Sunday, August 28, 2011

Riding The Crazy Train to Kazantip

I never know where I am going to end up next; heads I go to the former top-secret Nuclear Submarine Base city of the USSR, Sevastopol, tails I head west to Bulgaria ... *Heads*
I purchase one of three remaining tickets at the train station and my eleven hour window leaves me ample time to go for a run one the shores of the Black Sea.
The beaches of Odessa are not nice, the waters of this port city dirtied by the huge cargo ships arriving into the deep water harbor. Venture more than a few feet off the beach and you likely won't be able to stand. I'm not sorry I came to Odessa, but I'm certainly ready to move on.

Losing My Computer
The owner of my hostel is a very nice, very tall Polish girl named Silva. She calls me a taxi, and has arranged for me to stay in her boyfriend's hostel in Sevastopol. She scribbles some directions on how to get there from the train station on a piece of paper as the cabbie calls to say he's downstairs. She hugs me good-bye and sends me on my way.
Ten minutes later I am at the train station. I grab my backpack, jiggle my suitcase out of the trunk, and pay the cabbie. I take four steps towards the tracks and stop cold, something is dreadfully wrong ... My computer bag is not slung over my shoulder. The taxi is gone! Fuck! That's my life support.
What can I do? Silva gave me that paper, maybe her phone number is on it. Just the number of her boyfriend Adam in Sevastopol.
RING, "Hello."
"Adam! Your girlfriend put in me in a cab to come to come visit you, but I just left my computer inside!"
"I'll call you right back."
Two minutes later my phone rings. "Hey, it's Adam, they called the driver, meet the taxi back exactly where he dropped you off, he's on his way."
Oh my God, am I going to get lucky beyond belief? Others might describe him as an old man driving a beat-up taxi, but I see a noble knight, riding in on his trusted white steed to save the day. I quickly open up the back door, my black and white striped computer bag still there. I'm beyond relieved. I pull 50 grivnas out of my wallet and hand it to him as a tip. Gratitude crosses his face, he takes a deep breath and extends his hand to me, wanting to thank me for my generosity.
I have to be honest, a little quick thinking, caller ID, and an ample amount of good fortune is all that saved me. I never expected to see my computer again. A few minutes later, the taxi would have picked up another fare, and the passenger would have likely seen the computer as a month's wages. Honesty is far more difficult when you're poor.
The Beach in Kazantip- way nicer than Odessa
The Crazy Train
My ticket is printed in Cyrillic, and I have no clue where to go, or what car I'm in. There is almost zero English spoken here. An agent is stationed in front of every car checking tickets. They don't even make a cursory attempt to speak English, they just point me in a direction and send me on my way. Might as well be playing "hot or cold" with my eyes closed.
Eventually I find my car and hand my ticket to a surly female employee. She takes it, motions for me to get on, but won't hand me back my voucher.
"Huh, what proof do I have when I'm on the train that I paid?"
There's not even a glimmer of understanding in her eyes. She's impatiently waiting for me to board. I clearly can't argue with this wall, I'll have to take my chances.

This is an overnight journey lasting twelve plus hours. Each compartment has four bunks, two on each wall, and I have to assume I just choose an empty bed since I have no ticket telling me which is mine specifically (not that I could read it anyways.) I open a random door, stow my suitcase, brush my teeth, and climb into bed as it's well after midnight.
An hour later I'm dead asleep. The door opens, it's Surly. She looks up at me and yells at me in Ukrainian.
"You took my ticket! I paid," I retort  to whatever she said.
She's clearly unhappy with me, and motions for me to come down. I can't imagine the others in my compartment are thrilled that their sleep being is disturbed by this ruckus. I need to find someone here that speaks English. I'd also like to win the lottery.
I am made to understand that I'm an idiot for getting into the wrong compartment; like that's my fault. I gather my luggage, double checking my computer bag, and head down the corridor with her. She opens the door to another room and ushers me in. "Wouldn't it have been easier just to put the other person in my place?" Wasted breath.

There's a young couple in this room who speak, can it be, some English. Dmytro and Viktoriia introduce themselves, they're casino dealers from Odessa, working on Celebrity Cruise Lines, an American company, on vacation, thus back in the Ukraine. It's late, we'll talk in the morning.

Change of Plans
Dawn arrives and everyone's up an hour later. We start chatting, they're quite nice and amicable people.
"You're out here, in the middle of the Ukraine, alone?" Dmytro asks.
"Yup."
"You're brave."
I don't see what's brave about it. If I die, I die, no big deal, but it's not the first time I've heard this refrain. I think of brave as travelling around the Mexican/US border and telling everybody you're DEA, but maybe that's just suicidal.
"Why are you going to Sevastopol? There's nothing there except a naval base," explains Dmytro.
"Where are you guys going?" I ask.
"Kazantip. I'm going there to learn how to kite surf, and there's a big party electronica party there."
"That sounds more fun than a naval base."
"I'd say do."
"Mind if I join?"
Dmytro looks at Viktoriia, they shrug their shoulders.
"Sure, we'll even call the woman at the place we're staying and see if she has an extra room to rent,"
That's called changing plans on a dime. Brave? Crazy? Or just a impulsive? One thing's for sure- I never know where I'm going to end up next.

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