BAREFOOT & barefoot. Part Two

What a father should learn from his son? How does a jerking internal combustion engine work? Where do dinosaurs live in Moldova? What is the food in monasteries? What horses do princes ride on? Is it okay for men to cry?

This is a continuation of the barefoot adventure, the first part of which you can read here

Today we learned a simple lesson – man supposes and God disposes. We woke up in the morning and realised that we were tired and needed a day of rest – half a day in bed, the other half of the day we will rode our bikes. 30 km for the cyclist – two hours of nice riding. Eh… how naive.

We set off in the afternoon on our iron horses, kindly provided by Alexei Gutsaga. Old rarity American mules (older than me, I’m sure) – as heavy and reliable as tanks.

It turned out that Hermaneshty is a dead-end village. In the sense that there is only an entrance and no exit (like the song). But we weren’t used to turning back and started climbing uphill through the grass and trees, dragging the heavy bikes on our backs.

This turned out to be the hardest section of the whole expedition – after an hour we were wet with sweat, our feet were stinging with thorns, we were attacked by mosquitoes and the wheels and pedals were clogged with grass. The hill did not want to end.

Here I want to salute to Misha – he tolerated silently and thanked me every time I helped him pull the bike out. This is a lesson for me – after all, we often take help for granted…

In two hours, we walked five kilometres with difficulty and finally climbed the hill. But from there it was even harder. We couldn’t go down – the road was full of ditches and potholes. Here we were again dragging the bikes on our backs…

After another hour, we finally reached the track and the fun began – tarmac, wind in the face, laughter.

I helped Mishka make an ‘internal combustion engine’ – a wheel rattle out of a plastic bottle – and now his bike sounds like a Ferrari.

That’s when I came up with the Asphalt Peel – when you touch the asphalt with your bare feet at speed and remove the top layer of keratinised skin.

Then there was another Endless Mountain, and at Angry Point, where we were attacked by Tsuba Flies, Misha got angry, threw the uncomfortable bike and said he wanted to throw it into the lava.

Having breathed and calmed down, we finally reached the final point of our itinerary today, the Kurki Monastery. This is one of Moldova’s most beautiful landmarks. Its history began 300 years ago, and now it is an Orthodox monastery where we hope to take a break.

Kind people welcomed us and offered us a meal and a good night’s sleep. It was a modest but very hearty dinner, as was our talk of good people and karma. And yes, mamma you won’t believe this, but we washed our own trousers in the sink. Tired. Fell down. Fell asleep.

Yes, this is not how we planned to spend the day. But what can we do, we humbly accept whatever is given to us. And now to sleep, because tomorrow we have a record-breaking 40km march ahead of us.

Like a good story coming to a close, our stakes are rising and the intrigue is heating up. We had promised ourselves a finish on Fish Day (Thu) right in the bathhouse, but we’re 10km behind, so we decided to catch up today.

photo by Mihaela Alaiba

So we got up early and went out into the Dremuchi Forest, which we later renamed the Mosquito Forest, because despite all the chemicals, the mosquitoes were biting us through our clothes. Misha even pulled on his jacket.

We lost our way several times, getting lost in the trails and drowning in the Giant Puddles, drowning in knee-deep mire. But the hardest test for us was dehydration – I had forgotten to fetch water for the journey.

Rummaging through my rucksack, I couldn’t find any food except a can of stew that my friends had given me as a gift. We couldn’t find a spoon or fork, so Mishka ate the stew with a knife. And this is exactly the situation he was telling his friends.

Then we looked at animal tracks, fought with sticks, tried to find out if a mushroom was edible, and swatted away mosquitoes.

And so, three hours later, we emerged from the Kodr and were confronted by the Endless Mountain, which sucks the water out of man under the scorching sun.

The cracked ground was digging into my feet, Mishka was stopping more and more, and there was anger. I took my backpack from my son, put on my trainers, and we crawled on. It was two hours to the nearest human habitation, navigating by the sun, and I began to worry about my son.

Heatstroke and dehydration is not something I want to tell my wife. Scolding myself for not taking care of the water. Should we give up and ask the driver to pick us up? Mishka refuses. We don’t give up and crawl like two old flies across the red-hot asphalt.

And then Miracle Salvation happens (that’s what my little travelling companion decided to call it). Misha happened to see a blue house in the woods, just like the one we saw at the apiary. – Daddy, a hive is bees, bees are honey, honey is man, man is water! 

I turn and crawl towards the apiary and suddenly the Grey Wolf comes at me with his mouth gnashing. I grabbed a stick and shout at Misha to run away. I turn to the wolf and shout at him (I always thought that was depressing for dogs).

But then a man runs out of the thicket. 

—Shaman, ew! 

The wolf obeys. Uh… thank you. 

—Hey, we need water.

Five minutes later, we are already pouring ourselves with ice-cold water from the Forest Spring. How delicious the water tastes when you’re thirsty; it’s a sensation I can’t put into words.

We managed to get to the Forest Spring, and our saviour Vladislav Sandulyak turned out to be Anastasians (people who leave cities and build their own ancestral estates). To make a long story short, they have a 100 hectare clan estate village called «Happy». We met his dog Shaman, the sweetest creature. He behaved this way because he is surrounded by friends. Thank you, we must be off.

We’re way behind schedule – the road proved to be more difficult. We get to the track with difficulty and get on our bikes – our way is to the rest spot. On the way, cars honk at us, we don’t understand what’s going on, then one car stops – a man runs out, runs up to us and shakes our hand.

—I’ve been following you, seen you on the news, cool!

