Hopefully, my last three stories served to prove that when you travel illegally, you experience many emotional highs and lows, suspenseful moments, and paranoia. The last of those three stories could more accurately be called a poem, since that's what it was.
It'd been written last October 17th, and it was simply an expression of my feelings. I never did throw away my documents.
Also, I'd written that at a time when I thought I'd be going next to China. But, I later decided I'd go next to Lebanon, via Georgia. So, there. We're now caught up to the latest situation of our story. Man, am I a confusing writer.
I'm not even sure if I, myself, remember what the latest situation of our story was. I think it was January 27th, 2008. I'd just hitchhiked to the Black Sea. I woke up, for the second straight morning, in my tent before the sea. Wind and frozen rain pushed against me. The sea stormed. The rocky, unfriendly Caucasus's rose upward from my deserted stretch of beach, and not far inland there was probably snow. I warmed my hands and hung my tent to dry, in a tunnel beneath the seaside railroad tracks.
Oh, my. Traveling in winter really is tough. I needed to get out of freezing Russia. Luckily, "enter a country illegally" had been recently re-instated to my dynamic list of A.S.E.'s. But, unluckily, I couldn't go to Georgia. Between me and Georgia lied three passport-control posts, one international border, one civil boundary within Georgia, and a whole bunch of problems with my document.
Darn! I couldn't go forward towards Lebanon. My best bet would be to simply return to Ukraine.
Okay. I looked at my Russian atlas. I picked a spot 700 kilometers away from my present location, a good spot to hop the Russian-Ukrainian border. I realized I could encounter police on the way. Should I take my visa out of my passport? They'd almost certainly spot that it's a fake, and it could get me in bigger trouble. No. I decided to leave it in. If they spotted it, I would just say I'd legitimately bought it, and I hadn't known it was a fake.
Even so, I hoped I wouldn't meet the police.
To conserve energy, I rode buses and trains.
At one point, a little policeman came on the bus and asked to see my document. Shit. Russian police are often inhuman monsters. I handed him my passport. For strategic purposes, I pretended I didn't speak Russian.
The little policeman led me out of the bus and to the police car. And I sat down in back. What a dehumanizing experience! Probably every Russian has been in this situation at some point; the two big policemen in front were about to tell me how much money I had to pay them to be let go.
They hadn't noticed my visa was a fake. But, they said I hadn't officially registered myself. I had to pay a $100 fine. I said, in English, that I didn't have much money. But, getting compassion from Russia's "miliciya" is like getting juice from a baseball. They took 40% of my money and didn't give me a receipt.
Several days before this, a macho trucker had bragged to me that Russia's army is the strongest in the world.
He also told me: "Ty ne bil v armii. Ty ne bil v tyurme. Gde bil? Ty nigde ne bil." (You haven't been in the army. You've never been in prison. Where have you been? You've never been anywhere.)
It's clear that the biggest victims of the Russian army and military police are the Russians themselves. What kind of a brainwashed idiot brags that he's oppressed!?
As for me, I returned to my seat on the bus, having just lost a battle. The war would be decided that night.
It was one a.m. when I arrived in Novoshaxtinsk, near the Ukrainian border. Except for taxi drivers and policemen, the town was dark and asleep. Snow fell from the sky. The snow was very wet, so that it quickly soaked you. Wet snow and the long walk ahead of me didn't equate to anything good. But, I was confident. My heart was pumping adventure.
I went into a convenience store, the only place open where I could get a hot meal. Three very friendly taxi drivers were there eating hot dogs and drinking. They told me jokes, and we had jolly fun. One mentioned the nearby border and his desire to go to America. He flapped his wings and said he wished we could fly across borders.
At three a.m., I paid a sober taxi driver to take me on the road to Gukovo, a road that runs parallel to the Ukrainian border. The road was dark. We rode between endless fields filled with snow. The young driver drove through a blizzard. The falling snow was dry.
$14 was the cost of my ride. I got out of the car before Gukovo. The young driver said he was worried I was going to freeze. I said good-bye and quickly walked across the first white field, in the direction of Ukraine.
And then, all of the problems and paranoia of the past seven illegal months, even the $100 fine, seemed like small prices to pay in exchange for this unique and euphoric border crossing through the snow. It quickly stopped snowing. The air was fresh, not too cold.
I felt life like an animal on a mission. I responded to every contour in the land, avoided all lights, hoped sunrise wouldn't come, calmly made calculated moves, worried about where I was leaving tracks in the snow, scaled small mountains, and hoped to spot the lights of a Ukrainian city. I enjoyed the peaceful weather. I held a compass to my chest and headed West.
At one point, a creek cut through the land. I had to cross it on two logs. Carrying my bags, I amazingly kept my balance. I had to push off the wobbly second log, which I knew couldn't support my weight. Somehow, I floated to the other side, dry. You might say I flew. I was really in touch with God here. Of course, I am God. We are all God.
I peeled the fake visa out of my passport and stomped it into the snow. I got rid of anything else that could connect me to having been in Russia.
At four-thirty a.m., my path led me into a large village which I couldn't avoid. I tried not to get the local dogs barking, but I wasn't too successful. The small houses were sleeping, though; I felt safe.
The license plates on the cars suggested I was still in Russia. I walked through this beautiful phantom village. I passed an orange statue of Lenin or a saint. At one point, a "miliciya" jeep drove within fifteen feet of where I visibly walked with my two bags.
For some surprising reason, they didn't stop.
I had to jump over many private fences at the end of town, cutting through the yards of weekend cottage owners.
I walked through the fields and ate a Snickers bar and walked. The sun came up. I walked and pooped and walked. A guy on a snowmobile scared me into the forest. I walked and ate a bag of peanuts and walked.
By nine a.m., when I reached a small Ukrainian town, the water in my water bottle was frozen, my bags felt heavy, and my hips hurt.
The adventure, however, was over. I'd made it!
The fact that I'd been deterred from going to Georgia was exhausting. I needed a place where I could wash my clothes, have some time to write, and ponder my future.
I decided to go to some local schools and ask if I couldn't give some English lessons in exchange for a place to stay. Two schools turned me down, saying they couldn't possibly provide me with a place to stay because they're too poor. Their medium-sized town didn't look that poor. In this part of the world, a native English-speaker is extremely valuable, so it seems they missed out on a rare opportunity.
I decided I'd take a break from traveling. Instead of trying to go to Turkey and the Lebanon, I'd go to the Czech Republic and then home to Michigan.
Two days later, I legally left Ukraine, and I had to pay a $70 fine to do so. They'd thought I'd been in their country for the past eight months. They, at least, gave me a receipt. The Ukrainian officer explained the fine: "It's the law. You have to know what the laws are."
Or, you can just choose to follow your own.
- Modern O.