We’re up and gone by 8AM. We’ve got the remaining 200 miles to Donets’k to do and then another 500 miles to Volgograd. Plus we’re got to leave the Ukraine and then clear the Russian border. It’s going to be another long day.
After yesterday’s speeding ticket we keep a sharp lookout for the highway police and stay under the speed limit. We’ve got so far to go on these bad roads that we don’t want to rish a couple of hours chatting up the local constabulary.
Finally, at 5:40PM we get to the frontier. Because John brought the car into the Ukraine, he has to get it out. To quote a border crossing from last year, “It’s a three step process.” Indeed.
The check out only takes about 20 minutes and we move off to the Russian border. John hands me the car documents. I’m list as a co-registrant on the Jeep to avoid potential problems. He’s had his fill of this. My turn to play.
We pull up a barrier. A guard comes out. Hands us immigration forms. Tells us to park and fill them out. No crossouts. Come when where done. We fill out the forms. He looks them over and then lifts the barrier to proceed. Drive up to the car line with the green light.
We check in with the first office (It’s a three step process) where a friendly woman takes our forms and passports and strats typing us into the Russian immigration computer system. Yikes!
Soon we’re moving on to step 2. A quick inspection and forms handed to us. They tell us to park the car and an officer in camoflage comes over to us. “Documents.” I hand him our passports, he looks us over, looks at me and says, “Driver?” “Yes.” “Dubinsky, Paul Boris.” “Yes.” “You Russian?” “Yes, I am Pavel Borisovich.” In for penny, in for a pound.
“Where are you going after Russia?” “Kazakhstan. And Russia, again. And Mongolia. And Russia, again. To Vladivostok.” He nods as though he’s impressed. “And then to Australia.” If he had been drinking coffee he would have spit it everywhere. “Australia?!” He goes over to another officer and rattle off a couple of lines of Russian with the last one ending in Australia. They both start laughing. It was kind of a now-we’ve-heard-everything moment.
Suddenly, he’s very friendly. He goes to gets some forms. He returns and tells us how to fill out the forms. No crossouts. No mistakes. In duplicate. We fill out the forms. He checks them.
“Yes. Yes. Yes.” as he checks each box and entry. I show him where I needed to make a change. No good. He gives me another form. He checks them again. “NO!. Wrong.” I had checked the temporary import box but then I showed an import customs value of $3,500. That’s absolutely, positively, 100 percent wrong. But since he’s my “friend” he goes into the customs shed to run interference and explain why the mistake isn’t really a mistake. He comes back, leads me to the end of the line for the “third step” and says this will be okay. Have a safe trip.
It takes about 30 minutes to get to the window and hand over the documents to the officer inside. He looks at me and starts typing the info on the form into the computer. When has trouble finding info on the car’s title he asks somewhat differentially for help finding it. Occasionally, the officer in camo drops by to check on progress. In 15 minutes we’re on our way. I look for the officer in camo to say goodbye but he’s gone. Maybe a new record for clearing Russian custroms: an hour and a half.
The officer in camo was obviously different from the other customs officers. Not only did he wear a different uniform but everyone else treated him with a great deal of respect. I noticed when he first took our documents and was warming up to Dubinsky Paul Boris that he had a tattoo on the web between his thumb and forefinger that looked like a Spetnaz tattoo. He was military and maybe serious military. He also was the drug dog handler. A very smart bear. Smarter than the average bear.
On the road again. We’re bound and determined to get to Volgograd and catch up with the rally tonight. It’s a long grind and we get into Volgograd about midnight. Of course, we don’t have a map and we have no idea where the hotel is in this monster of a city.
We stop at a gas station and ask directions. Clemo starts chatting up a man in the parking lot. Clemo doesn’t speak Russian. The man doesn’t speak English but that doesn’t even slow the conversation. Soon Clemo has the man hand drawing a map for us. He goes over it again and again with Clemo.
Clemo thanks him. We thank him. In the car. Just as we start to drive away the man asks us if we have a map. No. You can buy one here. We don’t have any rubles (haven’t even seen an ATM). He leaves. We start to leave but his friend stops us. The man comes back with a map and gives it to us. Then it occurs to him to transcie the hand-written map to the new, printed map.
Another set of thank-yous, good lucks and good-byes. And were off into town. With perfect directions.
The directions really are good and, after a couples of turns we find the hotel which has an cafe on the sidewalk. We arrive. Where have you been. It’s 1:30.
Some Russians have a serious party going on with the rally people who have made it in. There’s a lot of vodka flowing and even more beer. John and I get some food, have a couple of beers before we bail out for the room. It’s 2:30 and the party shows no sign of abating but we’re done. Off to bed.