You have heard about him. Now it’s time to meet him.
Introducing my mate Boris.
This short film was put together by Joby Newsom, my expedition film editor. You can follow him on twitter @Jnewson. Check it out in HD.
You have heard about him. Now it’s time to meet him.
Introducing my mate Boris.
This short film was put together by Joby Newsom, my expedition film editor. You can follow him on twitter @Jnewson. Check it out in HD.
I arrived at the Azerbaijan border and passed through the Georgian side in 5 minutes. Then began the queuing for Azerbaijan. It wasn’t moving fast so I settled in for a wait. A friendly local chap introduced himself and we passed the time with him teach me introductory Azerbaijani lingo. Overall it took about 2.5hrs to get through the border controls. I had to pay $65 for insurance and $40 for road tax. They had a look through the vehicle but not very thoroughly and I was through. Sweet. The border guards were very friendly, so I was thinking great, this should be pretty straightforward.
How wrong I was. Not 30 minutes after crossing the border I was caught in my first speed trap. I didn’t even see where I could have been speeding but they had a picture of me doing 93km in a 50km zone. Apparently each town has a 50km zone that starts 1-2kms out of town and continues right out the other side. Sneaky as you think you are through and back on the highway at 90km. Then they catch you with their cameras.
So I set myself for another round of negotiations for the ticket. Their opening gambit was 150 euros. Ouch, you have to be kidding right?! No, they weren’t. I could see I would be here for a while. About 30 mins later I’d tried all my usual tricks and I’d even had to try a new one by having a cigarette with the guy. The things I do… it tasted horrible. Still I was down to 75 euro’s when he finally cleared it with his boss. I wasn’t making any further progress and I was getting pissed off, so I paid up and left. They weren’t a friendly bunch and it left me in a stew for a couple of hours. Especially when I saw the whole highway was basically a giant speed trap. $%$%%!!! It forced me to drive very conservatively meaning it was going to take hours longer to get to Baku. The sneaky buggers even hid behind bushes and fences with their cameras just waiting to nail you. I heard about a chap travelling the same day as me, who got caught 3 times for $200 each. They started at $500 each time.
Eventually my dodgy Sat Nav pointed me towards a shorter route. Well, shorter in length yes, but longer in time. The road was a construction site. Still, I was far happier as I was in the countryside and there were no speed cameras.
It turned into a crazy drive through the mountains. It was the right, wrong way. It added about 3 hours to the journey but made the drive far more memorable. I was driving through local villages and towns waving to the bewildered locals. The views from the mountains were beautiful and it put me in a far better mood for Baku.
It was dark by the time I arrived into Baku and I was buzzing. The city was buzzing. So many cars and lights. The city was wide awake on a Thursday evening at 11pm. I drove down to the waterfront and parked up. I was so excited that I ran down to the Caspian Sea and jumped about by myself for 10 minutes. After all the challenges of getting to the start line and along the way, I’d made it to Baku in one piece and in just 20 days. I was on schedule and ecstatic to be here. It also felt like city had put on its best for my arrival. Arriving late turned out to be the best time to see the city. The water front and city was awash with lights, water fountains and locals out enjoying the cool evening air. What a great first impression!!
Back at Boris it was time to find my host for the night. I drove into the centre of the city to meet Andrzej near his apartment. I was greeted with big smile and we headed back to his apartment and a couple of cold beers. Andrzej is a polish expat living in the centre of town, and as it turned out had a fantastic 2 bed apartment with views of the city. Sweet!! I’d been on the road for 14 hours by the time we cracked the first beer. Boy, it tasted good!! It had been my longest day of the expedition so far.
I slept well knowing that the next day I would begin the challenge of securing transport on a cargo ship across the Caspian Sea to Turkmenbashi, Turkmenistan.
The following day I woke to a beautiful sunny day and a nice sleep in. I’d asked Andrzej if he knew anybody that could help me arrange a ferry ticket. As luck would have it he did. Around 10.30am we headed into the Old Town to meet Huseyn. Huseyn and his brother run an art gallery in the centre of the old town. Now, I bet you are wondering how an art dealer was going to help me get a ferry to Turkmenbashi? To be honest I was too. Andrzej assured me Huseyn was the right man to know. Huseyn had studied in Poland for a couple of years and is now the unofficial Polish consulate in Baku and friend to all travellers.
So after no more than 12 hours in the city, I found myself being introduced to a local Azerbaijani art dealer, by an ex-pat Polish national in the old town of Baku, with the aim of helping me buy a ferry ticket to Turkmenistan. Not really an everyday occurrence but I wasn’t about to argue.
Huseyn was great right from the first moment. I told him what I need to do and his said. No problem. I will do everything I can to help you out. I had the feeling I was going to like Huseyn. I was welcomed in to the art gallery which was also his home. We spent the next few hours getting to know each other. He cooked us lunch and he even left me in charge of the gallery. Suffice to say I didn’t make any sales but I feel confident enough to add Azerbaijani art dealer to my CV now.
picture running gallery
Around 3pm when Huseyn’s brother returned we headed off to the carefully hidden port for the Caspian Sea ferries. We found a little old lady waiting for us at the ticket office. She basically said we were too late for today and to come back tomorrow. Perhaps we should go down to the port and we might have some luck there. We headed to the customs area and after 30 minutes of backwards and forwards between buildings we (mainly Huseyn) ascertained that I had the right documentation and exiting customs shouldn’t be a problem. However, if we wanted a ticket we need to speak to the little old lady. Ah really we said, as she had already fobbed us off. We headed back to find the office shut for the day (at 4pm). Sneaky cow!!
There was nothing more we could do so we decided to call it a day and go for a beer. While we were at the port we came across an Aussie chap called Tim. He was waiting for his ferry to Kazakhstan. We had a chat and found out the little old lady had told him he need to be at the port for his ferry at 5pm. Smelling a rat, Huseyn went and asked the dock workers about the boat. He found out the ferry wouldn’t leave until after midnight probably. So we convinced Tim to come back into town for a beer with us. We threw his bike on top of Boris and headed for a favourite bar of Huseyn’s.
After a few beers Tim decided to go back to port to check. Huseyn told him not to worry as he hadn’t received a call rom the port workers yet. Tim decided to go anyway. One hour later Tim was back with us for more beers after seeing no ferry ready to load. We continued on until around 10.30 when Tim went back to the port for his ferry. I found out the next day the ferry didn’t leave until 7am, so it was a long night for Tim.
