Operation Steppenwolf: Part Three


For the next few days I did not have any strict goals on where I should be at what time - I didn&39;t have any hosts for the two nights in a row, so theoretically I could camp wherever I wanted to and at what time I wanted to. Still I had planned to reach Tatarbunary on the first day and Izmail on the second. Not that it mattered that much, but sometimes it is better to set yourself a goal. And sometimes it is better not to set one - depending on how you feel.

As Anatoliy had provided me with breakfast (and I had filled my water bottles in his apartment), I had some food left from the previous day, which was a nice motivation - to cycle for a while and then make stops once in a while eating this and that. There wasn&39;t really much going on - just me, my bicycle and the road, which was exactly what I needed. Little by little I was able to free my mind from the daily burdens, everyday troubles and to start appreciate simply being alive, without worrying much about the next turn awaiting ahead. Also it was nice to cycle, because the first part of the day was cloudy. The road lead me through small villages where I saw many goats and just a few people. And I saw many pelicans - birds which you don&39;t see in Latvia much.

I made a longer stop to eat cherries. I do like cherries in Latvia, but in the South they taste differently. And especially - after you have already cycled for some hours. When I was nearly done, a sporty looking cyclist stop by to say Hello. As he told me, he could easily identify me as a tourist because I was wearing a helmet. "Nobody cares about staying alive here", said the man, who didn&39;t have a helmet himself. However he asked me if he could ride along for a while, to which I obviously said Yes. The man was just doing some sports without any more specific goals, basically what he was intending to do was to cycle through some fields nearby, as he had already done before. The first thing I noticed about his bike was that he had a Garmin GPS attached to it (a GPSMAP 62 series device to be more specific). In Latvia this would be a clear indication that the guy was a geocacher. In Ukraine - certainly not. Still I told him about geocaching, and he seemed to be genuinely interested in this kind of a hobby. Sadly there wasn&39;t a single geocache in the radius of 100 km from our location, because in the conversation with the man I got the feeling that he would have the potential of being the local Gatisk (the most legendary Latvian geocacher - this is a notice for the case that you are not from Latvia and are not familiar with this legendary person). Also the man offended my bicycle: "By the looks of your bicycle, I suppose you won&39;t have any regrets to throw it away when your trip is done" he said. As a matter of fact - I would have regrets, and I am perfectly happy with my simple form of transport. After approximately 10 kilometers we parted our ways.

The last part of the day&39;s journey was the most difficult - it was quite hot (although it would get hotter over the next few days) and I wasn&39;t feeling too fresh. But the heat and exhaustion had their positive aspects - this was the afternoon when I made my first longer stop during a cycling day where I did absolutely nothing. I stopped to have a rest in the shade under a tree, and I didn&39;t need to eat something, to drink something, to read a book or to plan my journey onwards. I simply rested and absorbed the world around me.

It was around 5 PM when I reached the town of Tatarbunary. The plan was to see the town, have lunch there and cycle some more kilometers looking for the perfect spot for the tent. But you can never know how things will turn out. There&39;s not really that much to see in the town, which is mostly know for the fact that the poet Pushkin spent a couple of hours there once. I&39;ve never been interested to find out how much Pushkin traveled in his life, but I would presume that were should be quite many places which he visited for such a short period of time. Certainly I know that when I will be declared as a genius of the early 21th century (like there is any doubt about that?), the future generations will have one hell of a time placing monuments and plaques dedicated to me all over the place. And for sure my stay in Tatarbunary will be more legendary than that of Pushkin because I spent more time there, even if I didn&39;t plan to.

I cycled around the town looking for any impressive sites, and a statue of Pushkin was the only thing that really caught my attention, but what I was really looking for was something entirely different - a decently looking cafeteria. Finally I found one on the outskirts of the town. There was a group of men sitting at a table near the entrance and most of them didn&39;t look too friendly to me, but I didn&39;t care - I just wanted to eat something quickly and to move on. I wanted to find the key for my bicycle lock, when one of the men called out: "You don&39;t have to lock the bicycle, everyone who steals stuff around here is at this table!" I don&39;t know whether that was a joke or not, but I decided to trust the man. Thus I left my bicycle unprotected and entered the cafeteria. I ordered something to eat and went back outside. As I wanted to sit down at an empty table, the leader of the group of people at the other table told me to join them. So I did.

