Jul 042012
 

Chisinau to Tiraspol, Transnistria map

Chisinau to Tiraspol

I decided not to hitchhike that day. A marshrutka was heading to Bender and I decided to take it. We drove for an hour or so through the flat central Moldova, thinking about not important things as I was looking through the window, when Nikolai showed some interest in me.

- Iedich na Priednistrovie, da?

- Da, I answered.

Well, my Russian was quite bad. Although when you are alone in a foreign country you improve fast, I had been only for three days in Moldova, and even Moldova isn’t a 100% Russian speaking country. I would say, maybe, 45% of the people I met spoke Russian. But this doesn’t matter. Nikolai was talking to me and I had to please him, I wanted to cause a good impression despite my broken trousers and my dirty bag, so I asked him questions like where was he from, if he had kids, wife, horse or dog.

And then I was there, applying for some sort of transit visa to the unknown Republic of Transnistria, an auto-proclaimed state, a de facto republic, the Russian area by the Dniester River that didn’t want to become a region of Moldova and gained their independence by the power of weapons. But being still a communist country, the new state was not recognized by any other state, and just got the sympathy and protection of Russia, giving a Russian passport to all Transnistrians. Now the Republic of Transnitria is still called a communist state, but the only thing left from that is the unique party regime, while the economic system is a fierce capitalism with Soviet symbols and Lenin statues here and there, extended corruption and Russian soldiers controlling the strategic points.

Mime and Alberich, Dniester River, Bendery, Transnistria

Mime and Alberich by the Dniester River in Bendery

In the border, they gave me a thin paper with some writings in it. It was my visa. As a non-recognized state, they cannot stamp the passport, so a paper is all they can do. It all ran without hassles and all the stories about corruption I heard about Transnistria vanished in the happy face of a kind policeman. I had a visa for stay in the country for several hours and I got into Bendery. You can hear many awful things about Transnistria, but there the market looked like a normal market, the streets were the same as in the neighboring countries and the people looked more or less like everywhere. I realized how many writers’ exaggerations about this land made us have a wrong image of it, because the corruption and criminal affairs may be true, but most of the people in the country have nothing to do with this; they are kind, well-dressed, polite and a little bit abject, more or less, like everywhere. I had read Nikolai Lilin’s book Siberian Education¸ with many criminal matters about this land, which made me expect another thing.

But maybe it wasn’t that normal, possibly Transnistria still had something unique and special.

Lenin statue in Tiraspol, Transnistria

Lenin statue in Tiraspol

Just when I got down the bus I saw a war tank turned to a monument that welcomes and warns everybody not to mess with this land. Bendery was a normal ex-communist city, wide alleys and short houses combined with huge concrete buildings, the market with the typical products and policemen with wide hats. But the things changed when I saw then Dniester River and the bridge. As a result of the war between Moldova and Transnitria in 1992, the Russian army took positions in the area, being the bridge linking the two sides of the Dniester River one of the places permanently controlled by the Russian Army.

The soldiers asked me for papers, information and so on. After a while, I stopped being a fun, and they left me go and put the attention to a couple of vans. I passed walking over the river remembering how far the Dniester seemed during the geography classes when I was in school. I was pleased to be in a mythical geographical feature like that. As pleased I was that I decided to take a trolleybus to Tiraspol and use my first Transnistrian rubles, getting down just when I had enough of it. The river made a long detour by the city, and I was again not far from it. There was a promenade and some aquatic attractions, just by a muddy beach where the people was swimming and sunbathing. I got there and extended my little travel towel, emulating them and laying over it. Some people’s attention turned to me. They came and we maintain a little conversation. They all decided I would have problems with police getting out of the country and wanted to help. They catch my notebook and wrote something in Russian I couldn’t understand.

- Show it to the police in the border – they said.

After a short bath and thanking them, I went to look for the station. I had only a couple of hours left to leave the country. I passed through Tiraspol center, with the opportunity of making some photos to those Lenin’s statues and war cars decorated with the Transnistrian flag and the inscription “Za Rodinu”.

Just there I found Andrei. I asked him how to go to the bus station, and he wanted to go with me. He was a mathematics student who became very excited when I told him I was from Catalonia. He knew a lot of things about my place, the willing to be independent, the political events of the past years, the differences with Spanish, the language, football and so on. I made him note that the realities here and there were somehow similar.

