A hitchhikers’ report from a “criminal” state: Kosovo.
Kosovo is a country where peace is being kept by armed forces (KFOR+EU) and Western Europe’s general image of it is one of a very poor and war-struck country. Recently, I spent 6 days there hitchhiking, meeting people and my expectations were quite far from reality.
Expectations: When I came to Bosnia, Slovenia and Montenegro I began asking people what they thought about me going to Kosovo. The idea was that Kosovo’s closest neighbors could provide me with useful information. After all I travel the way I travel because i find it to be the best way to learn about a region’s tradition and characteristics. Practically no one I met in the Balkans thought it was a good idea, “criminals” was a word that often came to my ear and the only positive thing I heard about Kosovo was about the weed. Even if none of these people had actually been to Kosovo and their tales were probably more colored by the scars of the past than anything else, I thought there had to be some part of thruth in it: my expectations were a bit bad. It didn’t help that my mom called me to tell me not to go there. I was not confident but did not neither want to believe these stereotypes, it is not possible that a nation is filled with criminals. I did some research on internet, managed to find some encouraging information and decided to go for it.
Reality: Hitchhiking is overall very easy even if people seem to have a hard time understanding that “this western guy” doesn’t want to take a bus or a taxi. The roads aren’t very fast, but excellent highways are being built and will be finished anytime soon.
I experienced finding a place to stay to be quite easy: I was offered a place to stay in Pejë by my friends Haris and Zekaj, in Pristina and Prizen I found a place to stay in less than 30 minutes. 95% of Kosovo’s population is Albanian by tradition and Muslims by religion and hospitality has, as I have understood it, a central place in the Coran. Maybe it helped, maybe not. I usually say that when hitchhiking and sleep this way there is a natural selection: people who are nice stop for me, people who aren’t, simply don’t.
The sad part of the story is that the inhabitants of Kosovo are really stuck. Getting a visa is very difficult and most of the people I met who had been abroad where abroad during the war, in refugee camps. The people I met were very interested in hearing stories about “the west” and from my trip, but I found it difficult to tell stories about my travels when they don’t have the same opportunities. It’s not fair.