The Russia / Ukraine border between Rostov -on-Don and the Crimea
Another border, another pair of underpants, as Jo would say. After sixteen days in Mother Russia we have eaten our last eggy breakfast, been stopped by our last Russki politzia and drunk our last Russian Baltika beer. Now for country number six, the Ukraine, which lies merely a field from whence I now write. So near but yet so far; with 35 cars between us and the barrier we could be in for a long wait. But at least the sun is shining and we know that on the other side lies the Crimea with its beaches, Silk Road fortresses, cave cities…. and naturist beaches.
Jo, being a devout naturist, is very excited about the latter. She’s been trying to drag me to one since we were thirteen. The last time I was naked in public was at the Arasan Baths in Almaty, where the experience induced a panic attack and Jo had to lead me to safety whilst a gaggle of portly, unclad Babuskhas looked on. Whether I’ll be able to get over my fear of getting my kit off is yet to be seen, I may have to hide behind a large rock while Jo struts her stuff.
Our last night in Russia was spent in a field, watching a harvest moon rise over the trees and listening to a cacophony of insect life. Several of which stung and bit us. Once again the tent experience led to little sleep, but was most enjoyable although unfortunately I left our cutlery in Volgograd so we ate our pasta with toothpicks. There are few things more pleasurable than sitting outside on a warm summer’s evening under a full moon. It seemed an appropriate way to be ending Russia and Jo and I sat and chatted about the last two weeks and the three and a half weeks we have left on the road. Time is slipping by so fast and Brighton is looming out of the future at an alarming rate.
This trip has been like scaling a huge mountain. Our four month preparation was akin to galloping across the plains towards the peak ahead, leaving Bangkok the first step towards the clouds. At Almaty we reached the summit and prepared for the descent. Now I feel as if we are scrambling down the other side, with home just visible through the clouds below. I know that we still have 5000 km’s to go and anything could happen at any moment, but I feel as if we are on the home stretch now, and it’s a funny feeling. My friend Al wrote me an email yesterday in which he reminded me of Gandhi and his philosophy that there is no destination in life, only a journey. The only destination being death. As I lay in the back of TT yesterday I thought about it a lot, how doing this journey and getting home are all a microcosm of that Journey. When we cross the finish line in Brighton this journey may end, this chapter close, but then another chapter will open and the next part of the Journey begin. What that next chapter will be neither Jo or I quite know. As for Ting Tong, her next chapter will be co-habiting a garage in Brighton with eleven smelly ferrets. I don’t envy her.
Thanks to another five police stops yesterday and two today I won our bet as to how many Cop Stops we would rack up in Russia. Jo said under 30, I said over 30. Our final tally is 34. Jo’s forfeit is to pose for a photo for the blog wearing no more than the Yi apron. Ho ho.
Police were one of the things we were most worried about in Russia, but on the whole the stops have been no more than an excuse to have a closer inspection of Ting Tong. A cursory glance at our dokumenti is always accompanied by the usual tukking questions and disbelief that we have no ‘moosh’ (husbands) with us, are in a three-wheeled car and are going all the way to England. One policeman yesterday was a keen collector of coins so we added to his collection with some Yuan and Tenge. So far that is the only money we have had to hand over to men in uniform. At the next stop the policeman, half-joking, asked us if we had any ‘heroin, cocaine, narkotiki’. Yeah right. If a smuggler were to dream up the worst accoutrement to smuggling they could imagine Ting Tong would be it. Today however we met our first bad egg and it was quickly apparent that he was determined to extract roubles from us. He examined our documents, asked to see the engine number, bombarded us with tiresome questions, then marched off to the police station with our passports. But since our docs are perfectly in order and he could find nothing wrong we headed off in the direction of the Ukraine with our wallets and tempers intact.
All in all Russia has been a great experience. Rain, spark plug issues and technological hiccups have not dampened my enthusiasm for this country or its people. More than anywhere else the Russians have loved Ting Tong. Barely five minutes has passed on a Russian road without people laughing, shouting questions out at us, begging us to stop and chat, asking to swop cars and whipping out video cameras. Some classic comments have included, ‘What is this apparition I see before me?’ and ‘Is it a car, is it a motorbike, is it a tractor?’. Some Russians have also been just as surprised to see ‘Anglichankas’ (English girls). In Yekaterinburg one man lurched up to us, beer can in hand and said, ‘Eenglish, never before have I seen an Eenglish’ then just stood and stared. Most bizarre. Apart from the odd Communist fossil or sulky waitress I have found the Russians to be fun, positive, kind and welcoming – a far cry from the cold, hard stereotype we feared. Hopefully the Ukrainians will be the same.
Enough from me for now. The queue is slowly getting shorter and I need to go and have a snooze in the sun. xx Ants
PS Jo just told a queuebarger to ‘F*&K Off’ in Russian, then the babushkas joined in..now he’s reversed in a fury to the back of the queue. I hope he doesn’t hunt us down on the other side. Eek.