G'day all! How are you doing? As the title susgests, I've had another 'interesting' week on the road. The sort that makes me think that an office job isn't such a bad life after all! Where to begin... Ok, so I left Minsk after a fantastic rest day at the Waterman's apartment. They invited around a small group in the evening & I was able to extened the invitation to pray for unity without leaving the building! That's such an easier method. I had a translator, Olga, who did a great job & at the end of our meeting Rose Waterman brought out a birthday cake & everyone started to sing. I joined in, not knowing whose birthday it was & just before we got to the person's name I leant over to Olga & asked who's birthday this was for. She shrugged her shoulders but I was a bit stumped a few seconds later when they sang the name - it was mine! My birthday was another week away but Rose had thought that I probably wouldn't get a cake where ever I happened to be so she'd organised one for me. It was great :-) Thanks Rose! As I walked out of Minsk it was drowned in mist & it added a real character to the streets of centuries old buildings. I stayed that night in a neighbouring town with the Waterman's friends who vistied the night before. They live in a typical communist bloke of flats & there was very little room, particularly with their 4 children, with whom I shared the only bedroom. Mum & Dad slept on the fold-out couch in the living room. The kids were classic, ranging in age from 1 to 10 years. The 1yr old, Matthew, spent most of his time giving his food to the dog & then taking equal portion back from the dog's scraps. The 2nd youngest ate half of my dessert while I had my back turned & the 3rd had a tendancy to smile at me & then punch me in the groin. Thanks mate. I really appreciated their hospitality. From there I continued on towards the Polish border but the walk started to get a little tougher again. The weather was great, around 7degC most days, well above the February average of -2. The air was crisp & the green grass beginning to break through the dormant fields. The only thing that wasn't filling me with a sense of peacefullness though was the 2 guys running through the forest off to my side. I caught a glimpse of one shodowy figure flash across a clearing off to my right as I headed down a deserted country road. Straight away I got that sinking feeling that I was about to have another unpleasant encounter & sure enough, about a minute later, out they came. They exited the forest 20m behind me & I did a quick shoulder check on them to see them running at me. As soon as I did the shoulder check though they quickly slowed to a walk & pretended to be just 'out for a stroll'. Great, they appear to be dumb as well. Pretty quickly they'd caught up & flanked me on either side. I didn't stop walking & I didn't stop praying. They asked if I had a cigarette for them, the answer to that rather obvious, & then proceeded to ask me if I was carrying any money, you know, as you do in general conversation with a complete stranger. I turned, walking backwards, & told them to go home. That was my 1st real look at them. They were in their mid to late teens & 1 was about half my size & weight. The other though was a descent size but what made him a little scarier was everytime he got within a metre of two his right hand would slide back to something tucked into the back of his trousers. I don't know what he had but for that reason I didn't let them get too close. They hounded me for nearly a kilometre & I was just waiting for them to make their move. It was almost tempting to stand & fight but I wanted to avoid confrontation & try & do a little better than last week. So, I tightened the straps on my bag, swallowed some pride & started running. Unlike last week though, these guys weren't drunk so they were quite able in keeping up. After a good 400m I slowed down & they were still on my tail. I started to run again & they gave chase again, jibbing me the whole time. They got within a metre of me so I made a sudden stop & fronted as though to fight them. They cowered away very quickly & I turned & kept running. They caught up again pretty quickly so I double-backed in between them & crossed the road just before a line of traffic came past. We both contiued on down the road on either side with them being at least 30m ahead of me the whole time. Eventually the opportunity came for them to cross but they were too busy watching the traffic in the other direction as they crossed that they didn't notice me cross back over. I gave them a smile from my side as they looked at me in frustration. At next chance though they split so that they had one on either side. Stupidly though the little guy came to my side so I just ran at him flat out. He predictably stepped aside & I kept runnning up along the road. They gave chase once again but this time started hurling rocks at me but thankfully they either missed or hit my poor old backpack. It was nearly 3km in all before they finally stopped running - 4km before I stopped. I'd walked 30km already so having to run 4km stop-start made my legs turn to jelly. I was longing for a shower, some food & a bed. I was shown to a hostel by friendly gentleman upon arriving in Stovbcy but my dinner didn't last long. I was sitting on my bed eating when a knock came at the door. It was the hostel's receptionist with a man dressed in a three-piece suit & carrying a brief-case. She said something to me but I have no idea what. I simply thought he was occupying the other bed so I