Hey, everyone! As I write this, I'm about 800 miles deep into European Russia, with about 900 kilometers to go until I reach the Ural Mountains. Eight socks of mine (that's thirteen socks in the metric system) are hanging to dry from the roof of a picnic table here, beside a small highway. I just washed them with environmentally-friendly, vanilla-scented soap in a brown lake surrounded by the long, bare trunks of needle-topped pine trees. A lot of rubbish was near the lake's edge, unfortunately - and the rubbish wasn't environmentally-friendly nor vanilla-scented.
But, wait. Let's rewind things a bit here ...
The week before this one, I was relaxing in the delta of the Danube River, still in Romania.
A harbour ("harbor" in the non-metric system) of stagnant freshwater met with a sea of reeds and cattails. I snorkeled in the harbor, and I all I saw were slimy weeds and snails' shells. A green-and-black-striped snake silently paused on the water's surface, and I thought about grabbing him, but his stroking tail was a sinister two feet behind his head, which freaked me out. Later, I saw him poking his upper body up from the weeds, and he eyed me as he waved underwater in the current. Sinister!
The popsicle-pink-and-red sunsets through the reeds were wonderful.
I also met a shepherd. He happily asked, in Romanian which I don't really understand, about Pamela Anderson, Stallone, Chuck Norris, Van Damme, and Mike Tyson. He smiled even happier (without all his teeth), and even called his mom, because he assumed for some reason that I was going to take him to America. The poor guy should know that a lot has changed in America since he last watched tv in 1988.
Soon afterwards, I was back in Ukraine. I was excited. Russian-speaking land. Thrilled.
I was excited because Europe seems tame to me. But, Russia. Who knows what can happen there?! The white countryside homes with gingerbread-blue door- and window-frames; the plastic, colored block lettering advertising commerce in the "azbuka" alphabet; the beautiful ladies of summer walking in sexy skirts and dresses and high heels; the way everyone speaks gummy Russian surely as if no other language existed; the strength of the women, who've survived in a tough environment. Russia still had a lot to teach me.
I camped two nights on a Black Sea beach near a village. I got even more excited, because I found out: not only was I in Ukraine, but there were girls in swimsuits here!
To my disbelief, I met a girl who'd just finished her first year of college in the U.S. On the long and wind-stricken beach, she was called Olya. She was still only seventeen. She was ready for a long English conversation, including the differences between the U.S. and Russia. I said I'd had Russian girlfriends before, and we'd often disagreed on things. These girls may not have always told me what they wanted, I said. Olya thought it was often Americans who don't speak deeply, who want their exteriors to indicate everything's perfect.
Olya urged me to tell all about my experiences in Russia. She showed concern, by asking if I wouldn't be cold in my tent at night. But ...
our conversation never really went anywhere. It was my fault. She was young, her family rich, her college in Virginia Christian. I assumed I couldn't have a good conversation with her.
What an idiot I am! Olya's and mine could've been the best conversation! Had I spoken freely, we could've furthered our understanding of the world. Had I told her what I wanted, maybe she would've let me use the electricity in her hotel room to shave with; maybe we could've hung out in the evening.
You see? Seventeen-year-old Russian girls are smarter than twenty-seven-year-old idiots.
After two days of swimming in the grey Black Sea, I traveled towards Russia.
I passed through the city of Dneperpetrovsk. On the wide, silty, slowly-pushing Dneper River, two of its buildings were odd. One grew from the river like an erect wallside furnace or liver, colored from top to bottom in puke-y shades of green, yellow, and white, under a film of dirt. (Much concrete in Ukraine is under a film of dirt.) The other building looked like an outer space terminal from a 1970's movie, and it lunged over the Dneper. But, most of the city was gray, boulder-solid, square buildings taht stood immovably above the flat sidewalk, and it was easy to see them in silence without the sky in the night.
My last bus in Ukraine, a slow and fading-pink one stout like a plump pig, dropped me off in Kharkov. The area near the "avtovoksal" (train station) was one not under dirt. Benches and white, knee-high walls and small gardens of purple flowers danced somerettos around a splaying fountain, near big operatically-wonderful buildings. A short-haired, blond chap dangled his feet towards the fountain. A small safari backpack and sleeping mat rested near him, so I asked where he was headed.
"Kafkavskyy." (The Caucasus Moutains.) Cool. When I said I'd be hitchhiking to Siberia, he said he'd also be hitchhiking. Yes!
Anton and I were practically bosom spirits. He was imposing a two-day fast on himself; though he said he didn't meditate.
He inspired my journey. He said that, when hitchhiking, he waved away the micro-buses; I unwillingly kept ending up in them while in Ukraine. He filled up his water bottle in countryside lakes, instead of buying water. He told of a Ukrainian and Russian "hitchhiking organization" called Elba that helped travelers in most cities. And our free and open Russian talk was my best this year. (One Ukrainian man I'd ridden with had said bluntly I speak "ploxo" (bad).)
I wished my new friend a good trip. And I got up to go to Russia.
... in closing, for all those accountants out there, here's an account of the money I spent between the Czech Republic and Russia:
Slovakia - 7 days - $25
Hungary - 2 nights - $23
Romania - 7 days - $20
Moldova - a few kilometers - $4
Ukraine - 4.5 nights - $60 (in a hurry, I splurged)
I'm a cheap travel date. Or not; Jana's Slovakian and Mihai's Romanian families treated me well. I began Russia with $420.
In closing: Moldova. This Romanian-speaking, former Soviet republic shouldn't have let me pass through without a visa, I don't think, but they let me enter. A Moldovary named Sasha drove me into Ukraine. We visited a used-metal yard, where thirty-something Sasha unloaded six-hundred pounds of collected metal from his poor car. A fat, white-haired guy with no shirt on bought the metal. Sasha laughed with me about what he was doing, and he guessed people don't do this in America. "Nada," he shrugged. (It's gotta be done.)
In closing, I wish us all a good night.
- Modern Oddyseus
Thanks to Krist & his brother Jolgo; Sasha; Vasser; Serioza; Toliya; and Petya for rides!