Day 44 - Satu Mare to Berehove: Back in the USSR - No More Taxi Drivers - CycleBlaze

February 28, 2015

Day 44 - Satu Mare to Berehove: Back in the USSR

From Satu Mare, it was a fast ride to the border at Halmeu. I would have felt like I was flying except that it was market day and so I kept getting stuck behind horse-drawn carts. Take that, horses: my .1 horsepower just bested your 1 horsepower.

There was a slight complication involved with the border crossing at Halmeu, being that bicycles are not allowed to cross. (There is a pedestrian and bicycle crossing at Sighetu Marmeti but I am lazy and didn't want to go there. Or maybe I'll be generous to myself and say it was my Ukrainian deadline that prompted me to go to Halmeu anyway.) Fortunately, I had a plan. Which mostly involved being audacious and ballsy: I was going to hitchhike, across an international border, with a bicycle. I certainly wouldn't transport a stranger across a border, but I was confident that somebody would.

Traffic was light, but most of the vehicles were empty, so I was optimistic. A transport truck stopped, and then a station wagon, but both declined to take me. Really? I'm standing by the side of the road, one hand on my bike, other thumb out in the classic hitchhiker's pose, and beyond me there are two houses, a small field, and then the border post a mere 200 or 300m away. What could you possibly think I want other than a lift across the border? Looking for someone to take my photo, perhaps? Or maybe you think I don't know that very official-looking control point is a border crossing? Sometimes I just don't understand people. I think the feeling is mutual.

With an assortment of empty vehicles driving by and all ignoring me, I started to doubt my plan, which mostly hinged on being a girl and therefore viewed as a safe passenger. But after an hour and a half, a tiny, ancient Lada stopped, and the driver, a Hungarian-Ukrainian woman, helped me stuff my rear wheel into the trunk, the rest of the bike hanging out the back. She was really chatty with the Romanian guards, who were amused to see had picked up a tourist, and we were soon on our way to the Ukrainian side. Ukraine welcomed us with potholes and unfriendly guards. Lots of them checked the luggage without actually opening anything, though the immigration officer wanted to see what was in my handlebar bag. Apparently taking it with me when I exited the car was a highly suspicious move because he eyed it as if I was trying to hide contraband. I think he was secretly disappointed at the contents, and openly disappointed that he had nothing he could use as an excuse to make my life difficult. I was a bit disappointed I wasn't asked for a bribe. I think between all my former USSR border crossings, I can piece together a nearly complete picture of what travel used to be like--but I'm missing the bribe experience. And also being detained for no reason, which would be a great story.

But I digress. I got dropped off in the village, put my bags back on the bike, and began slowly weaving among the potholes. It's absolutely true what everyone says--the roads are horrible. The one I was on had a route number that supposedly designates an expressway. I think understanding this is the key to understanding Ukraine. This is not a place to rush through on a bicycle; progress will be slow, so best to relax and enjoy the experience. And for the most part, traffic was light enough that it was a fun ride. And it wasn't rough the whole way; there were times when the road was smooth for 13, or even 14, meters. The potholes had potholes, or sometimes revealed cobbles under the asphalt, the dirt at the side of the road had potholes, but I could often use the whole road if I needed to. Watching the cars doing this Ukrainian Slalom, I started thinking it was all very poetic, this image of everyone finding their own path, their own way. I thought it was perfect. I think I have been spending far too much time alone with my thoughts lately.

Practical info: Berehove has at least one decent, well-priced restaurant/hotel with friendly staff. Good place to stop for the day. I didn't spot an ATM in the first few villages after the border, but found one soon enough. Nowhere to change my Romanian money, but I should have no problem changing that at a bank. But this isn't relevant to anyone planning a trip, because it would be stupid to try crossing at a border that cyclists aren't allowed to cross. Why would you even consider such a thing?

Last photo in Romania
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Surprise bike path that lasted a few kilometers until it reached a border crossing with Hungary
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This is apparently an expressway. Or maybe just wishful thinking.
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This is the shiniest Soviet monument I've ever seen. (The Soviet symbols really are shiny, it just doesn't show up well in the photo. I blame the lighting and the fact that I have expectations that my phone's camera will work well.)
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Today's ride: 72 km (45 miles)
Total: 2,067 km (1,284 miles)

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