I was up at 9am the next day feeling a little rough. I met up with Huseyn at 10.30 and we went to ticket office to find out about ticket for the next ferry. It turned out that there was a ferry travelling today and potentially one tomorrow. I was now faced with the decision of whether to go a day early or not. In the end I decided to go a day earlier as there was a guaranteed ferry. The ferry cost $70 per metre for Boris (which was 5 metres $350, $90 for me, and $60 for service costs (what ever they were) totalling $500. For an extra $100 I could get a guarantee that I would have no problems with customs. Apparently the customs guys are known to make you pay a last minute fee to board the boat. I declined the offer hoping for the best and that it wouldn’t result in problems down the line.
It now meant that after racing across Europe and the Caucasus I was going to be a day ahead of schedule. So I advised my Turkmenistan support at Stan Tours I would be day early (maybe). The ferry journey takes 14 hours but its common for the ferry to wait offshore for 2-3 days waiting to dock. It’s all rather challenging when you are trying to arrive on an exact day to meet you guide and get into the country. Any changes to your plans costs more money as you have to pay for guides to wait for you.
After paying for the ticket around midday, I had to go to another port location and wait until 3pm to get my ticket and customs clearance. Once secured and with a little sweet talk from Huseyn (you are not meant to leave port once customs has checked you documents) we headed back into town for shopping and lunch with Andrzej and a couple of his friends.
Eventually the time came to say farewell to Huseyn. I don’t know how I would have got ticket without him. He was such a top chap that he wouldn’t accept anything in return for taking the best part of two days out to help me. It was struggle to buy him lunch and a drink as a way of saying thanks. It was a legendary effort to help me out. I also said farewell to Andrzej. It had been such short visit in Baku, City of Winds that we hardly got a chat to hang out. Nevertheless it was a great little visit and I was made to feel every welcome by all.
I was back to port at 7pm, thinking that I’d have to wait until 1am to board, then depart at 4am. Next thing I’m going on board at 8pm first. I didn’t know where I was going on so I ended up last going down to lower deck last. By the time I got upstairs all private rooms were gone and everybody was too busy to help. My passport was taken from me and whenever I asked about room and I got no joy. Eventually I was lead to 6 bed dorm room below deck. Here I met a bunch of Turkmenistan students so we all jump in together. Ruslan spoke a little English so he was appointed as translator for the journey.
Around 11pm my presence was requested by the Police. Oh dear I thought, what had I done now? It turned out that I hadn’t stamped out of passport control. Whoops. This was resolved in 10 minutes and I was back onboard ready to go. I thought it would be a quiet evening but I was mistaken. Word had got around that Jonny Foreigner was onboard and there was some entertainment to be had. I was dragged into lounge by locals for dinner and many rounds of moonshine vodka from a Georgian truck driver. There were loads of laughs, mostly at my expense but I didn’t mind. Next we were all down in our room having a party.
I managed to sneak out to watch our exit out of the harbour. The city skyline was lit up with a rainbow of colours flowing across the major buildings. The three flame towers were just that. Flames bursting across them as if they were on fire. It provided amazing views and a sensational end to Leg 1. Leg 2 was about to begin but before I think about it too much I was called downstairs for more beers and music. Another fantastic experience with the locals and a wonderful way to sail out of the Caucasus. Next stop Central Asia!!
Baku dominates the country both in beauty and wealth. The lights at night are spectacular as any city by the sea I’ve seen. It is a very self conscious city with looks and image high on the agenda. Most of the money is being spent in Baku with less investment and jobs in the outer cities. The corrupt police and the unhelpful ferry ticket sellers left a bad taste in the mouth but the people overall were wonderful.
The Georgian border was a formality in comparison to the Russian exit. I waited in a queue for 15 minutes, handed over my visa, told them where I was going and that was it. Welcome to Georgia they said and I was in. I had a simple check by customs which was basic to say the least. I changed some cash and was getting ready to go when the customs official asked if I would take 2 border guards to Kazbegi with me. I said sure, they jumped in and we hit the road. The drive to Kazbegi was only 10kms but it took over 2 hours as everybody was stuck for 1.5hrs at road works just outside of Kazbegi. I took the opportunity to take in the beautiful scenery and do some checks on Boris. Oil was still leaking around gearbox and transmission area. Finally we were on our way around 1pm. The drive through the valley was beautiful. Then it was up and over the Kezbeg mountain range. The road disappeared and it became an off road race. Boris was fine but there we’re many other basic street cars bouncing along a rock, mud, dirt, water and ice track. Many came flying past us. I hate to think what there cars thought of it all.
Mount Kezbeg provided wonderful views for miles. It was a spectacular drive. Beautiful scenery and a wonderful introduction to Georgia. However if I though the way up was good the journey down the valley was even better. Spring had arrived in its full glory as I wound my way down the valley following the river. Without a doubt it was the most beautiful scenery of the trip so far. I stopped for a break at Ananuri, an enchanting fortress complex that sits above a huge reservoir.
I cruised into Tbilisi along the river, into the Old Town and straight to the Nest Hostel that has been recommended to me by Gareth and Lisa. It was pretty easy to find using google maps on my phone (tech tip: save your intended location in google favourites. This caches on your phone ( iPhone 4s for me) and you can use the mobile network to track your position on the map).
My first impressions were of a modern city with a European feel. It has a combination old town beauty and new modern sharpness. I’m was looking forward to having a look around.
I spent the evening in the hostel chatting to the other travellers from around he world. It’s always fun to share travel stories and learn a bit more about the world. There is an Aussie here called Ben who has recently been through Northern Iraq. It was great to hear that is possible as I’d love to pop into the Kurdistan part on the way home if possible.
After a long period of being on the move the next day was a day of rest and admin. Very quiet with a short walk around the old town.
The following morning though was a day for sightseeing and I was out around 10am. I went down to the river through the Old Town. Strolled along the river before catching the cable car up to Narikala Fortress. This provide great views over the city. As it was getting pretty hot in midday sun I head back to the old town for lunch from one of the many bakeries and back to hostel to avoid the heat of the midday sun.
Around 6pm in the cool evening shade I headed off to funicular to check out Mtatsminda Pantheon. I took my camera to do some filming of Tbilisi in the evening. I just happened to be there on the launch night Kolga Tbilisi Photo competition. As it so happens it was the one night if the year they had a ban on filming because of the competition. An official guy came up to me asking to stop. He didn’t speak any English so he signalled another guy who turned out to be the Food and Beverage manager for the park. We chatted with David for a while he told me what was happening. David then introduced me to Beso who was running the competition. We chatted, he told me about the growth of the competition and also how Tbilisi had changed over time. I told him about my travel plans and that I was filming the journey. Beso gave me a copy of his 2012 calendar. He wanted me to come to his office the next day to get the 2013 calendar which was better. They invited me to stay for the opening at 9pm so I said yes.
