Cycling through the Radioactive area of Chernobyl and ghost towns
I start cycling from Minsk and I go south to Ukraine, I pass nearby Chernobyl: Naroulia–one of the most radio-contaminated city of the world–, the Radioecological reserve Polesky and the nuclear ghost town of Poliske (Ukraine), which is between two military checkpoints.
Many dangers on the way, but the radioactivity pollution is not the biggest.
The Belarusian army, police, wild animals, falling apart bridges, injuries and even lack of drinkable water was what made the cycling challenging.
It’s like an authoritarian father, not allowing his children to do anything he does not like them to do.
I feel it from his army and police, so close minded and standardized.
THE HIERARCHIC WRONG FAIRYTALE OF CINDERELLA
Belarus make me think of fairytales.
Children’s stories that can make kids adults heroes, or just robots, depending on the content of the narration.
Let’s take Cinderella as example, an apparent nice story.
But there is a manipulative teaching: kids learning that a prince or a king is more important than a common person.
Cinderella wants to get out of her poverty through marrying a prince. This is not just sexisst but higly hierarchic and non meritocratic.
If there would be no prince there would be no poor ladies like Cinderella.
GETTING INTO TROUBLES WITH BELARUSIAN ARMY
To take a shortcut, I go through the forest, crossing a falling apart bridge I see a strange field in front of me: it’s not forest, neither cultivated, on the map is shown just as a gray area. I go into it to cross it.
I see big holes on the ground and I have a strange feeling.
All the patterns marked on the map don’t match the real path and I am stuck in this place. I decide to camp there for the night, feeling a bit worried.
During the night I hear trucks passing, I look more carefully out of the tend and I spot a destroyed war tank far from me.
I start thinking I may be somewhere where I should not be!
In the morning I am awaken by a big military truck passing, a soldier with three stars on is jackets comes out of it, telling me, ‘almost friendly’, that I am in a military exercitation camp, where they are shooting with fantery and heavy weapons. He tells me to leave asap.
I thank him and I leave, I think that he was quite kind to have just told me to leave without even asking who I am.
After two kilometers there is a checkpoint, with soldiers and the man I spoke previously was there waiting for me, he politely tells me that I have to be interrogated.
I am ready for interrogation and I am quite happy to be alive, not aware that the interrogation will lasts seven hours and I am asked about EVERYTHING.
They check all my stuff, included my private pictures on my phone, emails, facebook and all you can find on my google account.
The find some naked pictures of me, where I promote Cyclonudista, and tell me that pornography is illegal in Belarus, I tell them that that’s just my body as I was born.
At the end I am told that a truck will come to pick me up and bring me “on the right way…”.
After another half hour a truck comes, I am helped to get inside of it with my bicycle, there are soldiers with weapons in it.
I am not able to see outside, it’s dark and I am about to vomit for the shaking and the dust.
I can now understand a little what animals in cages feel when they are transported from one place to another, I understand why many of them die on the way. I almost wished to die myself on that truck.
I am worried and paranoid, I think that they would harm or even kill me. They seem too kind to be true.
The truck stops, the same people who inspected me open the door from outside and I am free, for real.
Never felt better in my life.
DOGS AND WILD ANIMALS ON THE WAY
In the tent I clearly hear wolves, I am ready with pepper spray and a metal stick–a detached handlebar–to fight, but luckily they don’t come too near.
Dogs are barking to the wolves all night long. What to know what I think about dogs?
Dogs are the most evident example of human insatisfaction.
I see a farm in front of me, I see people kicking and pulling cows as they are pieces of
EVEN IMPORTANT THINGS ARE EASY TO FORGET
When we change from different situations we can forget really fast, and deeply. We may easily forget all the struggle we were in before, if we are suddenly in a more comfortable situation.
The ones of us with memory for the sad past, the ones that remember also the bad times of others around, the persons that have this sensibility, those are our heroes, those are the ones to whom we have to be grateful.
YOU CAN’T UNDERSTAND
When you have a home, you can’t understand homelessness.
When you have a full belly, you can’t understand the hungry one.
When you are healthy, you can understand pain.
