Saturday, May 17, 2014
The Strange Trip From Moldova to Romania: May 17, 2014
We're in Bucharest, Romania. We took a minibus from Chisinau to Bucharest. It was supposed to take 8 hours, but because the driver drove just below the speed of light, we made it in 7. He barreled down the road with his left hand holding his cell phone to his ear and the other hand only occasionally making contact with the steering wheel. Feeling the need for a little more security, I discovered that Sergei's seat belts were only window dressing because there was nothing for the belt to buckle into.
We arranged this ride in advance. I thought it was a private minibus with only Dan and me as the passengers. This morning, we met Anatol who was supposed to drive us, but he handed us off to a different driver, Sergei, and a different minibus. Sergei already had one passenger bound for Bucharest--she was sitting in the first row of seats. The back row of seats was empty and at about a 45-degree recline. Sergei said he could not stand the seats upright until after the border. So, we piled pillows behind our backs and the three of us set off with Sergei.
After getting through Moldova customs, the driver stopped at the Moldova Duty Free store between the borders. He went inside and returned to accompany the other passenger inside. They came out with a four-liter bottle of Chivas Whiskey. We waited a little longer and the driver put another four-liter bottle into the minibus. The second one was placed next to our luggage in the back of the bus.
At the Romanian border, the customs official questioned the driver and the third passenger. He did a cursory search of the front of the bus and looked under the hood. The passenger, who did not smoke, admitted to having 2 packs of cigarettes. Next, all the luggage was unloaded; the customs official only pawed through only the passenger's suitcase. When Sergei put the bags back into the back of the bus, he off-loaded several packs of cigarettes from his pockets. I'm betting he told the customs official that the second 4-liter bottle of whiskey belonged to us.
After passing the border, the passenger transferred the cigarette packs to the driver. Several miles into Romania, Sergei stopped along side the roadway, and another vehicle pulled up next to us. Sergei gave the booze to the guy in that car.
Finally in Bucharest, Sergei pulled into a gas station. He made us get out of the van and he got into the backseat. There was a lot of noise inside and the van was rocking. Sergei got out, met another driver and gave him a bag of cigarettes. The guy handed Sergei cash. Sergei told us that this guy would take us to our hotel. We got our bags and got into this stranger's car hoping that we weren't going to become forced laborers somewhere.
This unknown driver delivered us and our bags to our hotel which was only about 10 minutes from the gas station stop.
Once settled in Bucharest, Dan and I walked around the old city area filled with galleries and restaurants. The sun was getting low backlighting people and the backlighting made little bits of pollen floating in the air look like fireflies. It was beautiful. We ate dinner at an outdoor cafe and at 9:00 pm it was still light and warm.
Tomorrow, we meet our guide and driver for a 4-day tour of Transylvania.