The competition (Kolga.ge) showcases amateur photography from around the world. The pictures were fascinating and very evocative. For the first time in the competition’s history they were showing the pictures digitally on screens. 4 sets of 9 screens.
All of this was happening in a nightclub, underneath a Ferris wheel, in an amusement park, on top of the highest point in Tbilisi. Everybody was busy preparing around me while I just watched. There was mood music and the lights were turned down. It was a very serene venue as the sun went down and the lights came on across Tbilisi. Outside the numbers of visitors grew as the opening time approached. Other photographers were wandering around with their big cameras shooting to build up. I wonder if they will ask who was that person? One of the perks of carrying film equipment around I guess.
Atmosphere on opening was buzzing. The pictures were riveting. Then the band started at 10pm. It was fantastic experience to come across by accident. At 10.30 I headed off and found a taxi to take me home. A super day out.
Tbilisi to Baku
I was up early the next morning to preparing for the drive to Baku. Most of the hostel were still asleep. Around 9am I said my farewells and headed for the border. It was only a one hour drive, if that. Exiting Georgia was even easier than arriving. 5 minutes and I was through to join the queue for Azerbaijan.
Beautiful city in places. Hidden from view though is a lot of old decrepit buildings in need of demolition or restoration. The city has a European continental feel with both old and new prevalent. However it is still struggling to keep pace. Change is slow and removing the shackles of Soviet influence is taking time. They are well on the way and making progress. I could have easily stayed here for a week getting to know the place and the people.
p.s Apologies for the delaying blogging. I’ve been facing some challenging local restrictions on social media. However I think I’ve found the solution.
Just a quick note to say Boris, Kiwi Ted and I arrived in Baku at 11pm last night. It was a fantastic end to the leg. Baku city was buzzing and all action. There were cars and people everywhere. The city was beautifully lit as I made my way to the waterfront. With all the excitement I ended up running down to see the Caspian Sea.
Leg 1 is compete!!
Now it’s time to sort that unbookable, unreliable and most likely bribable ferry ride to Turkmenistan…
The Russia border crossing was my first with one of my 8 visas arranged before departure. I was up early for breakfast and to check my paperwork so I could make the border by 10am. Immediately I was advised not to film or take pictures by the locals. 30 minutes later I was through the border thinking that was easy. In fact I’d only made it through the Ukrainian side. Once on the Russia side there was entry documents and declarations to complete. This took the best part of 2 hours but it was done with smiles and help from a friendly old timer in customs. Once they understood what I was doing and where I was going they were really helpful.
Next thing I knew I was in Russia. No matter how many countries I visit I always get a sense of nervousness and excitement. Maybe they won’t let me in. Happens every time. I love the rush every time.
I wasn’t long into Russia when I came across my first police scam. I was pulled over and advised that I passed a car illegally. They even presented the guy to finger me. He was either trying to save himself or it was a rather elaborate set up to trap me. I was asked to join the cop in his car. In the backseat was the boss cop, surveying the situation. The discussion went on for a while. I stood my ground and denied doing anything wrong. Eventually I just blamed the other guy, as he had passed me. After about 10 minutes of this the cop finally caved in and I regained the initiative. We then a look at my truck, I showed him the set up and he took a shine to my whiskey bottle. He said I like, I said do you want some. He declined as he was on duty (and his boss was watching). In the end he wished me well and we had a laugh and I headed on my way. A ticket/bribe nicely avoided. Big O 1, Dodgy Russian Cops 0
The remainder of the drive was fairly in eventful. It was a lovely day for a drive and the roads were good. I arrived into Volgograd in the early evening and made my way to Sergey’s (my host) apartment where they were on hand to meet me and help me store Boris in a secured car park. In his apartment I meet their 10 yr old daughter Sonya. Very charming as we ended up spending the evening together chatting via google translate and Russia language book. I slept well on my first night in Russia.
After breakfast with Sergey and Kristina I headed into town to see the sights. Armed with local instructions on how to get around and where to go was loaded up my camera equipment ready for a big day. This was to be my main day for the Russian side of things, film wise. I got the bus I into town and then headed for the metro to go visit Mamayev Kurgen. This is apparently the biggest monument in the world. They were not wrong. It was massive. Even bigger than the Kiev monument (that was designed by the same guy). Being ANZAC day it was a poignant place to spend the day remembering the sacrifices of the Russian soldiers at the battle of Stalingrad, as well as the ANZAC forces. I spent a couple of hours wandering around, watching the changing if the guard and filming the place. I have to say it’s definitely in my top 5 all time monuments. The Soviets did like their monuments. They are a bit like Churches elsewhere in the world.
Afterwards I headed back to town for a look around. Next up was the Volga River. A mighty river, rich in history.
After a quick dip of the hand in the river I headed off to the Stalingrad war museum. Very impressive collection of memorabilia. Unfortunately most of the descriptions were in Russian but I still got the jist of the story. It showcased the battle over 1942/43. The key players, the weapons, uniforms and key battles.
They were set up for an official event of some kind. Just went I though word had reached them of my visit, a wide ranging group of old timers in their military uniforms and medals arrived. I guessed it was most likely for them so I slipped out to let them have their gathering. I found out later that May 9th is the major day for remembering the events of the battle if Stalingrad so there were many preparations and events under way. Especially as it is the 70th anniversary this year.
I walked around for a while and had subway for a late lunch. Then wandered home with a couple of beers for Sergey and me, and chocolate for the Kristina and Sonya. That evening we had dinner together and shared a few travel stories. They are both passionate about travel and enjoy meeting others that are travellers. Sergey then brought out his guitar and played a couple of cracking Russian tunes. Very impressive stuff. Here is the link to the YouTube clip. Check it out.
The next day I departed, after breakfast with Kristina. It gave us the chance to chat. She is working from home a lot these days on account of being pregnant. I got on the road around midday and headed south towards Elista. It was a very windy day, so a good one to travel on. Once on the open road the scenery was amazing. Flat rolling hills of green. Horses, cows and sheep. I decided that I need to get some filming done. However during the process the wind was so strong it blew the drivers so hard it damaged the front panel making it impossible to open and close the door properly. Damn it!! And I was so close to a no drama, lovely driving day. The film footage better be awesome!!