I also don’t understand how I am able to cycle: just one week before starting, I do a wrong movement and my back gets blocked, people need to pull me up and lift me for about three days in order to let me move.
My right eye has some loss of sharpness; while cycling I fall down, I hurt my hand and I am not able to use it for all the rest of the trip… But this didn’t stop me.
USSR AND COMMUNISM – UKRAINE OPEN TO EU
Kiev is much different than Minsk or Riga, which both give me USSR, anti western, pro-Putin feeling.
I was more keen to like the Soviet Union before my trips to the Baltics, Belarus and Ukraine.
After the seeing huge economic and social differences even in Belarus, which is the only country in the world that continues on the USSR regime, I am not sure I like this kind of communism. I would not even call it communism, but dictatorship.
I have noticed that freedom of speech is unknown in Belarus, the country is ruled by police with little-no personal liberty.
I would say that among ex-USSR countries, Ukraine is the most open and EU-oriented country, even if there is a long way to go.
While Latvia was the most unfriendly country for western people.
I mostly travel alone because I am often disappointed by travel companions. Some of them pretend to be lovers, but are much better than expected as traveling companionship, much worse than expected as lover.
WAR IN UKRAINE
What’s the difference between a detainee and a soldier?
The only difference is that the soldier can let out his hunger and frustration freely on other people.
EUROPEANS SHOULD LEARN FROM UKRAINIANS
In Ukraine people is not smiling all the times, sometimes they give you the impression of unhappiness. Except this, I have experienced great manners, honesty and really friendly attitude.
Things work well here, public services are smooth and internet is really fast and cheap.
The subway in Kiev works extremely efficiently, it’s clean and everyone is perfectly well educated to stand up from their seats for an older person. The same in the tram, trolley bus and minibus.
Walking at night, even in really dark areas, is totally safe. Nobody bothers you even if is clear that you are a foreigner.
Police and army people are friendly. They are working hard and will not bother you, in south europe (especially in Italy) this is not the case.
I never felt unsafe or threatened here , to be sincere I felt much better that in many European capitals.
One of the difficult things for me, to do on the road, is to take picture and enjoy what you are photographing at the same time. Is not easy to catch the beauty of what you are watching, often by photographing all the time, you even lose connection with the reality and the enjoyment of the moment. That’s why sometimes I just leave the camera on my bicycle and I record everything without even pointing at it! (not always with the best results….)
Blood drinking girl in Pärnu
On my way south, from Finland to the bottom of Estonia, I was searching for a place to sleep, suddenly I met someone…
We met in the middle of the night without knowing each other, in a dark street in the countryside.
I was lost and she offered me her place to sleep (without even seeing my face).
I liked her style, her way of behaving and her apparent foolery, she was really extravagant.
While we cycled to her place, she was telling me that she was a monster and enjoyed killing people. Drinking their blood.
I was slightly scared, but tired enough from the trip to follow her without resistance.
her room had many dark-style decorations on the walls.
It was the house of her grandparents, with her alcohol addicted grandfather, always drunk, screaming all the time, and her extremely sweet grandmother, gentle and kind, suffering all the time.
Even being afraid that someone is a dangerous person, if you like that person and you think it’s someone worth to get to know, you should go for it. Everybody is a potentially dangerous person, and remember that even if someone is ‘bad’, he may change as well. Better to be now, with someone that looks like a dangerous person, or maybe not perfect, than to get to know someone thinking he is totally safe (which does not exist actually) , that will eventually change in the future in someone dangerous while the first person may get better. Not even death always related with ugliness: the dying of leafs on a maple tree are delightful to see for example.
The most people has a quite archaic and conservative opinion about sex and man-woman relationship. If you like to be in company of women you are seen as a dirty, stupid, unwelcome.
The first impression is that western Europeans can be just good to get scammed and ripped off.
There is a huge Russian influence here, even if people told me: “Lithuanians are more Russian-style than us…”.
Anyhow, I don’t see here a big wish for change from the past.
If a man is not prone to expose himself for his ideas, or his ideals have no value at all or he, as person, has no value at all.
Luca x2, the paradoxical coincidence
Passing by a hostel in the center of Riga, asking some information’s, I notice a person that I have seen somewhere before.
