Day 16/17: The Border – Part 2

by Zack on August 20, 2010

We had to think fast. The train would arrive in less than a half hour. We had money, we had passports, but we lacked tickets.

We decided to transcribe from my Polish dictionary to a piece of paper; explaining that the machine in the station was broken, the woman said we could purchase tickets on board, and if possible, we needed to make a connection to Lviv in Kowel.

It lacked grammatical precision and my handwriting is abhorrent, but we were pretty sure our note would get the job done.

When the train arrived I instantly grabbed a ticket-taker. He was disinterested. Luckily, his companion took interest in what were obviously the only foreigners or backpackers on the train. He guided us to what we believe to be his Ukrainian counterpart.

Our lack of tickets didn’t seem to be a problem. Before asking for money (though he did ask if we had money) he guided us to an empty cabin. He wrote down the amount – still no English here – and asked for our passports. “Ahh, American!” he exclaimed. This brought him joy. Probably, we think, cause it meant we’d have money.

We set up shop for a 5 hour ride. Laid out on the bunks and fell asleep. In 45 minutes the train stopped. The border.

An armed agent in full fatigue asked if we spoke Russian. We said no. He saw our passports, mispronounced our names, and said “American.” “Uh oh,” I though. I hope that doesn’t mean money!

It didn’t. He stamped our passports and we thought we were in the clear.

Less than 30 minutes later we stopped again. This agent, less fatigued, but uniformed, was even less friendly. He sternly commanded us to fill out an arrival/departure form and absconded with our passports.

In the next two hours – all at rest in a station where they appeared to be conducting heavy maintenance on the train – we waited impatiently and unknowingly for the passports we weren’t entirely sure would be returned. II was sure there would be some “tip” necessary for some “problem” with our passports.

When our stern friend returned he simply handed us our passports and left. 30 minutes later we were on the road again.

At Kowel, our friendly ticket-taker woke us and escorted us off the train. He pointed to a train to tracks over and told us it was to Lviv. In the station we quickly browsed for a atm machine, but saw nothing.

We approached the ticket window and were barked off by a large Ukrainian woman. We tried the next window. She was receptive, but perturbed by our utter lack of Ukrainian money. “Dolars?” we asked. “Hryvnia!” “Zloty?” we hoped. “HRYVNIA!”

I panicked. Looked around hurriedly, scared. Then I saw it. “Bankomat.” Or, really, what I thought was a close Ukrainia translation of the word. I left the bags. This time it was my turn to sprint for an atm.

I bounded down the stairs. Nothing but columns and sleeping transients. Then around a column, I spotted an ethereal glow. A large atm appeared with a halo around it and a hand from God pointing down, answering my prayers.

I took out 1000 Hryvnia (about $85) and leaped up the steps, 3 at a time. Mike saw me and his face lit up when he saw the joy in my ear-to-ear smile. And just at that moment, the large Ukrainian women from the first window came peeling around a corner, “Lviv! Lviv! Come. Come!”

We followed her out to the platform where a ticket taker was standing, sternly, waiting for us. “Money?” the window women asked.

I pulled out my wad of 100’s and 50’s. Everyone smiled.

They welcomed us onto the train. Unfortunately this time we were sharing a cart (with a snoring drunk in tighty-whitey’s, no less) but we could care less. At that point we knew, we would make it to Lviv.

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

jennifer robertson August 21, 2010 at 5:55 am

Did you make it? Are you in Lviv? This kept me on the edge of my chair.

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