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OK,, I've posted this trip on a couple of other websites, but in case you don't frequent the other forums, I'd like to share it with you in the hope that you find it interesting and also in the hope that you'll support my cause ;)

Last year, I rode from my home in Southwest Germany to the Black Sea, stopping off in Calarasi, Moldova to visit the orphanage there. To reach Odessa on the Black Sea coast from here, there are two options, either a major detour to cross from Moldova into Ukraine via one of the official border crossings, or alternatively, a straight run through Transnistria, or to give its full, official, snappy title, the Pridnestrovian Moldavian Republic.

Before I had left home, research had thrown up several contradictory facts about this little known land, the first being that it is not internationally recognised as a country in its own right, instead being a breakaway territory within Moldova, east of the river Dniester. Many governments advise against travelling there, with the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office advising the traveller not to get into trouble there – if you do, you’re basically on your own, since there are no diplomatic relations between the UK and Transnistria. Although there has been no fighting between Moldova and Transnistria since the ceasefire in 1992, tension still remains high and isolated incidents, such as shootings, are not uncommon. Thankfully, further research identified that these are not usually aimed at the few tourists that venture there, the main actions against tourists generally limited to denying entry into the country, or subjecting them to several bribes if allowed in. Whilst in Calarasi, I had asked about the situation and whether it would be possible for me to ride through, with the general consensus being yes, but be careful. Good advice before I left had been, “If you are refused entry, either try another border or try the same border at a different time of day, since it often depends on the individual border guards on duty. Have a back-up plan in case you are not allowed in”.

I quickly passed through Chisinau, desperately looking for the signs for “Bender/Bendery/Tighina” (The town name differs on maps and also road signs. Bender is the Moldovan name, although Tighina is now commonly used, with Bendery being the Russian name), which is the first town in Transnistria on the direct route from Chisinau to Odessa.
Shortly before reaching the town, and despite still being west of the river Dniester, the border checkpoint was suddenly in sight. Border checkpoint is probably a bit of a grand title – two uniformed guards were sitting at a makeshift wooden table at the side of the road. I pulled up, one of the guards approached me and asked me whether I was aware that I was about to leave official Moldovan territory. I told him that I was, then asked if that was a problem. “Maybe”, came the answer. He then proceeded to write my passport details in a worn ledger, then told me to register at the next building before handing my passport back. So far, so good. I then rode past the many armed soldiers to the next checkpoint. Here, a young, friendly guard who spoke good English asked me a few questions about the bike and where I was heading before taking my passport. He asked to look inside my panniers and made me empty the contents of my tank bag before accompanying me to the hut, which was the official Moldovan passport control. My passport was inspected by various people, during which time I was asked where I was going and why, before being passed behind the counter, where again the details were copied into a ledger. The guy doing the writing was struggling with translating the various information he needed from my passport, so I flicked through the pages until I found one of the old Russian visas I had, allowing him to quickly copy the necessary details. Much discussion was being held in Russian about my passport and me, but eventually, it was handed back and I was told I could proceed further. On the way out of the hut, the first guard was standing there smoking with one of his mates. As more or less expected, they asked me for a “present”. One of them jokingly said, “400 Dollars would be OK”. I gave them 5 Euros each, since I’d had a friendly and helpful reception, and I was relieved that the hype about getting into Transnistria wasn’t so bad, after all.

I got back on the bike, then rode slowly onwards under the watchful eyes of yet more soldiers (mostly Russian and Ukrainian peacekeeping forces), before quickly realising that I was not yet in Transnistria, but just out of Moldova, since ahead of me, a weathered sign over the road proudly proclaimed the entrance into the Pridnestrovian Moldavian Soviet Socialist Republic (in some places, this grand designation still exists, although it was never officially recognised as a Soviet republic by authorities in either Russia or Moldova). The border guards here were not so friendly, and after repeatedly questioning me in Russian without getting much of a response from me apart from “I don’t understand”, one of them took my passport whilst the other marched me into the immigration office. This small building was packed with people trying to get into the country, most of them waving completed entry documents at the frustrated girl behind the counter. Not really sure what I should be doing, I picked up a blank entry document to start studying and completing, then one of the guards from outside came in, walked up to me and said, “big problem with motorcycle”. On asking what the problem was, a stream of Russian came back at me, but as luck would have it, a Russian-speaking Canadian was one of the people at the counter, and he explained to me that my bike was supposedly restricting the traffic “flow”, and the guard wanted me to move it, which I did. The guard’s helpful “assistance” resulted in one of my panniers earning some scratches and wearing some of the red paint ordaining the barrier. On returning back into the building, the Canadian guy then helped me with the immigration process and helped me get my passport back with the all-important transit visa, which cost the princely sum of 8.30 Moldovan Lei (about 0.50 Euros), along with the warning that I must leave the country within the 24 hour validity of the visa.

