Mind you when we went to plug in the computer with the adapter we almost caught the drapes on fire because there is no grounding pegs and the outlet sparked really far out of the wall when we plugged it in!
Hmmm…. Soviet infrastructure….
When we were done we asked to buy the adapter because it came in so handy. The hotel actually said that it was a gift from them and that we could have it for free! Wow.
Sometime the generosity of people surprises you.
So we left Hotel Semey and headed out in the direction of a car parts shop so that we could fix our radiator leak before we headed off to Barnaul.
The auto parts guy knew exactly what we needed within seconds (without a common word spoken between him and Bruce) and he even poured the can of stop-leak in for us and some extra coolant to-boot.
Within 20 minutes we were on our way out of Semey (Kazakhstan) and onto our last city in Russia, Barnaul.
The road from Semey to Barnaul was beautiful.
The road rolled and curved through pine barrens that made us feel like we were in Plymouth MA, going to Pinewoods camp that we go to every summer. The signage was good and there was even a place to stop and get a bit to eat. Andrea walked into a little restaurant looking place only to find two very rotund women puttering away behind the counter making something that smelled good. We wanted some more somsas (those meat pasty/empanadas we had been having up until now). But all they had in this place were “peroties”. These are fried dough filled with a little bit of mashed potato. They really aren’t bad. It is just strange that we had passed over another cultural line without knowing it. We had been in the land of somsas and now we were in the land of peroties. Andrea bought a few of these and we headed off for the border.
When we got to border and met 5 other teams!!! It felt really good to be with other teams and talk about our experiences and to have other teams in line as we were dealing with visas and passports.
One of the teams, a trio of Danish guys in big purple, furry car got turned back from the Kazakh border because their Russian visas started on August 15th, not the 5th like they had asked for from the Visa Machine (the company that works with the Adventurists to get all of the ralliers their visas). This wasn’t the first mistake we had heard of about the visa machine messing up visas for people. We had heard about one Australian team who were a father and son team. The son wasn’t issued a double entry into one of the countries that they were passing through twice but his father was. So the son was stuck in no man’s land. He couldn’t enter the new country and could return into the country he had just left for lack of double entry visa. We heard that he was trying to finagle a flight to Olgii, Mongolia to meet his father there in a week. We also heard about another team being deported out of Uzbekistan due to problems with their visas. They were all escorted to the airport and put on a plane home. Bruce and I are fortunate that our only issues we had had with Visa Machine were fixable before we started the rally. They had messed up Bruce’s letter of invitation to Russia when we went to get our Russian Visas in New York and then later we had to pay an extra sixty pounds to get expedite Bruce’s passport back from the Tajik embassy in the UK in time to get on the plane from the US to the UK before the start of the rally.
We really hope that the Danish guys are okay and end up sorting everything out. While we were waiting at the Russian side of the border to cross we actually saw the Kazakh border guard (who had been dealing with the Danish team) walk over to the Russian border post and have a cigarette and a chat with the Russian border guard about… something… the Kazakh guard was holding a bunch of passports and the Russian guard looked amused. We saw a few head nods and shaking of heads but we couldn’t hear the conversation from where we were sitting. If they don’t get through today they will make it through in a day and a half. All will be well.
A bunch of us all got out of the border post at the same time and we drove with a couple of other teams into Russia. The roads were smooth but the signage was terrible and we got turned around in a little town where there was supposed to be a ring road but there was no signage on how to get to it. Eventually after a few pot holes, back tracks, and turn arounds we found the ring road. Although on the way we lost two of the teams to a mechanical issue. They had been convoying together for a while and wanted to stop and sort things out here rather than later. So off we went with a SUV of 18-year-old English boys behind us (the only team left in our convoy), and off we went. They overtook us quickly in their pimped out SUV with new suspension fitted the night before the rally… we aren’t jealous… seriously… We didn’t see them again until Barnaul.
A couple of hours later, filled with rolling agriculture land again… and some sun flowers, we stopped right outside of Barnaul to get gas. As always, when you are on a long car ride and your trusty steed often dribbles some fluids when you stop… you do the quick under carriage check every time you stop the car, just to make sure all is well. Well all was NOT well at this gas station. When we checked under then car there wasn’t just an oil leak slowly dribbling out from the under carriage… there was a massive oil slick pouring from bus. The puddle was growing quickly and it is a Saturday evening (everything is going to close in 10 minutes for the weekend until Monday morning).
