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Published: September 6th 2008
Just a quick update while I'm killing time in the free internet room of the hostel. My bus out of Istanbul was sketchy from the start. It consisted of only myself and five Romanian ladies, all running some kind of illegal trafficking scheme. The bus employees were in on it too. They had bags full of knock-off Nike, Reebok and Adidas gear as well as a bunch of jewelry. They also bought way more than the maximum amount of cigarettes allowed at the duty free shops both at the Bulgarian and Romanian borders. They had me go in and buy the maximum for myself also. They also gave me some jewelry to wear in case the border patrol had any questions. Don't worry, that part was legal (I think). Despite the no-smoking signs in the bus, I was the only one not chain smoking on the entire 12 hour ride from Istanbul to Bucharest. The Romanian ladies were all really cool though. They consistently offered me cigarettes even though I kept declining. And they called me "English" because they couldn't remember my name.
The Bulgarian border crossing was excruciating. I'm not sure of the exact amount, but I know they paid over $100 US in bribes just so they wouldn't search the contents of illegal merchandise. In the end, they didn't, but it still took over an hour to get through.
The Romanian crossing surprisingly went well. They paid their bribes and we were through in about 20 minutes. Then just as we reached the city limits of Bucharest, there was a road block and the cops directed the bus to the side. There were already two buses pulled over, each one being raided. There were undercover cops wearing ski masks going through all the boxes and bags. There were at least 4 complete camera crews too. I didn't understand if it was high season for this or there are just no other news stories in Romania this time of year.
The Romanian ladies were trying to let them let me go. All I heard in the Romian conversation was "Americana" and "tourist." But they said I was part of the bus, so I had to stay. But they let me go inside and go to sleep (it was 3 am at this point). And I don't think they searched my bag.
After a while, I woke up to some random dude driving the bus. Only 2 of the 5 Romanian ladies were left in the bus. No one spoke English so I never found out what happened. We got to the "bus station" which was nothing more than a shack with a driveway. I was in the process of negotiating a taxi fare when one of the ladies' husband said he would drive me to my hostel when he saw the address.
The hostel is located right on top of a really shady looking night club. The neon lights glow into our dorm room. It reminds me of the Chicken Roaster episode of Seinfeld. I finally got to bed at 4 am. I did notice that Steve from the Africa trek was in the same room.
I told Steve about the trafficking business and he had some more stories involving black market money changers and kids climbing through train windows for purse snatching. Looks like we're gonna have to watch ourselves out here. A lot of you back home were hoping I'd get out of the Middle East soon but trust me, it's WAY safer than at least this part of Europe. Nothing to worry about though, I'll be fine. Tonight we're going out with a bunch of people from the hostel to watch some world cup qualifyers so I'm pretty excited as it's my first proper night out in over a month.
Steve and I have decided to skip Ukraine as it's a little too far north. Instead we're going to head to Transylvania tomorrow to see Castle Dran (Count Dracula's castle) and then do some sort of loop through the Balkans. We're still not sure of the exact route, but we want to try and get to at least Belgrade, Sarajevo, maybe Dubrovnik, maybe through Greece or Macedonia or something. We'll see.
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