Thursday, December 22, 2005


In Al Fruglos town, the officers that had hosted me the previous night, sent me in a car to Palmira. ¨Dessert¨ in Arabian is ¨sahara¨, and that is all there as far as one can see. After staring at the vacum of the dessert, one can understand the fact that it was the Arabs who invented number zero...that is, an empty whole as concept. Orange rounded-nose Mercedes trucks roundgo around that vast territory carrying oil. Sometimes, beduin camps or military bases delete the "end-of-the-world¨ effect, till one gets to Palmira.
Palmira has granted a rest to travellers since the times when caravans carrying silk and species from China made a halt at the oasis when going towards the Mediterranean. Its greatness coincided with the Roman colony period, still witnessed by 50 hectareas of ruins, temples and columns as nowhere else in the ex Roman World. The first night I slept in the ruins, in the area where the caravans used to leave their goods, called the Agora. Even though the tent was completelly hidden between two columns, I woke up with four local workers amazed at the view and an Austrian tourist taking pictures to me.
Tourists get no farther than Palmira, but Route 7 is faithful to the dessert until Deir ez Zor, on the Eufrates River, the river that triggered civilization. In 25' a Volvo truck gave me a lift. It was carrying Argentinian corn to Irak. While the truck driver was whispering the Arab song from the stereo as if he were a japanese in the middle of hara-kiri, I remembered the times when when back in my own country I used to travel in ocean-bound trucks carrying that same corn for export. Finally, I can watch the second part of the movie.

My travel book (writen by people who studied but never left Harvard) state that the only possible way to make contact with beduins is through a travelling agency, but reality shows something thoroughly different. The very moment I left the route, they approached me and welcomed me and took me to their tents. The arquetypical beduin has a rifle in his hand- for protection-and a coffe in the other-to offer travellers. Times have changed, and beduins have changed their caravans for their trucks, but hospitality is intact, kicked off by beduins´s dependency on each other while living in the dessert.

Outside our tent, a generator snorrs in the early-dessert night (5 pm), feeding the satelite TV inside. I was told to sit- on the floor, of course- next to the father of 8 brothers of the family. Soon, tea, bread and melted sheep fat were brought. Only after that, we started chatting, in a Arab, so it was very choppy. Sometimes we used drawings to clarify what had been the topic for the previous 5 minutes. Then, they asked me what I was doing, and I told them about my trip. I thought that if beduins did not congrat me for moving in a tent aroud the world, then nobody would ever do it.

So, I was moving around with a tent? They demanded to see the tent inmediately. Hasen got inside the tent and, after ordering his wife to do the same, decided that it was too small for him. The rest of brothers and wives laughed. They asked if I had a family. I told them yes. And, then they said, if i had a family, what the hell I was doing walking in the middle of the Syirian Desert? It was something that they could not understand.

They wanted to know the names of my brothers and sisters, and they repeated them as their tongues allowed them to, calling Fernanda as "Ferlanda", so as not to mention my new brother Casandro. But they were happy repeating "ferlanda, ferlanda" as if they found in that word a mysterious phonetic charm. Beduin families are more jumpy-around than average reserved Syrian families. Their most lively feature are the wives' colorful dresses, who sometimes show facial tatoos.
It is curious, they never made explicit their hospitality towards me. They never said: "Ok, if you wish you can sleep here". That was clear. On the contrary, I was straight forwardt asked to stay for three nights, which were great, forget the father waking up at 5:30 yelling his prayers to Allah.

In the morning I could appreciate the three tents and the truck with which every 6 months they alternate between Hasakeh and the Desert, to feed their sheep. The second day I saw how they made the seat for a donkey, and later visited some other tents. Some of the questions these people asked me left me without a comeback, for instance, how much is a woman in Argentina. And they asked for the price in dollars! They refered to the sum of money that the bride's father must be given before getting married.

Finally I got to Deir ez Zor, just on Friday, when their market is full with colorful beduins that come here to sell their products. The first night I slept in the hospital. Curiosity made doctors forget their duties and prolonged life to the dying that did not want to loose the scene. Then, I went to the only Syrian bank in the area, which was an experience I will never forget. There was a bold employee inserting money in a counting machine. As some baknotes were so torn, they flew away and got to the faces of the client keen on depositing that money. Behind, some women type letters in electric writing machines. Oh! I wold open an account on the bank just to receive a realy and wamheartly typed welcome letter. Now i am going to the bazar, I want to find somebody to sew my boots. After seven months they are starting to show the scars. And the Desert only starts.

Sunday, December 18, 2005


What I liked the most from Hama, where I camped on the shore of Orontes River for two days, were their norias (the aramean word for waterwheel). They 've on the spot for over 500 years ago, attesting to classical islamic science’s orientation towards complex mechanic. Without much else to see in Hama I travelled towards the Shmamis ruins, a city dating from the 1000 BC, which is 20 km away from Hama through a secondary road. Two workers on a motorbike did not let me get there. They gave me a lift on their heavily loaded motorbikes and we went towards the small town Al Kafar (7 km from my objective) Al Kafar’s simmilarity with other small towns lies in its mosque and the existence of tarturas, a mixture between a van and a motorbike, whose owners insist on decorating with Ferrari adhesives. They are an ode to hope.

It's the differences between Al Kafar and other tiny villages what I was about to discover... As my plan was to camp in the ruins, I was looking for some food to buy. A boy called Hasan demanded that I accepted his help. He was on his motorbike (the second in a day), he ordered me to jump in and speeded towards the market. All the people that had a motorbike followed us, so what got to the market seemed actually like a motorbikers meeting or the funeral of Chips. Then I could not refuse some tea at his house. That was the beginning of the kidnapping.

At the start I did not realice, I was not aware of what was going on Hasan’s sister and a friend stepped into the room, greeted me and sat next to me. None was wearing a veil. At that moment I did not ask any questions. Then I was invited to drink some mate to the house of a family friend. There were two other girls there in the same condition, without a veil and talking to a stranger of the opposite sex (me), Hasan, who was already laughing at my amazement, finally asked me: Do you notice any difference with the rest of Siria?. Yes- I confessed. He explained that the area belongs to Ismaeli minority, a minoritarian sect from the Islam that comprises only 2% of Sirian population. Our Imam, Aga Khan, who lives in Paris, gives us freedom- Hasan explained. They consider that many aspects of the sharia (islamic law) are only aesthetic and therefore not important. Coversely, majoritarian sunni muslims dont regard them as muslims at all.

Their wives do not wear the veil and they can interact with other men without being considered obscene. Even drinking is permitted, as I knew with happiness at night. Hasan entered the room with three cans of Stella. My surprise showed that I had started to get used to the rest of Syria, where women are treated as domestic devices. Shame on me!