It turned out that they were all celebrating the first birthday of the leader&39;s godson. And the cafeteria also belonged to that man, Alex was his name. They all were already in the real celebratory mood - that is, vodka was flowing and I was asked to drink for the health of the boy. I refused politely saying that I don&39;t drink ever. They kinda accepted my attitude, but still at least once every five minutes they asked me again to drink at least some vodka, and again and again I refused. They were surprised about how far I had cycled (not that it really was that much), told me not to cycle any further on that particular evening as there would be a storm coming, and they practically forced me to eat some of their food. And eating is something that I rarely refuse to do, so I ate and ate, until I was full. The men around me were of a category of people that I usually don&39;t feel very comfortable around - with shaved heads, with typical gym muscles and tattoos of the kind you usually get in prison (for example, on your knuckles). Their topics of conversation were not exactly my area of expertise either - prices of cars and cigarettes in various European countries, differences between various brands of luxus cars and in which countries these cars are built. Also Alex was not capable of remembering my name and constantly called me Roma, because this was one of the few names that he could remember. Meanwhile the guy had some experiences in Latvia - he had visited our capital last year together with his wife for an event of Mercedes owners, and he was very fond of the car prices in our country. And of the fact that it was allowed to smoke on the street in Latvia (not that it isn&39;t allowed in the Ukraine). His choice of words was sometimes funny, like when he told me about being stopped by a policeman in Riga next to a museum dedicated to the Russian poet Lermontov. I assured him that there&39;s no such museum in Riga. To which he replied - ok, it wasn&39;t exactly Lermontov, but some other dickhead then. And he was eager to obtain from me information about the costs of prostitutes&39; services in Riga. He didn&39;t believe me much when I told him that I wasn&39;t an expert on this issue, and he estimated that 20 EUR would be a fair amount. To which I couldn&39;t really comment much.

Some time later the storm did indeed come and I had to agree that the idea to stay the night in Tatarbunary was not so bad after all. I refused all offers about nearby hotels, motels, guesthouses and other civilised forms of sleep because I was on a cycling trip after all, and the last thing that I wanted was to turn into a regular tourist. Thus I ended up accepting an offer from one of the guys to camp in a nearby area belonging to him, building my tent under a roof in a garage. I did not know that the area was a junkyard, but you can&39;t ask for everything in this world, can you. It was still very early, but I decided that it would be best for me to go to sleep - even if I didn&39;t really want to sleep just yet, but I grew tired from the constant "are you sure that you won&39;t drink even the tiniest sip of vodka?". Also I didn&39;t understand whether I should pay for my dinner (which I had ordered before I became "friends" with Alex and his gang), so I didn&39;t. I was told that the area in which I will sleep would be locked for the night and that I should tell at what time I will wake up, so a guard could let me out. I told that I would leave at seven.

I have camped quite a lot in the last couple of years, but this was certainly the first time when I built my tent upon concrete. And to make the matters more fun, I did not have any kind of matress to put under the sleeping bag. Would I be able to sleep this way? Previously there had been many occasions when ground not smooth enough had bothered me and I got nearly no sleep at all throughout the night. And I wasn&39;t even particularly worried about sleeping in a locked junkyard and about the nearby partying "friends" from the past evening.

When I woke up, it turned out that there was no guard to let me out. I tried knocking on the door of the building where the guard was supposed to be, but got no reply. Maybe I was being held hostage? Who knows. So I decided that the best approach would be to leave right away, without waiting for anyone to see me, so I packed all my belongings, threw the bicycle and the bags over the rather high fence and then got over myself. My stay in Tatarbunary had come to an end - it was a fun stay, I must say. I met people of the kind that I rarely encounter, I had a free dinner and I had slept in a place where te rain couldn&39;t get me. Isn&39;t it all too grand?

Goodbye, my strange Ukrainian friends!