Creamy December fog hung heavy across the highway. Visibility was reduced to about 100 metres, but that didn’t slow our bus driver down any. We were barreling forward in a minivan full of slavs to a mysterious and rare location on the planet. I felt my immigration slip in hand grow soft from the perspirating palms. We were on our way to the self-declared country of Transdniestria.
Romania to Moldova
The journey begins in Chisinau, Moldova. We had just gotten off a night bus from Bucharest, Romania. In the black of the night we had crossed the border but all I could remember of that leg of the journey was black and white Russian movies punctuating my sleep on the bus. It was chilly in Chisinau and other than a few brightly colored buildings standing valiantly against the fog, the place looked grim. Daylight had just illuminated the town for the first time that day and the streets were quiet.
Upon our arrival into town our first operation was to find Tapok Hostel. It would be our home away from home and a place to leave our bags before crossing the makeshift border of Moldova/Transdniestria. We made our way from the bus station to the hostel on foggy, empty streets. The fog made our surroundings obscure and heightened our expectations of the trip across the border.
Moldova to Transdniestria
Arriving at the hostel we dropped our lode off and turned around to go right back to the bus station. Things were beginning to open up as kiosk and shops had raised their graffitied guard shutters. We walked past an open meat market where slain pigs laid red and gutted across table. My excitement was high.
Back at the bus station, we purchased our breakfast for the day: canned coffee and Red Bull from a kiosk. The station was already thriving with farmers and locals and vendors. People were catching domestic transport to take them across the small country we were in. This transport included Transdniestria. I could spot it from a distance, the small sixteen seater mustard yellow bus would be the one that would be taking us. We purchased our tickets and found a seat on the ride. Our driver looked to be a friendly moustached Moldavian/Romanian man who promptly gave us a short immigration card to fill out. The card was both in Russian and English and asked for general information, document numbers, and itinerary. We filled out our forms and proceeded to wait for the bus to turn on the engine and start the heater.
At the Checkpoint
The drive took us only a hour but with nothing to see we didn’t know we were there until were right at the checkpoint. I had heard stories of this place, people being denied entry for no reason, forced to pay bribes, or being questioned for any ulterior motives to why they may be entering the country. I tried to look as plain as local as possible, but it didn’t matter because ultimately my passport would give me up. The riders of the bus all had to shove their way into a little guard shack to get their identities checked whilst being watched under the careful eye of the guards. Here, a sovietesque soldier with a trenchcoat; wearing a round green hat with a hammer and sickle pin in the middle ripped half of my immigration document off and handed me back the bottom portion to keep. That cleared me to go into their “country”.
We crossed through the border without any difficulties. I could see why this border was Europe’s largest land border for gun trafficking. With the guards being lax about their “exports” and the state being so militarized it was an obvious threat to peace. I could see the Dniester River coming closer. Before reaching the river there was some small shrubbery around the road. I peered out the window and I saw something I did not expect….The bushes were guarded by troops. I looked a little closer and came to see what it really was a DMZ! There was barbed wire and machine guns, as well as a tank all camouflaged into the terrain and pointing their muzzles towards Chisinau.
With the border passed I breathed a sigh of relief. I got through the border without being a target for anti-westerners. As we rolled over the Dniester river I could see our destination to come, Tiraspol, would be a most interesting one.