Black Sea Ferry II: All at Sea on The Black

Ah, the miracles of modern technology; the internet on the high seas.

Loading the GriefswaldWe slipped almost silently away from the dock in Illychevsk at about midnight, some fifteen hours after I had been urged to be at the dock for “borrdink’. Why it took so long, I have no idea, although when I asked one driver, he shrugged and mimed the payment of a bribe.

I wouldn’t be at all surprised. From reading the newspapers’ accounts of the issues of the upcoming election, corruption seems to be endemic, and a very serious impediment to the Ukraine’s growth, and its ability to be taken seriously as a forward-thinking nation. There is an extraordinary gap between rich and poor, one that in previously uncompetitive economic times was filled by the Black Market.

Farewell to Ilyachevsk
In complete contrast to Ukraine, however, is the ethic in Georgia. While disembarkation may, I am told, take several hours, any attempt to financially induce an officer to speed up the process will result in jail time. Interesting, that a country that was renowned only a few years ago following Eduard Shevardnadze’s premiership as the most corrupt of the former Soviet countries, it is now, at least on the “retail” end squeaky clean.

It is hard for many; now that the currencies of each of the former Soviet Block are readily convertible, the Dollar and Euro are the de facto currencies. Unable to come close to the efficiencies of the western nations, the relative value of the local currencies sink, yet all goods are still nominally denominated in the global currencies. It was said, of life under the communist system that “We pretended to work, and they pretended to pay us”. However, as long as everyone believed these fantasies there was food; as we all know, that particular emperor had no clothes, but it seems that while well-clothed, the emperor of globalisation’s garments are simply too expensive.

And so to sea; we are progressing across a mill-pond still Black Sea at a very slow rate. I don’t quite understand the scheduling of this route because we are now told that we will get to Georgia on Friday at about 1.00pm, only four hours late, yet starting off twenty-four hours late. Very peculiar, but Friday is their day to use to sole railway dock, so it has to be done; by tomorrow morning, it is the Bulgarian’s turn. Their ship, crossing from Varna on a weekly schedule is another service on the apparantly vital seaway, Inteesting stuff.

I just know that the sea is passing outside my porthole very slowly.

Lunch was almost as awful as dinner. Meals are served at a proscribed time, and for a thirty-minute period. Plates are left out, and will start getting cold immediately. With the powerfully testeronic atmosphere of the ship, and the almost complete absence of women, “chow-time” reminds me of prison movies. The soup was good though, but I am not sure what sort of animal had been cooked for the main course. We will see about dinner.

One is never far from a cigarette in this part of the world, and this ship, actually pretty vast to accommodate 53 trucks, fourteen railway freight cars, two 4WD vehicles and 130 passengers, is awash with smokers. Almost all are Ukrainian, Georgian or Armenian, and the primary fashion statement appears to involve various shades of black and grey. With a blue shirt and brown jacket I stick out like Liberace. There is one other” westerner” on board, a pleasant German fellow (originally from the DDR) en route to vacation with a couple of Russian friends in the Caucuses. I thought that this sounded a touch dangerous for a Russian here, but no matter.

Otherwise we mosey slowly forward, having just passed a couple of miles off the Crimean coast, and with it a brief phone connection, we now head straight across to the Georgian coast.

It is time to go and wander around, and pass time until it is socially appropriate to sample the Moldovan Red.

The home of the Moldovian Red

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