The level of our motivation is high. Our clothes are dry, this night we had a warm bed and now we are going to have a hearty breakfast. Today we will see, if the level of our motivation is high enough, see if we have what it takes to move the mountains. Or rather move our asses over the mountains. There are four mountain peaks waiting for us. In sum, an altitude of 1.200 meters. Much more than we had so far, but if we fail, how the heck are we supposed to deal with Kyrgyzstan? I better stop thinking, freshly oil my bike chain, adjust the breaks, put my knee warmers on and go.
Just riding your bike is not enough. You do this kind of travelling because you want to know different people. You want to talk to them, see how they think about life, see what problems they deal with. But at the moment, it’s hard for me. I don’t know this Ukrainian language but as we drive past the road signs it gets clearer to me how to read those Cyrillic signs. Almost every road sign has the transliterated version written below. If there is one without, it’s like a battle between Andi and me. A very unbalanced battle though. He did his homework, I didn’t. He tried to learn some words beforehand, but I don’t give up. You can imagine how my mustache grins when I get it first. Time flies by when you play games like these.
Denis, with his mountain bike, is totally in his element. Way ahead of us, I can’t even see him anymore. Now we know, it can’t be too far to the top anymore. In the distance, we can see white trees and jokingly we say to each other: “Look up! There is snow, maybe we’ll get some today”, not knowing what would be waiting for us up there. As we struggle to move forward, I always get this feeling that there is only one hill left. You don’t see what’s behind them. Then I start pedaling like crazy just to reach the end and see another one…and another one. And suddenly the wind is blowing stronger. Now I’m totally exhausted and it starts to snow too. What? It’s April, isn’t it? Summer should be knocking on the door! I’m glad that we finally reached the top. “From now on it’ll go only downhill.”, I say to Andi joyfully… Not in the slightest! As I speed up, the snow hurts my eyes. And we have headwind. This kind of headwind, that lets you doubt whether you are going downhill or just experiencing an illusion. God, please let this day end soon. The force is not with me anymore.
As we reach Korostiv, our endpoint for today, we look out for a cheap accommodation. Optimism? Go seek it elsewhere. Not from me. Not today. It’s just not my day. As I check the internet for a hostel, I can’t believe my eyes. Is this a joke? A whole wooden cabin with 2 rooms, 2 baths for 3 persons, 2 nights including breakfast for only 55 Euros? That’s ours! Quickly I book it.
It’s snowing and it doesn’t look like it’s going to end very soon, so we decide to stay here another day. The host is so kind and drives us to the next city, not so far away. In the meantime, we tell him about our plans, how we want to pass those many countries on our trip. But the moment Andi mentions Kyrgyzstan, something happens. From the back seat, through the rearview mirror, I can see how the look in his eyes changes. As if something shocked him. Are those tears? “I have been to war in Afghanistan”, he starts talking about his past. “I was there with people from Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Kazakhstan…war is so senseless. Look at this city, this country, these streets. Everything is incomplete. So many of these young boys you see go to war and don’t come back. They go to death. Every day.”, he says with a trembling voice. “We don’t want this war with Russia. They just come and occupy the land that belongs to us. They break into our houses and take food from Ukrainians, take it all away. War is so senseless”, he repeats. “Many years ago, I have been working as a farmer in England. I should have stay there. It was good. I came back because I love this country. Here is my family. I thought this country was going to be rebuilt, from dust to something better. I was wrong. Politicians don’t worry about us. They get rich, while we stay poor. They are not millionaires but billionaires! And for Europe we are the bad guys, because that’s what they show on television.”, he says. “I wish, this ground on which I stay, would still be a part of Austria as it once was. You know, Ukrainians travel through Europe, they see the difference. They see it on Facebook. Why can’t we have this good life too?”, he asks, knowing that we can’t give him an answer. This story is so heartbreaking, we don’t make any sound. Then he directs the car to the left into a small side street. He doesn’t want to talk about this anymore. “I want to show you something. That’s the Skolivski Beskydy National Park. Very beautiful”, he changes the topic abruptly. Afterwards he takes us back to the Hotel and says: “Today at 6 p.m. I want to make you a present. This ground on which you stay is special. Genghis Khan was here too. This was one of his thermal baths and you will try it today”.
That’s exactly what we need right now. A thermal bath. After hours of relaxing and maybe a little bit of fun, we are so hungry that we go to the restaurant and order some Bogrács (I think it comes from Hungary originally, it’s very similar to Goulash). Very spicy. You have to give it a try if you ever come to Korostiv.