an invisible barrier between the natural world and us. Just try and remember the last time you took a road trip without using Google Maps, instead relying on your tattered old atlas and gut feeling. It’s a rare occurrence—to disconnect from one familiar world in order to connect to a new, foreign one—but that’s exactly what one couple did, when they decided to hitchhike from Bulgaria to India. Sans smartphone, tablet and GPS.
Marta Martinez Samalea and Boris Kanev left their Bulgaria home on a rainy October afternoon to embark upon a 511-day journey. The journey took them through Turkey, Kurdistan, Iran, the Central Asian desert, China and Burma, before arriving at their destination in India.
Marta Martinez Samalea and Boris Kanev left their Bulgaria home on a rainy October afternoon to embark upon a 511-day journey.
The couple didn’t get on an airplane once, instead setting out on foot with only two backpacks in tow. They protected themselves from the elements with whatever resources they could find and would dwell in every possible habitat. They roamed slowly so that they could enjoy each place they passed through. “What we really wanted to do was an overland journey, and thought of getting a van, or bicycles,” said Samalea in an interview with Daily Mail. “But we simply loved hitchhiking and it felt like a good way to sneak into everyday life in different places, it’s a great way to meet people and stories that would not cross your way otherwise.”
One of the new faces they met even ended up joining them on their adventure. During their travels they came across a stray cat, which they later named Burma. Burma was born in the streets and spent her time among drainage pipes and sewer rats, before getting the chance to see the world. She’s been a loyal companion through thick and thin—the thin including freezing snow, scorching sun and raging storms.
They rescued a stray cat that joined them on their journey.
The challenges, while difficult, only pushed them harder and made them grateful for the small comforts they would sometimes come across. These comforts included a volunteering opportunity, house sitting and a few places where they were able to use Skype and catch up with friends from home.
Hitchhiking often means trusting strangers, which has allowed the couple to see things that so many travellers miss out on.
Hitchhiking often means trusting strangers, which has allowed the couple to see things that so many travellers miss out on. “We really enjoy the simplicity of hitchhiking, walking, hiking,” said Samalea to the Daily Mail. “An overland travel is a wonderful chance to see that the earth is one, and how landscapes are shaped by cultures, coloured by the peculiarities of the inhabitants across each border.” Hitchhiking has also allowed them to make many friends, whom they plan to visit again.
“An overland travel is a wonderful chance to see that the earth is one, and how landscapes are shaped by cultures, coloured by the peculiarities of the inhabitants across each border.”
Currently, the couple is still in India, enjoying life at the end of their map and writing an e-book filled with their stories. They hope to have another hitchhiking adventure soon, as they find magic in not knowing what’s behind every turn. They also love the simplicity of hitchhiking without a smartphone. “Probably the main advantage is that we spend more time looking out of the window than into a screen. There is a certain joy in disconnection, in spending days in nature without ringtones or the chance to check Facebook,” said Kanev in a Hindustan Times article. “You just live your days fully in the place where you are without the temptation of continuously browsing out of habit rather than need.”
Travelling without the use of airplanes and smartphones is a commitment to genuine experience. Hitchhiking, hand-written maps and the kindness of strangers are the basis of intrepid travel. Being exposed to the world in this way blurs city lines and turns the places on the map into a book of stories of colourful, everyday lives.