However, there is a simmilarity between Ismaelies and the rest of muslims: they are extremelly helpful. Since the moment you eat from our dishes you belong to our family-Hasan said (and he was not joking). I finally left, towards Palmyra, where hundreds of palm trees and massive Roman ruins interrupt the desert.

I was going towards the desert, the legendary Eufrates river. The sign on the road reminds me of something I already knew: “Palmira 160 km, Dair es Zor 380 km, Bagdad 800 km”. Yes, it is the road to Iraq. The first kilometres were on a beautiful De Soto ’54. He left me at night on the Homs crossroad, where a yellow Mercedes 1298 truck rescued me from the claws of darkness. It was carrying 40 tones of bricks. Ahmed, the driver, starts telling the nationality of tank trucks coming on the opposite lane, in the last lights of dawn: Jordan, Syria, Iraq…He left me in Al Fruqlos.

Even though we are far away from the Iraqi border, the area is full with militia. Just in case. When I got down the truck, it was already night and I hardly noticed a hut with three armed policemen. They made me notice them as they approached me with a rifle on one hand and saying “Where are you going?”. I explained that I was walking around the world and that I wanted to sleep in town.

“But it is going to rain”-he answered. My answer was a tiny step under the roof of their hut. They laughed, so they invited me in. Two rifles AK-47 that were on a wall are moved to a bed so as to leave space for my backpack (Good replacement, I thought). When I saw the guns I exclaimed: I am not American!. It is a joke and they understand it. “Where are you from?’-they wondered. At that moment I discovered that on the table there were three mates (Argentinean kind of tea consumed also in Syria). “From there!-I pointed at the mates- "Argentina?”. They are very happy, they offered me a seat and chatted about our countries.

One of them mimics the explosion of a cannon and then of a boy crying, while pointing to the East, towards Irak. He makes reference to the killings of young, innocent children by American bombs. Another one cheers the protests against Bush in Mar del Plata's Summit of the Americas by saying: “Argentina, no Bush, no Bush…”. Despite not sharing a language, too obvious things always get trough. They gave me a place where to sleep and in the morning palmed down a car for me. Towards the desert oasis of Palmira...

Monday, December 12, 2005


I thought hitch hiking in Syria was gonna be more challenging, with flocks of Hyundai minivan, millions of yelow taxis and less than average private cars. I was wrong. Withn 5 minute something always wil stop. In occassiones cars you wouldn't find elsewhere, 1950 american cars, for example, or motorcycles. This are some examples of what awaits those who dare.


With 9 kms of traditional bazaar where one can buy from flu affected chicken to safety boxes, and a fortified citadel that from the 10th century awaits constant invaders, Aleppo can keep a traveler busy for a week. Nevertheless, it was not the architecture thatbecame that pearl of my sojourn in the city where Abraham milked his famous cow. But the encounter with islamic moral exempted from the secular character that prevails in Turkey.

We are used to listen about the reduced women rights in Middle East. What escapes media attention is that men don’t rake it either. To understand this you should see the face of my friend Hasan when back from a theoric class at the University whre he studies English Translation. “What is wrong, Hasan? Are you feeling OK? Why did you arrive earlier?”. He looks at me and says: “A girl…” “A girl what?” – I ask. So he says it: “She sat nex to me and she was only wearing a T-shirt. What can I do? I cannot marry her. So I left. “ Hasan, as well as my other friend Okbaa, believe that women should hide their charms in order to preserve community. Otherwise, Armageddon. We don’t even talk abouty the Christian principle of “thou will not desire your neighbors’ woman”, here it seems some God gets angry even if you desire yours. In these cases I appreciate christian moral hipocricy, that confronted with a similar holy staements decides to look sidewards. Here instead, they even seem proud of their sacrifice. Hasan is for example 23 and his experience with women is comparable to that of my nephew Nicolas, who is 11. He (tender!) defines himself in the peak of desire (adolescense here lasts until you are 25, if you are lucky) and remarks that in the last two years his girlfriend and him have agreed to hold hands. Pre marriage relations are banned and (you guessed) sex includes kissing.

In these lands uranium is more at hand than a simple summer girlfriend. “But, at University none of them…” I ask in amazment to my friend. But the asnwer again is No. Partying is not in the girls’ top of the rank in a country where Dr.Faustus would die from sadness. “If a girl decides to hace ilegal relations..who will marry her in the future? –my local friends explai to me. That makes me think that men here are at the geometric center of all this social stress. It is a self inflicted pain since the moment that they complain about the unreachableness of girls but then happily say they would return their wife to her father if she turns out to be unvirgin. But..”not even a kiss at closed doors?” I insist to my friend expecting some down to earth answer. His response triggers my laugh: with the worrying a that who talks about the rise of the oil prices he says: “There is much kissing in Syria…” Yeah, the problem of Syria is not Israel or Bush, not even Mehlis, but rebeld kissing students. In any case, they explain that marriage should precede sex, and a good social status should preced marriage, and so much of Syrian youth fin themselves studying medicine or laws, with not a very genuine interest…

All these chats happened in carpet covered rooms, chairless rooms. Everybody finds a place in the cushioned floor. Tea replaces beer. Amid that cultural otherness mate (an argentinian drink I didn’t expect to find here) appears. I almost fell backwards when I saw in Hasan’s kitchen a packet of the same brand I would buy in the shop across the street in my hometown.

From Aleppo I finally travelled south to the ruins of Ebla, one of the cities that triggered western civilization some 6,000 years ago. N the way I am stopped in each village by over-curious syrians that these days rarely see foreigners, and even less on foot. Each of them presents me what they have at hand. The owner of a grocery invites me to help myself from the assortment of fruits. Almost all invite me to halt for a tea and all withouth exception say “welcome to my country!” (their english rarely goes further, and my arab is not even enugh to say that). In the road the few private vehicules stop with readiness. At night people open the door of their houses, where dinners arrive in enormous silver trays. It is costumary to eat without knife and fork, using flat bread as pliers to lift the food, and without individual dishes. A man in the village of Daretazzeh had seen the Summit of the Americas on TV and was completely against Bush’s idea of creating a great and unique bazaar from Canada to South America…or at least that was his way of referring to the Free Trade Agreement.

In Ebla I visited an elementary school, thanks to the food shop owner, who spoke english and even some italian (since in summer he assists and hosts the italian mission that makes research in the ruins) Soon the kids at school spread the news: a parachutist has landed in the schools’ premises. The kids in the class “2 C” are more than happy the parachutist (me) has chosen their class room and approach with some fear to the parachute (my backpack). The girls, with their hair covered by colourful scarfs, occupy half of the right half of the class room, on the other half the boys are minority. Tey assume the parachutist is tired and leave biscuits over my desk. In Irak, the neighbouring country, children must look quite the same, I think. It is very easy to declare and support a war on people whose faces and smiles we don’t see. As usual the virus is on both sides: in the history lesson the kids are told to repeat a patriotic songs commemorating the soldiers who died in the 1973 conflict with Israel. The school book illustrate with full detail the fighter jets and tanks firing their missiles. As usual aslo, the graphic hides the blank of these misiles, the kids in the other side. It is necessary to hide the other side always… if you want to convince somebody to press the missiles’s button. The kids here I can say, don’t deserve missiles. But it’ s a peyy: they have oil under their feet.

