Thanks to so many prayers and candles I am in Russia,
I had to wait quite a time at the Estonian border while they checked all documents and even taking a photograph of the KLR’s number plate. However, the people were extremely friendly and I had many good chats with some of the gents and ladies. There were four bikers from Finland as well. They arrived after me but were through within minutes. And still I had to sit and wait.
Getting to the Russian border was a weird feeling. I think I am still indoctrinated by the propaganda of earlier times. Everything looked grey and unfriendly. Big was my surprise to see the four Finnish bikers busy unpacking their bikes. Customs wanted to see what was inside their panniers.
I had to complete four forms. The lady at Immigrations was fast and efficient and after stamping many pieces of paper she directed me to Customs.
Then a surprise. It was an Olga speaking good English, strikingly beautiful, and extremely friendly. Within a few minutes she completed everything and then I waited for the command to start unpacking. Nothing. Just a friendly “You are welcome to go.”
I couldn’t believe my ears. It took less time entering Russia than leaving Estonia!
I first had to find a bank to change money. Not easy because everything was in Russian and no one spoke English.
After that I had to find a place that was selling insurance, which is compulsory for Russia as for the EU. At the first garage I stopped I was lucky. There was a lady selling insurance. The only problem was that she spoke only Russian. It took more than an hour for her to get all the information from the registration certificate. I even took her outside to show her the registration number. When at last I had everything I noticed that she had had the registration number wrong. We had to start all over again.
Then I could start riding in Russia.
That is a nightmare as you don’t know where you are going! Take two maps and put in all the information of an area the size of Johannesburg – London on it and you will have only the most major routes on it. In Riga I got a micro sd card with map material of Russia on it but it is flawed and does not work.
So I headed from the border first direction to St. Petersburg. To avoid the highways with Friday afternoon traffic I decided to take a shortcut south which I reckoned would bring me back to the St. Petersburg – Moscow highway. Wrong wrong wrong. The road did went south but deteriorated by the minute. Then the tar suddenly stopped and it was only gravel going into the forests. It started raining and after an hour I had admit that I didn’t have a clue where I was. I stopped at a few people and showed them my map but the only reaction was “Njet!” No, we don’t know.
I was aiming for a dot on the map called Luga. In one village one guy drew a map on the sand to show me when to turn left and when to right at the different splits in the road. A lady called us over and invited us for coffee. It was raining and I decided it was a good chance to get out of the wet. She lived in a log house. She had a huge veranda, kitchen with the toilet next to the oven, and a sleeping room cum living room. Next to her bed was a cage with ducklings under a heating light. One was lying dead on the floor. On her bed was a laptop …
I had a good coffee and a huge piece of cake. She offered me the veranda to camp but when I don’t know where I am I normally don’t have the inner peace to settle down. So I left again.
In a huge downpour I reached Luga early evening. It is quite a big place. Through my dirty wet visor I hadn’t noticed that I was riding against the traffic. The cars hooted and flickered their lights until I realized I was the only one going that direction.
Then the search started for a place to stay for the night. No-one understood me. I stopped at a hospital in the hope… I showed myself sleeping and the lady thought I wanted sleeping tablet so she directed me to a pharmacy. She didn’t understand at all what I was looking for. And I was totally wet.
Across of the hospital was a hairdresser. I went there. Three lovely ladies worked there. The one started phoning, the other one brought me warm tea and chocolates. Neither could speak any English. They showed me I had to wait. The one that brought me the tea brought me also a tangerine (naartjie) and even peeled it for me!
At 7 they closed the place and the owner showed that I had to follow her. We rode through more mud and water until we came to a beautiful old house in a run-down state. It belonged to friends of her and they offered me a room. The room was beautiful. I had to wash in a bucket with cold water and the toilet was not working but there was a bucket of water standing.
They called me down to chai, tea, and after that the lady started filling the table with wonderful Russian dishes. Not a single person could speak English so with hands and feet we had to communicate. The man was an Afghanistan veteran and was wounded there. He took my hand to let me feel the spot on his skull.
At eleven the night they decided to go and show me a lovely spot in the forests next to a lake. As we got there we had to break off small branches to keep the swarms of mosquitoes at bay. It didn’t help much. So we were sightseeing until one this morning, and although there was no sunlight it was still light.
At this point one thing is clear. It is going to be a hard ride. Harder than I expected, aggravated by the difficult navigation. I must admit that yesterday I wished I had a fixer like Charley and Ewan in Long Way Round. How lovely that would have been to get to a place and someone has organized everything. I even missed company during the ride on the forest road when I didn’t have a clue where I was.
Our time is now 2 hours ahead of South African time.