A brief foray into the Ukraine; Dust and dump trucks; Derelict frog factory; In which an angry old man spits... but not at us

The border crossing from Romania into the Ukraine was a small bridge over the Tisa River - mostly dry and full of gravel and gravel-related machinery. It wasn’t difficult to cross - neither side seemed too surprised to see us, though we were the only tourists at this border. Both groups of guards were friendly enough, the Ukrainians more so than the Romanians. I’d read that cigarette smuggling is a huge concern at this part of the border - it was such a problem that the crossing was closed for many years and has only just reopened recently. Indeed, as we cycled away from the border into the Ukraine, we saw large crowds of old women engaged in screaming matches with the guards and trying to sell cartons of cigarettes to people going to the Romanian side, and massive drifts of cellophane cigarette carton wrappers on either side of the road.

I have to believe that he whole of the Ukraine isn’t like the bits we saw from the bikes - if it is, it must be horribly depressing for Ukrainians. What we saw was a dusty, messy construction site extending for kilometers. House after house being built; and all the roads in very bad condition. I had to resolve to stop complaining about SUVs at home, since in the Ukraine, everyone seems to drive a dump truck. It made the ride pretty uncomfortable and unpleasant. We rode for more than an hour, with no improvement in the scenery, and finally gave up and turned around at some nameless little village. I haven’t been able to find a decent map of the Ukraine since, so I have no idea where we went.

On the way back we stopped for a while at a derelict industrial plant of some sort. I looked like it had been abandoned for twenty years or so. I couldn’t decipher any of the remaining machinery enough even to guess at its purpose. There was a big building full of wheels or turbines, and a tall elevator of some sort, and a smoke stack. Everybody knows how much I love abandoned industrial relics, but this was an especially great specimen. I could have spent two days there, but we only had an hour. The factory had a pond on its grounds, with hundreds of frogs, thousands of tadpoles, and a handful of swimming snakes. I knew Sheryl would like it, so I went and fetched her from where she was resting. While we were watching the pond, an old man came up to us and started talking to us in Ukrainian. We didn’t understand a word, of course, but it didn’t stop him. Some things don’t need language anyway, and after he got done asking for money and cigarettes (of which we had neither to give him) he asked where we were from - via the usual Eastern European method of listing countries until you get the idea. Like a lot of people, he was surprised when he heard where we were from, and for the next few minutes peppered his monologues with the refective phrase “Canada… huh!”. Unfortunately our relationship took a downward turn after that, as he went on a one-sided rant about… something, and established his point beyond all dispute by spitting angrily into the pond. We didn’t care to encourage him, so we made our farewells and got under way back to the border.

Crossing the border back into Romania was harder than leaving. There was one guard who demanded to know if we had any drugs, alcohol, or cigarettes. I told him no, and he asked why we’d gone to the Ukraine, then - as if he couldn’t think of any reason to go there other than drugs, alcohol, or cigarettes. In face, he inspected our bags before he let us through. It’s sometimes hard to tell when Romanians are joking and when they’re serious , and I’m still not certain if he was genuinely suspicious or was just having a laugh. At least we didn’t have to wait in line, though. We’d joined the line that said “everyone else” as opposed to the EU line, but everyone in the line yelled at us and gestured for us to o straight to the front - tourists get to skip the queue, apparently. I felt a bit guilty about it, in a weird kind of way.


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Chris Liberty - Dispatches from a Gentleman Adventurer
Being the internal dialog of a vagabond who chased his own tail across five continents for 4 years and 2 days from May 2008 to May 2012, in search of something that never really became clear.
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