Thursday, December 08, 2005


Andre Pavrot, ex- director of the Louvre Museum , used to say: all civilized man has two mother countries: his own and Syria. Syria has to declare as its own inventions in the last 9 thousand years, nothing but agriculture, bronze and the alphabet. (Colleagues writers: it is here where fraud started). Moving in time, and trying to cross the street in Aleppo between hundreds of yellow cabs playing Syria’s national hymn (the blast) one is tempted to think that civilization moved from Syria and never returned. Anyway, Syria is one of the few places where excentric suicidal people can be run over by 404 or a Buick ' 55 without much difficulty.

Getting to Syria from Turkey was to cross a political and cultural boundary. As always, the first impression is just aesthetic: a frontier moved by crowds of people, who proudly show a piece of cloth wrapped on their heads. On the other side, everything that moves and has tyres must be a cab and finding cars that are not cabs is difficult. My first contact with a driver was bizarre. A taxi driver stopped his car on the side of the road, jumped out of the car and exclaimed¨Welcome to Syria!¨(he wanted to sell a trip to Aleppo). ¨Where are you going?¨-he enquired. At that moment a Hudson 50 passes through smoothly disregarding time. I don’t know whether to hitch-hike or pray for a litghning to distroy me..I just claim ¨beautiful!¨, so the taxi driver starts scratching his head showing his ignorance. He didn’t know any city with that name!
When we were in Aleppo, where you can hardly see foreigners, a group of people approaches. We chat: ¨Argentina? Mar del Plata? Oh..thanks for prottesting against Bush, really, thank you...¨I feel proud. In Syria things are not calm at all. It is hard not to glance at the pictures of the president Bashar Al Asad when strolling around the city, usually the president is represented next to his father and the ex-president Hafez Al Asad, who led a totalitarian government for 30 years, installing a presidential dynasty. (not far away from Cafiero).

The current president is focus of international tensions in relations to the murder of the Libanese Hairi, and the main suspect for the international community (that is, for George Bush) is Syrian intelligence. As far as it goes, tensions are improving. Internal support to the president Bashar is growing against every single threat from the White House, with crowds of people in Damasco and Aleppo. As Irak is still being occupied, this is like deja vú. But, cretaing a paralelism would be very courageos .

It is clear that there is oficial propaganda, but it is true that most Syrian people proudly respect their president. The fact that an islamic society and worship to a president can coexist is very strange. Islam is (iconoclasta): there are no human representations in the decorations of Mosques. Islamic art is abstract and geometric, not influenced by leaders and saints.
However, going back in time, we discover that the theory of the divine origin of power appeared in Mesopotamia, so things get clearer. But, what do Syrian people think?

This week I met people from every social stage. Bayan, a sixth-year medicine student, is atheist, and in his efforts to escape islamic close society he thought about the formula that equals America to paradise. He complains about Syrian constitution, which states that ¨the country will be ruled by one political party, which will be led by one man¨. He believes that Syrian intelligence murdered Hariri , though the USA should not be part of this. Bayan hopes to finish his studies in order to get a one-way ticket to any place.

My second hosts were on the other extreme, three literature students who love their president as if he was their father, without criticism. On Wednesday we woke up suddenly: from the streets one could hear the applauses after Bashar´s speech answering to northamerican threats: ¨I am Bashar, I wont give up, and you must know that Syrian people will not give up as well¨. At the very moment, they were broadcasting a hymn-like song composed by distinguished Syrian artists, in favour of their president. My friends proudly translated: Damasco will be a pin in the intrusor´s eye¨.

The most interesting of my new friends is Okbaa. He is intelligent and sensitive, he also studies medicine, and is member of The Sirian Social National Party. The party was founded by a Libanese called Saadi, who was expatriated for 30 years to Argentina and Brazil before coming back in the 40’s promoting an ideal union of Great Syria. Saadi-just as Okbaa-thinks that Siria, Lebon, Jordan and Irak are the same civilazation, artificialy divided after english-french coloniaism. According to Okbaa, Hariri is the USA´s Troyan horse in Siria. A am amazed when my firiend tells me that, in case there was an American invasion he would not turn on the TV, he would get a rifle. Okbaa believes that his young president Bashar will lead the path to a modern, multi-party, democratic Syria.

There is something that is clear, people in Syria believe they can find their own way to a true democracy. I don't really think that is close to happen. Any way, nobody believes that democracy will come on top of American tanks. About Bashar: though he is a bit demagogic, he is not like Saddam, who sleeps with his gun under the pillow. He is a professional oftalmologist, and used to work in a clinic in England before he became president.


After living in a cave in Capadoccia the Oracle of the road suggested I deserved to treat myself to great hospitality of Mustafa and Masut, Hospitality Club members in Adana, Turkey. Their natural kindness was enhanced those days by the fact that we were in the last days of Ramadan. I honestly lost the count of the number of uncles and cousins we visited, and I think it was the first time in this trip that I gained weight instead of loosing it. Having breakfast in the top floor balcony of Masut luxurious appartment facing the lake I frankly asked myself if I hadn’t been mistakened for a Kuwaiti sheik. Maybe I did these guys some favour in a past life. Not happy with feeding me to the red line point, they decided to dress me and presented me with jeans, sweaters and T shirts that my budget would have never been up for. Maybe the most special moment (and funny) was attending the mosque on the Bayran day (the last of Ramadan) following a suggestion by Mustafa who said I should just imitate his moves. Obviously I did everything wrong! Outside the mosque, Mustafa explained me the sense of Ramadan. Festing as a way to appreciate things that we would otherwise take for granted. Quite like hitch hiking. One week in a cave in Capadoccia before landing in the oppulence of these brothers’ hospitality.