- Yes, the way to understand identity maybe it’s similar -he said-, but the situation is different. Very different. Here, the politics…

And he looked up at the sky and exhaled a deep sigh.

And I agreed.

Za Rodinu, War Car, Tank, Tiraspol, Transnistria

Za Rodinu! (For the motherland!) says a tank in Tiraspol

After a couple of typical Eastern-Europe-bus-station-drunkards, I got into a bus heading to Ukraine. It was a pity: my dreamed stay in Transnitria had been too short; a six hours visa was not a big thing. But it didn’t disturb me for a long time. After a while I would be again in Ukraine, one of the countries I’ve visited more times. And I’ll have never enough.

Bendery Fortress by the Dniester, Bendery, Transnistria

Bendery Fortress by the Dniester

Jun 102012
 

Hincesti - Chisinau map moldova

Hincesti - Chisinau. Click to enlarge

Those who say Chisinau is a beautiful city are basically lying. Or maybe they have a very strange taste. A central neglected park called Parcul Catedralei, with a couple of churches forming the Nasterea Domnului complex and the City Hall in front of them are the main attractions of the city, followed by the monument to the Memory of the Word War II and the “Doors of Chisinau”, two huge soviet apartment buildings, one in each side of the main entrance of the city that remind an open door. But no one can say it’s not an interesting city. The people are open and talkative, not done to see many foreigners, so they easily come to see what’s happening when they see any of them.

This was what happened when I was in the central park lying calmed after an easy hitchhiking from Hincesti, carried inside a minibus that was taking students to Chisinau city centre. Irina was the most talkative in the bus, a Russian-speaking girl, blonde good-looking and that Russian shabby dressing taste, she had learned Spanish by looking Mexican and Venezuelan telenovelas and wanted to practice a little bit with me. She showed me the place to get down of the bus, and I stayed lying down in Parcul Catedralei waiting for something to happen.

Nasterea Domnului Cathedral complex, Chisinau, Moldova

Posing in front of Nasterea Domnului Cathedral complex

After chatting a little bit with some curious, I left the Parcul Catedralei and I began to walk along the Stefan Cel Mare Avenue, former Lenin Avenue and central axis of the city. I had a paper in my pocket containing the address of my first couchsurfing experience. Before, I tried Hospitality Club with nice results, so I supposed this was not to be different. I headed to a damaged suburb of Chisinau, and stopped in a bar. There were some people looking at a football match of the 2010 World Cup, Spain against somebody else. They got quite surprised when I told them I wanted Spain to lose.

Not without problems, I could find the apartment of my guest in one of those Soviet buildings. It’s quite difficult to find addresses in such system, at least if you are not done to it. Alexandra received me with interest and generosity, and even with a delicious traditional meal consisting in some yellow mass made from (I suppose) corn, with smetana and scrambled egg. She was a 25 years old girl with Russian or Ukrainian origins. She was living with her sister Tatiana, a young eastern beauty, and Tolik, the little nephew, running up and down without stop. That was a very pleasant time there, easy and full of new things, and I could even chat with the cheerful mother, who wanted to made a toast to desire me good luck.

Garlic in the Central Market of Chisinau

Garlic in the Central Market of Chisinau

Next morning, his little sister Tatiana made me a tour through the city. She didn’t spoke many English and my Russian was not a big thing, but we manage to understand each other. She was so happy that the day before she got a new boyfriend, so I could only congratulate her. We went to an old wheel at the top of a nearby hill. Rusty iron and a strange sound transmitting instability made me feel quite uncomfortable, but that was it. We ended the day with the “amazing” sight of the so-called doors of Chisinau.

After a delicious dinner cooked by Alexandra’s mother, consisting in fried zucchini with garlic, two French last-minute couchsurfers came. Some exchange of opinions and the bed. As I was laying down, some strange feeling came to me. What was I doing there? Why? I could be wandering the roads of that amazing country, I could be meeting new picturesque drivers everyday! I should enjoy Moldova a little bit more! I was supposed to stay one more night in the house, but the road was calling me. And the road is my Lord. And nobody can betray his god.

I told Alexandra I was going next day. She put a strange smile, but I calmed her down telling that it was not her fault, that her generosity and kindness had been splendid and I was very thankful to her. Yeah! She was a wonderful guest. But it was the fault of the road.

