Thursday, 28 June 2018

Day 22

The first task today was to pack everything into Chappie. That included, of course, my now fixed mattress. Secondly, I’d been invited by Vasile for a proper Romanian breakfast. There was sausage, bacon on a bed of Polenta with fried eggs and salami. Despite not being anything I’ve ever had for breakfast before, it was very good indeed. Vasile packed up the leftovers for my lunch. I thanked him for his kindness and returned over the road to Chappie in front of the hotel. 

Hotel owner Manual was standing by Chappie and I’m glad that I got to thank him again for his support and his lovely mother too. Even though she doesn’t speak English I got a real sense of kindness from her. 

I waved them goodbye to them and to Vasily as I ran out of the street. I turned left out of the street and I don’t mind admitting that the tears ran down my face. For as long as I can remember, I’ve been terrible at goodbyes. Saying goodbye to these kind people in a place of peace, quiet and normality really hit me hard. I rang Donna from the main road out of Satu Mare and, as she has done so many times before Around The World, she talked me round. She has a real knack of explaining things to me in such a way that everything is usually ok at the end. I’ve also got Helen in Perth for support and I have spoken to her a few times since I left Belgrade too. Helen kindly gave me a room before I started running across Australia and Donna and I have been friends with her ever since. 

Anyway, back to today and I was stopped at the 7 mile point by some police officers. They asked about my journey and I offered to show them my passport. They declined and opted for a selfie instead. 

The policemen that stopped me at the 11 mile point wanted to see my passport and also took a look inside Chappie. I lost a bit of time as a result and it wasn’t to be the last time I had to show someone the contents inside Chappie today. 

At the 13 mile point I met a man called Peter. He had previously seen me last week north of Arad. Peter owns a blueberry farm further up my route and he promised to give me a punnet when I passed.

With the prospect of fresh fruit for lunch I decided to push on and not have my scheduled rest. I saw Peter again after 18 miles with his wife Daniela. They used to live in the USA which made for a good conversation in English. This is where the day got challenging! 

Peter said that I wouldn’t be able to cross the border into Romania on foot. The alternative crossing was 60 miles away and would totally scupper my plans for getting to Kalush by next Wednesday. Peter and Daniela rang someone that they knew in Romanian customs. The upshot of this conversation was that the Romanian customs would allow me to cross through their border checkpoint on foot. There was no guarantee that the Ukrainian checkpoint would allow me to do the same. 

After the phone call and true to his word, Peter brandished a bag full of blueberries and apricots. We swapped phone numbers, I thanked them for their help and was on my way again. 

I entered Halmeu at the 19 mile point. This would be the final town that I would visit in Romania. A family waved at me in the middle of the town. It was Peter and Daniels’s daughter and her relations. She was American which obviously made for another good English conversation. I handed over my remaining Romanian money to the children. It was only a few pounds and I had no use for it. It was nice to talk about my journey so far and where I was going. I said goodbye and I made my way to the border. 

The Romanian border police were expecting me and were very polite indeed. “What a nice way to end my time in Romania” I thought to myself. They said that I could continue on foot but there were no guarantees that the Ukrainians would do the same. 

I approached the Ukrainian checkpoint where an armed officer told me to halt and move to the side. He took my passport and I waited for 15 minutes in blazing sunshine. This was the 21.5 mile point for the day. He got an English speaking lady on the telephone and a senior officer in plain clothes also arrived to look at my passport and Chappie. 

I told the English speaking lady about my purpose in Ukraine and also my schedule. She was very polite, listened to my story and said that passing into Ukraine on foot would not be possible. The armed officers flagged down a van and we lifted Chappie into the back of it. 

Chappie’s front wheel was tied to the van with the hatch end hanging out. I know as well as anyone that rules are rules so I was happy to accept this as a solution if it meant getting into Ukraine. I jumped into the passenger seat and we drove slowly forwards passed many cars and lorries in a very long queue.

At the passport control point I had to empty the contents of Chappie and was shown a packet of pills by the customs officer. I immediately reached into my medical bag and showed them that I was carrying Brufen and Paracetamol only. I was exhausted at this point and put the contents of Chappie back inside.

The queue of traffic to get into Romania was huge! I bet it could take days to cross the border. After 45 minutes or so, our van was let into Ukraine and the kind people who drove me across pulled over. We lifted Chappie out of the van and I’m pleased to report that there was no damage.

I passed a few gas stations and eventually found a store where I could buy a Ukrainian SIM card. The lady in the shop was very helpful despite neither of us being able to understand what the other was saying. Somehow, I left with a SIM card and a hearty thumbs up from the lady.

I received a message from Peter that their Ukrainian friend Erik had found a nearby hotel should I need it. I rang Erik and he drove to meet me. We had been talking for only a few minutes when I looked behind at a very black sky. Erik told me to take cover in a nearby gas station. Just as I got there, the heavens opened and the wind picked up considerably. I parked Chappie up and we sheltered inside the gas station. While inside, Erik arranged for Chappie to be stored on the forecourt and he drove me to the hotel.

We arrived at the hotel, 5 miles away. Erik had a look at my route to Kalush and as a result, I’m taking a slightly longer road tomorrow. This is to avoid a stretch of road in very poor condition. He also stated what I’d been expecting and that is that there are some steep climbs coming my way.

So that’s day 22 over with 22.5 miles done. It’s 6 days to Kalush and I’ll be doing everything that I can to get there on time. I think that there are very interesting times ahead!