So there was another unexpected issue to resolve. Wonder how long and difficult this will be to solve? I arrived in Elista around 5pm and set about trying to find some accommodation. This was the first time I didn’t know where I was going or what I was looking out for. There were no hotel signs in English. It was like I was in a different country. Within a matter of 200-300 miles the ethnicities of the people changed from White Russian to Asian Russian. I felt for the first time that I was in Asia. Eventually I had to pull over and go ask for some help finding a hotel. I went into a mobile phone store and asked for a hotel. The chap lead me outside and point 20 metres to the next building. Hotel he said. Ah right. Thanks. In I went and asked for a room. A simple single student like room was 1650 roubles (£32). This was more than I spent on accommodation for the whole trip to date. Russia doesn’t really do hostels and budget accommodation. Well they do budget style and quality, but at corporate rates!! I checked in, checked Boris and wondered how I would fix him. Decided that an early start to Stavropol would be the way to go. I had diner in the restaurant and had a chilled evening planning the next few days ahead. Tomorrow I was hoping to meet up with a couple of other overlanders that I last met in London.
Elista wasn’t doing much for me and I had a car door to fix. I hit the road at 8am. The drive was even better than the day before. Sun out and no wind. I arrived in Stavropol at midday and found a panelbeaters business as I was driving into town. With my dodgy Russian and hand signals I got the message across. They got their tools out and got stuck in. 45 minutes later the door was fixed. Superb effort and then they took no money for the work. Top lads. They even posed for a few pictures.
I drove straight into town to the meeting point with Gareth and Lisa. I was there for 10 minutes and then they rolled up. Sweet. Was a great reunion after 18 months since we last met. We kicked about and shared stories for a while before heading to a hotel and then KFC (and free wifi). After lunch went looking for a hotel, went the wrong way, then got separated and I couldn’t find the hotel. So I came back to the original hotel and waited for Gareth and Lisa to come find me.
Eventually we were reunited. We headed to the car park behind the Intourist hotel and negotiated to park there overnight for a 100 roubles. When settled we headed into town for dinner and a few beers. It was a lovely evening sharing travel stories and discuss future plans. There is a good chance we will cross paths again in The Stans. We headed back to the car park around 11pm and asked if we could stay in our tents. No problem the owner said. All good. Off to sleep around midnight. A great day!!
The next morning we stayed coffee and breakfast before saying a farewells. I headed back to inner city hotel to check my email before I left. I needed to messaged my Vladikavkaz contact to tell him I was in my way. As I went to leave town I took a wrong turn down the bus only lane and was caught by the cops. So this was how my first discussion and bribe came about. I was in the wrong here. They knew it and I knew it. Talking my way out of this one would be difficult. The cop lead with the line in dodgy english that I could not drive for 6 months after this infringement and that I would have to pay 5000 roubles (£100). I played all my sorry, a mistake blah blah blah cards and said where I was going etc. This went on for a while and I could see he wasn’t going to give up. So then negotiation began. It went something like this
I got some cash from the truck and handed it over. Unfortunately I’d got my roubles and Ukrainian Hryvnia’s mixed up. I gave him 100 roubles and 250 hryvnia’s. He wasn’t keen to take the Ukrainian cash but I convinced him it was worth more. He begrudgingly accepted. I departed with a smile and handshake. Went I got back to the truck I checked the rate and it turned out I’d given him 20 GBP worth of Ukrainian cash. Bugger!! I couldn’t let him get the better deal. So I grabbed another 170 roubles and headed back. Much to his confusion I signalled for him to return to his car. My friend, I began I have found some roubles. Let’s exchange roubles for hryvnia’s. You don’t want them. O.k he said. Sweet again I thought. I’d just traded 20 GBP for 3 GBP. I headed off once again, knowing that in the end I’d lost 30 mins and ended up paying a 270 rouble (5.50 GBP fine), but it could have been worse. The honours were shared on this occasion. Big O 1.5, Dodgy Russian Cops 0.5
I headed for Vladikavkaz which promised to be a wonderful drive down towards the Georgian border and the Kezbegi mountain range. The journey provided more dodgy cop situations. This time the darken windows on the front doors were the problem. I just told them I asked the Russian Embassy in London and they said it was o.k. With a smirk they let me go. Big O 2.5, Dodgy Russian Cops 0.5
The road south was fantastic. The mountain ranges soon came into sight. The snow capped peaks were a beautiful sight. I enjoyed the drive and eventually rolled into Vladikavkaz to find my host for the night.
Artem (and Denis) save the day!!
Here’s where the fun began. First I couldn’t find the meeting point so I texted Denis. Denis said he couldn’t come because he was in hospital!! Was he texting me from his hospital bed? I gave Denis my location and he said he was very sorry he couldn’t host me and would sent a friend to help me out. O.k, I thought. This should be interesting. I’ll just sit back and wait for the calvary to arrive.
An hour and a half later Artem turned up. Armed with his iPad and using google translate he said Denis was very sorry he could not host me but he was in hospital. If I would follow him, he would show me to a motel for the night. Cripes, he really was in the hospital, and he was effectively acting as my local travel agent. Next thing we are driving through the streets of Vladikavkaz heading for a motel.
We arrive, Artem does all the talking and books me a room for the night. I try to pay and he won’t accept any cash. Why I ask? Denis is paying as he is very sorry he can not host me. Flippin heck, the guy is in hospital and he still insists that he needs to host me. Artem and I chatted for a while but he had to go. His parting comment was not to go into town walking around as it wasn’t safe, but if I wanted some company the front desk could arrange some. I had to laugh. Here I was being looked after in a foreign town by a guy I’d never meet before and he was worried I’d be lonely.
It had to be one of the most amazing pieces of hospitality and generosity I think I’ve ever received. You gotta love the Russian people. I’m was to miss the place, but the was a border to cross.
The next morning I was up at 5.45am so I could get to the border before the morning rush. I checked Boris. There is more oil leaking again!! Bugger!!
I was on the road by 7am and not long after I stopped to fill up one last time on cheap Russian diesel (40% of the price of UK diesel. I’m loving the 270L tank capacity I have when its this cheap). It was a beautiful day and view of the mountains was magnificent. It wasn’t a long drive to the border. I arrived at the border at 8am and joined the queue. I’d be warned that the border turns into a free for all so getting here early was important. Just in the first hour I was there a few cars push their way in. A few arms and fists were raised but they got in.
By 10am I was through the Russian border to what I thought was Georgia. So I stopped to take pictures, only to find I was in no mans land between the border again. Next thing the border police are on the scene asking me to stop taking photos and I’ll have to wait until the Captain arrives. I practice my border police banter. Then out comes the cricket bat when Afghanistan comes up in conversation. I’m trying to engage the police in a game of cricket when the Captain arrives. He is younger that all the rest of us. I delete the pictures for him and apologise many times. Fancy a game of cricket? No, ok then I’ll be on my way. Tootle pip.