That was it! I was finally in Transnistria, and although a little long-winded, the process wasn’t really that bad. I rode into Tighina, where a number of monuments hosting Russian tanks welcomed me. I stopped to take a couple of photos, during which time an olive green Volkswagen Golf repeatedly hooted at me, with the occupants waving frantically. At first I thought I’d broken an unwritten law by taking photographs, but it turned out to be the Canadian guy just waving. Shortly after Tighina, I met him once again at a police checkpoint. He told me not to lose the piece of paper they had given me at the border under any circumstances, since there would be major problems when trying to exit the country. Assuming he meant the transit visa, I told him that it was safely tucked inside my passport and thanked him for his concern.

Since I had lost a bit of time at the border, I was now keen to press on and get to Odessa, so didn’t spend much time at all in Tiraspol, the capital. One thing I did notice was that the available petrol octane rating at the filling stations was getting lower and lower, with 76 octane for sale on the outskirts of the city.

Arriving at the border at Pervomaisc, I parked the bike as directed. One of the border guards took my passport and a really obnoxious one indicated that I should follow him to his two metre square tin hut. He then started questioning me in Russian, eventually switching to English when he realised I had absolutely no clue what he was asking. He kept demanding my “Bike visa”. I told him repeatedly that the transit visa was with my passport, then he showed me an empty ice cream carton full of what looked like raffle tickets. He plucked one out and showed me that a registration number was written on it. “This is the paper I need”. Somehow, during the entry formalities, the officials had “neglected” to issue me with a transit visa for the bike (just one for me), which was obviously the piece of paper that my Canadian friend had told me not to lose. On telling me that I had to return to Tighina to request a new paper, I guessed what he was up to and asked if I could “buy” a new paper at this border. After a stream of unintelligible Russian, he switched to English, telling me that this was impossible, it was a big problem, and I would have to return. This procedure repeated itself a few times, him shouting at me in Russian, banging his fist on the table, with me somehow remaining calm and politely asking whether I could buy the document here. After what seemed like a lifetime in this small, hot, sweaty hut, but was really only twenty minutes or so, he suddenly said, “Give me five Dollars”. I asked him if five Euros was OK, which he quickly accepted before directing me to the next official, the one who had earlier taken my passport. This guy was a little more pleasant, leading me into his office in the main building, where he questioned me about where I was going. He then produced a customs declaration form and insisted that I empty my wallet, entering the full amount of the various currencies I was carrying onto the form. Then came the crunch question. “Please show me the proof that you paid motorcycle road tax when entering Moldova from Romania”. Since there is no such requirement (at least as far as I am aware), it goes without saying that I had no documental proof. So began a similar story, him demanding that I return to the Moldovan border to pay the tax, me asking whether I could “pay the tax” here, him telling me that it was a big problem and not possible. After another twenty minutes or so playing this game, he asked for ten Euros, which he received, then he took me to Passport Control. This was one of those typical third-world border control scenes I had previously read about, with the head official leaning back in his chair, feet on the desk, cigarette in one hand and mobile phone in the other. I patiently waited for him to finish his phone call, then when he continued to ignore me, asked whether I could have my passport, which was lying on his desk. He picked my passport up, leafed through it, then asked, “Where is your transit visa?”. After informing him that it was in the passport, he shook it and asked, “Where?”, as it became clear to me that the previous official had decided to remove it. He then asked for some other non-existent paperwork that was required and the “game” began once again, although this guy was as obnoxious as the first one had been. He asked me whether I had a map. I told him I had one on the bike, which he sent me to get. Naturally, my passport had to remain in his sweaty palms, despite me asking for it back. Once back at the building, he drew a cross at our current location on the map, then another at Tiraspol. He told me I needed to return to Tiraspol, collect the necessary paperwork, then ride to the official border between Moldova and Ukraine at Palanca, a distance of 130 kilometres. Alternatively, I could pay him 20 Euros, cross the border here and continue to Odessa, this route being just 60 kilometres. I was sorely tempted to tell him where to stuff it, but I had already handed out enough money and spent enough time playing games, so I offered him 10 Euros, which he laughed at. At my offer of 15 Euros, he threw my passport at me and started to walk off, so I conceded, and was rewarded with a big smile and the comment, “It’s just business, yeah?”. “Thieving bastards” was the term that came to my mind.

I hope you enjoyed this ride report, which I’ve taken from my new book, entitled “Dodging Potholes – Motorcycling in Eastern Europe”. If you’d like to read more, you could support an orphanage/school for mentally handicapped children in Moldova, the poorest country in Europe by buying the book. It has a cover price of €15, (about US$ 24) of which all €15 will go to directly to the orphanage. For more information on the book and a couple of extracts, please go to http://www.jeder-kilometer-zaehlt.de/EN.html and click on “News”. If you would like to support, please PM me!

Thanks in advance

Dave
 

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I've been there in 2007 coming from Chernobyl->Kiev->Odessa-> BENDER -> Chisinau -> Bucharest

We had our own trouble with local militia. We had info to run away from militia if they are trying to stop us.

In Moldavia 2 BMW (cars) black and tinted windows having transnistrian license numbers followed us in a scary chase.

Whole story in the signature
 
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