As if the surreal Capadoccia’s landscape was not enough I was still to meet its most particular inhabitants... The place, an area in Central Turkey where erosion produced by the wind and rains in the last million years has built improbable contours in solidified lava. Most of them are cones, which look like melted ice-cream from the distance. Proffiting from the smooth substance, humans have dug their houses on the rock and the first Christians founded monasteries. Bizantine churches are found dug in the ¨tufa¨, even showing paintings on the walls. While I was exploring the area I saw nails flying . Somebody was doing malabares and listening to music. I climbed to the caves to check who were those people…and there it was, the Bike Circus. They are 9. Four Americans, (the Texan Chanin plays the bandoneon, the one of New Orleans the contrabass, another one the flute and the last handles the violin) two Italian (Piero and Simone, one looks like Mario Bross, I swear it, the one who plays the Tablao. The other is drawing all the time and addressing his partner as ¨stupid italian¨), a Canadian from Quebec (Marie Elise, violinist, gymnastic, with a J.Joplin-like voice, the one with a red seal on her passport banning her from entering Europe for I-don’t know-how many years.) a German (guitar) and the last member… ...When I got to the group the last member was walking over her hands inside one of the carved-in-the-mountain devastated chapels where one can still distinguish the arcs and altars . I was wondering where she was from when she started singing: 'Voy caminando por el aire'...... Where are you from? Can you believe the fact the Rocio was from Ramos Mejia (Argentina)? After a long hug, the first thing we asked each other was ¨ Che, do you have yerba? (local tea)'' She has also been looking for it in Istambul’s bazaar without any luck. There, vendors attempt to sell her a strange kind of black grass that had scared her and, of course, a carpet. The Bike Circus goes around the routes with their, sorry to be obvious and repetitive, bikes. But they are special bikes. They are a meter fifty high and have two verticaly welded frames. Once, a Turkish policeman stopped them to check on the phone with his boss if that type of means of tranport is able to circulate around theTurkish highways. They perform their circus-like music show in the towns and then, they go on travelling. The substance of their trip is beyond each of them as individual travelersi, since some of them joined the group on the road, while others left it. Any way, they are an ode to movement. Rocio lost her Argentinian accent after so much wandering. (Those things the passport can not account for). One time she asked me : ' How do you call what is inside a peach?' ' Cob!' (¨carozo¨in Spanish) I answered angrily.... Rocio plays the drums and sings flamenco while she dances chamame. Then she tells her audience she is Japanese. It is crystal clear to everybody! There are two signs hanging from her bike (in the middle of her provisions and briefcases). These posters are about two different problematics. The first one says ' Cycling against Oil Wars'. Everybody understands it. The second is more related to her neighbourhood and says: ' We are all teachers. Ctera.' (Argentinean Trade Union) Although I had already found a place to sleep in Goreme, where we were, a town almost totally built on the rocks, I decided to move to the caves with them. It is not an everyday experience to occupy a bizantine church from the 10th Century, with its very own fresco on the wall…. Inside, they discuss the following step to follow.... the Turkish visa of one of them is about to expire, it is necessary to leave and return , so they spoke about hitch-hiking to Bulgaria and back. But, before that, they decide to go to Mersin, a town in the Mediterrenean Coast, where winter is smoother (here it already started to snow). This way, I join the circus for some days, I am also going south.... A scribbled Jesus is trapped in a painting and from the door he stares the scene and he does not add anything. In the morning, lunch is cooked, with one of the prettiest landscape I have ever seen. On the while, the dog, who has joined the group since Serbia, warns us about the presence of an Australian tourist in search of a picture with the us, the colorful loonies...


Here some of the piucs of the Byzantine church carved in the rock, where we slept. Also the fire place and the frescoed wall of our "room". Not everyday once has the chance of squatting a relic!!


I am still surprisd by the diversity of Ankara. When I first steppd into the flat of my first hosts in the city, Ozan and Alp, I had he impression of having founda bizarre socialist climbers enter, telling from the decoration (climbing walls with graffities on th line of "Atheism is a non profit organization", Bakunin boks on the shelves, etc) Not to say that I felt at home. Ozan made that clear from the beginning anyway, in one of the strange occasions n which I saw him. In the house nobody cooked, bt when they did th atmosphere turned festive and exceptional. They spent most of their time working on their computers (they were engineers o somthing like that). When the calling to pray (that mystic scream that can be heard all trough the Islamic world) sounds Alp switchs his face to the awful medicine position and marches to the room more furthr away from the outside.
The other members of Hospitality Club I contacted couldn't be more different. We arranged to meeting in the door f a centri shopping mall. I was unconsciously looking for a European looking girl, so my surprise was huge when Turkan turnd up wearing a scarf. Turkan studies economics at university and distances herself rom the stereotype of traditional 'kitchen-and-kids-sentenced minded muslim woman. As Turkan had to leave for his parents town, he commended me to Akin, his friend, who welcomed me in his office, dedicated to charter exhange studis abroard. Only when the minute needle hitted 7 pm we started eating, as Akin respected Ramadan strictly. Akin's vision of the world was worlds away from Alp and Ozan's one. He regarded Ataturk as a great man who had unified the nation. H regarded the Kurdish problem literally as that, a problem of the Kurds, or at he most a political problem created by foreign interests. In the picture, Turkan and Akin. Thanks for your hospitality!!
SURPRISE IN ANKARA: Out of a book of a Cortazar book… (Were you in Norway?)

I regarded this kind of meetings to be secluded to the fantastic pages of great Argentinian novelist Julio Cortazar, little more than literary facts. I was walking towards the bus stop when a girl I hadn't paid attention to addressed me: "Hey! Were you in Norway?" Dressed for a job interview it was hard to recognize her. We had in fact met in the rainbow Gathering in Norway in July. I remembered her perfectly and actually my intention was to pay her a visit during my stay in Ankara, but having lost her email shortly after writing it down, I held no hopes to see her again. Well, chaos works better than MSN sometimes. She lived a few meters away from my friends appartment in Ankara. Norway, only memories by then, almost unreal if it hadn't been for the fact that we became witness of ech other. It had been real. Emel was fighting those days to find a job in order to achieve economic independence from her parents, trying to conserve her liberty at the same time. Naturaly impossible. In other words, and the cases abbound world wide this week, she is becoming double headed… We drank a cheap wne in the campus of Ankara University (appropiately situated next to the Army Barracks…) watching invisible baseball match. Then we signed up to see half american action action movie for free at the Uni cinema. Before saying goodbye she presented me a cooking pot "made in Poland" she had bought in Sweden. Karmaful object.


My base for exploring Istanbul was Selcen's appartment, a newly graduated English teacher that accomplishes the paradox of correcting her pupil's exams while listening to Pink Floyd, when she doesn't straight forward let me or any other of the foreigners that regularly sojourn in her sofa do it for her. Her relaxed attitude towards life coexists with an unbelievable anxiety for the world. With a father who now and then calls to say hello from India or Katmandu, I understand that Selcen barely has time to breath among film making curses and climbing practice.