Thankfully, directly in fronts of us, on the same side of the street as the gas station, a Citroen dealership was just about to close when we pulled up pleading for their help. They took pity on us and pulled us in and found out that we busted a huge hole in the oil filter. They had a filter if we had the oil, which we did and they handily fixed the bus while posing for pictures. We even had some of the local constabulary (Police) come over and chuckle at us as we were attempting to do our hand-gesture/Russian phrase book translations of what we needed and how they were going to fix it.
They ended up putting zip ties in the bus… not sure where they went or why… but we will probably find out soon enough. They were incredibly nice at this dealership and it only cost about 150 rubles to fix the bus (which is like $5 US). While we were waiting a few other teams stopped by and made sure that we were okay and chatted with us for a while. We met Alvin and Justin who are driving a little blue car and an ambulance with a bunch of guys in it. It was really nice of them to stop and check in. I hope we see them again sometime.
We were also introduced to Dasha the translator, at the Citroen dealership. Dasha is a very sweet girl who speaks English and is studying to become a travel agent in the area for English speaking tourists in Barnual. How lucky for us? Except that Dasha has more energy than Andrea. (Which is hard by the way). She was very excited to help us and wanted to help us make reservations at a good hotel and help us get parking and food and talk to us and take pictures with us and have us follow her in her little red Nissan Micra and chat in English and call her mother and tell her about helping the American tourists… Can you tell what it was like? She also fell madly in love with Bruce and kept calling him Chris… If nothing else she was very excited to have her first chance at being a translator and tour guide and we were happy to have her help since it was getting later and darker at this point than we had anticipated. We followed Dasha and her friend Unna to The Hotel Barnaul. It took far too long to make our room reservations and Bruce had to stay with the car because we weren’t sure where we could park. So finally we thanked Dasha, parked the car, gave the parking police guy a Salem Sate Police Badge (He was ecstatic) and went to check out our room.
We had a double room on the 7th floor but when we got there, there were two tiny twin beds in the room. So we went back down to ask for a double room with one bed. This is where we met the EVIL front desk ladies. They hadn’t seemed so evil with Dasha as a buffer but now they were in their full glory. We asked for a double room with one bed and we were not told but pointed at and then pointed to a poster of prices… in Russian… in Cyrillic… that made no sense. Finally the stern faced, bleach blond haired Evil front desk lady huffed and pointed at my picture of one bed in a room and then pointed to a price that was twice what we had already paid. “No Way” we said. Bruce got out the Russian phrase book and said that the price was too high. It ended up being over $85 if we wanted the double room with one bed versus close to $50 for a double room with two beds. She came back with… “that is the price” … Essentially you pay for what you want in this city, not what you get. The room would have been the same but with one bed rather than two. We got really frustrated because that really seems like a rip off to us so we went back up to the room we already had and moved the furniture around so that the beds were next to each other and so be it. Let them expend the energy to rearrange the room the next day.
We needed some dinner so we went downstairs past the snarling Evil front desk ladies and we actually met another Mongol Rally team that had just pulled in. They are a couple of brothers, Billy & Tommy, and they also had issues with the Evil front desk ladies so we all decided to go out and grab something to eat together.
We tried to find a place close but there was no food to be found so after much hand waving and street crossing we finally managed to get a taxi - that was much harder than it needed to be. We asked to be taken to a restaurant. As always we were taken to a fancy/expensive restaurant. We look and sound American we must have money, right? Even though we were all road-weary and dirty, we had no other choice to go into this nice white linen restaurant. It actually turned out to be a beer brewery/ fancy food place.
Our little blond waiter boy spoke some English but he kept turning everything into an exclamation or a question. “Only one beer?!?”, “You want salad!”, “You don’t want salad?”. It turned out to be a good night and we stayed out till 1 am because we lost an hour at the border, due to a time zone change that wasn't signposted (again). We tried to get a taxi outside the restaurant to take us back to the hotel, however our Little blond waiter boy ran out of the restaurant all concerned. Apparently you can't hail a taxi in Barnaul, Russia, you have to telephone for one......anyway, he called us a taxi this time and we took it all the way back to the hotel. The taxi even turned out to be a Lada, so Andrea got her first ride in a commie car!
It’s an adventure right? (“It’s an adventure!?! Right?!?”)