Two months ago we were concluding the tour of the Black Sea after 80 days, 13.000 kilometres, 11 countries (including the separatist republics) and over 360.000 blog hits at over 80.000 unique visitors. And, to add more flavour to it, we engaged on a trip to Bulgaria, Turkey and Romania, countries we flashed through, looking forward to the great journey ahead of us.
And there was another reason: sometimes it’s better to distance yourself to actually see something too close to you. In order to see Romania with fresh eyes, we preferred to travel through Bulgaria, Turkey, Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Russia, Ukraine, Moldova and another group of republics considered to be separatist. So, today, our tour around the Black Sea is coming to an end for the second time. This experience was like a friendly away game. We met, shook hands, but were left flummoxed and pretty wavering as to the conclusions to be drawn. We want this first tour of the Black Sea to be the beginning of a beautiful friendship.
And, as we didn’t know exactly how to conclude things without actually ending them, we decided each of us was going to say a few words and just leave it trailing...
Ioana Hodoiu: I think we’ve travelled around the Black Sea tens of times in the last four years. On the map. That’s how long it took. Four years. From the first talk in front of a pint of beer to getting the luggage into the trunk. And not because that’s how long it takes to prepare a journey. The rest is chance. You never know if such a long trip will actually happen. Sometimes, these plans simply do not pan out, they don’t grow; they are like a failed caked.
I clearly remember one morning, three years ago us three travelling on the west coast of Africa, the map on our knees in an abandoned little park in Drumul Taberei. We were in the same formula. I’d say it’s the type of journey that happened only on the map, but now I realize Ștefan is going on the African west coast this winter. These plans have a life of their own and it’s very hard to make a recipe to pass on to others.
For Petruț and Ștefan this trip was a personal project. A happy event made this project get financed at the last moment, only a few days before the departure. They would have gone anyway. For me, the trip itself was not that great, because in spring I had to stay in Romania and become the vital cell of this project, coordinating everything from blog management to finding solutions for the small problems which appeared on the way. Anyway, let’s say the trip turned nice at the end when I joined Petruț and we travelled to Bulgaria, Turkey and Romania, from where we wrote the last twelve posts. On the other hand, my journey on the other side of the earth (over two years ago) proved that things can also be done impetuously, on the run (like: resign, get the visas and plane tickets and take off).
Ștefan Cândea: We managed to travel to every country around the Black Sea without having our car stolen, without falling prey to raket or get swindled out of our money – as we had been warned so many times on the road. The most important thing, however, is that we didn’t pay a dime to the road police, to the customs officers or to the border guards (except in Transdniester where, out of over ten controls in half a day, we gave in to one and paid a twenty-dollar fine for a sham). And that without taking advantage of our status of journalists. As many travel blogs stupidly and repeatedly recommend having a ‘ten-dollar bill ready at hand’, no wonder tourists are seen as a milking cow for any member of the local authorities. Eventually, stupid is he who gives, not he who asks.
When we got back, I was constantly asked about similarities and differences between Romania and the other countries. Regarding major differences, at least on the shore of the Black Sea, nowhere else have I come across the mix of disgust, repugnance, arrogance and trickery present every time I make the mistake of going to the Romanian seaside.
Another major difference would be that every country, except for Romania and Bulgaria, is an open wound bearing deep marks of recent armed conflicts; even Turkey in the issue of the Kurds. Colleagues my age have studied in improvised schools in bunkers, they have lost friends and family in the conflicts. Their parents and grandparents were arrested, deported or executed. The region is similar to the situation in the Balkans in the ‘90s, though at a much larger scale and with conflicts which have spanned over the last century, with abuses and situations of an inconceivable cruelty. The international community, however, had neither a convincing reaction, nor an efficient strategy to mend the situation.
Regarding similarities, an important common point would be the general virulent tone against primitive politicians. The simple people we talked to, regardless of their country and religion, expressed, first and foremost, their disgust at their politicians and their conviction that foreigners perceive them as barbarians only because of the politicians and the government. Moreover, interethnic conflicts are caused mainly by mystifications and manipulation for political reasons. Dictatorship, ultra-nationalism and religious bigotry have caused the most harm in the entire region.
None of these countries need a Messianic leader to save them. A well-developed infrastructure, lack of visas and free press are the only tools necessary for things to improve.
Petruț Călinescu: I had been racking my brains to come up with some sort of conclusion when, eventually, a redeeming quote which I remember only partially popped up: A journey does not need reasons; it proves to be reason enough in itself. (Nicholas Bouvier, L'Usage du monde). Ergo, a journey does not need conclusions either, if I may add my own bit to the quote (Raluca, thanks a bunch for the book). But, if I am to draw a conclusion, it would be that we have to go back. It was like a dip into the sea on an August day: after five minutes out of the water, you want to go back in. We spent too little time in that myriad of places and didn’t see enough. Even so, I returned home with stack of photos which will keep me busy this winter: I will have to sort them out, arrange them and throw some of them. The trip was a team effort and, even if it may sound as a cliché, I would like to thank everyone; I hope I have returned at least half of the help received.
We would like to thank Alina Miron for having translated the posts into English, professor Lidia Vianu for putting us in touch with the voluntary translators, badorgood (Ciprian and Gicu) for the blog, The Black Sea Trust for having financed the project, the Azerbaijani mechanic, the godfather of our new hand-made clutch plate, Lucian Stănescu for having translated the application, Raluca Munteanu for having initiated us into the mysteries of Facebook and, last but not least, to everyone who followed us on our journey.
We would also like to thank Dacia and Vodafone for their refusal to provide the logistics for the documentation and for thus keeping the page ad-free.
So...let’s start over!