“Hallo, did I see you anywhere before?”
“yes, maybe” – he says with a strong french accent,
“ah, that’s funny, where were you the past weeks?” – I reply,
“me too! we should have met there then, did you hitchhiked to here?”
“no, I came with the bicycle”
“me too! what a coincidence!”
“what is your route?”
“I am coming from Scandinavia”
“me too! that’s more than a coincidence… ! where are you going?” – I say, almost not believing it!
“south, direction middle-east,”
“me too!” – I even start to worry about too many coincidences! – “since when did you start?”
“me too, seen that we have so much things in common, we should introduce each other! What’s your name?”
“Luca” – he says
“me too!!” I reply
This is funny, weird and does not even look like to be possible, but it is. And you have seen it on video!
I love Gulliver’s travels because whenever he was traveling, in the each new place he arrived, the people could not understand or properly interpret experiences he had in the previous places. This happen in real life as well, who hasn’t traveled into a country, is not really able to understand certain things about that culture.
What if we would say to an anthropologist: “are you sure the culture you talk about is not just a scientific stereotype?” – I don’t think it is, but would be interesting to hear the answer.
If you just go in the street and shout: “Giedre” you will get at least the half of the girls turning their head. This is the most common name for girls.
Lithuanians really love to add sauces to any kind of food, especially ketchup!
Pizza with ketchup, mayonnaise or tartar sauce is quite common.
Coffee and tea are not filtered, which means that you are mostly eating, not drinking it.
Vegetarians and vegans in Vilnius
When I asked to a waiter in a restaurant for a vegan meal, she gave me this explanation:
“Vegetarian here means that you are allowed to eat fish, Vegan means that you don’t eat fish or meat, but you do eat milk and eggs.”
I was surprised, but actually I have to admit that in Lithuania people is still much more forward than in more southern countries about fair and healthy food, for sure Latvians and Belorussians are not better…
A group of three persons was behaving a bit annoying around the main train station during night time, once I called police they came really fast, they were helpful and did a good job, I even got a translator.
With Police the truth is sometimes the least credible.
The danger of who generalize is to end up fighting against his companions.
There are public bicycles and some bicycle paths, still the system is not perfect and in many streets it’s really hard to cycle because the path may be marked as “cycling lane”, but , it has in some areas paving stones that makes it almost impossible to cycle. The crossings points need to be improved too.
Street Theater, Street Performances
Lithuanians have a sense of creativity, art and modernism, I was quite surprised to notice that.
There are many enjoyable street performances in Lithuania, regardless the cold climate (of course mostly in the summer), if you happen to pass in Vilnius in August you may enjoy some carfree days with Art, Sports and performances open to all.
Theater VS Real Life
Theater and reality overlap in my life, it merges until the point I don’t play theater anymore but I play my life, making the world as scene. This makes my technical acting skills decrease, but my social and life skills improve.
Regardless some other fields where there is room for improvement, in Lithuania, you have great internet infrastructure: the best European fibreoptic internet penetration (usage) and both home and mobile internet really fast and affordable.
Technology VS Nature
How to know when tech is going against nature? Well, one easy attitude would be to use technology to better understand and follow nature’s rules.
Racketeering, extortion, scam, rip-off, coaxing, fraud, and aggressions by organized crime happen on daily base in the city center of Riga (Latvia), the old town. While locals are indifferent, not knowing it or even pro-crime.
Riga, the ‘capital of the Baltic’; capital of Latvia; european capital of culture 2014; or capital of scam?
Have you ever been in Riga? If you did, you are probably reading this too late.
RIGA AS TOURISTIC DESTINATION
Since late 2000 Riga became more and more popular as touristic destination, mostly because of cheap flights and it’s membership of the European Union.
Many tourists in group decided to visit this baltic city and to spend their weekends there. A good part of those groups were made of boys wanted to have their weekend of fun, adventures and good times.
Until 2012 there were ‘stag parties’ (bachelor celebration) taking place in Riga, where the visitors were quite loud and drunk in the streets. This may have contributed to have a local public opinion quite anti-visitors.
Tourists, visitors, travelers and expat report that in Riga they didn’t feel really welcome and that locals were not much friendly there. I have to say that I also had this feeling, even though I met few great local persons in Riga.