One of the musts in Istanbul was a visit to the Aya Sofia, a Byzantine church built in 527 AD, which had already been church for a thousand years when the Ottomans converted into a mosque in 1453. Inside, byzantine mosaics coexist with quranic verses, making the double legacy of the two cultural traditions as explicit as hardly can be see elsewhere. Its only presence proves that Istanbul has always been a bridge, a compromise between East and West. First it was Constantinople, heir of the Rome devastated by Teodoric (as much as by her own arrogance), capital of an Empire that only knew agony. Then it was Istanbul, door always opened of the Ottoman dam, whose high tide would bath the outskirts of Vienna. Today, an eye closely monitoring the European Union. The most European place in Asia, the most Asian place in Europe.

With that history it's no surprise that in 1923, some say under request of foreing powers, over the ashes of Ottoman Empire, Turkey became a resolutely secular republic, where the laws of Coran are not those of the State. Muslim traditions and lifestyle are more reinforce by Turkeys overwhelmingly muslim population than by authorities. But in Istanbul the people living in the Western style is enough to create a kaleidoscope in which one can see the McDonald's next to the mosque, fashionable girls rubbing shoulders with heavily scarfed women. In spite of Ataturk laws most aspects of everyday life follow the bazaar logic. Minibuses for instance hunt for potential passengers horning every 30 meters and reducing speed to offer their services verbally to passers by.

So I consider Istanbul to be somewhat of an aesthetic transition to Middle East. The minarets seem ready-to-take-off spaceships, and they spread mysticism 5 times a day along with the calling to pray. The Bosphorus, constantly navigated by ships of all size, seems in permanent D-day. On the other side, connected by two immense bridges and by ferries, is the Asian side of the 12 million souls city. A Venetian proximity imposes itself over the objective geographic certainty that says that what lies in front is another continent, a little helped by a chromatic affinity (As in Venice at dusk, reddish tones dominate the skyline) and by the oil carriers playing the gondola metaphor. The tiny 1 lira token used to pay the ferry hardly helps to unmask the intercontinental character of the journey.

It was in Bursa, old Ottoman capital 100 kms south of Istanbul, where I really feel to cross the cultural border. Around the great Ulu Mosque, hundreds of stalls form a bazaar. It was dark, and the muslims, who in this sacred month of Ramadan fest during daylight, were queuing in food stalls. There I started to talk with a Coran seller called Sheref, who spoke some German, and I was quickly invited to sit by his side. When I confess that I 've never read the Coran he takes one from his stall and presents it to me. I doesn't matter to him that I cannot read Turkish, he is convinced that the book alone will protect me. He scribbles down his name and phone number in the first page, takes his hand to his chest, and offers the book to me. When a muslim takes his hand to his chest I swallow. The coherence and commitment of the average muslim with the doctrine he believes in is astounding. If I had to choose a country where to be in troubles and need urgent help, that would be a muslim country. Regardless what CNN says, little help you will find in the streets of Berlin or Edinburgh, where predominantly christian-hedonist population holds only a nominal value of their faith. In comparison, one has the feeling that muslim people love helping, even if that means getting out of their way. Of course I didn't tell poor Sheref that I was agnostic, he 'd have never understood.

The people who host me in Bursa are recently graduated guys. Selcen's friends. She is an English teacher, he is an engineer. Absolutely non muslims, they are as hospitable as most of the Turkish people, suggesting hospitality is independent from religious motivation, even if originally religiously motivated. After 2 days in Burs I headed for the capital, Ankara. Modern 5 million people city planned in the style of Brasilia and Canberra. Functional and anonymous except for the Old Town. There, from each alley, a group of kids would tke off to follow me. From the Eastern tower some of the have fun by throwing paper planes to the metropolis. They seem to be posting a message to the city. They hand me a sheet of paper to make my own plane. In amazement I see my hands assemble, after 17 years of pause, a glider. As the one we made with Albertito and Marcela in the streets of childhood… Even if they had forgotten the exact angle of each twist, the fingers repeat the miracle. The kids, who ignored that design, watch it glide over the slums area. It's not the kind of skills we mention in our CVs, but we should never forget the wise things that avoid language…


Behind the sideral charm of minarets, mosques and bazaars, few tourists seem to remember that this was for centuries the capital of an oppressor empire (aren't they synonyms) , the Ottoman Empire. The list of oppressed has varied with the years: Bulgarian, Albanese, Greek, Armenian, Kurds, etc. In Istambul I was lucky enough to meet Tulay, a girl from Hospitality Club who took me to the inauguration of a socialist cultural center rather than to Sultanahmet. It was called the Beksav Cultural Center, in Moda, Kodikay. There I met people from the Socialist Plataform of Oppressed People. The guys there explained the situation: Turkish police hits hard socialist people just for exercising their right of gathering. While Turkish youth of big cities discuss abut GSM technology and ringtones the shepherds in the South East carry on a desperate living, and the Kurds continue without their rights. (It's not a surprise that they hold 8% of the world's oil reservoir under their feet). They also asked me about the social movements in Argentina, they referred to the 2001 'cacerolazos' -i.e popular uprisings. How that could ever happened in a country where the left has been demonized and blamed for the last 30 years of history. Then they ask me my political choice, they ask if I consider myself Leninist and wait anxiously for the answer. They sem a bit disappointed when they hear that I welcome all sort of escaped from the present system, from hippie communes and social experiments like Christiania in Copenhagen to Social Inclusive Systems, to Gesell's Free Economy. In the cultural center they present 2006 official calendar of the Cultural Center. In each month there is an illustrious person. Most of the are Kurdish poets, with two exceptions: Bertold Brecht and… Victor Jara (Chilean singer murdered by Pinochet agents) . We go then to the little gathering place of the Socialist Youth. The sign in the bell button is written with pen… Is the kind of places I love.


'The road will purvey' we used to say with Damian, my first road mate, for the case of such irreverent entries as the one that I enacted in Bulgaria: without local currency, knowledge of basic Bulgarian or local contacts. That wouldn't have been a problem if I had crossed the impressive bridge over the Danube during the morning. Instead, I crossed from Romania to the Bulgarian big city of Russe a sunset, when the rain stressed the industrial character of a city whose planners seem to have placed factories and power pants next to polluted Danube with psychological criteria.

Besides the occasional cursing I remembered that that was the kind of situation that test the thesis that underlying this trip: we are programmed to buy and sell, but as soon as one explains clearly a necessity the natural sense of hospitality always springs. It comes to surface, as a submarine in the artic casket. Sometimes you have to push a bit tough.

My first idea was to contact members of Hospitality Club to host me for a night. To achieve that I need at least 5 minutes of internet access, and a phone to call the member. A 3 stars motel promised to have these facilities. To be seen if they would be glad to let me use them for free.

