The second trip
As my girlfriend at the time was on a study trip in France, I suddenly found myself all alone, with money in the bank, with a car and a holiday I hadn?t taken yet. I decided to take advantage of all these and to run away on a short trip abroad. The decision, which had taken me exactly one minute, made me feel not lonely but free. I was a free citizen in a free country, as they say. I weighed all my possibilities: Yugoslavia, Hungary or Bulgaria, and from that point, over to Turkey. These were (except from the USSR) our neighbouring countries and I didn?t need a visa to get there.
I chose Bulgaria (the border with this country was the closest to Bucharest) and, if I felt like it, if I had money and time, I would even go for a visit to Istanbul. The problem was getting petrol in Bulgaria, where Romanian cars needed special cards, which I didn?t have, but it turned out that nobody there really made much fuss over them but they wouldn?t sell any petrol to you either. There was another reason why I chose Bulgaria ? In 1965 I received a visit from 4 Mexican friends. The days I spent with them positively delighted me but we eventually had to say good-bye. As they were headed to Istanbul, I suggested that they took me to the Giurgiu customs by car (just to spend another hour together) and, from there I would hitchhike back to Bucharest. Then I had no idea that the sight of the barrier being lifted to let them pass and to brutally stop me would be so painful. I watched their car disappearing into a world where I obviously did not belong and I remained standing ?alone and miserable?, tears of spite in my eyes, and realizing how helpless I was. As they said, ?What would have cost me to go with them?? They couldn?t understand what it was that made them so special compared to me and what allowed them to enjoy an elementary right which was forbidden to me. Well, in 1991, I was set on taking my revenge on fate and to experience the feeling of seeing the barrier between Romania and Bulgaria being finally lifted for me too! In the end I decided to leave Romania through the Vama Veche customs because I was especially interested in the Bulgarian seaside.
The road to the customs checkpoint was the same as the one I used to take (by motorbike, and then by car) each year when I went to the seaside. The only difference was that for the first time, I had to drive a few hundred kilometers to get from the village to the customs checkpoint. The joy only a pioneer to unknown (and even forbidden) lands could feel was significantly diminished in my case by the sight of the long line of cars waiting to be checked and allowed (or not) to leave the country. The check was tighter because of smuggling problems, as hundreds of persons were resorting to this solution in order to scrap together a small capital that would allow them to set up a business of some sort. Most had previously been honorable individuals who had never done anything illegal. They would take huge quantities of produce out of Romania (it was usually fruit stolen from can factories) that they knew would sell well in other countries and they would bring back equally large quantities of goods (they had been legally bought) Romanians were so eager to buy. It was an illicit business, masked as an ?innocent frontier trade?, but which was liable to bring a huge profit in record time. This profit included of course the bribe one had to give to the customs officers. So, a queue at the border ? I smoked standing by the car, chatted with those in front of me in line (I felt a tinge spiteful because they were a little closer to the target than I was) and with those behind me (this time, I felt a little superior).