28.07.2006 - 01.08.2006, 28.08.2006 - 01.09.2006
28.07.2006 - 01.08.2006
In due course we made it to the Kazakhstan/Russian border. The exit formalities for Kazakhstan were simple if a bit slow, as they only let a couple of people in at a time into the compound. The Russian side the same. Once inside everyone was friendly and moderately efficient. The procedure itself had some shades of Turkmenistan, but not nearly as bad. In about 1 1/2 hours we were through and into "Mother" Russia. This was a major milestone for us.
For the overview, check out Formalities: Russia
We had decided to go to Novosibirsk to see about tires since we would be needing tires by the time we came back this way, and which we were unable to get in Almaty. Russia continued the plains of Kazakhstan for the first 100 km or so and then became what we are used to from northern Europe, forest and hills, everything green and wonderfully warm. The roads were also in good condition (thank God).
In Novosibirsk, we were very frustrated trying to find a hotel. First, there are only a few of them, second they are very expensive. The only cheap place I found, after talking to a cab driver, wouldn't even talk to me. Which brings me to my diatribe on Russian service centered economy. The Russians for the most part (based on our limited experience) don't understand the concept. I encountered a number of, invariably, older ladies, who simply took one look at me and decided they did not wish to serve me or chose to make it so difficult that it simply wasn't worth the effort. This ranged from being turned away from a hotel, to not being able to get gasoline because my 1000 ruble note was folded!! We have been in enough countries that I can make myself understood everywhere, but these babushkas simply didn't want the hassle of trying to deal with someone whom they could not communicate with. If this happened once or twice no big deal, people have a bad day, etc. etc. But this turned out to be the case in many places and I was very surprised if not a bit vexed occasionally. OK, we moved on and gave our money to someone else. Market economy prevails!! (Nearly, as there are very few hotels, your choice is not great). This was the first time; that the fact that we did not speak the local language was an issue. Very interesting!!
We eventually got a hotel at the "Hotel Novosibirsk" which is across from the train station. The hotel has two wings, one renovated, and the other in classical intourist standard. Basically a dump. For the cheaper rooms they are still asking for 100$ and getting it, unfortunately. After two days here we moved on, there were no tires to be had, we had chosen a holiday weekend to visit and everything was closed. So onward toward Mongolia.
We headed toward the border of Mongolia at Tashanta in the Altai region of eastern Russia. Shortly after passing Barnaul the country started getting much more interesting than previously. First, it started going along a large river, second, this is where everyone from this part of the country comes on the weekends. There is mountain climbing, river rafting, and plenty of trails for mountain bikes and walking (at least based on all the people with various signs we saw everywhere). As it was Sunday, there was a huge amount of traffic headed in the opposite direction, for which we were thankful. The further we rode into this huge river valley the nicer it became. We rode until dusk and then found a little side road and camped near a small brook, appropriated the campfire which was still smoldering and settled down for the night.
The following day turned out to be more of the same. The river got wilder, and we caught an occasional glimpse of a raft floating down the river. At the end, it opens up into a wide plain around 70 km long which ends up at the border to Mongolia. Since it was late we chose to stay in the protected river valley as the wind had picked up and it looked like rain. So another night camping next to this beautiful river, life could be worse.
Finally, the next morning we got to the Russian border checkpoint, and although there were only two other people there we were told to wait. After an hour we were told they were closing for lunch and would resume work in 2 hours. (Note that in that hour no-one had come or gone into or out of the Russian immigration!!!) So we also settled down for lunch. Sure enough two hours later we were let into the compound to start our paperwork (to get out of Russia).
The Russian side of the border (Tashanta) would turn out to be the most inefficient border crossing, though not the most complicated, this still belonged to the Turkmen. While doing the paperwork, the heavens opened up and we had a torrential rain storm, luckily for us the Russians were so slow, or we would be getting wet outside.
In the end we managed to fulfill all requirements to leave the country and were let go. We now rode 26 km or so to the outer Russian checkpoint, where someone else checked our passports again, before finally allowing out of the country.
For the overview, check out Formalities: Russia
28.08.2006 - 01.09.2006
Getting in to Russia the second time turned out to be an exercise in patience and perseverance. As we got to the outer checkpoint, it became clear that the Russians had only let one or two of the vehicles go across that had come today (it was almost 10:30)so the rest were parked here. There was no movement one way or the other. Around 11:00 we were told that they were closing for lunch, so we had to wait until 14:00.
At a quarter to 3 there still wasn't anything going on. Then the Swedes arrived, all at once. Together with the Swedes Cecilia managed to get the Russians to let us through, but not before they had turned all the Mongolians and Kazakhstanis away, so 20-30 cars and busses, many full of students going back to school in Kazakhstan all turned around and only the bikes and the two accompanying vehicles were allowed through for that day!! (4 Russian trucks had also been allowed through, but no other vehicles as long as we had been there, and only 2 had come in the opposite direction).
The explanation was that there had been too many people coming through from the other side to process everyone!! Something which we were to find out wasn't the case. We all rode through and at the immigration stations (a brand new building, full of functionaries who didn't seem to busy as there was only 3-4 people there!!) we were given the full dose of bureaucracy, from having our vehicles disinfected, and having to purchase new insurance (our old one had lapsed). All of which took nearly two hours (at least it wasn't as bad as Turkmenistan!!), including fighting about the fact that the insurance cost double what I had paid when coming in from Kazakhstan. But we finally got back into Russia, and headed straight for our last campsite here, which was just as pristine as we left it.
The Swedes were behind us and as they were a large group it probably took them quite a while longer than us. But in the end it is remarkable how little they manage to get done at this border, whether by design or otherwise it is hard to tell, as the other two Russian borders were speedy by comparison.
Back in Russia, the plan was to go to Novosibirsk to pick up tires we had been able to order from BMW Moscow and were being shipped to the dealer in Novosibirsk. We took care of this, this time staying in a different hotel which was much nicer, but cost around the same. The tires where there and we took them to a local bike shop to get them mounted and continued on our way. One interesting thing, when picking up the tires, I found out that they didn't take credit cards. All payments are made in cash, you are shown into a little booth, with a counting machine, and a calculator, where you hand over your rubles to a young lady who then gives you a receipt with which you get your goods. No real problem for a couple of tires, but what if I am buying a BMW X3? I can only assume they also take bank transfers as payment, but I wouldn't be surprised if it was a cash only economy..
As soon as we left the Altai region it had started to rain, and was very cold (8°C), so we were riding in the rain to and from Novosibirsk, and very glad to be leaving this part of the world for hopefully warmer weather. It is really amazing what difference a month makes.
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