Monday, February 05, 2007

IT GOT WORSE

When me and Steve were lost in the woods of Estonia, I thought to myself, "Well, it can't get much worse than this."

When we got turned away at the Transnistrian "border", I thought to myself, "Well, it can't get much worse than this."

When I spent 14 hours on a bus that was supposed to take 4, surrounded by stink, sweat, some dude barfing, a crying baby, and some dude passing out from heat exhaustion, I thought to myself, "Well, it can't get much worse than this."

Oh...it fucking can.

Before I get into details let me just say I'm fine, and nothing bad happened. But that doesn't mean that it wasn't scary. And now I know, it can always get worse. In hindsight, this wasn't even that bad. But it certainly sucked, and it definately wins the most-fucked-up-pseudo-scary-I-want-to-be-back-in-America award. It doesn't even seem that scary now, but it was scary at the time simply because I didn't know what was going to happen in the end. I'm currently back in Moldova, about to leave for Bucharest, where I will spend one day before heading to Athens and then back home. There's a good chance this will be the last entry I write before I get home. There's still close to 10 entries to be written. But I'm breaking order because I feel like it. They will all be coming soon, complete with photos and obnoxious comments. In the meantime...

Our story begins at ground zero for fucked up travel adventures--the Transnistrian "border".

I was in Odessa, in Ukraine, and I had a bus ticket from Odessa to Chisinau, the capital of Moldova. Me and Steve had quite a nice time in Chisinau, and I was looking forward to spending a few days with familiar faces while on my way to Athens to return home (On the 12th of February, by the way). I knew that this bus went through Transnistria, but I wasn't especially worried. So far I was 2 for 3 with the Transnistrian border, so I figured it was worth the risk. Regardless, I was prepared to pay a bribe. I had 70 Ukrainian Hryvna on me (about 14 dollars), and 700 Slovakian I-don't-knows (shit I was unable to exchange in Ukraine. Worth a little over $20). I purposely had little money on me, figuring it would be enough to satisfy a bribe and not any more than that.

And I was right. Sort of.

The bus easily passed through the Ukrainian border (obviously), and then we passed on to the Transnistrian side. First, they emptied the bus. Then they ran everyone's bags through an "X-ray machine", which was just an aluminum box with a conveyor belt running through. Buying an X-ray machine would cost 10% of the Transnistrian GNP but that's another story.

So once again, I was singled out. The American. "How much money do you have on you?" "Where are you going?" They searched my bags and discovered some Transnistrian Roubles. "You've been to Transnistria before?" Yes, I have. Then they found my vitamins. "Is this ecstasy?" No, it's vitamins you fucking idiots. Has nutritonal science not made it to Transnistria yet? "Well, we're going to have to keep you at the border while we test it for ecstasy, unless you can give us a souvenir." A souvenir? They wouldn't take 20 Hryvna, but they took the 50, and I was happy and well on my way to Chisinau. Yay.

But I wasn't on my way to Chisinau, or I wouldn't be writing a special entry while I'm still 2 weeks behind, would I? I went to retrieve my passport, and they wouldn't give it to me. "Where's your Moldovan Visa?" Americans don't need visas as of January 1st, 2007. "Where's your Transnistrian Visa?" It's impossible to get one, they are not issued because no country recognises Transnistria, except Russia. And Russians don't need visas since they're part of the evil empire. "You have no Moldovan Visa." I don't need one, we already went over it. "Why do you have one for December?" That was for last year, the law has changed.

The fucker wouldn't take the 20 Hyrvna I had left, and they certainly weren't interested in the Slovakian shit. I went around to the border guards I bribed before, to get through. "You need a Moldovan Visa." No I don't. "Why do you have one?" That's from last year. I tried to talk to the one female there, but they blocked my path, knowing that she would probably let me through. The bus driver had waited for me for awhile, but he couldn't wait any longer. He left. I was fucked. Fucking Transnistria. I've decided to dedicate my life to international politics with the hope that one day I will be able to have all the Transnistrian government facilities bombed, like what NATO did to Belgrade. Fuck Transnistria.

So, what was I going to do now? I was told to go back to Odessa, but that wouldn't solve any problems--I'd still have to get through the border tomorrow. So I called the US Consulate. He confirmed my feelings--there's a crossing directly from Ukraine to Moldova in a town called Palanca, but it was pretty far south from where I was. He said there were no trains, and that bus service is seriously spotty. But the crossing was certainly there, and is how Americans are advised to travel between Moldova and Ukraine. So I had a goal, but I had a problem. I had essentially no money on me.