Georgia here I come.
Russia in Summary
A step up in terms of infrastructure. The roads were better and the drivers pretty good compared to the Ukraine. The farm land looked good, and it also looked better used and maintained. Volgograd, Mamayev Kurgan and the Volga river were highlights. Stavropol was pretty little city. The cops are on the lookout for opportunities to fine you, but for the most part are friendly. The locals were very hospitable and went out of their way to be helpful. There was a mix of white Russians and the first signs of Asiatic appearances in the people, especially in Elista. Spring had arrived and the warm sunny days were a pleasing change from cold temperatures in Europe. I enjoyed my time in Russia. I think I’ll got back again one day.
Since last year I’ve been researching the visa requirements. I thought I’d describe the requirements for the outward leg of my journey.
The research pointed to doing it a number of ways. Get the visas before I left or on the road. As I have an ambitious plan to see as many countries as possible allied to a tight timeframe, I decided to apply in advance so I didn’t have to wait for applications to be processed.
The next decision was whether to apply for the visas myself or get a visa agency to help. Given the complexity and tight time frame I have I decided to get a visa agency to help me out. I don’t have the time in my schedule to wait at embassies for visas to be processed for the next country. I need to arrange 8 visas before I leave London. I looked into the agencies and the prices were similar in most cases. The are a few recommended about such as The Visa Machine, Travcour, and VisaHQ.
In the end I chose The Visa Machine. Their website was easy to follow and as they are associated with The Adventurists who I like, I decided to go with them. It was a personal choice. I’m sure the others are just as good. Travcour was also recommended to me.
After a number of initial questions about my itinerary with Julia, I had a pretty good idea of the overall approach. I then selected and paid for my visas all the way to China. Once paid you get access to the application forms along with detailed instructions on how to complete the forms. Many of these were in the local language so the guides were instantly useful. As was the guidance on what was, and wasn’t necessary. Given that I couldn’t afford delays for errors in processing it was a great to have the support for the many questions I had.
There is a specific order that you need to apply to process in a timely fashion. This is due to a number of factors such as when you want to visit, how long you want to visit and how long the issued visa is valid for. Apply to early and another visa might expire before you arrive. Apply to late and face the risk that you will not have you visas in time to depart as planned.
I applied with a UK passport to the London embassies, even though I had a New Zealand passport to choose from as well. Using the passport for the country you are resident in is simpler and often required. All figures are in GBP pounds sterling.
Visa not required for a UK passport holders
Visa: Double Entry
Duration: 30 Days
Price: 92.60 Visa plus 10.00 Russian Tourist Visa Invitation Embassy Fee
Visa Machine Fee: 48.00
Border points: Entry – Donetsk / Exit – Vladikavkaz
I decided to go with a double entry visa valid for 30 days. This have me the option to re-enter Russia if I have a problem crossing the Caspian Sea from Baku to Turkmenistan.
Visa not required for a UK passport holders.
Visa: Single Entry
Duration: 30 Days
Visa Machine Fee: 40.00
Border points: Entry – Rustavi / Exit – Baku
I went for a single 30 day visa. I needed to specify the range of dates before and after my planned dates so I had flexibility. A hotel reservation is required and a letter from the hotel to support the application. I made this with http://www.bookings.com which I can cancel 3 days before at no cost if I wish.
Visa: Single Entry
Duration: 20 Days
Visa Machine Fee: 50.00
Paperwork: More difficult and time-consuming. You need a letter of invitation from a Turkmenistan tourist agency (Stan Tours)
Border points: Entry – Turkmenbashi / Exit - Dashoguz
This is probably the most troublesome visa process in The Stans. You can apply for a 5 day transit visa that costs xx but the catch is you have to specify the exact dates when you will be entering and exiting. Married with the fact I’m crossing the Caspian by a ferry from Baku that I can not book, I thought it best to get a tourist visa. The risk is that the ferry is delayed leaving, or delayed docking (it’s not uncommon for rough weather conditions to stop the ferry from docking). The drawback is that you have to hire a guide. It’s added approximately $1,000 USD to my bill for a week. The use of a guide will be very useful for immigration in Turkmenbashi as well as providing general guide services throughout the rest of the journey in Turkmenistan. The visa is for a 20 day period so I have greater flexibility should I have any problems along the way.
To get my visa I needed a LOI from a tour operator. David at Stan Tours came recommended. We developed an itinerary and once agreed I had to transfer a $300 deposit (The rest is payable in cash on arrival in US dollars). It takes 2-3 weeks to process this before to an apply for you visa.
Note: you need you the visas for you entry and exit countries before you can apply for your visa. This meant I need the Azerbaijan & Uzbekistan visas before I applied.
Visa: Multiple Entry
Duration: 30 Days
Visa Machine Fee: 31.00
Border points: Entry – Khiva / Exit - Tashkent
I have a 30 day multiple entry visa (which is cheaper than a double entry for some reason) which starts at the end of the Turk visa. This is the only one where there isn’t an overlap. His is due to my initial itinerary needing to use the full 30 days. I’ve since applying developed a couple of alternative routes to give me the most flexibility possible.
Visa: Double Entry
Duration: 30 Days
Price: 65.00 Visa plus 50.00 GBAO Permit (required for Pamir Highway)
Visa Machine Fee: 31.00 plus 10.00 (GBAO)
Border points: Entry – Khujund / Exit - Sary Tash
You can apply for a 14 or 30 day single or double entry visa. As I’m planning to visit Afghanistan I needed a double entry. I also decided to go for a 30 day visa as a 14 day visa would have been tight and risked problems if I had any delays. I also need to apply for a GBAO visa to drive in the Pamir highway area in eastern Tajikistan. From there I can drive east and eventually north to Kyrgyzstan.
Visa: Single Entry
Duration: 30 Days
Visa Machine Fee: 40.00
Paperwork: Straightforward until they asked for an additional document from my tourist agency at the last minute.
Border points: Entry – Ishkashim / Exit - Ishkashim
I required an invitation letter from a tour company that has been recommended to me. This cost $70 USD on which I paid $35 upfront via Western Union.
This is the one country where you don’t need to arrange anything in advance. Rock up to the border, smile nicely and you’re in. A most pleasant change for the rest of the region.
Visa: Double Entry
Duration: 30 Days
Visa Machine Fee: 50.00
Border points: Entry – Almaty / Exit - Almaty
30 day multiple entry visa. I may not even need this visa. If I have any delays in my schedule this is the section mostly likely to be missed. However having a multiple entry visa will give me options if I’m unable to travel through the Caucasus region. I will be able to re-route from Russia to Kazakhstan and then on to Uzbekistan. Unfortunately I would have to miss Turkmenistan as the visa restrictions don’t allow for you to change the border entry points.
