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Archive for November, 2002

Russian motorcyclist Vladimir Yarets has been traveling the world, blessed by the kindness and generosity of total strangers. The strangers, however, are the ones who say they end up feeling blessed.

By TOM MEADE Journal Sports Writer

Deaf and mute, Vladimir Yarets, a 61-year-old Belarussian who looks like Fidel Castro with wild eyes, is making his way around the world on a motorcycle. Some of the people who have put him up say that angels are guiding him; others say he may be an angel himself. Most agree that they’ve been blessed by his presence.

Yarets breezed through Rhode Island last weekend on his Jawa motorcycle loaded with more maps, signs, and photographs than an average car trunk could carry. The bike is held together by stickers from all the places he has visited.

“We were thrilled and honored to have met you and have you stay with us,” Frank and Lisa Snyder, of Levittown, Pa., wrote in one of the notebooks Yarets carries. “In so short a time, you have shown us and taught us more than you could ever know.”

Beth Lovett, of Westwood, Mass., began her entry in Yarets’s notebook by saying, “Thank you for choosing us.”

She said that the Russian’s visit reminded her of the Apostle Paul’s advice: “Be not forgetful to entertain strangers; for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.”

Yarets began his journey in May 2000 when he left his home in Belarus. He was an experienced traveler. In the late 1960s and early 70s, he visited all 15 republics of the Soviet Union on a 4-horsepower motorcycle he called his “little donkey.” On a bigger bike this time around, he has crossed Europe, putted through all of the British Isles, and driven completely around Iceland. He returned to Europe and biked down to Portugal and Spain, ferried across the Strait of Gilbralter to Morocco, and braved sandstorms in the Sahara before flying to South America with his bike. After exploring Colombia, he and the bike sailed from Venezuela to several Caribbean islands, including Cuba, where he said he was bilked out of $1,200 for a $300 engine.

Yarets hitched a ride from Havana to Key West aboard a Canadian motor yacht. Frank Jensen, of Charlestown, happened to be standing on the dock when the boat pulled in. The Canadian yachtsman explained to Jensen what Yarets was up to and asked Jensen whether he would put the Russian up for his first night on the continent. Jensen said sure.

Yarets said he intended to head up the east coast to Canada. He would visit every province on his way to Alaska.

His plans changed as he was driving through an intersection in Columbia, S.C. in July. The driver of an automobile ran a red light and her car smashed into Yarets’s bike, snapping his left tibia. When the hospital staff realized Yarets was Russian, they called the pastor of the nearest Eastern Orthodox church, seeking a translator.

Maximos Locke responded. He could neither speak nor write in Russian, but he and Yarets understood one another perfectly through what amounts to a combination of universal sign and exaggerated pantomime. Locke had learned to communicate that way when he fought with the indigenous mountain people of Vietnam in the 1960s.

Yarets had lost his hearing as a young child during a German bombardment in World War II. He revealed that fact to Locke during the month that it took for the bone to mend. When he had healed and fixed his bike, Yarets headed north.

In Washington, a thief stole one of his bags filled with photographs from the first part of his journey and Park Police arrested him at the Washington Monument for looking suspicious. When they learned more about him, the cops gave Yarets some money for gasoline and had their picture taken with him.

In New York a few weeks ago, Rev. Peter Lovett had just left a soup kitchen where he and a group of youngsters from the First Parish Church in Westwood, Mass. had been volunteering. They were visiting the site of the World Trade Center bombing when the minister spotted Yarets.

Once a traveler himself, Lovett said: “I’ve bumped into people like him before. I’ve always been fascinated by them because of my wanderlust and my own journeys. I picked this guy right out.” Lovett brought his young parishioners to Yarets so they could hear his story from pictures, pantomime and a multi-lingual booklet he carries to explain his journey.

A week later, Yarets showed up at Lovett’s house in Massachusetts. “It was a blessing for me to have him here,” Lovett remembers. “I was so excited.”

His wife, Beth, was not.

The Russian sometimes looks as though he’s been electrocuted, his long gray beard spraying out from his face, his big brown eyes darting wildly. Lovett remembers his wife looking at him as if to say, “This guy could be an ax murderer. No way in hell is he going to stay here.”

Two days later, Beth Lovett remembered the Bible’s advice about strangers and angels, and was sorry to see Yarets leave.

With the arrival of freezing weather two weeks ago, Yarets changed his plans about crossing Canada. He decided to head south from Massachusetts to Florida and then west across the bottom of the U.S. to California, where he can board a boat or plane to Hawaii.

One dark night last week, he arrived at the Charlestown home of Frank Jensen, the man who had put him up in Key West last spring.

How could a deaf and mute Russian who does not write in English find a particular house on a tiny street in a tiny town like Charlestown on a dark night?

“That’s an easy one,” said Locke. “Vladimir has angels watching over him.”

Jensen wasn’t home when Yarets arrived. He was back in Key West.

The Russian visited some of Jensen’s neighbors and showed them pictures of himself and Jensen. The neighbors called one of Jensen’s friends, Ron Mouchon, the owner of a bait shop and a cottage down the road.

Mouchon fetched the traveler, fed him and gave him the cottage with its clean bed and hot shower.

The next day, a group of fishermen stopped into the bait shop and met Yarets. He told them his story, showed them his maps and pictures, and did a handstand. One of the fishermen pulled a $100 bill out of his pocket and stuffed it into Yarets’s shirt. The next day, just before the traveler left Charlestown, he visited the Village Baker for coffee and a cinnamon roll, and the baker slipped a wad of money into the Russian’s bag. Mouchon also gave Yarets a stack of cash.

Yarets has a sign in English and French that asks, “Do you have change for petrol?” but he rarely has to use it. People just give him money.

“Why? Because it’s a blessing to give him money,” says Locke.

The day he left Charlestown, Yarets appeared at Freddi Piscina’s apartment in Belle Harbor, N.Y. A biker who has been around the world on a Harley, Piscina understands what it takes to be a traveler. He, too, gave Yarets $100.

“Hey, maybe he is an angel,” Piscina said. “Maybe he’s God Himself testing us. If he is an angel, we’ve helped him on his way.”

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