Operation Steppenwolf: Part Seven


The strategy to finish early the previous day paid off nicely - at five in the morning I was as fresh as one can be on the seventh day of cycling in a row. It was cool outside again and the first twenty or thirty kilometers flew by easily.

Again an issue was important - to get some food. For that the main thing that I needed was cash, because I hadn&39;t bothered to find an ATM in Cahul. I still had some Romanian money (the equivalent of 10 EUR, maybe even less) and some Ukrainian money, but you can&39;t pay with that in Moldova. In the worst case scenario I would have to cycle all the way to Cimislia - the only town of reasonable size on this day&39;s route - without having a bite to eat. And that would be something around 80 km. I was in a philosophical mood, but not to the extent of surviving without food without any regrets. The lucky break came in Iargara (after something around 50 km of cycling) - I was a currency exchange office. You might think that 10 EUR is not that much money, and you would be right, but for my daily expenses along the road that was more than enough, so I was determined to change my Romanian money to Moldovian money. However it turned out that the exchange office did not accept Romanian money. I also had some currency from Ukraine but I planned to spend it in the last day of my trip, so I asked whether there was a place nearby where they would accept Romanian currency, and indeed in this small town was a bank where I should be able to exchange Romanian money as well.

Finding the bank was no problem (especially after a friendly policeman has told me the way), but getting inside it was. There was a long queue of people waiting for... I have no idea what exactly. While I was trying to understand whether I should wait with all of them, bypass the queue or leave and try to get to Cimislia without eating, a man came to talk to me. He looked approximately like this:

With the exception that he wore a wife beater short and slippers. In case you&39;re not familiar with the dude in the picture, that&39;s a character from the book (and movie) "The Little Golden Calf" - a small time criminal without any great ambitions who makes his living by pretending to be a son of a dead celebrity. This Shura whom I met (I don&39;t remember if he told me his name, but most likely it doesn&39;t fit him as well as the one I gave him) decided that it was his mission to help me exchange my money. I can&39;t say that I understood his motivation and I can&39;t say that I liked him, but I couldn&39;t get rid of him, so I didn&39;t have much choice what to do anyway. He thought that I should skip the queue, thus angering all the other people around, he asked me many questions and didn&39;t listen to my answers, and he made me very angry about my country of origin. When he found out that I was from Latvia, he told me that everyone in Moldova tries to buy a Latvian passport because they come cheap and with a Latvian passport you can travel around Europe easily. "I have such a passport myself," he boasted, "according to it I live in a village called Babite. Do you know such a village?" Damn, I was so unhappy that - yes, I do know Babīte. Which essentially means - the guy is not lying, he probably really has a Latvian passport. And there are some local assholes who make a living by selling our passports to creeps like that guy. Ok, I know that many Russian businessmen have bought Latvian passports - but those people at least have some serious money - I can imagine easily how they find corrupt people here in Latvia and buy their documents. But this Shura character... how much would a guy like this pay for a passport? Certainly not more than a couple of hundred USD. Are we really this cheap? Are we really this pathetic? This was such a total downer.

In addition to dissappointing me about Latvia, Shura made me nervous by constantly reminding me that under no circumstances should I lose my foreign currency. Why did he have to speak about that? It made me uneasy, because there wasn&39;t really a reason for me to lose my money, other than that he might somehow get it from me. Not that I would worry much about losing 10 EUR, I&39;d be much more careful about my passport than the money. Finally I got into the money exchange room, got my Moldovian money and left Shura as quickly as possible. Somehow I really disliked being in his presence. The guy was not particularly drunk, he didn&39;t seem dangerous or even a smart schemer, but there was something about him which put me in an absolute mode of distrust, and I had no intention of fighting this attitude, even if most likely he was quite harmless.

It was so good to buy some food! There was a bit of a funny episode in the shop though. As usually, I wanted to get a yoghurt. But when I asked for it, the woman working there took a look at the yoghurt carton and told me: "It has expired a week ago." Obviously I said that in that case I could do without a yoghurt. And where do you think did she put the old yoghurt? Back on the shelf. Which probably means that she thought that I was too nice a person to get this old yoghurt, but should the next customer be less pleasant than me, he would get it. Awesome! I cycled ten or fifteen more minutes and then sat down under a tree to have a quick meal. After having eaten, I had the biggest scare of the entire trip. There was no wallet in my pocket! I couldn&39;t had left it at the shop, I clearly rememebered that, so it must have fallen out while I cycled. What am I going to do without money in a strange country? I&39;ll have to survive for two days with just water and half a loaf of bread. What was I thinking?! I dislike admitting that, but I panicked. I checked all my pockets again, ran quickly through the contents of the bags - no wallet in sight! I started cycling back hoping to see the wallet lying somewhere on the side of the road. Then a few minutes later I decided to think a little. That&39;s a practice that sometimes helps. The pockets of my shorts have buttons. Nothing can&39;t fall out while I&39;m cycling. The wallet was not to be found in the place where I ate, so I hadn&39;t dropped it while sitting down either. Perhaps I could have thrown it in my big bag along with a bar of chocolates. And - voila - there it was! That was such a relief! I had already thought that maybe the Shura character had hypnotized me and forced me to leave my wallet somewhere (you never know what crazy kinds of shit are possible in this world), but luckily everything was alright.

Overall this day seemed to consist of many ups and downs - both emotionaly and physically. The road itself constantly went either up or down. Few things in life beat the feeling you get going downhill on a bicycle at a big speed, feeling kinda scared, very excited and just great! Obviously when you have a long uphill stretch which takes so much effort that you prefer to push the bike all the way up, your attitude is slightly different. But at this point I had learned to enjoy the latter kind of terrain nearly as much as the former. Yes, it was clear that I wouldn&39;t get to Tiraspol on this day - but I really didn&39;t have to! It felt just great - to cycle, to make stops, to sing "Born to be wild" as loud as I could, to drink lots of water, to sleep for an hour by the road, to go on when I wanted to, to stop when I wanted to, to see the bright sides of being alone. This was the day when something completely clicked inside me, and I came out a different person afterwards. More relaxed, more happy. And the reasons for that? No real reasons. It&39;s just that at some point I felt like as a snake I hade shed my old skin and become a different person. Currently more than a week has passed since my return home, and I still feel to be this different person. I can&39;t say that I had an encounter with God on that day, because like I said - there wasn&39;t anything in particular that happened, but I was affected. "You don&39;t have to believe in God in order to love Him" - this phrase came to me, and I&39;m not really sure what to do with it, or even - what it actually means in my case. No, that doesn&39;t mean that my sarcasm is completely gone, that I&39;m going to turn into a saint and that I&39;ll never be nasty to anyone ever again, I have not turned into a reborn Christian, but...

Thus, does it really matter, how many kilometers I cycled and where I made camp in the evening? No, it does not. But as a matter of fact, something had struck me to such an extent that I didn&39;t even want to put up a tent and I was prepared to sleep outside as I was, embracing the nature, the birds around me, not caring much about all the mosquitos around me. Still at some point reality kicked in and after a few hours I realized that there were too many insects around and that I would feel more comfortable in a tent, even if I won&39;t be able to see the stars, because I had already seen everything that I needed.