Thursday, December 08, 2005


'The road will purvey' we used to say with Damian, my first road mate, for the case of such irreverent entries as the one that I enacted in Bulgaria: without local currency, knowledge of basic Bulgarian or local contacts. That wouldn't have been a problem if I had crossed the impressive bridge over the Danube during the morning. Instead, I crossed from Romania to the Bulgarian big city of Russe a sunset, when the rain stressed the industrial character of a city whose planners seem to have placed factories and power pants next to polluted Danube with psychological criteria.

Besides the occasional cursing I remembered that that was the kind of situation that test the thesis that underlying this trip: we are programmed to buy and sell, but as soon as one explains clearly a necessity the natural sense of hospitality always springs. It comes to surface, as a submarine in the artic casket. Sometimes you have to push a bit tough.

My first idea was to contact members of Hospitality Club to host me for a night. To achieve that I need at least 5 minutes of internet access, and a phone to call the member. A 3 stars motel promised to have these facilities. To be seen if they would be glad to let me use them for free.

When I explained my situation to the hotel manager and his assistant, who spoke some German, without further enquiries they led me to a net-connected computer. They put a telephone in my hands without my requiring it. We dialed then the number of the HC member. When nobody answered the phone it seemed I didn't have more cards to play. The man in charge saw the possibility of making profit form my situation and suggested I should overnight in the hotel and carry on during the morning. He made clear the price was only 10 euros… I worked in the reception of a centric hotel in Mar del Plata, Argentina, for 7 seasons, and knowing how little can employees move free within the House politics (hotel managers like to talk in terms of 'the House' maybe aiming to prevent employees from requesting salary rises by transferring edipical fears) I was not holding my breath. Then the story took a strange twist. Th assistant had been peeping at the articles of La Capital (the newspaper I write for weekly) which had been conveniently set near his sight by means of secret kung fu technics, and passed them on in surprise to his boss, who said: "So you are a journalist…!" Given the circumstances I said that "of course!". Number 201 shined on the golden key ring. In it htel I used to work at, 201 was little more than a store room where even tourists from La Rioja Province (a hot one) felt asfix symthoms, being duty of our beloved morning shift porter to push them back upwards with SS manners. But 201 in Russe Hotel was different, with air conditioning and fridge.

Next day I was early in the road intending to cross Bulgaria in one piece bound for Istanbul. When one lacks a map roadsign-guessing remains the last tool for finding the way. Bt this is not an option in a country that uses Cyrillic alphabet (Monk Saint Cyril may never have suspectd the incommunication that his alphabet would cause) After advancing laboriously 50 kms in the whole morning I stopped perplex at the sight of a Turkish truck changing tires at a roadside garage. It was like a cat whose claws were pointing to Istanbul. I use all the Turkish I know: "Ben Istanbul gidiyorum. Ben Tourist, Argentina." "Tourist?" –confirms Ibrahim the driver. "Yes" By sign language he let me know there was no problem.

Traveling to Istanbul transcends the objective fact of reaching such city: it is an icon of movement. The yellow modern Volvo traversed all Thracian Valley, and at night we were negotiating the border, where for mutual convenience we crossed separately. With one passport in each pocket I headed in absolute darkness to the control. An eerie sign reminded ridiculously that Turkey was "0,5 kms" away. The Bulgarian guard (when he showed up after 30' waiting, they were changing shifts) stamped my EU passport next to the Bulgarian entry stamp. He can make sense of how on earth traveling on foot I made it in one day from the Romanian border. Then the Turkish side. Turkey doesn't ask visa to Argentinian citizens, so I grabbed my blue passport. I call this "selective memory of grandparents". The Turkish guard searched in vain for the Bulgarian exit stamp, and whn I showed it to him in the Italian (EU) passport he thought that one of the documents should be false. After observing them like a collector's eye scans a precious stamp, he tried to reconstruct my itinerary, something close to playing chess with Deep Blue. He soon gave up. I did my first steps into Turkey, and jumped back into the Volvo. That night I slept in the truck, and on th morning I headed for the center of the city.
Istanbul is the present reincarnation of Bizancio and Constantinople. We owe to the siege of Constantinople by the Turks our having been "disovered" by Spaniards looking desperately for another shortcut to oregano. Istanbul, with 12 million souls, can be proud of having intercontinental urban buses, as half of the city lies in Europe, half in Asia. Everything was new for my eye: the slim minarets, the mosques, headscarfed women, bazaars and the vendor who, while trying to sell me a carpet, effectuates a baptizing rythe: welcome to Middle East!

No comments: