It’s been over a month and a half since I was last arrested. On that occasion, I was arrested in Amsterdam for sleeping outside and given two choices: pay €390 (between three people), or go to prison. We told the (hugely unpleasant and very threatening) police lady that we (respectfully) would enjoy a couple of nights sleeping in a bed with three meals a day and a roof to keep out of the rain. We were, after all, attempting to cycle from England to Slovakia on very old bicycles and wouldn’t turn down a bit of free comfort. After making this decision, she then instead decided to give us court dates in December that we couldn’t make, so I poured myself a third hot chocolate (courtesy of the Dutch police station where I had been for several hours), then continued on my way.
When we got to Slovakia, I followed through on an outlandish dream: I would build a raft and try to float down the river to Romania. I would be a Pirate of the Danube. That’s quite a long way (about 1,924 km to the sea from were we started). I firmly believe in several ideologies. One of them is that ‘everything will be OK.’ Another is that ‘forgiveness is far easier to obtain than permission.’ While I appreciated my Dad purchasing life-jackets (in contrast to my afore-mentioned ideology), I was very hesitant to contact the river authorities to find out about the legality of our raft. Another member of the crew contacted the authorities and while they described our mission as ‘suicide’ (that is a quote), they said that we were not in fact, breaking a law.
For 15 days, we lived on the river. We sailed through the day, cooked food on open fires, and generally had quite a pleasant experience as we travelled from Gajary (a small village in Slovakia) to Budapest, a straight-line distance (down the river) of 271 km, excluding our zig-zagging across the river. Life was good and I’m sorry I didn’t share more about it (we even had an interview on Slovakian Radio). I will, in the coming days, share more of this adventure, despite it now coming to an end. It has ended. I am sad to admit, but have not yet accepted fully.
In Bratislava we shook of our first police officer as we possessed nothing illegal. In Hungary, we had two early interactions with police on boats. One boat just followed us and checked us out, while another shouted to us in Hungarian. Not sharing a common language, we thank him for what was surely his strong support and then carried on our way. He got tired of this and left us alone. The third boat to accompany us (as we entered northern Budapest) was obviously pointing at the pretty trees on the river banks and suggesting that we take some time to enjoy one of the local pubs. We again thanked him for his kind wishes, but again we would quite like to continue in the direction that we were travelling: downstream. Eventually it became clear (when he attached his boat to ours) that we would have to fulfil his wishes.
We pulled over and were shortly joined by a larger police boat where three officers dismounted. They informed us that it was not OK and very dangerous. We thanked them for their concern, but told them is wasn’t necessary because we were big people now and had our mother’s to do the worrying about our safety. Despite this, we were issued with a(nother) fine and told that we had to take the raft back to Slovakia. We pointed out that even floating downstream was difficult, so going upstream would surely be worse. The raft was too heavy to carry on land.
For several hours, I then showed the officers around our raft (including the life jackets, lights, and oars that they initially claimed we lacked as our offence). They told us that we had to take the raft apart. I asked what our offence was. “This is not boat,” I was told by the officer. I thanked her for her observation and told her that I fully agreed. So what is our offence? “This is not boat.” I once again agreed, but pointed out that not being a boat was not really an offence. I for one, am not a boat, but feel I am not an offence. Nor were the many kayaks on the Danube, strictly defined as not boats (if they were, they’d have to have a fire extinguisher, apparently). After many translations, I found out that our crime was not being a boat. Rafts are not allowed on the Danube according to the police officers. I asked if I could please see the rule that says that and I was given a list of rules for boats. But we aren’t a boat as you so wisely pointed out, I informed her. Despite this, “I will go through these points.” Addressing each point (with the help of a translator), it turned out that we had not committed a single offence.
When I pointed this out, I was referred to a website and the police left us with our fine, telling us again, to dismantle the raft. After spending several pleasant hours with us, they did after all, have a job to do. After checking the website, I cannot find any regulations against rafts on the Danube. Sadly, I feel that we are victims of non-conformity: because we do not conform to regular, accepted behaviour in society, we are seen as offenders. Despite not committing an offence, an offence had been created to prevent us doing what we do. If we re-join the river and attempt to continue our journey, we will (I have been warned) face far more severe punishment. It’s a shame that we are not allowed to express ourselves fully because we choose to do so in an unconventional way. We even made some Hungarian news publications for our ‘exploits’.
So here it is. The raft is done. The Pirates of the Danube need to find a new path in life and a new way to go. I’m thinking hard and I’m resenting authorities more each day. The police who arrested us were very pleasant, but they were ‘just doing their job’ (passing the buck of blame). We should take responsibility of our own actions, but I must stop now. If I don’t, I’ll start lecturing you about the Milgram Experiment (a wonderful psychological study of human behaviour) and that people need to man up and live their own lives, for themselves, and not under the rule of anyone else. Oh no, I’m starting…
…Let me save you. See the final pictures of the raft and it’s resting place. We, sadly, never named it. I choose to name it, ‘The Ship.’ The rest of the crew may disagree, but they aren’t hitting the keyboard here.
Goodbye The Ship, we had a good one.