just let him in. I sat down on my bed to resume eating but he sat down in the rooms only chair & began firing questions at me. I looked at him with my fork half raised to my mouth & thought, "Damn it, he's not here for the bed." I quickly explained that I didn't speak the language & he was a little frustrated at that. I put my food down & brought out my documents. He asked for my passport & began to write down from it all possible information. He then asked to see my documentation, itinerary, insurence, purpose for being here etc. It was a tad intimidating. Then he began to write down addresses of people who I've met along the journey & kept a note of in my little book. Even though he was intimidating I hadn't seen any i.d. & had no idea who he was so thought it best to check that he was someone official. I asked if he had identification. He looked at me & said, "Yes" & continued writing. I really should have just left it at that but I pressed & asked to see it as I with-drew my little book. That ticked him off incredibly & very reluctantly & with a very mean scowl on his face he pulled out his Belarus Army identification. It sounds dumb that I'd do that, but in the situation, I had no idea who this fellow was & he was acquiring personal information (he'd also asked a lot of questions about the members of my family). He was effectivly the Belarus equivalent of the old KGB. I handed back my book & co-operated with him fully (which I had done to that point anyway). After a nerve racking 30mins he handed all my personal belongings back, packed up his brief-case, smiled for a tenth of a second, thanked me & left. As he was leaving I asked him if everything was ok. He simply replied, "Yes", & that was that. I looked back over at my cold dinner, but I didn't have much of an appetite by then. The next day started late (bad sleep - I don't fit in the beds here) & ended up walking 2 days in 1. There was nothing at the end of the scheduled 1st days walk so I pressed on into the night to arrive in Baranavichy at 11:30pm. It was around 59km & my archilles tendon felt like it was about to explode. Mind you, I aggrivated it the most whilst doing a one man congo-line down a pitch-black, deserted country road. Yes, I was trying to keep myself entertained, it was a long walk. So anyway, I arrived in Baranavichy, got a good nights sleep & woke to a view from my 6th storey room; the army was on display in the city centre. They were lined up in their divisions & marching just like you see on the old Russian documentaries. I didn't hang around for long. That day I was heading into nowhere with no idea of how the day would end because the next town was 73km away. It was nearly 10am before I hit the road after calling into a few churches as I left town it really wasn't going to be a big day of walking. More than likely I would walk until sundown & thumb a lift in either direction, sleep & then return in the morning. However, once out on road P2 I discovered that there was one almighty straight road, an expanse of forest & no civilisation what-so-ever. I car would go past about every 20mins so I knew that hitching aride at the end of the day was going to be difficult. Then I discovered that I had once again left something behind, except this time it was my head-lamp. I had no torch. I have no idea where it is but it's presumably somewhere in Baranvichy. My back-pack has a few broken zips & holes so it managed to escape at some point. As the sun began to set I began to try a thumb a ride but after 2hours & 5 cars I was still walking. The sky was clouded over so without a torch it was about as dark as the night can get. I couldn't see the edge of the road, I couldn't even read road signs when they were right in front of me. The one thing I did have was my camera, which has night vision on it (good for about 5m) so I was able to use it to correct my path or find signs at intersections. My mind was flashing back to Venezuela when I came across a Pume at night time. Their are no Puma's here, but the forests are full of wolves, brown bears & I'm told Bison as well. I prayed quite a lot & sang to warn anything I couldn't see (which was everything) that I was coming through. I prayed for a little bit of comfort as I walked & then around 2min later, there was a huge clearing through the forest & 1km away at the other end was the M1 freeway with cars in abundance. I kept singing loudly & used the night vision on my camera to make my way through & up onto the freeway. It was a massive dose of comfort to have the car headlights flashing past every few seconds & I continued on down the road, not even contemplating trying to get a ride. I still wasn't sure where I'd end up but I simply kept walking & kept praying. In the end, at 3am, I finished off the 73km to the town I'm in now, which I'd love to tell you what it's called, but I can't pronounce it & so don't know how to translate it. The final 20km last night was painful. I had to stop about every 500m to rest my back & hip joints so it was slow-going. I've shouted myself a rest day today (well, considering I didn't get to bed until 3:30am it would have been a short day anyway) & I'm enjoying a day of recovery on this, my 29th birthday. I'll hopefully see you from Poland next week. God bless & pelase pray for the unity of Christians, Sam.
"ay your unfailing love be my comfort, according to your promise to your servant." PS 119:76
ps: Thank you to everyone who has sent me a birthday greeting and/or condolances for the passing of 'Mumma'. It's brought a smile to my face!