I have never been so scared, sick, lost, alone, anxious, depressed and angry.
Not a minute of sleep, sitting outside, temp in the 30s, with soaking wet clothes, throwing up, shaking, heartbroken, depressed, a WWII train, a psychotic screaming German woman, pleading not to get thrown off the train into the countryside of Serbia, scammed, robbed, lost, so fucking lost, 40lbs on my back, phone dead, no one spoke english, no where to sleep, it’s the dead of night, and I’m alone, very alone.
It felt like I was living in a perpetual hell.
And it was one the greatest things that ever happened to me.
But let’s back up to what happened and where it all began. Below are my actual journal entries from those 41 hours. Writing is probably the one thing that kept me sane during this time and I’m happy I did because now I can read, re-live, and share this madness as it actually unfolded.
I re-structured and re-organized some of it with an hourly estimated time-line, and trimmed a bit because the first 24 hours is child’s play compared to the last 17 hours and because I rambled on some other irrelevant shit, but all the writings are my real thoughts at that time. And as you’ll see, they’re not pretty. It starts slow, but picks up dramatically (I promise).
Disclaimer: This (like all of my writings) is not safe for work. I use the “F” word 34 times. But after you read this, you’ll understand why.
41 Hours Of Perpetual Hell:
Approx time: 8am
Location: Split, Croatia
I keep getting sick almost every hour on the hour. I don’t know what to do. I feel so weak that I might pass out. I have a flight to catch to Zagreb, Croatia at 6am tomorrow and then a 5 hour train to Belgrade, Serbia. I’m not sure how the hell I am going to get through it, but hey, what choice do I have at this point right?
So I just got a call from her saying we shouldn’t see each other when I get back to New York. That it’s over. If being this sick wasn’t enough, this fucking shattered me.
Haven’t slept a minute and getting picked up in an hour for the airport. I just realized that all my clothes are still fucking soaking wet! There’s a washer here, but no dryer and I figured my clothes would dry in time. I mean they are ALL completely soaked. So it looks like I’m traveling all the way to Serbia in soaking wet clothes.
My soaking wet clothes for the next 2 days ( photo taken by a random store owner in Split)
Hour 26: (**Where the real “fun” begins)
Location: Zagreb, Croatia (following a flight from Split to Zagreb)
Fuck, fuck, fuck, fuckkkkkkk. How did I fuck this up?! Seriously, what the fuck am I going to do?
Right now I’m sitting outside the train station in Zagreb, Croatia. I fucked the times up and I’m 5 hours early for my train to Belgrade.
For the first time I can’t stop thinking, what the fuck am I doing here? why did I do this? I’ve been sick, very sick. She called me yesterday to say that we shouldn’t talk anymore or see each other when I get back. It wrecked me. I haven’t slept in over a day. The train station is outdoors with no where to go for miles. It’s about 37 degrees, my clothes are still soaking wet, and I’m literally shaking as I type this. I can’t go 20 minutes without throwing up in a bathroom that I have to pay to use.
Seriously, what the fuck am I doing here?
So now I have to sit here for the next 5 hours, outside, alone, wet, freezing, heartbroken, angry, sick, and all I can do to keep sane right now is write, so I can focus on anything except this moment. I don’t know why the fuck I did this. Why the fuck am I doing this? I had it all and I left it for this fucking shit?!
I just need this fucking train to show up so I can warm up and sleep.
hahahaha, warm and sleep?! Is that what I thought would be happening on this train?
This nightmare seems far from over. After what seemed like an eternity, the train picked me up. I’m quickly realizing I won’t be sleeping much for 2 reasons 1. This train had to have been built in WWII. It looks and smells like death, and it’s fucking freezing! 2. This fucking woman. She’s screaming to her husband in what I’m guessing is German. She hasn’t stopped since I sat down and this guy hasn’t said a word. Stop being such a bitch man! How do I tell this old crazy lady to shut the fuck up? She looks terrifying.
I bought the wrong train ticket. Holy fuck I’m not supposed to be on this train. The conductor just yelled at me in Serbian? Is that their language? Then in some broken English, said that this ticket was invalid, but by some miracle of god this train still stopped in Belgrade. My response “Dude, please look at me, I’m practically dying”. As I said it, I realized how insane it sounded and he likely he wouldn’t give a fuck. But it worked! He looked at me like I was one of those beat up, half-drowned, dying dogs you see on TV for animal charities and I imagine that’s about how I look. So he walked off.
That German woman started yelling at her husband again. She’s 4 rows up and I think if I throw something that I can hit her from here. But I’d risk getting kicked off the train in bumblefuck Serbia, and that would certainly kill me. Choices.
Where in God’s green earth are we? If I didn’t have this laptop as proof it’s the 21st century, I’d swear I entered a fucking time warp where were its the mid 1940s and we’re cruising past the shattered remains of the country. I mean everywhere I look out the window is broken buildings, dabrey, trash, it’s a shitshow.
In other updated news, this woman stopped shouting at her husband. Well not completely now, there’s breaks between her yelling. At this point I’m just impressed she can go as long as she has, and her husband hasn’t said shit yet! This is incredible. This man either gives zero fucks about what she is saying or he is a mute. I’m toying with the idea of asking them what is going on out of pure curiosity.
Location: Belgrade, Serbia
(**Written the following day)
The train ride ended up taking 6 hours, but I’d finally arrived in Belgrade, Serbia. I’ve never felt that level of fatigue before. I was dead, I could barley keep an eye open, still wet, and could barley form a thought. All I could think is “get me the fuck to my hostel so I can sleep and this can be over.” O if only that was close to being true.