CRIMINALITY AND SCAM IN BARS IN RIGA
Since many years in Riga there are different kind of crimes happening against non-locals with the passivity or complicity of the local authority (police and politicians).
The most absurd thing is that those events happen always in the same places (bars) which are in the very city center, in the most touristic area, behind the freedom monument, with police and people all around it, walking few meters away.
Because of a general dislike that many locals have for tourists, nobody is really interested in trying to change what is happening in Riga.
But what is really happening?
I will tell you here my story of few days spent in the European Capital of…. Culture? 2014,
Walking to go to sleep during nighttime in the Kalku Iela I ask an information to a person passing, we talk friendly. She speaks perfectly Italian and behaves really friendly, I was surprised and we start a new conversation, I get invited by her to go to a bar, I say I don’t want to drink, but I would just just walk her there. Even if my intention was not to go and drink, the woman pushes me to get inside and orders two drinks while I am about to say goodbye, as I see she ordered, I sit to talk to her briefly saying that I have to cycle and I don’t want to drink alcohol.
After a small chat (around five minutes) the waiter brings the bill and the woman says I am suppose to pay, the bill was much higher than normal (maybe ten times), I ask to see the menu, the prices were matching the bill (which means that the scam in the bar is pre-organized). At the same moment the woman orders other extremely expensive drinks (cognac, champagne, etc.) asking me to pay.
I notice the woman does not even drink once from her glass, but she pushes me to drink all drinks, I find this suspicious, I ask her at least to try it, but when I take the drink and offer it to her, she jumps back, as it was something disgusting, pushing the glass to my lips instead.
By this I understand there are most probably drugs in the drink (remembering stories of travelers being drugged in Riga) and I refuse to drink closing my mouth, she pushes so hard that the drink gets on our clothes, the glass falls and gets broken on the floor. She says that I will have to pay everything, also for the glass, when I refuse she starts to aggress me first verbally then physically.
She becomes violent and throws the broken glass to me, which injures me, at that point I am surrounded by all the men that were in the bar (four persons, including waiter and a big bouncer which suddenly appeared) that immobilize and aggresses me, while the woman takes my jacket which was on the couch (with my phone and money in it), goes inside of the bar and throws it on the floor. Meanwhile the bouncer and ‘friends’ (waiter, owner?…) push me out, but I get free, get the jacket from the inside and run out, calling police. In the jacket there is no phone neither money anymore.
The police arrives after fifteen long minutes, one of the policeman was sleeping in the car, they are not surprised at all of hearing my story, they were mostly pissed off to have to work at that late time. We go back to the bar and everybody is still there, as nothing happened. Continuing to scam other tourists. The policemen friendly (but this is no joke, they were friendly to her) ask the woman to follow them in the car, she is smiling and not worried at all.
As we go to the police station I don’t get any report, the police asks me how long I will stay in Riga and where I live, treating me quite rudely, I show them on the map and on the calendar, and even the criminal woman is hearing and seeing all this, because she is just sitting next to me, smiling all the time.
I tell them that all this scam was completely organized and that I am not drunk at all, I am sober and I understood everything, they are not interested in listening to me, they call an ambulance and send me to the hospital.
In the hospital I see a man bleeding vigorously, blood on the floor and nobody taking care of him. He was trying to stop the blood with some toilet paper, but it was such long time that he was bleeding that the blood was drying out on his clothes and face. Almost complete indifference of the hospital staff towards this severely injured drunken old homeless, they left him almost die, while prioritizing my small injures with my disagree.
The day after, I go to the police station to ask for a copy of the report, they say that it will be shipped at my place, I am said I am not in right of getting any report in other ways.
I never received the report shipped.
Contacting the Police afterwards I get to know that there was no complaint made by the Police officers previously.
A second time, another attempt of scam happens, but really differently:
I meet a girl in a in a safe bar (one of the few safe bars in old town), she is really friendly and we just have a small talk, but we exchange facebook and the telephone number.
We keep contact by sms’s for about one week, almost daily we write to each other, she is really friendly and kind in the messages.