Then another person recognised us, then we were treated to strawberries at the bus stop. Everyone is congratulating us, wishing us an easy journey and worrying about us. Mishka is in shock. Me too. Our family weekend turned into an event with so many people watching, wow. Of course we wanted to show how a weekend in Moldova can be spent and that adventures are everywhere, just look around, but we didn’t expect such a result.

After a bite to eat, there was an hour-long walk along the road. The sun was burning and we, knowing the physics, walked barefoot on the white strip so as not to burn our feet.

Ahead of us we meet the Lake of the Megalodons. Yes, yes, that’s exactly what you think. You think there’s nothing living in Gidiguitch but small fish? Really? Misha is sure there are bloodthirsty creatures lurking in the murky water, and the sticky sludge at the bottom of the lake confirms it.

And we have to get there before dark, or they’ll eat us. The roads are tangled and we meander on and off, riding our bikes, throwing them in the mud and looking for a way to the lake. Suddenly Misha jumps up.

— Papa, look, a bird. 

Actually there is a bird sitting helplessly bouncing on the path. We take it with us to cure it, we call it Chirik.

It’s 8pm and it’s starting to get dark. What should we do – keep looking for the way to the lake or leave everything and spend the night somewhere else? Misha doesn’t want to swim across Gidigich. Nevertheless, we make our way through the bog, thorns and tall grass to the shore. It’s 9pm on the clock. The sun has gone down. We take out the hermetic bags, put all our clothes in them, wrap them up and enter the murky waters of Megalodon Lake…

Misha fiercely resists – his imagination draws images of mangled bodies and creepy octopuses underwater. But the fear of being alone is stronger and we begin to swim. After 10 minutes, my son calms down and begins to enjoy himself.

The moon is shining, the water is like steaming milk, and we’re sailing on sacks across the lake and chatting about inventions. 

I’m sure he’ll remember that forever.

Half an hour later, we go ashore and change clothes. The day isn’t over yet – our girls are waiting for us in Kozhushna. After all, today is Wednesday – our family day – and we go out on the track. As we walk along the road at night, we pretend to be zombies and scare the drivers.

And here we are at last at the overnight stay. We are met by Vika, Nika and our old friends Olga and Alexei Gutium, who met at And now they are living in Cojuşna with their three kids. Hugs, stories, pasta, apple pie and a glass of wine! In short, a feast for the Mountains!

Today we are very tired, so we go to bed exhausted. Tomorrow is the finish line…

Today we will come home. We are very tired, so our journey will be short but memorable. I have decided to give my son a surprise – we will ride up to the cottage on real horses, as travellers did hundreds of years ago.

Misha is thrilled! The girls show us the basic steering skills and within an hour we are galloping along on our own, with our tired legs off the saddle. Thank you for your patience ????

It’s something amazing – you feel absolute freedom, the wind in your face, an endless field, and you and your son riding a horse straight home. What could be cooler? 

We’re approaching the house and then Mishka announces with delight:

—Daddy, I get it – I’m a prince on a white horse!

Our friends meet us at the cottage with kvass and a heated sauna to give us a good wash – we are terribly dirty. But it doesn’t matter, because as my friend Zhenya said:

The only thing that should stay clean on our return from the trip is our conscience.

We washed, I crawled on a massage table and fell asleep, but Misha was playing with his friend as if there was no 150 km long journey through forests and rivers, asphalt and dirt, on foot and in a cart, in rain and in heat, with mosquitoes and horses. And barefoot as well. That’s what youth is all about.

Finally, I want to tell the last story that happened two hours before the finish line, which was the most moving for me.

Misha doesn’t know it yet, but we’re on our way to the horse boarding point. Why do all the roads look the same on google?!!! We crawl up the last hill: on gravel, 32 degree heat, sweat pours into my face, and the stones hurt my tired feet. It’s not planned, we’re tired and I’m getting angry. How much longer can we go on? What roads? I’m sick of it! Tired, when is it going to end…

And then my son, who is walking beside me in exactly the same way, in the heat, uphill, barefoot on rubble, says to me:

—Daddy, just a little longer, it’ll be over soon, hold on…

I turn away from him because he can see the tears on his face along with the sweat…

How many times have I cheered him up, pulled him up, carried his backpack, reassured him that it was about to be over… And now my son is doing it.

And I realize that these five days have not been in vain: my son has grown, has become stronger and has learned to support the weak. He has overcome so much together with me, as a team, he has learned to go towards his goal, not to indulge his weakness, not to be demanding and do the minimum, he has learned to ask people for help (yes, this is important) and to give thanks (and this is even more important).

I’m sure we’ll never forget this adventure – the story of how father and son decided to take a walk to see our beautiful country, get to know each other better and understand what makes them the best friends in the world…

PS: Lastly, Mishka and I want to thank the people who helped us:

Ludmila Zdragus – mayor of Stefanesti,

Ion Popa – Mayor of Negureni,

Iacov Stegarescu – mayor of Suhulueni,

Father Job,

Olga and Alexei Gutium, Vica & Geo Lupașcu, Semen Loginov, Eugenia Calamanova, Vladislav Sanduleac, Ion.

Thanks to Alexei Gutsaga and Kayaking tours for the boat and bikes.

Thanks to Alexandr Tymchuk, Inessa Talpa, Oksana Tsypa and Moldavian Equestrian Sports Association for the beautiful horses.

Thanks to Andrei and Ion Mulcumesc for the cart with hay.

Thanks to everyone who helped us, followed us, supported us, worried, and especially to our girls, who let us go!

BAREFOOT & barefoot. Part One

BAREFOOT & barefoot. Part One

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