Next morning, I was in a van heading to the unknown and mysterious lands of the Republic of Transnistria…

The Doors of Chisinau or Chisinau Gates, Chisinau, Moldova

The Doors of Chisinau or Chisinau Gates

Mar 162012
 

Laza - Hincesti

Laza – Hincesti. Click to enlarge

Getting up in Laza was an easy thing. Pack up the tent, a couple of vagabond dogs and thumb on the road. A father with his child appeared and took me to the next town (Vaslui), where I could ride a van that left me in a crossroad to the village of Crasna.

There I met Constantinu, a man who was working and living in Spain and was temporally in Romania because his mother was ill in the hospital. He was with his two children, picking some plums from a nearby tree. He had the double nationality, and showed me a crumpled paper that truly proved it.  He was working in Oviedo’s El Corte Ingles as furniture fitter, but had lived in Valencia, Tarragona and, as many other Romanians, in Alcalá de Henares. He was a man worn out by work, with tired honey eyes, with plenty of stories about the ages he had been working.

I stayed with him and his children one hour or so, until their bus came and we said goodbye. I kept hitching in the same place without much luck, until it came a lightly dressed beautiful girl, asked me if the bus was gone and, as I answered affirmatively, began to hitchhike by my side. I knew that was going to be fast, and I was right. The first car that passed in front of us stopped.

The girl sat in the front seat. Nobody was saying anything. Until the girl got down.

“Can I stay in the car?”, I asked.

“Oh! I thought you were together with the girl”, answered the driver, “of course, you can”

And then it turned to be some familiar thing. His wife was living in Barcelona and knew Spanish, and he had been many times there. He had made money in the timber business with wood from those Carpathian forests, selling it to the growing Chinese market. He knew some words in Spanish and said:

Ven a mi casa, this must be celebrated”

Cart crossing the Romanian lands

Carts crossing the Romanian lands

His house made me remember a typical Mediterranean house, a big pitcher, a giant decorative mortar and a grapevine covering with shadow the front of the façade. Further, apple and lemon trees, and a couple of dogs wandering or sleeping around. And three women talking bla bla bla under the shadow.

One of them was the wife of Laurian. She knew Spanish very good; she was a designer living in Barcelona, now on Romania for vacations. Their newborn baby was there, so I congratulated the family. At her side, her sister was a little bit shy, beautiful 25 years and dark brilliant hair falling down the neck. She demonstrated her good English as we were making a small talk, but the sister insisted to put me inside the car and drove right to the border of Moldova, with Laurian speeding up a big motorcycle at our side.

Romania - Moldova border

Romania – Moldova border

I stayed a long time on the border. Picking up a foreigner can be a funny thing when you are driving alone and you are a little bit bored, but nobody sees it so clear when it’s the time to cross the border. There, it wasn’t an exception. Golden dry grass was covering a flat zone without any shadow in the deep hours of the midday and my head was starting to burn. My hat was lost in a lonely Bosnian road, so I had nothing to cover, but suddenly a van stopped.

It had many seats and some exhausted people. They were Moldovans living in London, and came all the way by bus for the summer holidays. The bus was half empty, so half of the people were Romanians who already went down. A couple of them talked a little with me, but they were so tired, so the conversation was not fluid. A woman who only spoke Russian was repeating “Samaliot, samaliot” and the customs guards let us go without many hassle. Then happened something strange. There was some misunderstanding when they were talking about me. There was a discussion about how I got there. Some said I came by plane, another said by train… I told them I came hitchhiking, but nobody wanted to listen. They were very happy with the discussion, and I was having a funny time. But it didn’t last quite long. They were tired.

The green and yellow beautiful Moldovan rolling hills passed upon my eyes as the car was making kilometres until half the way between the border and the capital, where I decided to get down in the harmed town of Hincesti.

I thought that in that decrepit place I would be able to find something cheap to sleep. But cheap or expensive, I couldn’t find anything, so I followed the road without any hurry, sitting in a bank, and eating some smashed berries I had in my bag. Those berries really looked bad, but they seemed to calm the need of asking for something of two gipsy woman. But they were two nice fat old gypsy woman and I sat with them and laughed and made some tricks and I kept following the road, stop at a couple of bars and at the end of the town there was a beautiful road pub near a forest in the foot of a hill, and I decided to take a couple of beers and plant my tent near the pub because I was still afraid of bears and wolves and all the fucking beasts in the world.

And that was all. And goodnight.

Flower