This morning the other teams left for the border and we set off to find the garage to fix our tire. The tire was splitting and bulging badly so we put our hazards on and crept through Astrakhan at about 15mph hoping the tire wouldn’t explode before we found the garage.
Note: Finding the garage wasn’t easy and I think Russia needs lessons on how to pave entrances into anything! Especially since the entrance into the car fixing square of Astrakhan consisted of mostly rubble and potholes. We had the same issue with the Motel in Rostov… Things don’t look like we think they should as Americans… but it is all a learning experience… The lesson for today (for our whole experience in Russia) was: Do not judge a book by its cover.
For the first few minutes you meet someone in Russia, in general, they seem a little off putting. At first they may have a negative response to us or seem to scowl as we introduce ourselves. It also doesn’t help that we don’t speak a word of Russian. However, within a few minutes of meeting almost anyone in this country we have been treated with kindness and over-arching generosity that can only make your heart swell. I mean once you get past the initial shock of a very blue bus filled with two very English speaking Americans (ish)… every garage we have been to in both Taganrog and in Astrakhan has been filled with kind and loving people who have helped us immensely on our journey.
We spent the day inside a garage with a whole team of really great guys, Nikolai, Sergey, and Avas (If you are reading this I am sorry for the spelling of you names).We got to the shop and took off the tire and then noticed the real issue. The stabilizer pin or a tie rod had broken through and that was what was probably causing our blow outs and possible blow outs.
At first the guys said that the BBB should be junked. (and by said we mean crossed hands in an X and and made faces and at times said “caput” and “Niet, Niet, No Way…”. So… there was no way to fix it without American parts. But after a little bit of time and persuasion… (and by persuasion we mean telling them about out the Bus and the Mongol Rally and pleading a little) they figured out how to fix it…
We went to the parts market next door and bought a tie rod for a different car and put different spacers on it, so that it worked and was the same length as the passenger side one. Whoo Hoo!! Go Russian ingenuity!
After about 2 hours of buying parts and having lunch of cooked Sturgeon and rice, the car was just about fixed. Over those hours we had been talking with a very nice guy, named Denis, who was also getting his bus fixed (and by talking I mean using the Russian phrase book’s very small dictionary to have a the most basic conversation).
All the while the car was in the shop, Andrea had noticed a clearish yellow fluid leaking from the van. It looked like a fluid I had seen before but I was assured that it was only the air-conditioning and nothing more. Well… when we finally pulled the car out of the shop and went to drive away, after waving and double-cheek kissing and photos… we had no brakes… I mean NO brakes! So they pulled the bus back into the shop, put it up on the lift and low-and-behold… the brake line had a big leak and we have no brake fluid at all! So a couple more hours of work went by… Andrea went with Denis to buy two new tires for the BBB (who was very kind as well and would have escorted us to the Kazakh border if we hadn’t made him late for his shift already!). These are slightly smaller in size and thus will have to put on as a pair.
The whole time we were waiting for the bus to be put back into tip-top shape, Bruce and Sergei were actually communicating by computer translator. Sergei had pulled up a really good translator program and they were chatting away about all kinds of things, not just the bus. When we thanked them for all of their help and kindness, we actually found out that one of Sergei’s friends had been in Chicago not too long ago. He had gotten lost and didn’t speak much English, so a couple of Chicagoans actually found him a taxi to get him back to his hotel and paid for it. Both Bruce and Andrea felt relieved and proud to hear about this act of kindness from Americans. Thanks to their good will we received some as well. Pay it forward everyone! A little bit of kindness goes a long way! Literally!
We left garage at 5pm to the Kazakh border. Pretty smooth crossing and the border guard signed the bus. One of the gaurds started off being a little intimidating but they all softened up pretty quickly. We had to get a jump though, as we had left the lights on when we went to get the passports stamped.
We drove about 30km into Kazakhstan towards Atyrau. It started getting dark so we pulled into a hotel in a small town. A few guys were sitting outside of the hotel and came up to us when we pulled in. Although they meant well, seeing a hoard of men coming up to you… in the dark… is unnerving at best. In the end they were just curious about us and our big blue bus (and they were half in the bag) but still this feeling of insecurity is something we will have to get used to during this trip. But, the hotel was only 2500tenge which is about $18 or so….and it was not a bad room at all!
Always an adventure!