Still at the border

It's 7am and SOOO cold. No sign of any border guards. The border finally opened at 9am. I went to a little box with the V5 form. Long wait to get a stamp on a small sheet of paper. You're supposed to get it stamped if you have been in the Altai region for longer than three working days - which we were. The man in the office pointed at the blank space where the stamp wasn't. I did the international dance for 'No Hotel. No stay. Just drive. Hello. Have been at the border since Saturday."

10am and a big bus drove past and went straight in. No sign of any cars being let through yet.

Finally... Finally... Finally we got through to the Mongolian Border and confusion reigned supreme.

Russian Border

Sixteen hours to wait at the Russian / Mongolian border. Lots of kids holding out their hands for stuff. Understandable perhaps but there's no gratitude and they just hold out their hands for more and more stuff and try open your car door to get more.

Occasionally people drive up to the border and put their arms through the barbed wire and have a photo taken. Not sure why. Perhaps it's their 'Look at me, i'm in Mongolia' picture - even though they're not, they're just in a part of the Russian border.

Towards Baikonur

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Up relatively early and after some breakfast and a chat with our kind hosts we set off towards Baikonur (formerly known as Leninsk), the town set up to service the Baikonur Cosmodrome.

Every so often some graves would break up the monotony.  Seemingly always situated quite a way outside of the town they served they were relatively grand affairs.  As with Eastern Europe, you tended to get engravings of the deceased person's face etched onto the grave.

At some point (though tiredness prevents from remembering) we passed either through or very close to Baikonur.  I only remember vaguely as we'd stopped for gas at a service station and a child drew a picture of a rocket ship on the bonnet of our car.

By 2 am we were still driving. 16 hours and counting.

3am and we stopped to sleep. We're pretty sure it's a landfill site. We have warm gin and tonic. It's been a LONG day. Warmed by a pair of Andrew's trainers burning merrily on the path.
 

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Finally... into Russia.

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The continued push to the border.  Finally, after many rubbish roads, we got to the border at 2:30 pm.  By 4:30 pm the other teams have caught up and we all drive to the beginning of customs together.

We took our V5, Ukrainian exit bit of paper and passports to the window.  The guy behind the glass pointed at our Ukrainian transit visa stamp.  "Three days.  You here six.  Little problem."  It was actually five but still obviously not three.  He sent us over for insurance and we filed over to a shed to get what probably isn't worth the paper it's written on.  Insurance for Russia $60 for two weeks.  We'll need to get more when we re-enter Russia.

We took our insurance back to the border guard thingy we could move on to the next stage.  No.  He pointed to the "three-day transit" visa again.  Despite our being Europeans and therefore entitled to thirty days is will still "a problem".  Back to our car. Phone calls were made and after fifteen minutes we were beckoned over.  "$20 make the problem go away".  Out first non-speeding bribe.  We probably could have sat it out but between three of us it was only about £4 each and didn't seem worth it.

Bribe paid we moved on to the second stage of trying to leave the Ukraine.

The guards were more friendly this time and were seemingly coin collectors (not a euphemism for thieves and wanted to swap an Irish Euro for a Ukrainian coin.  I gave them a sew on patch with the Union Jack on.  All was good and we drove the short distance to Russian border control.

As the registered owner of our vehicle, I was taken into a room to fill in a form.  The Russian guard was pretty helpful.  After a brief mishap with ticking a box saying we had no communication equipment (we had the CB Radio) and my using the internationally recognised mime for 'we only use our CD radios inside Europe) I was sent to another room where a big burly guy typed the details from the form into his computer, printed out another form and got me to sign it and then proceeded to stamp the hell out of it.  Oh, how they love stamping things.  Suddenly he thrusted the form at me and bellowed "BYE! GO!".  It was very hard not to laugh.  We drove through the barrier.  We were in Russia!  Only four hours to get through customers.  Not bad at all. 

We drove until about 11 pm until we found a bar and ordered food.

I popped out to the car to get some mustard (as you do) and saw one of the Irish guys chatting to a bunch of Russians.  One called Vladimir kept shaking my hand and saying "We best friends."  In the spirit of international relations, I said "Yes" and spent the next hours and a half getting asked for my mobile number.