When I explained my situation to the hotel manager and his assistant, who spoke some German, without further enquiries they led me to a net-connected computer. They put a telephone in my hands without my requiring it. We dialed then the number of the HC member. When nobody answered the phone it seemed I didn't have more cards to play. The man in charge saw the possibility of making profit form my situation and suggested I should overnight in the hotel and carry on during the morning. He made clear the price was only 10 euros… I worked in the reception of a centric hotel in Mar del Plata, Argentina, for 7 seasons, and knowing how little can employees move free within the House politics (hotel managers like to talk in terms of 'the House' maybe aiming to prevent employees from requesting salary rises by transferring edipical fears) I was not holding my breath. Then the story took a strange twist. Th assistant had been peeping at the articles of La Capital (the newspaper I write for weekly) which had been conveniently set near his sight by means of secret kung fu technics, and passed them on in surprise to his boss, who said: "So you are a journalist…!" Given the circumstances I said that "of course!". Number 201 shined on the golden key ring. In it htel I used to work at, 201 was little more than a store room where even tourists from La Rioja Province (a hot one) felt asfix symthoms, being duty of our beloved morning shift porter to push them back upwards with SS manners. But 201 in Russe Hotel was different, with air conditioning and fridge.

Next day I was early in the road intending to cross Bulgaria in one piece bound for Istanbul. When one lacks a map roadsign-guessing remains the last tool for finding the way. Bt this is not an option in a country that uses Cyrillic alphabet (Monk Saint Cyril may never have suspectd the incommunication that his alphabet would cause) After advancing laboriously 50 kms in the whole morning I stopped perplex at the sight of a Turkish truck changing tires at a roadside garage. It was like a cat whose claws were pointing to Istanbul. I use all the Turkish I know: "Ben Istanbul gidiyorum. Ben Tourist, Argentina." "Tourist?" –confirms Ibrahim the driver. "Yes" By sign language he let me know there was no problem.

Traveling to Istanbul transcends the objective fact of reaching such city: it is an icon of movement. The yellow modern Volvo traversed all Thracian Valley, and at night we were negotiating the border, where for mutual convenience we crossed separately. With one passport in each pocket I headed in absolute darkness to the control. An eerie sign reminded ridiculously that Turkey was "0,5 kms" away. The Bulgarian guard (when he showed up after 30' waiting, they were changing shifts) stamped my EU passport next to the Bulgarian entry stamp. He can make sense of how on earth traveling on foot I made it in one day from the Romanian border. Then the Turkish side. Turkey doesn't ask visa to Argentinian citizens, so I grabbed my blue passport. I call this "selective memory of grandparents". The Turkish guard searched in vain for the Bulgarian exit stamp, and whn I showed it to him in the Italian (EU) passport he thought that one of the documents should be false. After observing them like a collector's eye scans a precious stamp, he tried to reconstruct my itinerary, something close to playing chess with Deep Blue. He soon gave up. I did my first steps into Turkey, and jumped back into the Volvo. That night I slept in the truck, and on th morning I headed for the center of the city.
Istanbul is the present reincarnation of Bizancio and Constantinople. We owe to the siege of Constantinople by the Turks our having been "disovered" by Spaniards looking desperately for another shortcut to oregano. Istanbul, with 12 million souls, can be proud of having intercontinental urban buses, as half of the city lies in Europe, half in Asia. Everything was new for my eye: the slim minarets, the mosques, headscarfed women, bazaars and the vendor who, while trying to sell me a carpet, effectuates a baptizing rythe: welcome to Middle East!


The only reason for which I had crossed Romania from South to North and Ukraine from North to South was to enter the Separatist Republic of TransNistria, a fantasy country with façade of socialist paradise and true background of arms smmugling that lies inside Moldova, pressed between the Dniestr river and the Ukrainan border. The plan: enter that country in a checkpoint with separatist guards, in order not to pay moldovan visa (for which anyway I copuldnt get without strange letterts of recommendation) The man-who-speaks-english that morning, who accompanied to the tren station was a member of the intelligence services who soon declared his love for Veronica castro. I thought that admiration for latin amrican TV series was only something common in Romania…
I stepped down the train in Rozdilna, where a Lada driven by a huge man who would have required an Audi was easy prey when the train barreer fell down. In the border queues of cars with the misterious Moldovan plate numbers, seemed to be carrying loads of grain. A very medieval scene. Two guards in the border led me to an officce to interview me. The badge in their uniform told me they were official guards: no chances. The looked at my passport, they asked for my Moldovan visa and kicked me back they way I came, much for the fun of the Ukrainan guards who had stamped me away of UA just 20 minutes before.
I was back in Odessa at 9 p.m. Roofless, like in Vilnius, I approached some street musicians, and so I met Dimas, a Russian from Ekaterinburg. "That is in the Middle of Siberia" he pointed proudly. And it was trough, for tyhis dude Paris is more far away than Mongolia. Maube that's is the reason why he never cared abput visitng the Far East, instead he dreamt of travelling in Western Europe. Percutionist, compulsive hitch hiker, he had no destiny. In vain I asked him about the following steps. He didn't know them, he didn't want to know them. He knew the mate, and when I prepared some he said: waw An original argentinian mate! Then her friend (owner of the appartment) came with a kitty in hands she had rescued from the streets. Not too bad, to start the day strolling in almost parisian boulevards with a mmber of the intelligence service and to end up sharing asylum with a cat and a street musician.
It was time to return to Romania and from there to istanbul. My Syrian visa was expiring on the 17/11 and that was hurrying me. The closer crossing point was from Reni in UA to Galati in RO. In the way I visited Izmail, where a dozen of pensioners gathered under a big Lenin statue to cry their utopies, with red communis flags… I walked 10 kms to the border. Then, something unbelievable happened, the Ukrainan guard asked me for my Moldovan transit visa. But I am not going to moldova - I replied. The man laughed, and showed me in the map that it was in fact a triple border where the road traversed 1 km of Moldovan territory…
So I had to go back the way I came, 80 kms because of just one. I walked trough the most boring landscape I had ever seen before or since. The area near the Danube Delta should be declared National Park of Monotony. A joint offered by some young ukranians shortly improved things and I started to take interest in the two dimensions provided by the windows… The nations with budget problems should not dismantle their plane cariers, they should donate them to Ucrania. To Moldova. To Ucrovia, maybe if we play with her name she gets angry, and red…and the landscape changes!!
To reach northern UA I allowed myself a train. Buying the ticket took half an hour. The woman in the ticket office seemed to be angry because I didn’t speak russian. The train dropped me in the city of Vinnitza, where I was expected by HC member Vitaly. The next day I folllowed by hitch hiking, covering 320 klms that day. The employees of petrol station in Cernivitsi, 40 kms away from Romanian border, held their heads when I mentioned I was from Argentina, and even if at first they lok at me as if I was a llama or a irregular polygon, they end up offering me dinner and a room to sleep. They get as involved as to start trying to palm down romanian trucks.
Next day I found very early a truck bound for Bucarest, the Romanian capital. The driver was called Florian and drove with difficulty due to the coincidence of the wheel and his prominent stomach. In spite of this he illustrated, hitting the wheel with his fists, the marching pace with which Vlad Tepes troops tried to intimidate the Turkish invaders. Two nights in Bucarest in the house of Petre and Mihai, great HC members, and on to Istanbul…

Friday, October 07, 2005

Towards the country that doesn't exist.

