Good morning, water condensation! While still lying in my sleeping bag, which is half way open because otherwise it would transform to a portable sauna, I hear a familiar song being played by Ivar’s mobile. “Čšs, čšs, tuk, tuk, tuk! Ripo tvaika bānītis. Panākt to un noskriet var katr(i)s mazais Jānītis” (English translation would sound something like this “Cshh, cshh, tuk, tuk, tuk! The steam train is rolling down. It and be caught and outraced by even the small Johnny”). We woke up almost each morning listening to the song “The steam train is rolling down” by E.Goldstein/A.Kruklis, performed by Women’s vocal band of Latvian Radio (listen to the song on youtube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yJogkSrhUrM). As soon as the song was over, you don’t have any options, you have to get up, put on your cycling shorts and start pedalling.
Ba-bam, ba-bam, ba-bam, ba-bam! We were greeted by the familiar sound of the highway once we started to cycle down the road. The road was built from concrete plates which were covered with a thin layer of tarmac. The problem was that nobody had actually tried to renew the tarmac surface and thus the road was lined with holes and trampolines at regular intervals. During the first few kilometres of the day, we were just listening to the disturbing noises our bicycles made each time we hit a hole. Fortunately the Ukrainian tank road did not manage to do any serious harm and the only real annoyance was that we had to stop from time to time in order to rearrange our bags as they were randomly changing their locations on the rear rack.
To get to the Ukrainian boarder we had to face the first real up-hills and down-hills. This was just the best attraction you can wish for – while going down-hill you have to avoid countless holes in the tarmac while simultaneously trying not to get hit by a crazy Ukrainian driver and while going up-hill you mainly have to deal with yourself and considerably serious climbs (10-12%). Right now, having faced much more serious obstacles, it is a bit funny to remember the feeling we had while battling these small hills. There were moments when we really thought that it is not physically possible to get to the top with all the excessive amount of stuff. This of course was silly, because we got to the top every time and sooner than seemed possible at first.
Few hills and valleys and we had arrived to the Ukrainian border. We got through the Ukrainian side without any problems, but the real circus started on the other side and we were the main clowns of the show. The thing is that we had to know that the “country” we are about to enter is not Moldova, or is not controlled by Moldavian government, but we did not. Firstly, we had to do our homework and check in the map where are we actually going, but we did not do it. Secondly, while looking at the flag on a flag post next to the border we had to realize that it is not Moldavian flag only because it had the most typical symbol of Soviet Union in it, but we didn’t. Thirdly, while filling out the migration cards we had to pay close attention to the name of the “country” which we’re entering, because it was written there, in a clear Russian language, that we’re entering Pridnestrovian Moldavian Republic, we, unfortunately, we did not. At that particular moment we didn’t even have the slightest idea that we may be entering Transnestria. All the signs, that were clearly indicating that we are entering this self-proclaimed breakaway state, were ignored. I had suddenly forgotten how the Moldavian flag looks like, I had forgotten that people In Moldova speak Romanian and not Russian, and the hammer and sickle in the flag and coat of arms seemed only something amusing – a part of Soviet heritage.
So that is how we entered Transnestria and travelled through this region without even knowing it. While we were in Transnestria, we even decide to visit Transnestria on our way back as it surly is a place to see. Our reflections about this adventure can also be found on our Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/HMRoads/posts/366655980167068).
Our first visit to Transnestria was a very short one, because, only a few hours after entering it, we wound ourselves in front of another check point in the city of Dubasari (fun fact – we indicated in our migration cards that we are going to stay in the country for 10 days). At that moment we were a bit lost and didn’t understand – what the heck is going on. How can we be crossing yet another border if we crossed the first one only few hours ago? We only had three possible theories to explain this phenomenon (of course and thank God – neither of these versions were true!):
- The time and space continuum has been broken and the check point in front of us is that of Transnestria and we have somehow made it to this weird formation;
- The check point is a place where transport police control the weight of trucks;
- We have somehow driven to the outer border of Moldova.
We decided to be brave and to push on, to face everything that will be coming at us. The first surprise came surprisingly soon – in the “check point” they took our migration cards which we had received only few hours earlier. We were a bit nervous about that, because how we will be able to get out from the country if they took our migration cards? The next surprise came shortly after we crossed the Dnestr River and pedalled up the hill. Surprise, surprise – on the very top of the hill there was another check point. What is this trickery all about?
But precisely then, at that very moment, we understood everything, all the pieces of the puzzle fell into their places. It turned out that we had finally entered the real Moldova. The first border point right after Ukrainian border was a check point of Transnestria and we had left Transnestria, when they took our migration cards in the check point near Dubasari. Now, we were standing in front of Moldavian border check point and everything was as it should have been – there was the Moldavian flag and all the signs were in Romanian and not Russian. Finally we had arrived in the country we intended to visit.
The first thing we had to do in Moldova was to get something to eat and something to smoke. We had cycled through Transnestria practically without any food and cigarettes. A friendly gentleman in a near-by gas station advised us to head to the local village called Ciruleni. This would be the closest place where it would be possible to pay with a bank card. We followed the advice and soon got to the village. Unfortunately, we could not find a single place where you could use your bank card. But as usual, it is always possible to find a silver lining for almost every cloud, and, in this case, the lining was bigger than the cloud itself.
While we were standing next to a shop discussing our strategy, a white VW van pulled next to us. The man at the steering wheel started a friendly chat and 10 minutes later we were already following the white van to this man’s (Sergey) home. At first, we did not have any real understanding of what this is all about, but the offer to eat something other than pasta and to sleep in a bed was an offer no traveller can turn down. Part of our following adventures have already been covered in a Facebook post on our page (https://www.facebook.com/HMRoads/posts/368888423277157), so I will be focusing only on that, which has not been said.
Sergei is the best host in the world, and once you are at his place you feel like you are in the traveller’s paradise. We had everything – starting from the finest Moldavian moonshine and homemade wine, to best Moldovan cuisine, home-grown watermelons and walnuts. Sergei even managed to organize a little ride to the Dnestr River and back again. There was only one problem – sometimes too much is too much. Unfortunately, we understood this only the following day (morning). Maybe it was the moonshine, or maybe wine, maybe the combination of both, but I rather think it was the excessive consumption that did it for us. Nothing special happened only the same thing, that happens every time, when you have had too much of something – Ivars and I had a “small” stomach overload. We are still a bit ashamed, but what can you do!
This little accident left a small drop of tar in the big jar of honey and of course, the next morning and, in fact, all day was not very easy, this time not because of ups and downs. First hours after getting up were the hardest – my head was like a bucket, I did not have any appetite and my legs were feeling as heavy as bricks. Fortunately or unfortunately, we did not have an option, we had to push on and deal with the situation had we created. Before saying goodbye, Sergey gave us a bottle of his homemade wine, a sack full of walnuts and couple of pills (paracetomol). We were on the road again.
Notwithstanding the previous evening, the day did not turn out as bad as expected. The bikes were going at a steady speed and the quality of roads had also dramatically increased, so we covered a good distance before lunchtime. We prepared our lunch next to a small river and, after we had eaten, decided to stay there for a while and just lay on the grass. After this small afternoon rest we were ready to finish this leg of our journey. There were only ~20 kilometres to our destination – Chisinau, the capital of Moldova and we finally got there in the late afternoon of 11th October 2014.
The story about Chisinau will be published this Thursday, on 18th December by our special correspondent Ivars Brencis.