Sunday 13th August - The Crowpocalypse & the Mudpocalypse
We enjoyed breakfast with Anja and discussed our plans for the next few days. Anja and her boyfriend Matthias have a flight booked on 23rd August so they're planning to completely leg it to the finish line once he returns to Pavlodar on Tuesday. Goodluck to them! We packed our car and James checked the tyre pressure. After another session of luggage tetris we were off to the Russian border. Finally, we would be entering the land of Putin and dancing bears!
We arrived at the border to find a line of cars so pulled up and began our wait to leave the country. Beside the road was a bunch of toilets. By toilets we mean, a random shed with a pit inside that even a truck load of sanitiser couldn't clean. Haylee and Patrick ventured to use the toilet but couldn't stomach it. Haylee chose instead to walk into the nearby forest (well away from the view of everyone) and get back to nature to relieve herself.
After a while we began to move forward and finally got to the security check-point. We were stamped out of Kazakhstan then had our car checked. This whole trip we've been lucky to have guards simply glance at the mountains of luggage in the car and wave us on. Not this border crossing! They had us remove all our bags and opened everything. Extremely thorough. They even pulled out our underwear bags to have a look. The guards questioned us and asked if we had any drugs or weapons including knives. We nervously said no, knowing full well Patrick and James had brought knives for cutting rope etc. Patrick went into the car and pulled out his utility knife to present to them, this was fine and they waved us on. Phew. We then entered some sort of no-mans land area in between the exit for Kazakhstan and the entrance of Russia. This ended up being an hour wait. Some locals got a bit impatient and tried to squeeze past all the parked cars and push their way into small gaps. We weren't having any of that and crept our car right up behind the car in fronts ass. Nearby was a large tree covered in crows. It looked like some sort of horror movie. They were sitting there staring at everyone. Occasionally the flock of crows would fly off and sit somewhere else. "Its the crowpocalypse!" James had perfectly described the scenery; the crows waiting for us to slowly waste away while waiting for the Russians to process everyone. Haylee jumped in the car to drive it up to the border; it makes things a lot easier and simpler as the car is registered in her name and it often confuses the guards when someone else is driving. We all finally reached the Russian border and had our passports stamped. Time to enter Russia! All up we were there from 1:15pm to 3:25pm, not too bad in the land of border crossings. We've had a lot worse on this trip.
First things first thought we had to sort our car insurance. James and Natalie stayed with the car while Haylee and Pat went to a small cubicle where an older lady was filling in car details. The A4 form for insurance was quite straight forward, anyone else would have taken approx 10mins to fill it in. Not sloth lady though!! She was honestly straight out of the Zootopia sloth scene. She used just two fingers to type all the details in and had to check things a hundred times before she was happy with it (see photo on our facebook page). Thirty-five mins later and Haylee and Pat were finally out of there having paid for car insurance. Better to have it then run up someones backside and have an argument with an angry Russian. Haylee had the honor of driving for the first hour through Russia. As we'd skipped lunch we were all keen for an early supper, we pulled into a nearby cafe at the first town we came across. It was a dodgy looking demountable which fortunately had meals available. Go figure we were offered manta ray again!! Whats with this mysterious manta ray at all these restaurants? We weren't brave enough to order it so all got a chicken patty dish on mashed potato instead. The young guys hanging out at the restaurant had fun chatting with us over google translate and were happy to take a photo with us. They were shocked to hear we'd been driving for 29 days and curious about why we were doing the trip.
The next two hours of driving can only be classified as insanity. We'd entered the mudpocalypse. We were following google maps which instructed us to go straight instead of left. A sign told us the city was to the left. Decisions, decisions. Oh well, we'll go with google maps and follow the gps. Bad decision. We were driving for an hour and a half on the most insane muddy road. Our Slothy Panda was swerving all over the place. James was gripping the steering wheel like his life depended on it (and it literally did). At times we just had to gun it to make sure we didn't get bogged. Mud was flying all over the place and we knew the car was going to be caked in it for days. We kept checking google maps to see how far we had to go on this road from hell, 35kms, 20kms, 11kms. It never seemed to end. At one point Pat jumped out to take some footage of us veering all over (see our fbook page). James put his foot down and we swerved dangerously close to the edge of the road which could have been a nasty tumble if we didn't straighten up in time. Occasionally we would see a truck drive past us. The look they gave as we went by was as if we were aliens with warts all over our face. They'd never seen anything so ridiculous as a little 1.2 litre car attempting this ridiculous excuse for a highway. We could barely get the window wipers moving fast enough to get the mud off in order to see properly. Finally, we made it off the mudpocalypse road from hell. "If we didn't have a 4wd car we definitely wouldn't have made that", James explained. We jumped out to inspect all the damage. Our car looked terrible. Suddenly a swarm of mosquitoes tried to eat us alive. We had just enough time to take some snaps of our poor vehicle before jumping back in to continue on a proper road.
The sun went down quite quickly as we were driving along a nice stretch of road. Natalie asked Haylee "do the bumps feel worse to you?". Haylee couldn't feel anything on her side but Natalie was sure her side felt different. We pulled over on the side of the highway to find we had a flat tyre. Go figure! It was 10pm at night. We all worked together to get this tyre change done quickly. The spare wheel we'd purchased in Romania had the wrong offset and was rubbing on the inside guard. This made for a very unpleasant squeaking sound as we drove off to try and reach Barnaul. Eventually the sound got a little better but it was worrying us quite a bit.
We finally arrived into the city of Barnaul around 12:30am. We managed to drive past a 24hr McDonalds! I'm lovin it! We decided that it would definitely need to be our breakfast in the morning. It was a little difficult finding the entrance of the hostel but we eventually got to it, the entrance was around the back of the building. The women at the front desk was asleep on the couch when we rang the doorbell, she looked like she'd rather be dreaming of winning the lottery rather than checking us in. She spoke no English but was nice enough to let us split the bill four ways. Finally we were warm in our beds ready to meet our Swedish convoy pals again in the morning.