When we were at the border getting “checked in” to Russia, we knew we were entering an area marked red “DO NOT GO” by the UK. We told the Russian border guards where we were going and they said, “drive straight to hotel. You stay in hotel. Very dangerous”. We drove straight to a hostel with the other guys and met a whole bunch of other rallies. On the way when we stopped by the side of the road to meet other people, a car pulled up and a guy got out and told us he’d drive and show us the way to a hotel…… aren’t Russians supposed to be harsh?! Our first taste of Russian hospitality.
The guys in the hostel took 30-40 minutes faffing around trying to get booked in, so us and our convoy car headed off to another hotel. We got there and as we were unloading our bags to get checked in we could hear machine gun fire on the other side of the river. We got in around 1am but managed to get some beers and dinner from the hotel restaurant. With Wifi!!!
In the morning we got an early start and headed off to try reach the khasakstan border by night fall.
This is where the fun began. Very shortly down the road we got flagged down by a Russian police man. We’ve heard stories about this and know they’re after bribes and if you’re a tourist, you’re a walking ATM machine.
My plan was play dumb stupid tourist. So I got out and spoke to him, he gave me some bullshit about crossing the line in the road and took my license. The whole time I kept my “duuuurrrr” look and said “I don’t understand… English? English?”. He said I wasn’t getting my license back if I gave him money. I told him, “No. I need it for Khasakstan” and stared at him a little. I had no Russian money on me, and I’d hidden my $100 emergency note. So I opened my wallet and offered him a whole bunch of very small forgien currency. He sighed, gave me my license back and told me to go.
Further down the road, we got pulled over again. Similar routine.
An hour later we got pulled over again….. similar routine. Such bullshit. Welcome to Russia.
We stopped for petrol and met the most lovely Russian girls working at the station. They were very lovely and very flirty. Whilst we were there a car with two Russian guys dressed like chavs pulled up next to us, asking us where we were from. We told them about the Rally and they laughed, said we were crazy, shook our hand and drove off. Even the chavs are lovely.
An hour down the road we get stopped again. Same bullshit about the road lines. However this time they had the other convoy car (Harris and Marco) on camera crossing the line. They refused to pay any fine, so we had to wait for about an hour until the Russian police gave up. We were waiting further up the road for them.
As we noticed they were being pulled over, we slowed down further up the road, but had this van filled with Russian guys follow us very very closely. Even pulled right up beside us as we pulled over. I kept the engine running as I didn’t know what to expect. Andy gets out and walks over… the driver gets out and comes over shouting “wait wait! I practice my english!”
So we chatted with this Russian guy for about 30minutes while we waited for the other guys. Very friendly chap who just wanted to chit chat english. He wished us all the best and went on his way.
Turns out the only douchebags in Russia are the police, every local we’ve met has been wonderful.
When Harris and Marco were let go, the police officer told us the area we were in was still extremely dangerous, and made machine fun noises.
Lunch we stopped at the side of the road next to a fruit salesman, had a wicked goulash at this old womens roadside restaurant and bought some fruit from this guy who chatted with us for ages. He was from Ukraine and came here “on business”… which we can only assume meant he travelled from Ukraine so he could make money selling fruit at the side of the road. Bizarre.
Later on… another police stop. This time andy was videoed crossing a road line.
This police stop was different as they made Andy sit in the police car, took his license and wouldn’t let any of us leave. We tried the stupid tourist routine, tried the phrase book and even tried waiting them out to avoid paying the bribe. They wanted 500 Euro. I told Rus to go back to the car and take our all Russian money except for 300 rubels (£6) from his wallet and hide the rest under the seat. Along with our driving licenses etc incase they got taken too.
I then negotiated with the police shit heads and played the dumb tourist and offered them my selection of small foreign currency, or the 300 rubels.
Eventually they let Andy go in exchange for the 300 rubels. Our first bribe paid.
We left, angry we’d had tor pay a bribe. Further on down the road, about 20 minutes (it was night time at this point) we were pulled again, for alleged speeding. Bullshit.
Andy got out and this time wasn’t playing dumb tourist, he was pissed. He shouted at the police man “WE’VE JUST BEEN PULLED OVER 10 MINUTES AGO. NO DOLLAR” and the police man very quickly told us to leave.
5 times in one day. If you drive through Russia, make sure you add several hours to your journey to take into account interactions with the police.
We didn;’t make it to the border that night, but we did make it to this Russian city where everyone suddenly turned asian. A quick sleep in a crappy hotel and next morning we were off again.
Today we were definitely going to make it to the border. First we headed to Astrakhan, the Russian city closet the border. We needed to stock up on supplies for camping as we knew Kazakhstan would be limited on hotels. Harris and Marco had to quickly head to a mechanic to get their radiator looked at, whilst we headed to get supplies.
We found a shopping mall, parked up outside and wondered around. We managed to find a juice stall! FRESH JUICE! None of this concentrated bullshit I’ve been forced to drink since we left budapest. I got an entire cup of freshly juiced kiwi. £10 it set me back, but screw it. It was worth every single penny, freshing, delicious and a feeling of being back home.
We walked over to the super market and to get supplies, we got a tonne of tinned foods, water etc and just as we were about to pay an air raid siren went off. Followed by some loud authorative Russian speaking. The customers and staff looked shock, as I looked to them to see their reactions. The air raid siren and announcement had finished and suddenly everyone started briskly moving towards the exit. We very quickly joined them too after paying for our supplies!
Back in the car just as we’re about to leave. Andy tells us he’s going to go home and not coming to khasakstan.
That came as quite a surprise, considering this entire trip was Andy’s idea!
We dropped Andy off at the hotel and drove off, just Rus and I to the khasakstan border where we met Harris and Marco.