I got in a cab at the train station, he didn’t speak a word of English (or so he claimed). I pulled up my phone and pointed to my hostel with a street name that seemed to consist of 16 letters and no vowels. I felt like I was dreaming.
Just as I was passing out in the back seat, he grunted and pointed out the window, indicating we’d arrived. I looked forward and realized that the motherfucker didn’t have the meter running. I forgot the amount he asked for in Dinar (their currency), but I’d later find out that the cab service I took is mafia run, known for robbing and scamming people, and this dude just got the equivalent of $100 from me for a 4 minute ride.
But fuck it, I was finally at my hostel right? Once again I thought the nightmare was finally over, and once agin I was dead wrong.
I looked up, but didn’t see the hostel. I walked down the street, still didn’t see it. Around the block, not there. I looked on my phone to see if I was on the right street. It was the wrong street.
Not trying to lose my shit, I figured the hostel was a street or two away, so I took my phone, plugged in my current location and the address of the hostel. And it was in that exact moment, that I felt pure hate, disbelief and panic run through my body. My hostel was on the other side of the fucking city, he actually drove me further away then when I started at the train station.
Standing there in a state of complete and utter disbelief, I looked back down just in time to see my phone die.
I was paralyzed.
For the first time I truly had not a fucking clue what I was going to. I was fucking terrified. I felt destroyed. O and it’s nighttime.
So there I stood, alone with my 40 pound backpack in Belgrade, Serbia in the dead of night, totally lost, no phone, no way I’d take a cab again, still soaking wet, still shaking, still sick as fuck, sleep deprived, without a fucking clue what to do or where to go. Trying everything in the little strength I had left to hold my shit together, to not pass out on the streets. I’ve felt deep seeded fear and helplessness before, but nothing like this.
I thought about trying to find a park and sleep outside, but thought given my clothes are wet, that it was probably high 30s out, and that I’d likely get robbed, that that was a bad idea.
So I did the only thing I could think to do in my state. I started walking. Looking for anywhere to sleep.
(I never mentioned that I also had a 6 hour flight to Dubai in the morning, so I panicked at the thought of continuing to wear these wet clothes on my flight)
I can only guess it’d been about 2 hours that I was walking. When I say walking I mean dragging my feet and slumped over body, inch by inch at snail pace. I think I actually fell asleep walking for a few seconds, but I really don’t know for sure.
I tried to ask people about hostels, but there were very few people out and not a single one spoke english or helped. I wanted to fucking scream at them and pretty much did. “HOSTEL! Where is a fucking hostel?! Please sleeeep!”
Looking back, it’s no wonder they didn’t want to help me, but hey I wasn’t exactly my best self at this point. I imagine myself looking and sounding like the homeless nut jobs you encounter on the subway’s of NYC that are dirty, smell, and screaming non-sensical insanity.
Just when I had pretty much given up completely and decided I’d be doomed to sleep outside that’s when I saw it.
I’m not sure if it was the state of complete desperation, sickness, and sleep deprivation, but I swear the sign of this hostel lit up like the bright beams of vegas. I literally almost cried when I saw it.
I walked inside the hostel. I’ll never forget the look on the receptionist face when she saw me. Her face was a mishmash of horror, confusion, and empathy. Like I was a wounded dog and she wasn’t sure whether to help or just put me down.
I burst out laughing. I laughed to the point of tears, which now made me look completely insane. I can only assume I looked like a red-eyed drowned rat.
She still sat there silent with the same look on her face. “I’m sorry,” I said. “It’s been a long couple of days. I need a room.” Still staring at me (probably debating calling the police), I gave her a short version of my story. When I was done, she was jaw dropped, literally. “I’ve met a lot of crazy travelers and heard some insane stories, but that takes the cake.”
I took great pride in that comment.
She was so taken back by my story that she gave me the keys to an 8 person room with no one in it, and said I can have the entire place to myself for the night, no charge. If you combined every christmas morning I’d ever experienced as a kid into one moment, it still wouldn’t be as happy as that moment.
I almost cried. Without thinking, I picked her up and hugged her, forgetting my clothes were soaked and I probably smelled like hell.
I’ve experienced moments of great joy, pleasure, and happiness in my life, but this was something else. Water never tasted so good, a hot shower never felt so refreshing, and a bed never felt so soft and comfortable. I was so happy it actually took me 2 hours to fall asleep even though I was almost 2 days without sleep. So I laid in bed, running the past 40 something hours back in my head and just started laughing at it’s insanity.
***End of entries
I mentioned in the beginning that this was one of the greatest things that happened to me. And I’m sure reading this you’re wondering how the hell I could say that.
Because it taught a lot of incredible things. 3 things in particular.
1. You can’t control all the seemingly shitty things in life. You can only choose how you react to it.
I remember standing there lost in Serbia and thinking “okay this blows, but I can’t change what’s happened, I can only keep going.”
Or as one of my favorite quotes goes “I am convinced that life is 10% what happens to me and 90% how I react to it” – Charles Swindoll
Life is full of shitty, difficult moments. That’s a guarantee. So you can either curl in a ball and let it devour you or you can do something about it.
2. Stop taking life so seriously
As I read back on those entries, it’s hilarious to me. But at the time, I acted like it was some life or death situation, which of course it wasn’t. But after that point, I stopped looking at situations so seriously. Life isn’t serious. There’s almost nothing in life that you can’t laugh about (just look our current presidential race).
2 weeks after my “perpetual hell” I made some new friends in Thailand, we rented motorcycles and crashed, pretty badly. Our bodies skidded across the road, bikes smashing into each-other, leaving us covered in blood and our bikes wrecked. An hour later we were sitting around covered head to toe in bandages, drinking beers, and laughing about the whole thing.
3. It made for a damn good story.