Visa: Single Entry
Duration: 60 Days
Price: 109.00 (this was the express service fee to save me a day when I thought I would be close to departure date)
Visa Machine Fee: 31.00
Paperwork: Straightforward until they asked for an additional document from my tourist agency at the last minute.
Border points: Entry – Tourgat Pass, Kyrgyzstan/ Exit – Mohan Pass, Laos
This has been the most complex visa process. The restrictions and costs associated with vehicle overland travel in China are significant and not to be taken lightly. You have to have a guide to support the tour and arrange all of the local permits. The cost is significant as well. However you only need one guide per group. If you can organise a larger group you can reduce your costs as you share the guide costs. I was able to join a group of other travellers that came together on the HUBB overlanding forum. This process has taken close to 9 months to put together. From finding a group, to finding a tour operator, getting quotes, agreeing the itinerary, paying the deposits, and arranging paperwork it has been a slow process. However I’m now part of a group of 2 trucks and 6 bikes from Wales, England, Germany, Australia, Brazil and NZ. It promises to be an interesting experience given I will meet all of these people for the first time on the Kyrgyzstan / China border. We will be travelling together for 35 days. To make this happen you need to be prepared to compromise for the benefit of the group. A major discussion point was the entry date. Once set you can not change this as the Chinese give require a complete a detailed itinerary for your time in China. We had members wanting early June and others mid July. We settled in the middle. Personally I would have preferred another a date closer to the beginning of July but I went with the group decision.
I have chosen an ambitious route that goes through every country in the Stans. Due to time constraints with the China entry date and my departure date I didn’t have a lot of spare time to wait around for visa applications along the way. Therefore I applied to get 8 visas in advance of departure. This will get me as far as South East Asia before I need to apply for another.
The final order that I applied for my visas was:
The inevitable surprise arrived in the form of a request for more information from the Afghanistan Embassy. I quick set of emails, texts and phone to my Afghanistan contact in Afghanistan produce the required letter in within 12 hours. Pretty impressive response time.
I started applying for the visas at the end of January and I received the Chinese visa last, on April 9th, the day before I was due to leave (I actually left on April 13th). It was perfectly timed, though I would have preferred not to have cut it so close.
The Visa Machine and the lovely Julia in particular were a massive help in the process. It may seem like a lot to pay for their service but it easily saved me days that I didn’t have. In the long run I think it’s better to pay for the service and use the time working to pay for it, instead of doing it all yourself. However if you are not on a tight time schedule then applying on the road is a far cheaper solution.
I still have to arrange the visas for India, Nepal, Pakistan and Iran but that’s another story…
I left Krakow and the company of Nathan to go solo on Thursday 18th. I headed directly for the Ukraine border and my first major border crossing. Arrived at the border at 3.45pm. I must have passed a 5 mile queue of trucks waiting to enter the Ukraine as I drove to the front to the front of the queue. I then went straight past the polish border guard and got hauled back for straightforward exit check. Then I joined the queue for entering the Ukraine. It was a beautiful sunny day as the initial guard asked where I was going. I said Russia. He said good luck. The second guard asked for my passport and then double and triple checked it. Apparently having cut off my hair I don’t look exactly like my photo. The same guard also requested my car registration documents as well. I seemed to be the only one they asked that I could see. Alas I was the only westerner I could see also. The guard returned and she looked repeatedly at me and then my photo before eventually deciding I was who I said I was. Luckily she didn’t see my UK drivers license with a beard and long hair. I’d have been pulled into a dark room and interrogated for sure. Another gent joined in and began searching the truck. This was when I first rolled out my translation of what I’m doing. Many smiles and crazy looks ensued.
It wasn’t long before I passed through my first major border crossing and was on my way Lv’iv in Western Ukraine. Upon entering I managed to change some local currency but I couldn’t find anywhere to buy the road tax I thought I need to buy. So I just headed off hoping not to be pulled over. Of course as soon as I arrive on the outskirts of Lv’iv I ran into a cop. Thinking he my pull me over I stop at a petrol station. He stopped too. Fortunately he was just stopping for supplies and left me alone.
That night I rocked up to the Jockey Hotel, which was based on a race course that didn’t look like is saw much racing. Anyway they let me camp outside and access their Wifi. I was able to provide pictures live from Boris in tent cam that night.
After a chilly nights sleep I was up for breakfast and a shower. While I was refilling my water bottle I left the electric water pump going and it caused an overflow from the engine. Thought I was in trouble. First day by myself and I’d already blown it!! I stopped the leak when I turned off the water pump and gave my mechanic a call. Should be ok for now was the call. I suspect I might need it looked at shortly.
So I headed off to Kiev. Along the way I was stopped at a police check point only to be greeted with a hello, and a smile and sent on my way. I wondered if anybody will ask me for the road tax? There were still signs of winter, with snow on the ground. Spring hasn’t arrived yet in the Ukraine. It might be warm and sunny but the trees are still bare and the landscape brown.
It took 7.5 hrs to get the Kiev and then another 2hrs to cross town in Friday night traffic and find Lev’s place. I had the wrong location on google Maps. My first technology fail!! Finally I found Lev after a couple of calls and a little help from old lady at the first house I went to. The street name was the same in a different part of the same town!! Upon arriving at Lev’s place he fixed me some porridge for dinner and then we enjoyed some fish and a beer, while we got to know each other. He appears to have ambition to do many things. Very interested in the outdoors and exploring. I crashed at midnight absolutely shattered!!
Slept until 9.45. Luxury!! Got up and had a look around and had some more porridge for breakfast. Yummy and popular in the Ukraine it appeared.
The next morning I did a few checks on Boris. I couldn’t get the main lights to work on low. Not good!! Along with the oil light being continually on it became apparent I was going to have to book into the Toyota Garage in Donetsk for a service. The rest of the day was for sightseeing and Lev was to be our guide. First up we visited Pyrohovo which was an outdoor museum that preserved the historical past of the Ukraine. There were many different periods with each regions style of housing represented as we biked around the large outdoor park. Fascinating place that the locals clearly loved too.
The next stop was to the St Maria Spring, south of central Kiev. Bathing in the water from this natural spring is considered a form of blessing. Lev stripped off and jumped in. Just walking by and jumping in naked is considered a pretty normal thing to do. So when Lev challenged me I was a good sport and said hell yes, stripped off and jumped in. I tell you it was bloodly freezing and I was out in a flash. Though I was wide awake and felt pretty good afterwards.
