We’re up early for breakfast, then to the supermarket for water and supplies and then on the road. We don’t have very far to go, less than 200 miles but we have to clear the Kazakh border exit and the Russian border entry and we’re expecting that to take hours (so we’ve been told). Plus, we have to get the Chelyabinsk and try to find either new front shocks for the car or a repair.
The ride to the border is easy. The road is pretty good and we’re keeping the speed down because we’ve lowered the tire pressure to ease the ride. It’s kind of relaxing to just meander along and be passed by cars. Slow and easy will do just fine today. Of course, sitting like the proverbial 800 pound gorilla is the question of how badly damaged the car really is.
In a couple of hours, we’re at the Kazakh border and there’s the expected line. At the borders we’ve been crossing, the cars are stopped at a barrier and a border guard lets a few cars in at a time so that there are only a few cars at the inspection area and passport control. It’s a pretty good procedure once your in the control area. Outside, behind the barrier, though, things are agonizingly slow. Start the car, move 50 feet, stop the car, wait. Repeat as necessary.
The guard lets us and about 6 other cars into the control area and the race is on to get to passport control. We all stop and park and the really aggressive types run up to the passport control booth’s window. Apparently, there’s a prize for getting there first and, considering how fast some people are running, it must be worth something.
We get to the window. The officer takes the passport. Stand straight for the camera. No questions. Stamp, stamp. That wonderful sound. Back to the car.
And into the next line for car inspection. (Remember, “it’s a three step process.) And this, too, seems to be a race with a meaningful price. But we’re just waved through the inspection area (I would love to know what anyone would want to smuggle OUT of Kazakhstan. I understand IN. Roads, air conditioners, pothole repair materials, etc. But OUT?) And then it’s the third step: hand in the paper that was stamped by the customs officer. And we’re out of Kazakhstan.
And across no-man’s-land (another race with great potential for trading paint) into the next line waiting to get into Russia. Another barrier. Two lines: one for cars; another for trucks. We wait. And wait. And wait. Even strike up a conversation with a Russian in a Toyot in front of us. He is returning from a fishing trip somewhere with 2 friends and a guy who looks like the archetypal Russian thug. They jumped in front of us during the race to the line at the Russian barrier. Now they want to talk. Whatever.
The guy we talk t is a nice enough guy. The other 2 and the thug stay in the car and ignore us. And then the line suddenly moves and the Toyota won’t start. We and maybe 10 other car pass him when the line moves up. He gets the car started, finally, and promptly jumps to the front of the line of cars by making a third row. When we get to enter the control area he waits for the cars in line to pass and then when we get up to him, the thug leans out the window and motions to enter. Cute.
We have to stop before we get to passport control to fill out migration forms. These are forms that you fill out on the way in to Russia and then return on the way out. It has your personal info like name, birth date and passport number and your date of entry and your expected date of exit. All non-Russians get to fill one out. No Crossouts!
Into line for passport control. I hand in my passport. The smiling officer looks at me, looks at the passport photo (Hey, I was a longer when that photo was taken.) Stamp, stamp. John is next. I head over to the car to move it up for inspection but there are too many cars in the inspection area already so I just wait for John.
Then I hear John calling me. Get out head for the passport control shed and John leans around the corner, “He wants to talk to you.” “Really.” (I defy you to feel good when this happens. Sinking feeling in stomach comes to mind.) He wants to know why John’s passport has pages added to it.
I come up to the window and he asks me if I speak Russian. “Very little.” (I cringe to think what might be on that computer screen from our first entry from the Ukraine with the ever so helpful ex-Spetnaz officer. He must know somehow that I speak a little (very little) Russian.
He starts to ask me, in Russian, something about the passport. I keep insisting, in Russian, that I don’t understand until he gives in and another officer asks me about the pages in John’s(?) passport. “When you have too many stamps, you send the passport to Washington and they add pages instead of giving you a new passport. There’s a stamp in the passport that says that they’ve added pages.” That satisfies one officer but not the first officer who started this crisis in the first place. He eventually calls someone and then “stamp, stamp” and we are very definitely out of there.
Into the car and into the inspection area. The officer motions us to stop and get out. He opens the doors and looks into the car. We open the back deck so that he can see the luggage. He opens the glove box and then turns to me and asks if I have a pistol. “WHAT?! A PISTOL? No. Hell, NO!” He smiles. Asks about the GPS an video equipment. I keep expecting him to say that he has a girl friend in the US. “Do you know her?” Surreal doesn’t even begin to cover it.
He finishes and waves us on after saying goodbye and shaking hands. (I’ve shaken more police hands in the last 2 weeks than I have in my entire previous life.) And off to step 3. (“It’s a three step process.”) The final doc check isn’t even there. No car document check. Suddenly we’re on the road again to Chelyabinsk. I will never understand this.
A couple hour ride to Chelyabinsk. I found a Holiday Inn in Chelyabinsk and got us a room on hotels.com. It takes us a little while to find the hotel but we get there. Park in front walk in to the lobby and Roman at the registration counter. Of course, we can barely talk to Roman who speaks English very well (he has a Union Jack on his name tag. Obviously, a code.) There’s a wedding going on in the restaurant next door and the noise is positively deafening.
Despite this inconvenience, Roman gets us checked. Points out the bar. Tells about the amenities. When we ask if we can get an interpreter for the car fix search, he says yes but he’ll confirm in a few minutes. Up to the room.
I start trying to catch up with the blog while John searches for a 4X4 shop or a Jeep dealer. He finds an off-road 4X4 club web pages and find the name of a shop that sponsors the club and does work on their vehicles. And it’s right up the road from the hotel. This is looking good. We’re starting to get a little optimistic.
Down for dinner in the bar. Some drinks. A bottle of wine. Some delicious pelmini, a local meat filled dumpling that you eat with sour cream (seriously yummy). Some roasted veggies. (Also yummy.) and some dessert.
Then back to the room and bed. Things are looking up.