The Road to Hell- Why I hate Buses!
Its worth stating from the word go, that bus travel isn’t my preferred mode of public transport. I always try to rent a car and drive myself. If that’s not possible, I’m much more of a train man, particularly when travelling overnight, in a country where the roads comprise at best, of gravel filled holes, and at worst of small crevasses.
I find it hard to sleep upright in a non reclining seat at the best of times. On a 1970’s vintage coach with no suspension, it’s going to be impossible. Therefore, finding that one way car rental between Moldova and Ukraine isn’t possible, and that the train from Chisinau to Lviv, takes at least 20 hours to travel 300kms, and is likely to involve a midnight tour of my rucksack conducted by a Transdniestran border guard, wasn’t an ideal start to my trip planning.
In these situations, sitting in a comfy room in England, the solution always seems easy as you pluck the answer from a myriad of travel websites and forums. Forget the train. Overnight bus from Chisinau to Chernivtsi in Ukraine (which confusingly is also called Cernauti), rent a car there and drive to Lviv with a quick detour to Kamyanets Podilsky. Simple .The optimist in me conjures up images of reclining seats, curtains, a toilet and air conditioning to convince me that this is the age of the Moldovan bus.I just hope the driver doesn’t play that annoying, tinny Euro pop all night…
Fast forward a month. You’re trying to remain calm in the way a claustrophobic does as the lift grinds to a halt between floors. Deep Breaths. Ignore the smell. Ignore the rivulet of sweat which is inching its way slowly through your hair, before picking up speed as it travels down your forehead and collides with your left eyebrow. There’s so much perspiration coursing down your back, you imagine you’ve been stabbed and are, in fact, bleeding to death. Deep breath, calm down. Only Eight and a half hours to go.
Eight and a half hours. Eight and a half hours sat on a bus, lurching along the pitch black, rubble strewn roads of Northern Moldova. A bus with no reclining seats, no curtains, no toilet and worst of all no bloody air conditioning! And no windows that open despite it being a 90 degree day, that’s turned into an 80 degree night. Our fellow travellers, all Moldovans, deal with the wilting heat stoically. They fan themselves with books and magazines. They occasionally let out a deep sigh, but mostly they sit, eyes closed as we rumble on, sweat pouring down their red faces.
The lights don’t work so I can’t read. The bus rolls and tips as if riding a rough sea so I can’t sleep. The seat pitch is about that of a Fiat 126, so I can’t move my legs or feet. The Moldovans have obviously been stuffing themselves with sleeping pills as they’re now all snoring. Loudly. My partner joins them in a bitter act of betrayal. (Though she later claims not to have slept a wink). I even begin to crave some tinny Eurotrash. I-Pod time. Chillout Playlist, Deep breaths. I think I’ve nodded off, but when I check my watch my eyes have only been closed for 4 minutes. Only 8 hours 25 minutes to go.
With only 7 hours to go, the bus stops, and the Moldovans begin to file off slowly. Not me. Elbows to the fore, I fight my way to the front of the queue and bound out into the wonderful, cool, diesel fume filled night air of a smalltown Moldovan bus station. A bench beckons and I crash out, to the bemusement of the Moldovans. I snooze, stuck to the bench via my shirt which drips gently onto the stained tiles.
After half an hour’s restless sleep where I dream I’m melting, the driver decides he wants to resume the journey and nudges me awake with his knee. Consoling myself that there are only 7 hours to go, I re-enter the oven.
The Moldovans wave their magazine fans until we swing out of the bus station, then carry on where they left off. Snoring, sweating and smelling. My Partner joins them.
And so it goes on. The longest night of my life as I sit, perspiring, exhausted but stricken with insomnia, cursing my snoring, sweating, smelling neighbours and longing for the next driver’s break when I can lay in a puddle of my own sweat in an obscure Moldovan bus station.
I’ve never been so happy to see a sunrise. That means only about 2 hours left. My eyes feel like they’ve sunk deep into my head and I can’t smell my fellow passengers anymore. That’s a bad sign as it means I stink just like them. I also feel like I’ve lost about a stone in weight.
Chernvitsi is a nondescript Ukrainian town about 15 miles from the Moldovan border, but that morning it was my favourite place in the world. Never have I been so glad to exit a mode of transport. The Moldovans looked bemused again as I kissed the floor of the coach station.
I promise myself that in future, overnight bus transport will come somewhere behind a yacht trip past Somalia and a cycle holiday in the Swat valley.
Two weeks later, I’m looking at the Burma Lonely Planet ,planning my next trip. No self drive in Burma. Rangoon to Mandalay. Overnight bus ,15 hours. Can’t be that bad can it? I just hope the driver doesn’t play of that annoying, tinny Asia-pop all night…