Eduard combines the esthetics of a nobleman of the Carpathians with accent for English in the style of Bart Simpson’s. Two months had passed since last time we had met, in the Rainbow Gathering in Dividalen, Norway. He was played now as local, in his native Sinaia, nicknamed “Pearl of the Carpathians” by the first king of Romania Carol the First. The first Romanian monarch was actually German, from the house of Hohenzollern, and as judged by the way he decorated his castle he never felt a down-to-earth conexion with the world around him (Romania). On the contrary, Peles Castle is an ode to a negative world, to all that Romania is not. Entire rooms are replicas after originals in other Eurpean palaces and castles, from Granada’s Alhambra to Florentine and Venetian palaces. Eduard loves Romania as much as Carol I did: often he says how much he hate it. Eduard’s enthusiasm for all things slightly alternative is only matched by his enthusiasm for big businesses that may help him to finnance his trips. So you can see him on the phone as he tries t convince a Canadian partner to start a company selling air purifiers in Bucarest, with hipothetic earnings of up to a millon dollars a year. Next, he hangs down the phone and explains me how to get to Bucarest with three euros.

Tiraspol is the capital of a country that doesn’t exist: the Republic of Trans Nistria. In Sinaia I started to make enquires about getting there. In 1990, as Moldava was spliting from Romania, Trans Nistria declared independence (never recognized) from Moldova. As one Eastern European country after another were turning to market economies, trans Nistria explicitly supported the soviet communist system, and becoming the European last bastion of it, with logistic support from the 14th Russian Army, a tender bunch that Moscow forgot (could not) relocate. The winds of change Scorpions sang about seem have been blocked by the Carpathians.

Getting to a country that doesn’t exist is, by itself, difficult. Add to that the burocracies. Officialy part of Moldova, a Moldovan visa is required to entry Trans Nistria. Being a complex paperwork, I decided to head straight to it, visaless, and try to enter Tgrans Nistria at a point where central Moldovan customs had no representation. That meant travelling to Odessa, in Ukraine, in giving it a try from there, directly to Tiraspol without getting trough Chisinau.

The trip was long, with notable assistance received from people working in petrol stations. If hitchhikers had a God’s Pantheon, the petrol station employees would defenitely had a space on the shelf. When night had isolated me in a small petrol station in Bacau, it was the young lad filling the tanks who found for me a car going to Suceava, 50 kms before Ukrainian border. Morover, he had no need to hand me a bottle of mineral water before I left. The driver’s name was Robert, and he run his own publicity business. When we arrived in Suceava, around 11 pm, he could then afford to put me up in a hotel. He later confessed that when he was 20 he dreamt of a money-less world, where everybody would take only enough for his needs. A system based on trust we are defenitely not ready for. But he considered that me challenge had to do with his dream and that he was substantially helping me to accomplish his dream.

Saturday, October 01, 2005

Walking Transivanya: between identity and nihilism.

I arrived to Sighisoara (Schassburg for the Saxon community) with the double hope of fulfilling both my intelectual curiosity for the Transilvanyan Case and my sensibility for walled medieval citadel. Declared UNESCO World Heritage Site, the citadel hosted, until 1897, the different guilds of Ssaxon craftmen, blacksmiths, tailors or carpenters, to whom the city owes its past prosperity. Heading for the 1648 Clock Tower I stumbled upon the house where Vlad Tepes was reportedely born, now a café. On the street, a natural size Dracula, kitsch beyond the point of repulsion, invites passers-by to the tourist-trap. I suddenly realized that the walls could not protect the citadel from the risk of self prostitution coming from within.

I would have left with a bitter sensation (and I would have slept in the Piata Cetati) if I hadn’t met the people at “Sustainable Sighisoara”, an NGO that aims to inforce, in the local level, the accomplishment of the Rio and Kyoto protocoles, signed and forgotten by Rumania. When the authorities themselves take destructive measures regarding the communities under their custody, it’s not advisable, but mandatory, for the people to self organize. In this context, on September 22nd, declared as International Day without Cars, I joined the several volunteers that walked the streets handing in trilingual leaflets inviting people to, at least once in the year, take the bus or the bike. Big was our surprise when, back in the Citadel Square, we found a classic cars exhibition, aproved by the local Council, or even its official response to the world wide crussade against pollution…

It’s little known fact by general public abroard that Transilvanya holds three big cultural traditions. The Romanian is the dominant and official. The Hungarian took roots in the 10th century, and then on, until 1918, the whole region was associated with Hungary. The German culture arrived with the Saxons invited in the 11th century by the Hungarian king to protect his kingdom’s southeastern flank. More interested than the soberanity issue is the identity one. Besides the absolutist positions that aim to reduce this diversity to only one of its contents, there are those who defend the singularity of transilvanyan identity, as land with triple heritage, Romanian, Hungarian and Saxon. These regard the official Romanian attitude as a reductionism, illustrated by the statue of Romulo and Remo that ornates one of the boulevards, with the leyend: “To Sighisoara, from Mother Rome”. Offenses to identity are, in deed, less explicit than those addressed to soberanity.

Even if in the Eastern European case the regional identities are neccesary consequence of the collpase of its empires, for some moments it seems to me that Transilvanya is to Romania what the Pampas region in Argentina is to the rest of the Republic: heterogenic and cosmopolitan. A Peruvian friend once complaint to me: when you Argentinians travel to Peru, you say that you go to Latin America, as if you were something else. He was right, morover, he doesn’t suspect that these trips normaly begin in the Argentinian provinces of Salta or Jujuy, fact that unmasks the insular identity of Buenos Aires people. The limit where the cultural otherness begins lies within.
From Sighisoara I moved on to Sibiu, marching some of the way on foot, along minor roads, through small idillyc Saxon villages famous for their fortified churches. In Bierthalm I missed the main road and ended up in the middle of a wineyard. I was rescued by two guys with binoculars that were monitoring the property. Their names are Dan and Norbert. Robert is a Saxon, and agrees with ex German president Herzog on tha fact that you cannot pack your homeland and take it with you to Germany. He proudly stayed in Toblsdorf, one of the 4 or 5 families that did so. Whay tatars and turks didn’t achieve was done by the difference in salaries. Again, the walls show themselves futile. In tiny towns I am received by 80 year old people who open the gates of their churches with enormous keys, beautifuly anachronic in times of magnetic cards. Herr Krauss, in Hosman, shows me proudly the place he has occupied every Sunday in mass for the last 30 years. In Toblsdorf, half a dozen of men loading tiles in a truck interrupt my pace with a: Sprechen Sie Deutsch? I have already lived that, in the villages of Spatzenkutter and Villa María, in the Argentinian province of Entre Ríos, settled by Volgadeutschen. The continents will be one again before the Germans loose their langauge…