The first thing I did was message Tanya, our host the first time in Chisinau who had agreed to host me again (THANKS!), and tell her I was fucked. The next thing to do was to get a taxi, but a taxi that would take me to an ATM. This was not going to be easy. But then I met two dudes, who seemed legit. Their friend drove a taxi, they said, and that he could take me to an ATM and to Chisinau for 50$. They spoke German and some English, and we were able to communicate. Sounded good to me, and they seemed trustworthy. So we walked a few hundred meters to a car, got in, and drove about 2 kilometers.

Then we got out. What the fuck, I thought, but I wasn't too worried since we were on the side of a very busy road. Then we started walking. Through a field. We were walking to some lights on the horizon, which apparently was a town. "Bankomat and Taxi" they said, so I kept going. At this point, they could have beat me up a long time ago, and I figured I could trust them. We were quite far from the road, and we kept walking, so it seemed like we were heading to this town. We were definately heading to this town. And we were getting closer. After about 10 minutes of walking, it looked like we were about halfway there. Then they told me to be quiet, and to duck down.

That town, whatever it was, was in Transnistria. And we were going there. But we had to cross the border illegally. And we had to run. And I did not want to do this. Not that I give a shit about illegally crossing into Transnistria--it's an illegal country. But I did not want to enter Moldova illegally. No fucking way. They said, OK, wait, we'll go get the taxi. I said OK, but no Transnistria. Then they asked for my money, I said no. They said they needed it to get the taxi. I said no. Then they told me, Give us money! Money money money! Rather than let things get ugly, I gave them the money. That was about $35 dollars, 30 of it in Slovakian money that they could probably never convert, the fuckers. They told me to wait, and they made a run for the border. Fuck that. I was out of there. The money was not that big of a deal, I already needed to go to an ATM. So I started walking.

I made it out of the field, back onto the main road OK. Then I walked down the main road back to the crossing point. I could find SOMEONE there, I figured. And then I snapped this pic, me fucked somewhere near the Ukraine/Transnistria border.



Yep, looking cool. As always.

So I arrived back at the border a good 30 minutes later. And there were the Ukrainian border guards. They had been quite friendly when I had passed back through the Ukrainian border after getting assfucked by the Transnistrian thugs, so I decided to talk to them. I went to the two border guards at the front of the crossing, and started talking to them in English. They understood a little, but not much. "Big Boss", "Big Boss". Ok, I was going to the Big Boss.

Big Boss didn't speak English, but he seemed eager to help. "Ukraine, America, Friends". Da, Da. He took out one phone, made a call. Took out another phone, made a call. He had a lot of phones, I guess. Somebody answer, he talked for a second, handed the phone to me.

I was talking to a member of the EU mission in Ukraine. He was an interpreter. I explained my situation to him--I needed a cab, I wanted to go to Chisinau, I needed to go to an ATM first, and I needed the cab to take me around Transnistria, not through it. He said that I should maybe stay the night at a city about 10km from the border, but that I still needed a Bankomat, and the closest one he knew of was about 40km away, in some train station. I told him that I wanted to try to get to Chisinau tonight, since I was going to have to do it tomorrow anyway. He said OK, and then asked me what happened at the Transnistrian border. He found that quite funny. Then I gave the phone back to the border guard, who babbled with the guy for a few minutes, then started laughing uncontrolably while repeating, "Pridnestrovie Visa".

So border guard called me a cab. Then we had border guard chat, which as always, is about the country's women. "Ukrainian girls! Eh?". Da, Da. "Very Beautiful" Da, da. болшоий сиски and all that. "Prostitute?" AIt's always a bit creepy when a border guard gets dissapointed with you because you didn't patronize any Ukrainian prostitutes. On the other hand, he certainly went out of his way to help me out.

After quite awhile, the taxi arrived. At this point, it was around 10:30 PM. I updated Tanya on the situation, and the taxi driver informed me that he would only take me to the ATM and back and that it would cost me $60. Fine. Not like I had much choice. I figured at the train station I could probably find a cab. We started driving, and the roads were quite icy. At one point we totally spun out while rounding a corner. But we didn't hit anything, we just turned around in circles a fre times. We made it to the ATM alive, I took out money, and he informed me that his friend could take me to Chisinau for an extra $200. I said that was too much, so we agreed on $100. I paid dude the $60, he gave half of it to his friend (who still had to take me back to the original border point on the way to the real Moldovan border, so that was legit), and off we went, in a crumbling Lada with no seatbelts, fishtailing left and right. This was going to be a long trip.

Also in the car was some woman, so I felt safe. They don't like to kill people in front of women. So we drove, and a few minutes later we were at some rural ass border crossing, with no lights and 2 camo clad border guards in a little hut with a space heater. Driver and dudes talked for quite awhile, then a border guard approached me. "Do you speak Russian?" No. "This is not Moldova." I told him No Pridnestrovie. This went back and forth for awhile. "You go to Chop." Chop is quite far to the north, and is a crossing between Moldova and Slovakia. Argh. No, I want to go to Moldova, but no Transnistria. "Cross at Chop". No, Moldova. There's a crossing south of here. "Oh, you must cross at Palanca." No shit.

