Soooo finally come some insights from the route Ljubljana-Zagreb. Yes, some things take time.
After leaving the vampire-house and having an amazing bath in a beautiful spot by the Sava river, it took a few days to really feel like a group again. As it was my first time on the tour, I thought this was usual, but some fellow riders said it was a strange feeling of “in-between places”. Indeed, a big chunk of the group which was there from the beginning needed some time on their own after socializing so much and was planning to join again later, and a lot of new riders joined -which was a first time with Ecotopia for most of them. I am not sure where the welcoming team was at that point, but individuals made it quite comfortable for newcomers to join and invest the space -their space to be.
By coincidence, lots of newcomers ended up cycling together on the second day, which felt great in terms of watching after one another. Indeed, we had to cycle long on a big road, along with cars, trucks, and construction sites. It was very stressful, so being together made it much safer. Ending up in a gas-station with AC, toilets, and “Rasputin” playing on the radio was probably the best part of the day -mine, at least.
We all agreed then to have a rest-day, which honestly didn’t really feel like a rest day: a strong storm woke us all up at night so people tried to squeeze into some elevated wood cabin, which actually felt very cozy in the end. At that point, a person who decided to cycle alone was still missing, and we had no way to be in contact. Since they had the trailer with them and some parts of the roads were almost impassable, we were afraid that something happened. Luckily, somebody in the group could understand Slovenian and called the hospitals around, to know if any bike accident happened in the area. The person and the trailer finally came back in the early morning, which made us all relieved, but this episode made the group reflect on the responsibility of individuals when they take their own decisions but it obviously has an impact on the group -on both material and emotional levels.
Apart from that, we had a very long circle (meeting), partly due to some disagreement about the security topic: some people were very eager to have some common rules for safety while riding, as a group and as individuals. But for some other riders, it wasn’t much of a big deal, which made one specific person feel like their feelings and needs were ignored.
Last but not least, this “rest-day” gave the chance to a person to twist their ankle. She made it to Zagreb, all the same, yay! There, a fresh new-comer reading Dostoevsky also twisted their ankle while strolling around the city, so we had a nice skill-sharing moment -something about plastic bag and zinc-balm around your wound.
But let’s not rush to Zagreb though, because you would miss the story about ice-balls falling from the sky, destroying trees and flooding paths. You would also miss the part about thousands of slugs invading our tents, pots, shoes. It gave me the chance to realize how squeezable slugs can be, sneaking in the oddest places. And also, how much they shit. Given the fact that our campground was near a dam and it was pouring rain, some people did not feel 100% comfortable. Also, being under tall trees while thunder rumbles did not help neither, but it was too late to change location. Instead, we decided to start a fire. It worked! It was quite of a miracle -not a God-related miracle obviously, but a Tampax-and-newspaper kind of miracle.
The next day, some riders went to the Croatian border with hot tea early in the morning, in order to support people who would try to enter Slovenia but would be rejected by the police. One woman in particular seemed appreciative of the talk and snacks she could share with the riders, although there was not much more that could be done at our level, given the very difficult situation she was in.
All Ecotopians finally reached Zagreb, instantly noticing the difference in terms of bike-culture -quality of roads, signs, courtesy of car drivers, etc. As a matter of fact, in Croatia even Google Maps doesn’t consider bicycle lanes as an option to go from A to B -which made our arrival at Postaja taste even better: an oasis of peace after the urban chaos. A person was so inspired that they even baked a caramel-plums-crumble after midnight and everybody could spoon into it -delicious.
Staying at the squat for a couple of days made us feel closer as a group again, especially since it was sooo hot outside and there was not much we could do until 6pm. It was a mix of lethargic vibes and productive moments (woops, did I say productive?? Let’s say action-generative, instead) like fixing bikes, washing our laundry, moving a pile of straw from one spot to another, burning the dirty toilet paper -yes, very picturesque. What was truly amazing though was the circus space, which gave the opportunity to work on hand-stands, silk climbing, trapeze and monocycle.
On Saturday night, some riders decided to go to a party in an autonomous cultural center. The traditional music from Croatian wedding parties in the 80s was quite unexpected, yet enjoyable. That night and its diverse twists and turns gave the group a chance to have a talk about alcohol and various feelings people have towards it, to put it diplomatically.
I must say that when I joined the orga team in March, writing “we want to strengthen the bonds among international communities aiming for a more sustainable society and amplify the voices of marginalized Eastern narratives” felt just like a nice thing to write in a funding application. Yet, this is exactly what happened. Both with local people we got to interact with – either for a cup of tea or for a three-night stay at their place – and within our circle of peer-riders, coming from Germany, Poland, Czeck Republic, Romania, Greece, France, Russia, Austria, USA, Croatia, etc. My initial skepticism slowly faded, replaced by curiosity, enthusiasm, hope.
“Hm, anarchists you say… Did you even talk about politics?” a friend of mine asked when I came back to Berlin. So I told her about sitting at the bonfire next to a corn-field in the dark night and listening to a few people comparing social movements in their own countries, what can be learned from this battle or this other one, why it worked or why not, spirits, values, strategies, laws, and other knowledge and skill-sharing discussions.
No need for long speeches though -we ARE politics. Sparing the first month for QWINTA people is politics. Dumpster-diving is politics. Supporting squats on the way either with money or human-power to clean or fix stuff is politics. Trading goods is politics. Asking a rider to leave the group because their attitude is offending other people is politics. Joining activists cooking at borders is politics. To be honest, I had a few moments of like “come on, why do we put so much effort into supporting migrant people if we can’t even care for people near to us, by respecting their feelings, their needs, showing up for our peers?”. Indeed, I could not always get my head around the balance between people with individualistic tendencies who are, in the meantime, part of bigger entities aiming at social change. Reflecting and working on this, as a group, is politics.
Aren’t we a bubble, though? And what comes next? Here is the good news: whereas human interactions are temporary on the biketour, their impact is long-lasting, in terms of contacts, inspirations, ideas, projects, cross-border friendships. I don’t mean to over-romanticize my experience at Ecotopia – I am aware that we did not change the world. But despite the physical and emotional tiredness, conflicts, small ideological disagreements, this trip gave me some vivid sense of belonging to Europe as a place we can all shape in a way WE decide.
I am already looking forward to the biketour next year!