The borders had opened for all to pass freely between the European countries. With this in mind, we had to search for someone to stamp our passports. We knocked on the windows of the offices. “That’s not necessary anymore. You may pass,” the guard told us. We explained that as this was our only chance to collect the country stamps, we would like our passports stamped. The guards smiled and took our passports. Opening a drawer, the guard pulled out the stamper and ink pad. The new open border policy had caused the stamp into redundancy. The guard used the stamp for the final time to stamp our passports.
The Sound of Music
As we walked through the border into the country, Donna and I looked at each other with the same idea. We jokingly say that we are “psychotically linked.” Yes, we realize that the term would typically be “psychically,” but when we both have crazy ideas at the same time… anyway. Spreading our arms, we started spinning around slowly as we sang, “The hills are alive with the sound of music.” Julie Andrews would have been proud of our rendition. We laughed at our silliness and continued.
Walking for some time, we found a spot we thought might be an excellent place to catch a ride. It wasn’t long before we got a short ride that took us to a highway rest stop. “You’ll be able to get a better ride from here,” our driver said. They were right. There were plenty of cars and trucks, so we stuck out our thumbs near the rest stop exit and waited. The ride was not forthcoming. There were several ‘big rig’ eighteen-wheelers in the parking.
Donna stayed with the packs, and I began to visit each truck, asking if we could get a ride. Continuously refused, over and over, the situation looked a little grim. Finally, one driver agreed to give us a ride. We lugged our packs up into the cab of the truck, thanking the driver. We were lucky indeed as he said he could take us across Austria to the border of Slovenia. The truck’s cab was plush and comfortable as we settled in for the ride. There wasn’t a lot of conversation due to his limited English and our nonexistent Deutsch, but we all smiled and listened to country music as he drove. The snow-capped mountainous landscape is beautifully picturesque, like a postcard.
After a few hours of mountains, valleys, and country music hits, we arrived at a seven-kilometer tunnel that had been bored through a mountain. We came to the border. On the other side was Slovenia. Stopping the truck, the driver apologized that he could not take us any further. There were restrictions to his transport of people across a border. Climbing out of the truck, we put our packs on the side of the road and bid him farewell. As he drove off, I wondered how we would get through this seven-kilometer tunnel. A stamp on our passports is our priority.
This border was not part of the open borders of Europe. Before the mouth of the tunnel, several cars lined up and waited to pass through the border station. As we walked to the station, we asked the different drivers if anyone could take us with them. Lucky as always, someone agreed. We hopped into the car. Pulling up to the booth, we all handed our passports through the window. Quickly stamped and returned, we continued into the tunnel. “That was easy!”
We all introduced ourselves as we entered the dark, seven-kilometer-long tunnel. The driver was not going all the way to Ljubljana. However, he could set us in a good way. He told us that the war in neighboring Croatia was a worry and hoped it would resolve soon. We told him we were on our way to an international peace gathering near the Croatian border. “I hope it works,'” he said. The tunnel went on and on much longer than I imagined it would. Eventually, we exited the other side of the mountain into an entirely different landscape. It’s funny how one country can look so dissimilar from another.
Reaching our ride’s deviation point, we all wished each other good luck on our various journeys as we got out of the car with our big packs. We were embarking on what we thought would be the last leg of our trip to the gathering. Although there weren’t many cars, we quickly received a ride from a lovely couple with an idea of our destination.
“Oh, you must be going to the squat in Ljubljana! We know the way and can get you there. It’s a pretty famous squat named Metalkova” they said. “This is one of the oldest squat communities in our country,” they continue. “But, the government has been trying to close it by destroying some buildings where people stayed.” We arrived at the famous squat’ in less than an hour of driving through the Slovenian countryside. “This is it. Good luck to you,” they said as we exited the car.
“Thank you for the ride,” we both chimed back.
The Famous Squat
Looking like a failed old business complex, the ‘squat’ was a grouping of five or six old two-story concrete buildings abandoned years ago. The parking areas were broken asphalt with weeds growing through quite heartily. Many of the building’s walls had large holes broken to make them uninhabitable. Parked to one side were several panel vans that travelers had converted to living vehicles.
Near another building were remnants of a rusty old truck and a couple of shopping carts with a tangle of junk metal amongst the weedy growth. It looked as though the place had been through a war, and in a way, perhaps it had with the government trying to chase off the settlers. We saw some people hanging out in front of the building nearest to the panel vans and decided to investigate.
“Welcome home!” Someone called out as we approached.
“Is this where the gathering is supposed to be?” I asked.
“No, no, no, this is just a place to gather before heading down to the gathering! My name is Peter,” he said in a British accent, “and this is Jade. Karen is up there.” He pointed to the second floor, where I could see a woman with blonde hair through the big hole bashed out of the side of the building. She looked down and waved with a big smile. “Where are you from?” He asked.
We told him we were from the USA and recounted some of our history of getting there. He noted that we had a guitar and said he also played and that Karen played the flute. We talked for a while, exchanging stories and getting to know each other while becoming fast friends right from the start. Their daughter, Jade, was three years old. They live in the big blue Mercedes-panel van and have been traveling for years. Karen made psychedelic leather boots, and Peter busked on the street. They happily lived the Rainbow life.
“I need to find a toilet,” I said.
Peter pointed to the building and said, “Find a spot.” So, I went to find a spot. It looked like a lot of people had found ‘spots.’ Is this why they called it a squat? I laughed to myself. Only one room in this building had not been turned into a toilet. I still didn’t fancy sleeping there.
A good handful of other ‘travelers’ stopped here on the way to the Rainbow, and we all worked together to organize the evening meal and find places to sleep for the night. I set up our tent, and we sat around a small fire as it got dark and played music. Peter said his family would leave for the gathering the next day and asked if we wanted a ride with them. “Yes, thank you!” We bashed out a few more tunes late into the evening before finally turning it in. Tomorrow will be a busy day.