He seemed very keen that we all go swimming in a local river at one in the morning in some town I didn't know.  It really didn't seem like the best way to spend the evening.

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We left by 2 am or so to try and find a field to camp in.  We were flagged down by a policeman who just seemed curious and didn't seem bothered that women had drawn various things on our windscreen in lipstick.

At last, we found a field.  It was about 3 am.

Some Tweets from the day

In a field on the Uzbekistan / Russian border drinking tea out of a bowl before going through the looking glass.

2:30pm and all we've had for food is a cup of tea. It's the infamous Mongol Rally diet.

Watching a man herd geese with a whip whilst waiting for more teams to turn up so we can cross the border together.

Trying to leave Ukraine. Three day transit visa but this is day five. May be a problem even though as Europeans we should get thirty days.

A nod, a wink and a ten dollar bribe... Now in no man's land waiting to try and get into Russia.

Sat in room with various Russian peeps and filled out car related forms. Fours hours in total and we're now in Russia!

Russian border guard came over to find put why I was taking photos near a border. I showed him a picture of a dog and he went away again.

In the world's loudest bar trying to figure out if a photo is fish, chicken or some as yet identified animal.

Best guess having tasted it is that it's chicken mixed with honey puffs. Ride to get some American mustard from the car?

Why does a drunk Russian man keep asking for my phone number? It's all getting odd.

We find ourselves in a Russian field. We were pulled over by the police but all is well.

It appears a prostitute has written her number on our windscreen in lipstick. Which is odd. I only wanted a cup of tea.

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Volgograd

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We got a taxi into town to look for Russian hats (as I promised to buy Max one).  We walked over to see the "Mother Russia" statue (or rather than better translation, the "Mother Homeland" statue).

We were wandering around looking at the sites (such as the Eternal Flame located at Mameyev Kurgan in the Hall of the Warrior Glory in tribute to those who died defending the city between 1942 and 1943) when word came through that because our newly acquired travel companion wasn't allowed to leave Russia due his giving away his car in the Ukraine.  The car had now become flagged as stolen   He was, we were told, now a fugitive in Russia.  We went to lunch.  Whilst waiting for steak whilst John phoned the Irish embassy in Ukraine about being a fugitive in Russia.  Between a fixer in Ukraine and the number for some top guy in the Irish government it was turning into an interesting afternoon.  The basic details from the embassy were for John to get out of Russia and fast.


I hung around with some of the teams in a square in front of the Museum of Tractor factory and Kieran sped him to the airport.  He was given a police escort, though i'm not quite sure why since the police were out to arrest John.  We also heard news that another team was rushed to hospital with rabies after being bitten by a dog.  Good times.

11:30pm local time. Very heavy rain. We tried to decide whether to push on for drier roads and camp or find a cheap hotel. Best make a cup of tea and ponder it was the plan.

In the end we stayed in yet another field.

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Russia to Kazakhstan

We woke up in yet another field.  A lot of driving lay ahead with another push for yet another border.  The Russian/Kazakhstan.  We'd driven 3,548 miles since home and that was more-than-likely not even half way to our destination.  We were hoping for a quick border crossing but this wasn't to be.

The Russian/Kazakhstan border was undoubtedly the most miserable experience of the trip.  The guard had obviously been given something nice as a bribe by a previous team and kept pointing through the window into the back of the car saying "Gift!".  We needed everything we had and didn't have anything to give away as a gift.  He gave me a phone and said "Speak!".  I listened.  The phone was dead.  Was this some sort of crazy mind game?  My tired mind couldn't fathom out what was going on.  I held the phone to my ear and pretended to speak for a bit.  I gave the phone back and the guard went back to this "Gift!" spiel pushing his face right into mine.  I rummaged through the car and found a tin of mints with "Grumpy Git Mints" written on it.  Seemed suitable. "Valuable mints." I said and pushed them at him.  He waved us through.  Trust me as you read this that encounter lasted for a great deal longer than you're probably thinking.  Words cannot describe what a properly miserable experience the Kazakhstan border.

F**k the Kazakhstan border guards.

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