August 14

Up at 2.45 AM, did my puja and then off to the airport at 4.30 AM for a 6.00 AM departure to Munich. No hassles this time. A couple of hours wait in Munich and another flight put me into Sophia at exactly midday. Ananda Caitanya and one brahmacari picked me up and we immediately set out for the Bulgarian/Macedonian border. I confess I was a bit dismayed when I saw the transport–a battered old Lada that sounded a bit like a tractor on a race track. It was over 90 degs. F outside and there was no air conditioning in it. Ah well, whatever the Lord supplies. Actually the passenger seat was quite comfortable and three hours and one speeding ticket later we arrived at the border.

Ananda Caitanya wasn’t too concerned about the traffic violation. Two cops had picked us up at a roadside speed trap on a largely deserted highway. Ananda had tried to persuade them not to press charges and ‘settle it up’ there and then just between the three of them (if you get what I mean). But the cops explained that when someone speeds through the trap, a signal is sent directly back to the police station to prevent such private deals.

I guess that says something about the culture and state of the economy in Bulgaria. Even though it is a full-fledged European Union member, it has a lot of communist-era hang over and they are doing a fast catch up to come to EU standards.

Ananda stood to lose his licence for one month and get a small fine. But he wasn’t worried. His connections with another branch of the police force will ensure that he won’t have to forfeit his licence.

Three hours later we arrived at the border, 1300 meters up in the Osogovski mountains. We had a 15 mins. wait while my transport from Skopje arrived on the other side of the border, so we sat down and had a picnic. The devotees from Sophia had kindly sent enough prasadam for about ten men with the car, so we snacked happily at a rest stop.

A middle aged lady was sitting over the side, smoking and refreshing herself with a bottle of beer. I sent the devotees over with some prasadam, which after some persuasion, she was glad to accept. Similarly a man who was waiting in a car parked at the side of the road was happy to accept some pastry roll.

Then we got the call. Ananda dropped me off at the border control and we unloaded the suitcases. With the brahmacari I walked through the border suitcase in tow. A brief passport check and a quick inspection by a curious customs official and we were through. Surya prabhu from Skopje was waiting for us, this time in a newer car which at least had air conditioning, and I settled back for a one hour ride to Skopje.

Unfortunately  I spaced out when I transferred my stuff from one car to the other. I had taken off my shirt and put it in the back seat of the Lada because it was so hot, and I forgot about it. It always happens; there’s always some item that gets left behind. Part of the perils of travel.

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