We arrange a meeting in a (safe)restaurant, we have a short walk and she asks me if she can stay at my place for the night, cause she lives far and didn’t want to take the bus to go home. I told her that she could stay.
As we arrived I made some food for her, which she was eating really fast.
She sat on the sofa putting her legs on my legs, she started to say she had a big family, not much money and that her sister was having cancer and needed a risky head-operation, behaving as an extremely pitiful person.
After that, almost crying, she asks me if she could borrow me some money. (I understood there was a trap)
As I refused, she started to send sms’s and making calls to someone, which she said was her boyfriend and that he was coming to rescue her from me, then she also said she would call police and say I attempted to rape her if I would not give her the money.
I was quite nervous, I really didn’t know what to do cause she knew where I lived (I was about to stay for a while in that place) and I was staying there alone, as an easy target.
My brain was burning with any kind of thoughts, I didn’t know who was coming, what those persons would do and I was new in that area, without any friends. I was thinking of all possible strategies in order to get her and myself out of the place.
Instinctively I take her bag and throw it outside, luckily it was open and all her stuff went on the street, she needed some time to collect it all, in the meantime I took all my stuff of value (this is the positive side of being a minimalist), locked the door twice and left as fast as possible.
I spent the night out, with some dutch boys that were keeping me company and offered me their place where to stay.
After that I had to leave the place and move on.
The day after another attempt of scam, yet different:
I met a group of girls in a safe bar, one of them tries to get my trust saying she is a student and in her group of girls there are a couple of friends working in the police (to make me feel safe, but she didn’t know that I don’t trust police at all). They look completely as normal girls, anybody would trust such a group and would be really hard for anyone to recognize anything suspicious in it.
We spend almost all the evening together, we dance and chat a lot. I notice she asks me some personal informations, such as where I live exactly (which street) and if I have friends or know people there.
While we dance I notice she starts to change her behaviour cause I don’t give her the informations she wants, I notice she is not really liking my company but she spends time with me and is committed in passing more time with me, I feel that is like a ‘job’ for her.
I ask her what she does and where she lives, and I notice that she speaks exactly the same way, with the same arguments, of the other two criminal girls I met previously.
She starts to tell me that she lives outside Riga and that she had rough time at home, she was looking for a place where to live in Riga city, asking me if I could host her.
I notice the scam immediately, I tell her to hold on, that I needed to go to the toilet.
I left the bar, I left Riga, I left Latvia, maybe forever.
I have read and heard personally a lot of those stories from people traveling in Riga, some people woke up on the beach half naked with no shoes, glasses, documents, money or bags! completely screwed up.
It looks like that many local people are not giving importance of what is happening or are even happy of those scams cause they don’t really like tourists or visitors (local say often: “if tourists comes here for cheap sex and beers, this is what they deserve”).
I don’t like to drink alcohol, I don’t like prostitutes neither strip clubs and I have never done a stag party in my life. But I don’t condemn who does like those things, there is nothing to be ashamed of feeling guilty for. If in a country they don’t want prostitution, strip clubs or stag parties, there are legal ways to stop it.
I have traveled in many places in the world, I have been in Africa (Ghana, Cameroon Ivory Coast) , Asia (Cambodia, Thailand…), Middle east and many dangerous european cities, I have been in the most crazy and unpredictable situations. But never something like this happened, never I felt so much in danger as in Riga that I was just not able to trust people anymore (for sure girls). The thing is that the most people I made friendship with, people that are now my best friends, I met them in the street. Asking me to not approach people in the street is like asking an italian to not talk with hands.
Certainly I have never experienced locals to be so proud of their criminals justifying those acts as “punishment to the bad tourists”.
Actually it’s quite the opposite, the target of those scams are often quiet, polite and respectful persons, which would not try to do to much with the girls, because most of the girls are in relationship with the mafia people from the bars and nobody of them wants that foreigners touch them.
The paradox is that this was happening since almost ten years and still happens now, in the same places, in the same bars and with the same passivity (or alliance) of the institutions. Now that you are reading this in Riga, in those bars, people is getting robbed and aggressed.
I would suggest to tourists to not go to Riga at all, Vilnius, Tallinn and many other cities offers you much more, people is much more welcoming and you are no target of such scams.
