After being so pleasantly surprised with the quality – and fun – of Odesa’s Arcadia Beach, we decided that (despite not getting to bed until nearly 8am), we had to fit in at least a few hours under the sun before our next night out.
But first, a quick reality check.
We’d already learned the hard way that when you’re a foreigner in Ukraine, attention isn’t always a good thing – at least not if you want to avoid unnecessarily frequent bribe payouts. But unfortunately, it just so happens that drawing attention to yourself is also one of the best ways to make friends – particularly in a place where you have virtually no language in common. And therein lies the conflict.
As some of you probably know, since picking up my trusty travel hookah in Cairo I’ve been bringing it along on every single trip. Crazy? Maybe. But it’s fairly lightweight, adding no more bulk than a pair of jeans – and I’ve found it to be such a fantastic social lubricant that it’s well worth the hassle.
And where’s the best place to smoke a hookah? In my experience, the beach. It’s a veritable magnet for fun and outgoing people who are eager to make new friends. Yet before putting ourselves at risk of additional monetary exploitation, we wanted to make sure it’d be legal – so we dropped by the police station to find out for sure:
“Yes, it’s fine” said the officer…at first. But after chatting for another minute or two he pulled us aside so nobody else could hear: “Technically it is okay, but let me give you some advice: police in Arcadia are very corrupt. They know foreigners are unfamiliar with our laws, and they’ll almost certainly try to take advantage. Though it shouldn’t be a problem, my advice to you is that it’d be best not to take a chance.”
For the third time in a row, the officer was young, friendly, and excellent at English. It’s pretty interesting how individually, they really seem to be quite nice – its just when they’re on duty, running in ‘bribe extraction mode’ that you have to beware.
While we were there, we also took the opportunity to ask whether or not it really was illegal to drink in public. Turns out that it is – since four months ago. So maybe those two cops from Friday night were telling the truth after all, and it was actually a legitimate violation. That makes me feel a little bit better.
With his helpful advice in mind we headed to the beach sans-hookah, chowing a quick breakfast shawarma along the way, and set up camp in the same spot as the previous afternoon. It only took a minute before we connected with our first new contact of the day, and to me, the most memorable from our entire stay in Odesa.
He was a Russian by the name of Sergei. The funny thing? He didn’t speak even one single word of English – yet he stayed with us nearly the entire afternoon. He kindof reminded me of The Puppy Who Lost His Way – an anxious little friend just skipping along quietly in the background, but not really saying much. Wherever we went he followed, always smiling, always happy, like an innocent little shadow.
To be honest, I think he was pretty trashed by the end of the day – as he went through eight large mugs of beer all on his own, just in the few hours since we met. But his vibe was always cheery, and despite our complete and total lack of communication, somehow, it worked.
(You might be wondering how he could’ve been drinking in public. Well, the beach is lined with bars – apparently if you stay close enough it’s still considered “private property” and you’re in the clear.)
In addition to meeting Sergei, we were also recognized by a nearby group who’d seen us walking around the night before with our antlers 🙂
…And were greeted by one more group of a most dubious nature. Two guys and a girl in a tiny black thong said hi, and within moments, the girl whispered something to the guy. He conveyed its meaning to us in English: “She said she wants to **** one of you tonight; what do you think?”
The guy had massive knife scars wrapped halfway around his cleanly shaved head.
Hmmm, Russian Mafia?
We excused ourselves and hopped on the tram home.