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Monday, 7 October 2013

The Spirit of Adventure - Ukraine, Moldova...and Trans-Nestria

What I love about traveling are the daily interactions with random strangers, especially the experience of how people treat other people in a position of vulnerability. Last night, when driving home from a cave monastery in deepest (read African level roads) Moldova, I scraped the rental car off a giant kerb at a petrol station in the middle of nowhere, and got a puncture. Sure, the rental company took complete advantage today, and blamed me for all sorts of other fictional scratches (and suddenly the insurance doesn't work anymore and no one remembers how to speak english except the words 'problem' and 'money')

 But, to take the silver lining from the cloud, that night as i drove off cursing, some complete random stranger flagged me down as I trundled along the track, told me I had a puncture (which we hadn't noticed at all) and fixed it in the dark, in the middle of nowhere, just like that. I have no idea who he was, and never will, but that, i'd prefer, to be my memory of the incident, rather than goons trying to do me over, which sadly is often the foreign view of Eastern Europe.

In Ukraine it was the same - a very kind random couple, went out of their way to help me find the 'secret' bus ticket office, to buy the bus ticket from Odessa to Kiev. It was no easy matter, I can tell you, even for them. It's an endearing part of being in post-soviet countries. People are expected to just 'know' this kind of thing - no adverts, no info. and certainly no english.

Anyway, such is the fun and the spirit of making random trips. Good souls can make your day, and goons can ruin your life, but all in all, it's the same the world over, and thats what keeps a mans faith in humanity.

Trans-Nestria, the infamous non-country east of Moldova, was, i'm afraid, a washout. It was totally safe. No big nuclear weapons auctions. No post-soviet ghost town. No armed guards at every corner demanding bribes and passports. Perhaps the guys who tell of having problems there are simply dickwads. We filled in the form, paid about $1 for the mini-bus from Chisinau (the capital of Moldova) stopped at a kind if kiddy-on checkpoint/border crossing, showed the passports, went to Bender Fortress (a giant castle, with a quite interesting history among various battles between Swedes, Ottomans, an Russians) got a bus to the capital, Tiraspol, ate a pizza for about a dollar. Took a photo of Lenin (the only soviet thing we found), got bored after realising...ah thats it then, and went home to Moldova. So its basically like a Narva with less blonde people.

Eastern Europe is full of honest, good people. Its just than none of them are in the government. Nations of lions are led by inept corrupt donkeys. Road needs fixed? pocket the money. Your people need schools? Build a football stadium. Not enough hospitals? Buy some new limousines for the cabinet. Welcome to Eastern Europe, Africas role model...

Next move, is an overnight train, tonight, to Kiev, then the long flight east. We had a 5.7 richter earthquake two nights ago here in Chisinau (a lovely but boring city, by the way) my rudely built building wobbled like it was made of cardboard, but fortunately just for a few seconds. Thank God Tokyo is built to withstand these things...

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