In Sibiu, European Cultural Capital for 2007, I hastened to visit Rasinari, a near by village where Emil Cioran was born in 1911. The philoshopher that once said: “What an invitation to laughing loud, hearing the word goal after attending a funerary service. In the town, a street bears his name, and there is even a statue, that every afternoon witnesses the prosession of cows, goats and shephards that fight for a place in the cobbled stone street with kart, people and Dacias. Women that conceal their haird underneath colourful bandanas cross themselves as they pass in front of the philosopher who referred to Nietzsche as a “moderate” (there is an Ortodox church on the other side of the street). The monument is made of clay, one would say donde by a student. No far from it there is a proper bronze replica of Romanian patriotic poet Goga. It seems it’s too much a load for a rural Ortodox village to have the duty of celebrating the most skeptic of philosophers. The proud that villagers feel for Cioran is the same any of us would feel for a famous footballer born around the corner of our house. In any case, he did never mind glory.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005


A view of Cluj Napoca, the main city in the region known as Transilvania in the West, but called Ardeal by Romanians. The region complex cultural heritage responds to the presence of a Saxon (German), Hungarian and Romanian community, each with its language still spoken.

After Cluj Napoca I directed my steps towards Maramures, the hilly region in the northern border with Ukraine. There I sojourned in different tiny villages. While hitch-hiking, I stopped a bus full of men and women in folcloric dresses.
As I didn`t have a destination, I just jumped in. When I asked the driver, he cheerfully said they were all going to a wedding in Breb, a near by village, and that I was invited. It was that kind of wedding, where the bachelor knocks at the bride`s door sorrounded by his orchestra of sax, violins and drums, before ging together to the church. At church there were few poeple. Most waited outside and showed more interest in the bottles of ziuca being passed around than in the wedding. Even inside the church a woman could hardly do the sign of the cross while holding a bottle under her arm...

So there I was... in a wedding in Transilvania. Those people didn`t stop drinking before the following morning, so I just slipped into my tent around 3 a.m.

Some images of rural life, in a place where the concept of economic efficency is eclipsed by reality: women of all ages working hard, ploughing and dragging their karts.

Thursday, September 15, 2005


I had hitched from Gdansk, in Poland, to Amsterdam, with the only duty of collecting my italian passport. Three days of road just to arrive to the Consulate, scribble down a couple of signatures, and hit the road back, direction Romania. My Dutch friend Stephen, to ease my soul, presented me a mate, a bombilla, and 200 grams of yerba (Argentinian national drink). So brutally distracted from my itinerary by a burocracy, proportionally brutal had to be the reincorporation, with Holland, Germany, Poland, Slovakia and Hungary to be crossed before reaching Rumania. And a 5 euro note in the pocket as dedicated budget. This is also the story of that banknote’s karma.
After a first ride of 40 kms, my coordinates met Arkadius’ ones. Arkadius was Polish, had bought his Hyundai van second hand in Belgium, and was heading home. Home was in Lublin, in the East of Poland, 1600 kms away from the petrol station where I approached him. So togheter we left behind the Netherlands and slept in the van in a Rastplatz in Braunscweig, Germany. Next morning we headed for Lublin. The seat of the Hyundai was uncomfortable, but we were so sleepy that instead of entertaining my driver, as ecpected, I entered the sublime realm of Dream rather quick.

On Friday in Lublin I changed my 5 euro note for local zlotys, I used the equivalent of 1 euro in an internet café, and reconverted the rest into slovakian money. The woman in the exchange office handed me politely half a dozen of multicolor poets, whose mission would be to resist the trip trough Slovakia and Hungary, as asteroids dodging atmospheres. Slovakia delayed me a day (Icamped in a footbal pitch near a small village).
A car on Sunday drove straight from that village to Budapest, so there I changed the slovakian poets for two solemn magyar kings, whit nominal value of 700 florints. An old Trabant stopped for me after that. I was so happy (it was my first Trabbie) that I jumped in regardless destination. The guy was carrying a box with two dogs over the roof, and was in fact going 10 kms from the Romanian border. Just that he deviated me from the E60 that goes straight to Oradea. So I was left in a tiny road that also crossed to Romania, but into a real backwater. Excelent! In the road I even saw a kind of carriage, also moving slowly towards the border!

With the last light of Sunday I made it to the border. I walked respectfully that no man land between the two countries customs, and received my stamp in the passport. I was in Romania, the country of Nadia Comaneci and Emil Cioran. On the spot I changed the magyar kings for Romanian money. I had done it: from Amsterdam to Romania with one euro. Can EasyJet top that up? The Romanian poets and polititians on the banknotes fought for space with the zeros in the banknotes: the smaller one was of 10,000. The first local I speak to is a street vendor who sell regional products in the gas station. We understand each other, no need to translate. Romanian os a latin tongue, which is even closer to classical latin than italian. The language took root here with the Roman conquest. Romania was incorporated in the Roman empire under the name of Dacia. In the 50s, in an attempt to deny the latin roots of th country, the communist government modified the ortography, slavazing some words. Only with the 1989 Revolution did the language recovered its integrity.

In the gas station, a hungarian woman was so shocked that I was trying to hitch hike in Romania that she offered herself to take me to Romania and put me up in a hotel. Everybody seemed to be sure that I was gonna be robbed in the fisrt town, and they succeed in sharing their fear a bit. When I find a truck that forwards me, it’s already night. As I don’t want to arriv to a big city bi night, I request to be dropped off in any village. He acceeds, warning first that a gang of gypses will eat me alive.In the village there are no lights by the road. Its seems to be composed of barking dogs and Dacias. Only light comes from a small restaurant. I order some food and when I say I come from Argentina the owner brings a couple of beers to the table and takes seat to drink with me. In that moment a Border police to whom I had previously asked where to camp “al naturale” comes in. He says something to the owner. As a consequence of this cconversation the owner invites me to his house.

When the following day I hitted the road towards Oradea, I still didn’t know what to expect. The rule in Romania is to pay for the rides a part of the oil expenses. 1o0 minutes later I was sitted in Alin’s car, he is a sales manager who takes me to Oradea an finds a free hotel room for me in a hotel that he frequents.

Before leaving he gives me 400,000 Lei (12 euros), and commends me to Christian. Christian is a student of architecture who works In a café outside the hotel. He offeres me beer and food. I cant believe his hospitality. He is a student and works 15 hours every other day, and still feels like taking care of me. I will personaly knock down the next person that tells me that Romania is dangerous.