Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Open Mouth, Insert Foot


August 19, 2009 Somewhere in Moldova (Again?)

After my new Russian friends left me behind I slowly geared up and continued my journey towards Odessa. About 30 kilometers down the road I passed the Russians who were stopped at the side of the road. I thought about joining them again but I decided to keep going. Besides I was traveling at a good pace and my front brakes still don't work as well as they should. I honk my horn and wave and they return the wave. Man! They look like they're really enjoying themselves. I honestly don't know if I could travel in a group, but I can see the allure of having companions. Of course, before I could ride with a friend I would actually have to have a friend who would want to torture himself with this kind of a ride. And he (or she I guess) would have to be the kind of friend who wouldn't keep telling me what kind of idiot I am for not having a plan, or route, or bike, or clue.

Nevermind. Sounds like to much trouble. The lone wolf rides alone.. and uncriticized.

Another fifteen or so kilometers down the road I see a long line of traffic. Most of the cars are stopped and people are wandering about. There are some kiosks at the side of the road selling various things that I can't read the signs for. What is this? Another border crossing? I don't see a building.

I decide to ride around traffic and see what the hold up is. A soldier with a machine gun is stopping everybody. A couple of weeks ago I would have turned around and got in line and waited. After the road I have traveled I drive right up beside the soldier and ask him what's going on. I don't understand hm anyways but I have my papers in my hand and say, "Odessa". He doesn't look twice at me or my papers. He just hands me a slip of paper and stamps it.

Whatever... I just continue on and wonder what the people behind me are waiting for. About two hundred meters ahead another soldier stops me and takes my slip of paper. I give it to him and just as I'm about to leave he turns my bike off. I lurch forward a foot and nearly dump my bike. I scramble to regain my footing and the action startles everyone around me including the rest of the soldiers. Three of the other soldiers jump to attention and before I have myself righted there's the muzzle of one gun wedged on the back of my neck while the other two soldiers have their machine guns leveled at my face! I freeze... and wince my eyes. My bike falls..... Shit, I'm dead.

YELLING, Yelling, yelling..........

wait for it.

wait for it.

wait for it.

wait for it.

wait for it.

wait for it.

wait for it.

wait for it..................nothing.

I open my eyes... I'm not dead... yet.

"Passport?", the original soldier asks with his hands out to his side easing his partners guns down with his hands. I hand him my passport but it's hard to get my hands to work. He looks at it and hands it back. His body language says, "Move on" but I'm deaf to it right now. It's a bit of a garage sale around me as I have dropped everything I was holding on to. I pick up my bike and put it into neutral and slowly walk my bike forward seeing if anyone was going to shoot me. As soon as I clear the checkpoint area I hit the ignition hammer it into first and drop the clutch. I'm in fourth within seconds as I try to put some distance between myself and the soldiers. Once I feel safe I pull over. Everything that I dropped at the checkpoint is wedged under my ass or tucked into my jacket.

I throw down the kickstand and get off my bike.

Damn it! That was scary. I replay the moment in my mind. It starts to make more sense. When the soldiers turned my bike off the bike backfired. Everything else was a blur. It's hard to see what's going on when your eyes are shut tighter than a gnats ass stretched over a rain barrel.

I sit for a moment. I see a soldier about twenty feet away but he's wearing a different uniform. Who cares? He's got a gun and I don't want to be anywhere near him. As fortune would have it I've stopped at a fruit and vegetable market at the roadside. I walk over to the guy selling grapes and after a bit of negotiating which consisted of me handing him two Euros and him filling up a plastic shopping bag full of grapes, I find myself a seat and almost start eating them. Before I can get one in my mouth the guy stops me and takes my grapes away. What's going on? Oh!!! He's washing them for me. How nice.

I sit in this little courtyard with thatched roof tables and I enjoy my grapes. There's no way I could eat this many grapes but I'm giving it a good try. It doesn't hurt that these are the best grapes I've ever tasted. Of course they say that after near death experiences colors look brighter and things taste better.

I take out my video camera and film my surroundings. I'm really enjoying being in this spot. The weather is nice, the grapes are amazing, and Im alive! It really doesn't get much better. I wish I had something to drink.

The guy who sold me the grapes walks up to me and motions me to join the table of guys a few meters away from me. I happily accept. Next thing you know, I'm eating sausage and bread and tomatoes and cheese and I'm washing it all down with some fantastic red wine being served out of a recycled two liter pop bottle. Now this is living. Everybody is having a great time, the guys are laughing, and they're trying to communicate with me. It takes me awhile but I finally explain that Canada is not a part of Alaska. I try to explain my trip to them but it's too hard to do it with words alone. I pull out my fold up map of Europe and I take a felt pen to draw my route. Holy shit! I have traveled a long way to get here. The guy takes my pen and draws the line to accurately place me on the map. He shows me the map and says,"Moldova".

Not understanding what he's saying I recap all the countries I've traveled through. Germany, Czech, Austria, Slovakia, Hungary, Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia Herzegovina, Montenegro, Albania, Greece, Turkey, Bulgaria, Romania, Moldova, and now the Ukraine.

He responds saying, "Moldova?" as a question.

I go on to tell him how much I hated Moldova. I tell him this and I use sign language to back it up. After the way i was treated at the border crossing I really can't say too much about how much Moldova pissed me off. I'm guessing he was surprised that I made it through too. In hindsight I can see the error of my ways but at the time I feel I was justified in expressing my opinion of Moldova. He looked at me do my little pantomime about being disgusted of Moldova and then he brings me over to the map again. He points to where he drew our location and says, "Moldova". I'm like, "No Moldova" with a sour look and then he says it one more time before I understand what he's trying to say. I grab the map up closer and with horror I realize that I'm in Moldova right now. There's a small piece of Moldova that cuts across the road to Odessa. Oh my God! I'm an idiot! Ive just been sticking my fingers down my throat while describing this man's homeland. I feel awful. These guys have been treating like family and I repay them by slagging their country. I'm a jackass.

Fortunately, he doesn't even chastise me. I'm pretty sure he knew what I was saying but he could see the look on my face and I'm sure he realized I was sorry. The wine is flowing quite freely and the mood is good. No tourist is going to ruin the mood here. We talk some more, drink some more, eat some more, and my antics are forgotten quickly. They try to teach me a bit of their language but the only work I figure out is cheers. Of course I forget how to say it now. But that's probably the wine's fault.

So after being fed by these wonderful people, I get up and begin saying my goodbyes. They make it very clear that they would like to see me come back after going to Odessa. I might just do that. As I get my gear together they come back with a bag of assorted fruit. I object but there's really no use. I know how these kind of people are. There's really no sense in saying no so I quickly turn that 'no' into a 'thank you'. I accept there generous gift and walk over to my bike. The kids are around it looking it over with the soldier I spoke of earlier. Unfortunately, I still have my camera on when I approach so they scatter being very camera shy.

I get on and continue down the road. I really should come back here. I think I could really enjoy myself here. It's seems very relaxing. As I ride I can feel the bag of fruit behind me and it warms my heart to know that the poorest of people are always the most generous!

1 comment

Anonymous said...

A riding companion would have assisted in you Not loosing your muffler, helped with your "fantastic" sense of direction, perhaps? Helped you push your bike, to start... And also help you keep your sense of humor, thru the hard times... Let's not forget, footage of you on your bike riding thru all those amazing sites and questionable "highways". Just a few advantages. Lone Wolf, don't forget, wolves, like humans, thrive in large family groups, they are social, family oriented creatures by nature. Just a thought...

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