WHAT TO DO IF YOU VISIT RIGA:
Caution to bars and women
pay attention in the area of the “Freedom Monument” by night:
– LIVU laukums(square) ;
– KALKU iela(street), especially between 20-26;
– Kaļķu 22 – Krušovice Sporta bārs – this bar changes his name every few months
There are places where often WOMEN APPROACH you quite easily in the street (or inside the bar) and propose you to drink.
Those bars are ruled by organized crime, the will eventually try to:
– Make you PAY EXTREMELY high BILLS, give the incorrect change and even in some cases force you to take money out on your bank card/credit card, stealing eventually the codes of the latter;
– Drug you and STEAL ALL you have (eventually shoes and glasses too);
– AGGRESS you if you complain;
Calling police can be helpful, it may help against aggressions, but police will not do more, they are all aware of the situation, but don’t stop the crime from the roots, there are maybe some reason why police don’t act strongly against those bars.
Pay extra attention if you are ALONE or DRUNK.
HOW TO RECOGNIZE THE SCAM:
They develop and improve their techniques daily and are professional.
Is quite hard to recognize them, nearly every woman or girl could be a scam in Riga.
Few things that makes you recognize them:
1) Fast interest in you
They will start to be friendly after short you met them, even before.
But they will not forcely approach you first, their technique is evolving, they know how to behave to make you approach them (maybe they smile, look at you or just stand next to you), like “normal” girls would do.
2) Extremely friendly and good company
They are trained to have nice conversations with you and they will be agree in almost anything you say in the beginning.
3) No French Kiss
Even if the behave flirty, they will not allow you to do more than giving them a small kisses, touching legs or back. They will become quite disgusted and disturbed if you try to do more. After having tempted you and behaved bitchy they may even call Police if you try be just romantic, and they may say that you tried to rape them.
If you combine those three attitudes together, you may be 95% sure you are handling with a scammer criminal girl.
If the above facts apply you may:
– Just leave
Make sure she does not know where you are staying
– Call police
telling them that she is scamming you (maybe she carries some drugs or sleeping pills with her).
– Get back your stuff
If she already stole some of your money and you want it back, there is no better way to just take it yourself, cause police will not help, see where she puts it and get back on it.
WHAT TO DO IF YOU HAVE BEEN SCAMMED, THREATENED OR ROBBED IN RIGA:
Making reports to the police does not help, since more than ten years there are daily reports to the police and the criminal bars are still working, in the same place, with the same people.
The thing that may be more useful to do is to bring this issue to national (which are corrupted as well), international mass media, internet and make public awareness about it, you can eventually give the police stations a rating on internet and also mention your report with some reviews (which works better than police reports):
You can read even comments of people who has ‘worked’ in the ‘pubs’ (as stated by them) , those persons don’t even fear to write that. This is sign of a completely authorized scam from the institutions.
(reviews from http://www.inyourpocket.com/latvia/riga/nightlife/pubs/Krusovice-Sporta-bars_10774v)
THE DANGER OF IGNORING AND IGNORANCE
If you just google the words “Riga scam” you will get hundreds and hundreds of experiences about people got robbed, with the same criminal scheme but always different techniques.
The most sad thing is that most of people that gets robbed are not doing any report at all because they feel ashamed of public opinion which may think that they were with prostitutes or went to a strip club even if is not so. Or they may not feel safe with the police.
Many locals reply to those horror stories with words: “stupid westerners; idiot tourists; people looking to get robbed; if you are idiot you will always have those problems; those tourists were looking for troubles;you deserve this treatment if you are looking for girls; etc…” – As if being friendly and talking to a girl is already a reason why you should be condemned as sex tourist or prostitute seeker.
I really wish to the people that writes such disrespectful comments to go to go on vacation to get robbed, agressed and spoiled up completely, like this they would understand the sensation.
If you don’t believe all this, just go to have a walk in Kalku Iela wait to get approached by a girl, or get in one of those bars and ask for a beer, but be sure to be fit in your body and have many big friends coming to rescue you.
I would correct the title I gave to Riga: ‘the title of Capital Of Scam 2014’, maybe instead of “2014” I would say: “anno post soviet Union”.