We started at La Vila Verde, an interesting little 1970’s renovated soviet tourist hotel. The front desk guy spoke English but he was a little over-friendly because obviously they didn’t have many tourists in Ungheni, Moldova all that often. We asked the front desk where to find a good mechanic to fix an oil leak we noticed after the night on Moldovan roads. Again someone offered to take us to the mechanic down the street… although we had to explain that a little oil drip would not immobilize the BBB… That we did not need a taxi nor did we need a tow truck… it was fine… Detroit Iron is sturdier than Soviet Ladas….
Interestingly enough the guy who brought us to the mechanic spoke Spanish (worked 3 years in Spain) so we had a trilingual conversation with him. Then we find out that one of the mechanics has a sister in Newton, MA! So he spoke some English as well.
The oil drip fix took a couple of hours and 500 leus… On our way out of Ungheni we stopped for a pit stop and there was a new experience… First stand up toilet of the ride AHHHHH! This was the first but I hope it is the last…
We found the road to Chisinau in Moldova, not many cars on the road, and the road was surface okay through rolling hills covered with green agriculture.
We were tooting along at a pretty good pace when we see an armored personnel carrier, tire spike and armed personnel blocking the road. So what do we do? We get out of the BBB with our map and Andrea says “HI!!!! Odessa??”(Total ditsy American…if they only knew…) The nice armed guards chuckled and turned us back to go through another checkpoint down a side road … This was NOT a nice road, potholed surface, no signage, and then all of a sudden we were in Transdneister, a Moldovan breakaway Republic.
The Scotsman supports breakaway republic… not surprised…
At the Transdneister border we were pulled to the side (which is standard operating procedure at this point) and asked to show all of our documents and we did. After a half an hour at customs and $21 we thought that we were done and could pass through to Odessa so we asked directions through the town but we were directed not to Odessa but across the street to go through immigration, another half an hour and $15 dollars later we were through and in a land of a breakaway republic of a the poorest country in Europe. We got turned around several times, including a curiosity stop by the local constabulary and seeing lots of military personnel and equipment. The Soviet system was alive and well here, including the police checkpoints. We finally we made it through to the next border and queued up again. We made it through the customs point at the Transdneistrian exit point, but at immigration exit they complained that we didn’t have a Moldovan exit stamp….well, duh, that is because we had to go through your little secessionist homeland, they tried to make us go to Chisinau again and back directly to Ukraine, but after we vociferously complained, they changed their mind and let us through as long as we gave them a “little present”…..Andrea ran to the van and got a couple of Salem Police patches and we let the big capped swindlers think we were police officers from the States….I think they felt a little bashful, but we gave them the patches, said good bye and walked out, daring them to stop us, which they did not……next stop Ukraine!
We crossed this border pretty easily, after queuing for a bit. Andrea made eyes at the blonde 14 year old border guard who seemed very interested in our journey. All is well and now we are in Ukraine! Country number 14 ½ !
After the Border we went through Odessa and tried to find somewhere to stay. We looked for places to camp. In one parking lot that we ended up in we were asked by a local teenage girl for “crocodile accumulator” after some questioning glances we figured out that she needed a jump start, so we jumped her car and asked her where we could find a place to camp. She didn’t really understand what we were looking for and said that her “population doesn’t do that…” Andrea thought that maybe they have had an issue with gypsies in that area “camping” in areas. So we moved on down the road and found a little town that looked quite perfect for camping in with large open grassy areas and a small town square. We asked the local gentlemen, who were sitting in the square watching the sun set, if we could camp in their town. After a bit of conversation in Russian phrasebook/pointing and gesturing/drawing a little map we were told to go 20km down the road to the next town. Eventually we decided to pull off the main road down a little side road and found a perfect camping spot in between two fields. There were a few meters of tire tracks and an open space with flattened down hay where people had obviously camped before. It was a little trashy, meaning that there were a few piles of empty bottles and paper that had been bleached from being left on the ground for a long time but it was safe and away from the road so we stopped for the night. It was really hot so we made dinner of PB & J sandwiches and hopped into the tent early. It was very buggy in our little area but no bugs got inside the tent so we slept well on our bed of hay, yoga mats and sleeping pads.
Today was harder on us than the previous days because Ukraine’s written language is in Cyrillic (you know, the type of writing with я, ю, и, and ж. We duct-taped the Cyrillic alphabet to the front dash of the bus and it seems to be helping, we are figuring out the names of places by sounding them out letter by letter. Even still, it is still hard looking at a road sign and having NO IDEA what it means. Hopefully it will get easier as we go along.
Looking forward to seeing what tomorrow will bring.
As always, Viva Mongolia!