From Russia without love

31 July 2010

After the complete shock of the accident we were faced with a 24 hr delay to enter Latvia. Our fixers had tried every trick in the book to bounce us up the queue without success. Dejected about a lost day in a Latvian truck park, we bid farewell to Taddas and Edmundo and decided on dinner in the cafe. Well that was until we realised the accident had knocked out the electricity so no food on site! Plan Z was quietly put into place and soon Steve and I were meeting the Chief of Police at the border. Armed with our secret magic potion we quickly negotiated a bounce of 300 places to number 1 in the list. They do say it’s who not what you know!!

Morale was lifted as we negotiated the Latvian border and purchased our Russian road insurance. Cruised through Russian passport control and into the holding area for Steve to sort the dreaded carnet. We won’t bore you with full details of the carnet, but just note it is important to have all the items on the truck that the carnet says you have. So when our carnet check had revealed a number of items had been left behind in London, some fantastic lateral thinking by Ross (think Blue Peter) made a “bucket” out of a mineral water bottle and “freezer bags” from arm cushions! Absolute genius. A “cool bag evolved” from a seat cover, a “Brother electric labeller” became the labels themselves and the missing “kitchen utensils” from a Swiss army knife. Genius.

And this is where it went wrong and after the accident earlier became the worst day of the trip so far. The Russians refused to allow us entry and told us we had to wait until 9am tomorrow. No food facilities, no drinks and only the truck to sleep in. Their reason? To be honest I am still not sure now. First the carnet was wrong (it wasn’t). Then the carnet had to be translated (it didn’t). I am sure you are getting the drift. Taddas was on the phone constantly liaising on our behalf without success. As we appeared to move forward we would then become dejected as we were knocked back yet again for absolutely no fair reason.

Nothing and I MEAN NOTHING was working despite all avenues being explored to hasten our departure. The only person pleased with the situation was the chairman of O2 as Steve spent the majority of the day on his iPhone in Russia ringing a mobile in Lithuania or numbers in London. To assist you picturing the scene imagine a 1940’s Soviet office block full of big and sweaty truck drivers arguing with imposing officials in green uniforms. One toilet (broken & fly infested), one cafe (only for Russian Officials). When a blonde Russian official walked in wearing high heels and a green bomber jacket resting on her shoulders the stereotypical image should now be complete. At this moment we honestly thought Bond would come crashing through the window to save us.

It’s hard to justify in writing how tough this day was. After no sleep in the truck and the previous day’s events morale was low, but the crew was not broken. Noting was simple. If a document was read once it was read a hundred times then copied, re-read another hundred times before being entered on a computer twice. Steve took on the persona of the Churchill nodding dog you see in the back of cars. Just moving his head side to side watching documents being moved time and time again for hours on end.

The language barrier was having an impact and the assistance of Taddas and Edmundo cannot be under estimated. It was though at about 1600 it dawned on me that the whole FTFE trip was at serious risk of ending . I could see in Steve’s face the same feeling. All the months of incredible hard effort by Steve, Amy, Paul B and absolutely everyone from the crews to those who had donated was in danger. We were reluctantly forming the opinion that they were not going to let us in. No Russia, no trip as the Afghanistan short cut is currently not an option.

One step forward brought two steps back. Shift changes meant dealing with new staff and going over all the old plus new problems again. It is important to add here that we were ship shape. All the paperwork was correct and in place. There was no reason for their stance. We were though stuck in Russia in a compound. We could not argue or be anything but patient. The only reason we were not progressing was the Russians. And that we could not control.

The minority of the drivers that spoke English gave horror stories of people being held in this place for days and days on end. Others just stated the now all obvious fact of if they don’t want you in you won’t get in.

Slowly and eventually we began to make progress. The carnet was approved and the final 4 hr check of checking our paperwork commenced. At last the final stamp went on and at just before midnight we were allowed to go. In we jumped with the aim being to stop at the first garage to eat as now 30+ hours had passed without a meal. We drove relieved towards the barrier and open road! At last freedom!!!!!!!!! No such luck. Sent back to the office by an irate border guard!

The official (28TH we had dealt with) shouted at Steve and sent him back to the office to get a new stamp. We actually had the stamp but he thought otherwise! Then after a new delay we set off and entered Russia properly on their beautiful, freshly tarmac’d road, no pot holed, sufficiently lit and signposted M9 motorway. It was actually one of the worst roads we had encountered!

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It was midnight, moonlit and we were 675km from Moscow. Off we went. Incredibly the sat nav told us it was 475km until we had to do anything! “Back in the USSR” by the Beatles was on the play list. We were through. Steve’s shoulders had lifted, the fear of failure through no fault of our own and finally lifted. As the roads got better, the quality of driving deteriorated beyond belief. That’s other people’s driving not ours!

Nearly there. We were late, mentally & physically exhausted. It had been an horrendous 36 hrs. But we were in one piece and Stage 1 was nearly complete. The baton had been nearly dropped. Well no actually it hadn’t. Martha had teased us with the fuel tank and the previous 36hrs had tried to rip it from our grasp but Crew Stage 1 prevailed.

I was asked for a one liner about our trip. The line “It’s been emotional” would have to be it. Highs, lows, thoughts of Dad and of course mum, challenges and complete tiredness. Shock of the accident, to the frustration and the fear of failure at the Russian border. The beauty of the Swiss Alps to the landscape of Poland! It really has seen it all. Just under 5000km completed and 15 countries visited with an incredible crew.

In my head I know the place Steve needs to get Martha too before you could start considering the end may be in sight. He is not there yet, but a lot of valuable lessons have been learnt in Stage 1 which will help the rest of the trip. I am immensely proud of him and in awe of how much he has achieved to get this far. If one crazy boy could get there, with the support of equally crazy friends it is Steve.

I though need a holiday………….. it has been emotional!

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3 Responses to “From Russia without love”

  1. Thanks alot – your answer solved all my problems after several days stugrgilng

  2. All things coednserid, this is a first class post

  3. Your cultural dieferencfs might seem insignificant now, but they might create some problems in the future. If you want to avoid this, here is some generic advice. Generic, because all Russian people are different, just as American:1. Try to show your interest in his culture. Read up on Russian history, literature, and art, but do not express your opinions, rather listen to what he has to say and accept his point of view. Russia: culture shock is the first book that comes to mind.2. Remember: The second world war is very important to Russians. Russians won the war. Don’t ever question this statement when you talk to a Russian. Don’t ever underestimate their role in the Second World War.3. Try not to talk about politics, current situation, Russian history because you will be in danger of making some statements that might create further misunderstanding. Try to stay away from touchy political topics.4. Show your respect for Russia, never say anything negative about it. Let him be your guide, when it comes to talking about Russia. You might learn a different point of view! Good luck!