Operation Steppenwolf: Part Four


While everything else about my stay in Tatarbunary turned out to be pretty good, there was a bit of a downside to this whole story - I had not been able to get a new supply of water, and that could be expected to turn into a serious problem soon, basically because there weren&39;t many villages coming up. Luckily I spotted a car with some local Ukrainian tourists parked near the road with people having breakfast there. So I rode up to them and asked whether they could give me some water (I had noticed that they had several 5 litre bottles of this magical drink). Obviously, they could, so I was saved for a while.

Once you have water, it doesn&39;t take that much time to find a shop where you can get more water and something to eat as well, which is always pleasant. My first goal for the day was to reach Vylkove - a small city which some call the Ukrainian Venice. Like most locations which are advertised to be similar to Venice, Vylkove is nothing like Venice (of all would-be Venices that I&39;ve visited only the Portuguese Aveiro has at least a small part of truth to their claim), but it doesn&39;t mean that it&39;s not a nice place. On the contrary - it is a nice and pleasant small town with some well preserved sites for tourists (not that I felt like a tourist during this trip - I got kinda offended when I was called one, as I considered myself to be a traveler).

On my way to Vylkove I had noticed that my rear tyre was deflating, not very fast, but still. As I had already used the spare tube, it was clear that I would need to get the tube fixed as soon as possible. In the meantime what I could do and what I did - I switched the tubes and tyres between the wheels, so the tube which was losing air would be on the front wheel which gets less pressure from my weight. Anyway I had to make a stop to pump some more air into the tube every thirty minutes or so, thus when I came to Vylkove I was more interested in getting my bike fixed than in taking a ride on a boat on the Danube. I cycled around the town looking for a bicycle repair shop when a pretty woman stopped me. What I&39;ve learned from my travel experiences is that pretty women never stop you to ask about your travels and to find out where you are from, unless you happen to be stunningly looking yourself. Thus I was not surprised when she told me that she was from a tourism agency and whether she could be of any help to this particular traveler. So I asked her if there&39;s any place where I could get my bike fixed in this town. She told me to go to a tyre service which I had noticed when I entered the town, but I had thought that they only deal with cars there.

However before I got there, I got into a problem which would rarely happen to a local Ukrainian. My tyre was again empty, so I took out the pump from the bag and begain pumping. And at one point an empty water bottle fell out of the bag and started rolling to the middle of the street. A Ukrainian would not mind about the bottle, but I&39;m a bloody eco-friendly European, so my natural reaction was to get the bottle. And at reaching for the bottle, I managed to tear off the hose of the pump. A leaking tube and no pump - what a great combination! Luckily I was able to fix the hose, and to get the pump working (at least partly), thus all was not so bad afterwards, but still I cycled as fast as I could to the tyre service. Indeed it turned out that my tubes could be fixed there, what a joy! And half an hour later I was able to move on, having paid almost nothing for the service that was of an immense value for my journey. Cheap labour.

On every previous day I had thought "it is hot here now", but on this day I understood - the previous days had been kinda cool, mostly thanks to the rain and clouds. On this day the sun was shining all the time and it was really difficult to cycle, which brought me to a decision to start at 5:30 in the morning on the next day. My water consumption rose to at least 5 litres per 100 km - an average performance for a car, luckily water is much cheaper though. And, man, were the roads terrible on that day! Previously I had not really understood why everyone was complaining about the roads of Ukraine so much - now it all became perfectly clear. If a road is considered to be paved in Ukraine, it usually doesn&39;t mean a thing. It can very well happen that this road hasn&39;t seen any repair works since the 1970s. Or it can happen that this road is laid out from concrete blocks which now have huge and deep gaps between them. Of course, it is all part of the experience, and a valuable part at that, so I&39;m not really sure that I want this to change to the better, because only through hardship you can find yourself. Or not.

Still, it was so hot that I decided to go for a swim in the Danube. And as the river bed there was not exactly pleasant, I went into the water in my shoes, so this was probably the first time when I swam wearing shoes. It wasn&39;t exactly comfortable, but at least I felt safe. I wondered what would happen if I decided to swim over the Danube - as it was Romania on the other bank - but the river was way too wide and this idea way too crazy for me to try it out in practice. Instead I got out of the river and cycled on. And I regretted keeping the wet shoes on my feet pretty soon, as the water that was still inside caused my already seriously burned feet to ache even more than before, and it turned out to be a difficult task to get the shoes off in order to switch back to sandals (but now - wearing socks, as my feet were way too red to be exposed to even more sunshine).

I had envisioned myself reaching Izmail at around four or five PM, but I was lucky to get there at half past seven - the distance turned out to be longer than I had thought and I couldn&39;t really cycle that well in the heat. Still the last stop before the city was something special - the Southernmost point of the Struve arc. As thanks to geocaching I have visited every Struve arc location in Latvia (16 in total), I&39;m very well familiar with this UNESCO World Heritage site, and I was eager to visit this particular location. It is located in a small village less than 10 km outside of Izmail, I had marked down the location on the map and at first I felt very happy that I had - because it seemed to me that there was no sign leading to the site. Which seemed strange, but still - possible in Ukraine. The street that was supposed to lead me to the memorial site did not look like something made for tourists either - I doubt that a regular car could go up that hill on that particular street. After I had visited the site, it turned out that tourists were supposed to take the next parallel street, at the beginning of which there was an info sign and the street itself was paved. So I had been too skeptical about Ukrainians!

Once I finally got to Izmail, the main interest was obviously food. Oh, and to take a look at the city, which I did while looking for food. Actually, Izmail is nice, I would had liked to see more of it, but not on that particular evening. Finally I found a cafeteria on one of the central squares of the city and went in. This time I wanted to have a big and pleasant meal, not like on previous occasions (the meat without side dishes two days ago and a very shabby looking meal in the cafeteria in Tatarbunary), so I ordered soup, main course and a milkshake. The waitress told me that I would have to wait for thirty minutes, which seemed absolutely fine with me. A while later she came back to tell me that the waiting time would be AT LEAST forty minutes and that there would be no milkshake, as they&39;ve run out of milk. I wasn&39;t exactly happy, but I didn&39;t want to look for a different place either. So I waited. And waited. And 90 minutes later I finally got my dinner. And it was good, so - no hard feelings!

What worried me though was finding a place to sleep. It was already after 10 PM, and at that time it is already pitch black there, not like in Latvia where it is very rarely dark in the summer. And I was way too tired to cycle far away from the city, and according to the map the first suitable place for camping would come after something like 20 kilometers. So - what do I do? The obvious - I camp in the city! This doesn&39;t seem like a very safe plan, but it is safer than to cycle in the dark - I prefer to be able to see holes in the road. And to be seen by drunk drivers. So I found a park still in Izmail, and decided to camp there. Again - there were quite many stray dogs around, but I didn&39;t care about them too much, and I&39;m more afraid of people anyway. Since I was not too far from the road I tried not to attract to much attention to my humble person and used the flashlight only when no cars were passing by. I had a bit of a scare with my tent when I could not find one of the pieces of a pole that was supposed to be supporting the tent. It took me a while to find a solution how to put the tent up in a way that it would at least partly resemble a tent, and then I found the missing piece. Hurray! The tent was usable again, and despite it being still very hot outside I had a great night sleep.