We headed back into town for a cruise of the sights and to get something to eat. Kiev has the Dnieper River running through it. In a car you can drive along its sides or across a number of bridges. It was a lovely drive. We stopped at Lev’s favourite diner and tried a range of dumplings both savoury and sweet which are popular. Pretty tasty they were too.
On the way home we had to stop at the Rodina Mat (Motherland) statue built in 1981. Wow, was all I could say. It was huge and it’s viewing point over Kiev is spectacular. Definitely a must see for any visitors. It was erected to celebrate the partisans of the Soviet era. Massive statement!!
We returned home with Lev’s girlfriend and chilled out for the evening as I had a big drive to Donetsk the next day. We still had time thought for a home sauna that Lev had built himself. Sauna attire required a hat. A very classy look it was.
The drive to Donetsk was always going to be a big one. I’d been slowly finding that it was taking longer than I’d hope to cover these distances. Therefore I was up at 6.45am so I could be on the road by 8am. Lev cooked me a farewell breakfast, I loaded up the car and did the daily inspection checks. Every appeared to be ok apart from the low beam lights and oil light.
It had been a fun couple of days. Lev has been a good host. I’d seen Kiev through the eyes of a local which is great. We hugged and said our farewells and I hit the road looking to make good time.
Not long after departure I got caught in a speed trap, while watching someone else get caught. The road changes from 100 to 50 in a matter of metres as they have pedestrian crossing on motorway of all places. I pulled over. Stern looking chap told me I was speeding. They showed me at 101km p/hr on the gun. I shrugged my shoulders and handed over my explanation in Ukrainian about my trip. A stream of Ukrainian came my way. I just struggled my shoulders again. He thought about it for while, decided it was too hard and send me on my way. Sweet. 1 speeding ticket dodged!! So it was a win for the good guys. I could see the benefits of my lack of language training coming together like a well oil plan. When all else fails pretend you know nothing!!
It was a massive day on the road. 2 crashes (witnessed), potholed roads, crazy drivers, dodgy route, 800 kms and making it just in time before sunset left me weary to say the least. I nearly got lost and probably added an extra couple of hours onto my trip with a few wrong turns care of my dodgy old sat nav.
Finally thought I made it to my hosts place just before darkness and my dodgy lights left me in the middle of outback Ukraine. Anton, Victoria and Nadia welcomed me into their house. We had a meal together and an interesting chat. Anton’s English is pretty good. They are children of the USSR. It was interesting to hear about the history of the Ukraine. It was basically created by the Soviets in 1924 as a republic. It had never existed before. It was either a part of Russia or Poland. They both have dreams to travel in Europe and Anton wants to ride a motorbike to the Eastern coast of Russia, which I think is pretty cool. They are both teachers. Anton in Computer Programming for software for designing computer chips and Victoria in Graphic Design.
The next day after breakfast we decided to take Boris to Toyota mechanics instead of waiting until Tuesday. It was time to find out if Boris had any major problems. With the lovely Tatiana has been acting as translator between me with the service guys (including a young Tim Robbins look-alike called Sasha) it seemed like the whole service department seem to be interested in Boris’ problems.
Many humorous discussions went down as I tried to explain the issues and what I wanted checked. They wanted to know what oil I was using as the engine had lost 1L and needed replacing. I said don’t worry as I have some in the back. When I showed them the 30 odd litres of different oils they thought it was hilarious. Though not as funny as went I told them how far I was going to be travelling. Just another 25,000 miles I said as they burst out laughing. They looked underneath to find all the oil leaks and recommended a clean up job which will take half a day to complete. I was not entirely sure but ultimately determined that they would remove the transmission and reseal it along with the sump outlet, to stop the visible leaks. What they were suggesting seemed wise, and it was important to have them try to resolve the issues this early in the trip. The price I was quoted was $150 USD which seemed like a bargain compared to UK prices. So I left Boris there overnight.
Any number of things could be the cause of the problem. In the rush to finish something was missed or not completed properly. The long distances covered in an effort to make up time may have pushed Boris to hard after his repair work, or it could be a new problem. Boris is old and is prone to breaking in places. I’m fully aware that I will be nursing Boris along the route. I’d planned for regular servicing along the way anyway. Covering these sort of distances and terrain is going to require maintenance and the chances of a major breakdown will always be a possibility.
Got the tram back into town to meet Anton at 5pm. He gave me the info to get the bus back to his and I headed off to see the sights of Donetsk. It’s a beautiful city in the centre. Spacious and easy to get around. Checked out the stadium and Donbass Liberators monument. I did a bit of filming before walking back to bus station. Here I got a chicken kebab before catching the little yellow number 14 bus back to the eastern side if town where Anton lives. I loved street vendor food and this was a pretty tasty kebab. I also loved the system on the buses. If you get on at the back of a full bus you just hand the cash forward and then you change comes back. Easy. I can’t see that system working in a lot of western cities. They just don’t let you on unless you have paid.
Tuesday was rise and shine at 7.30am and had breakfast with Nadia (translation means Hope) and the family. We worked out plan of attack with Anton. Then I headed into town on the 11a bus to pick up Boris at midday. Hoping he is all ok. I was planning to head for the Russian border that night so I could cross first thing the next day.
Boris’ oil leaks have been repaired with the transmission resealed to stop future leaks. There will be a slow leak around the top of the engine that will have to be fixed properly at some point. They had to testing the lights and replacing a few old parts. New bulbs / lamps. So I took the opportunity to teach the Toyota Donetsk mechanics the finer points of cricket in the car park while they serviced my truck. A few hours later Boris was ready to go. Vitali the service manager, Sasha the lead mechanic, Tatiana and Kate the lovely interpreters along with the rest of the service crew took great interest in Boris and my trip and made great efforts to help me on my way. While I think they thought I was a little loco, it was an interesting diversion from all though nice new Toyota’s they normally deal with.
I loved staying with Anton and Victoria. They were very warm and friendly people. They were incredibly helpful with food, washing, Internet, health and Boris. They have a beautiful daughter Nadia who was sick unfortunately but still incredible cute and charming when she felt better. We drove through Donetsk to Toyota a couple of times so I got a good view of the city. It’s an industrial city and it feels a little that way. A cold grey day doesn’t help the general feeling the place is a little run down and lacking some infrastructure. Still after a few days, some sunny weather and a stroll around the in city I started to warm to Donetsk. The inner city is definitely pretty and an enjoy place to stroll around. It’s definitely worth a visit.