So we got back in the car. And we drove. And then we stopped at a gas station to fill up. It was right by where I had wandered with those two dudes into the field. So, yeah, that was funny. 3 hours later and 90 dollars poorer I was back where I started, but at least I was on my way out this time. We filled up and got back in the car. And we drove, and drove. He dropped off the woman at some point, and we drove. Listening to Russian techno, him barely in control of his crumbling Lada in all the ice and snow. When were we going to be in Chinsinau?. 3AM. Great. I passed the word onto Tanya and continued to wait.

Around 1AM we crossed the Ukrainian border. Driver had a Ukrainian passport, so the guards waved us through. Then we got to the Moldova crossing, a good 5 to 10 kilometers from the Ukraine crossing. Then we had to turn back, because I needed to legally exit Ukraine, dammit. So we went back. I legally exited Ukraine, and then we went back to the Moldovan border. Hijinx insued. I was able to enter, but apparently the Moldovans were not letting the driver in. So I had to find my own way to Chisinau. Then again, I wasn't worried anymore at this point. I had made it around Transnistria, and I was in Moldova. Sweet, safe Moldova!

Then the driver demanded $200 dollars. I said No. We had agreed on 100 and we were only halfway there. I gave him 50. No. My bags were in the trunk, and he wouldn't open it. I do not like to put my bag in the trunk, but that BITCH was riding in the backseat so I put my shit in the trunk. Like 3 hours ago. Whatever. Finally, at 100$ he opened the trunk. I got my shit.

At this point the kickoff of Super Bowl 51 ocurred.

Mr. Driver Crimal then proceeded to help me get a ride. I do not understand these Slavs--first you scan me then you try to help me? There was almost no traffic through the border, but he flagged down a truck driver who let me use his phone to call Tanya. Well, I was at the border, and this guy couldn't take me to Chisinau. OK. Whatever. So I waited. Mr. Driver Crimal changed his tire (???) then drove away.

Then the truck driver approached me again. He could take me to Chisinau. Great! Awesome! We hung around for awhile while he did some paperwork, and we were off. Through the ice and snow. I later learned in an SMS from Tanya that he had called her again, and told her he could take me there, but that he might not get through customs. He also started to flirt with her, then she told him I was her boyfriend. At least he wouldn't kill me for being a fag.

So I hopped in the truck, and was greeted by a copy of Hustler on the dashboard. Well, at least he's not going to rape me. So he hopped in, and we started to drive through the ice and snow. Yuri, the truck driver, didn't speak English. But as we slowly made our way down the slick roads, he kept mumbling "Catastroph, catastroph." Catastrophe indeed. So we stopped for the night. It was too slick to drive, so we had to sleep until the sun was up. He had 2 bunks in the truck cab. He took the top, I took the bottom. And I figured I could trust him--Tanya had his phone number. I knew I could trust him when I heard snoring. Then I discovered a few more porno mags under the pillow in my bunk. Well, I was laying in some dude's private cum palace, but fuck. I was tired. So I slept.

We awoke roughly with the sun, and slowly made our way to Chinsinau. I messaged Tanya, and informed her we were moving. We moved. Slowly. Every 30 minutes or so we would stop, and some dudes--always the same dudes--would come up to the truck and they would all hang out for a few minutes. Other truckers, who were also heading to Chisinau. When they weren't hanging out, they were chatting on the CB. They were chatting about fags. click-click-static-Russian-"Pederast"-hahaha-Russian-"Pederast". Fun. We stopped for coffee and he insisted on paying for my tea and snack. That was nice of him.

I swear I saw a sign that said we were 10 km from Chisinau, but apparently I was hallucinating. We were still 90km away. Yeah, that sucked. 2 police checkpoints and about 1 unenventful hour later, we were in Chisinau. We stopped, Yuri got me a cab, and I made it in one piece, although about $200 poorer. Yuri was really nice to me-he really helped me out when I was in a jam, and he refused money when I tried to pay him. No, I'm not a rich American throwing around money. It's customary in these parts to pay people some money when they give you a ride. People hitchhike constantly, we saw dozens of hitchhikers on the sides of the road. Many looked like people going to work. Hitchhiking is basically a form of public transportation, and so you are expected to pay for it.

So I made it safely to Tanya's, about 14 hours late. And I'm so happy and relieved to be in sweet safe Moldova! I'm the first person in the history of humanity to express that sentiment.