In Chisinau, we had a day off and so we decided to wander around and do an improvised exhibition in the park about what was left in the grass. We prepared some cyanotype papers in advance and collected the rubbish. It was a nice sunny day, ideal for the cyanotype prints. We made imprints and got for lunch at Andy’s pizza using their big sinks in the toilets to clean the solution off. The empty boards in the park which used to be newspaper showcases became the exhibition walls.
Moldova is a beautiful country with cosy villages and big green fields. Truly, it is not the easiest country to cycle. The roads are often gravel, especially when passing through small villages. When we entered the country, the peaches and nectarines were just raped and ready to eat and the water was freely available from the wells. Sometimes it was tasty and cold refreshing, sometimes it tasted after sulphur. Nevertheless, people were kind and the atmosphere was very natural. I really enjoyed the rural architecture.
At first, we wanted to get to Tiraspol, to the unrecognized republic of Transnistria which lays just across the river Dnister. We found a host on Couchsurfing. However, it was not so easy to get there. For foreigners, there is only one official border which goes over Bender and we wanted to cross in Răscăieți. The policemen did not want to let us pass and were wondering how come that two girls are cycling alone without “protection” – meaning MEN. We were wondering if the girls should feel in danger of cycling alone in their country? Well, we did not make a good expression and were sent away to Bender.
Tiraspol is like a trip to the past while having all the possibilities and free wifi internet in public spaces. Lenin is everywhere, the Russian influence is dominant, the soldiers are walking from one side to another and Sherif – the monopoly company, owns almost everything from a football club, petrol stations to supermarkets. In contrary, Moldovian capital, Chisinau, is westernized with Andy’s pizza on each corner and Romanian language as official. And so it seems that the countries are connected only by the Orthodox Christian religion.
After 5 days spent in Moldova, we were cycling towards the Romanian borders. The hot weather was replaced by a rainy season. I do not know who had the idea but at some point, we decided to shorten the route over the fields. As soon as we entered we knew it was a bad decision trying to cycle through the fields after the rain which meant just lots of mud. However, none of us wanted to go backwards and so we continued. I think 9 km took us more than 2 hours. We were not able to cycle as our wheels stopped spinning. I remember pushing the fully loaded bike with the strength in my arms and getting a nervous breakdown when I was just not able to push the bike to the hill anymore. And because it would not be enough, I also got a puncture. When we got to the nearest road again I was imagining that there will be some good people in the nearest village who will give us the place to sleep and something to eat and allow us to shower. And we were both laughing about it with Eva.
Sometimes, it seems like if a wish is said loudly it can really happen. We got to the village and started to clean our bikes from all that mud when the old man came from the yard and offered us the water from the pipe to clean our bikes. He was guarding the agricultural yard and offered us to sleep over and tomatoes from his garden and cakes baked by his wife. He was very kind and a good company. He spoke with us Russian/Ukrainian. It was mainly Eva who could talk and so I was listening. When we said we are from the Czech Republic he was thinking of his young age when he was in the army doing his service in Czechoslovakia. In the 60s and onwards there were lots of soldiers from the Soviet Union, including those who occupied our country. And so here we met in the remote village in Moldova, called Bumbăta, with the “enemy” of our parents. Despite this man was the kindest and we were grateful. At the end of the day, he was my wish and those often come with a lesson that there is nothing just black and white written in our lives and history.
So the bike I borrowed from Eva got the name Sobatchka. The female version of the Ukrainian word Sobaka which means a dog. Quickly I have noticed that Ukraine is the country full of stray dogs. They are usually harmless, wandering around the places. They are not so big fans of cyclists and anybody who enters their territory without superiority.
Eva, my friend, was taking a ferry from Georgia to the Port of Chernomorsk, 20 km away from Odessa. The ferry was delayed and I only knew that she is coming around 11pm. I wanted to pick her up and so after a day of wandering around the city, I have decided to cycle to meet her up.
I have not really planned it well and when it got dark I realised that I do not have any lights with me, at least I had my torch on the phone and the external battery pack. Cycling in Odessa is quite adventurous even with lights. When the old bus is driving behind you, once it starts braking, the old brakes are screaming so loud that you wish they will not fail a driver.
What becomes very interesting is the encounter with the dog pack in the dark without lights. As I wrote at the beginning the dogs are not happy to see cyclists and they are trying to catch them. If you are alone in a dark, better for them. I was pushing my bike along the road when I heard barking dogs. At first, nothing so special but then I realized that the closed petrol station which I was coming towards does not have the fence. Quickly I sat on the bike and started to pedal away with the barking dogs running behind me. I escaped pedalling in the dark hoping I will not ride into bigger trouble. I met at least 4 more packs and cycled at the highest speed ever. The only thing you can do is to quickly get out. I was also barking on them back thinking if I will make a sound like a lion they will be scared more than me.
I almost approached the port when I had to pass along the railway tracks. After some experience, you realise that the dogs are hanging around empty places or closed petrol stations. I assumed correctly that the dogs will be behind the corner and so I got off the bike and walked. I saw the pack, they saw me. I stopped and started to walk backwards not looking at them so much. I realised that the only way which is going to port is guarded by dogs. I locked my bike on the nearest bridge and made a plan in a second when I saw a car driving towards the port. I jumped in front of it and with my broken Czech/Ukrainian/Russian/English language I said to a driver that I am not going to pass and he must take me in. I do not even know how I managed to speak so he would understand me. I said something like “Ja na velosypedu a tam sobaki” (I am on the bike and there are the dogs). When I sat in his car I thought that sitting alone in the night in the car with a big man is not really the win but I played on my intuition. Also, the port was just behind the corner and there was no other way to drive.
On the port, I waited another hour for Eva and I had to make a plan on how to get along those dogs on the way back. There was a taxi driver coming in and I convinced him to take us and the bikes back to the city. When Eva arrived she brought 3 more people who she met on board. I was so happy to see her and told her all that adventure. She laughed. And because she had an experience with the shepherd’s dogs in Romania (when a dog bit her friend) she said that there will be so many dog packs along the way that I will definitely have more adventures to remember.
I was not happy at all but thought that every beginning is hard and if I managed alone I must manage with her too. And so because every bicycle I ride needs a name, I chose to name the bicycle “Sobatchka” because from now I will be the one who is barking about riding in my territory.
Here are some pictures from Odessa taken on my not so good phone but for sharing memories it is enough.