I departed Donetsk around 6.30pm and made it to Krasnodor just by the border around 11pm. It was a nice drive which made for a good night time test. I was ready for the Russian border in the morning.
Next stop Russia!!
Ukraine in Review
I’m struggling to put my finger on how to describe the Ukraine. It moves from beautiful countryside to unkempt cities. General street maintenance is not at the same level of European standards I’ve become accustom too. The people are friendly and helpful. They are not cash rich but generous with their time. Helpful and humorous. There seems to be a playfulness with the girls, and a dark humour within the men once you unmask the somewhat expressionless faces in the street. I can’t help feeling I’ve arrived too early in the year as spring has not yet arrived. The trees and ground lack a lot of the beauty of the greenness spring brings. I have a feeling the dull grey feel is replaced once spring arrives as I’ve seen signs in the western part of the country. For me the Ukraine is a place still struggling to find its own identity, after it was created by the Soviets (from Poland and Russia) into regional republic. Like many regions before it arbitrary borders are drawn up and people force to live as one. The eastern part feels more Ukrainian, while the western part feels more closely associated with Russia.
(p.s Nobody ever did ask for the road tax…)
When preparing for a journey across Central Asia insurance is one of those things that needs to be considered carefully. Due to the number of countries involved (somewhere between 30-40) getting the right insurance is key. I did a fair amount of research and spoke to a number of other travellers before I finally created the best solution for me.
There are a number of different types you need to consider. Vehicle insurance, 3rd party vehicle insurance, personal health insurance and equipment insurance. Most of these you can arrange before departure.
Campbell Irvine - Accidental Damage Fire & Theft Insurance
This values Boris up to 12,000 GBP in the event of accidental damage, fire and theft. It only covers the physical car and any major items that are attached to the car. Such as the roof rack, roof tent, winch and compressor, spare tyres, additional fuel and water tanks. It does not cover any contents within the truck such as camping or electronic equipment.
Cost: 970 GBP
Greencard 3rd Party plus Extension Insurance
Assurantiekantoor Alessie - (Russia Greencard – 14 days + 2 months extension cover in the Stans)
You are required to buy additional 3rd party only cover as you can not get full comprehensive cover for your vehicle on this type of journey. I had 3rd party cover for Europe as far as the Ukraine with my UK insurance. For Russia I required separate 3rd party (Greencard) insurance. For the majority of all the other countries between Georgia and Pakistan I will be required to buy 3rd party insurance at the border. As this insurance is sometimes limited I have purchased extension insurance to cover the 2 months I will be in the Stan countries. This will provide extra cover on top of the local insurance.
Cost: 170 Euro’s + 175 Euro’s
Health Insurance with baggage and electronic cover
This covers personal health and repatriation, adventure activity cover, luggage and removes the excess. It includes content and loss cover for up to 2000 GBP. While not the full coverage I would have liked for my equipment I was able to also insure up to two additional electrical items to the value of 450 GBP. I used this for my laptop. While not fully covered at least it is some cover.
Cost: 370 GBP
Film Equipment Insurance
This covers my film and electronic equipment up to the value of all individual items over 30 GBP. This includes my cameras, equipment and storage devices. Unfortunately they do not cover 2nd hand computers which means my Macbook was excluded.
Cost: 160 GBP
Additional thought for those considering a trip of this nature, is to not forget about the local UK insurance you need while preparing and using your vehicle in your home country. To insure Boris before I left was more expensive than the rest of my insurance put together, if I wanted 3rd party, fire and theft for 12 months. This was due to a number of factors. I lived in London, Boris was my only car, I didn’t have a no claims bonus, Boris was a modified vehicle and he was 20 years old. These are pretty much the worst combination of items when trying to insure your car. I was quoted 1,800 GBP for 12 months 3rd party, fire and theft. I ended up with 3 months 3rd party only cover for 350 GBP.
The final weeks were hectic and stressful just getting to the start line. But I got there with a load of help from my support team, advisers, helpers and friends. It was truly a team effort to get me on my way. And I just like to say a big thanks to everybody involved. I couldn’t have done this without you all.
We departed from RGS last Saturday with my support team and a few friends there to wave Boris, Kiwi (a toy bear dressed as an All Black, from my godson), Nathan and myself off. It was a great send off and fantastic to be on the road finally.
Nathan had proposed the question of joining for the first section of the trip a few weeks ago. I was happy to have him onboard for his technical advice so the chance to utilise his skills while on the road was too good an opportunity to turn down.
Since Saturday I’ve covered 1,337 miles across England, France, Belgium, Netherlands, Germany, Poland and now Ukraine. The last 5 days have given Nathan and I a good chance to go over pretty much all of the set up and preparation aspects of the trip. From truck layout, equipment testing to security and safety approaches. We have done a bit of filming and even had time for a laugh and a bit of silliness too. We have stayed at couple of campsites both paid and wild, and spent a couple of days at a hostel. Boris is getting settled and I’m getting into a routine. The only thing that is of concern is a pesky oil light that stays on. We have been all over the car and checked the oil daily. There doesn’t seem to be any problems and we think its more likely to be an electrical problem. Boris is still carrying half of Africa with him, so I expect further electrical problems along the way.
I left Nathan in Krakow yesterday morning and headed for the Ukraine border with Boris and Kiwi for company. Nathan was a fantastic support and has brought a real level of professionalism to the trip and its preparation. I’d highly recommend him for anybody doing something similar on the future.
I was feeling a range of emotions when I said goodbye to Nathan. Nervousness, apprehension, excitement and adrenaline to name a few. It didn’t take long for me to settle down as Boris and I instantly made friends with Oleg and Victoria from the Ukraine. Oleg is a member of the Brno 4×4 club (www.brno4x4.cz) in the Czech Republic. He owns a 1991 Landcruiser so he came over to check Boris out. Looks like I might have to make a detour through the Czech Republic on the way home in December.
The Ukraine border crossing went fairly smoothly even though I was the only one to have his car inspected. The first guard smiled and wished me luck with a devilish smile when I told him my plan. The inspection I suspect it was more down to a curious guard, once I told him what I was doing. The female guard couldn’t decide if I was the person on my passport since I’d had my hair cut off. She stared at me and I stared back at her, trying to restrain myself from using my masterful border guard charm to make jokes and engage in witty banter. Crossing these borders is a serious business and there is no time for having a laugh it seems!! The only thing I haven’t managed to do is buy some road tax that apparently I need. I tried and failed at the border so just headed into Lv’iv. This made me weary of the supposedly dodgy local cops, so much so when I happened across on I tried to lose him by stopping at a petrol station. When he pulled into the station as well, I thought here we go. Fortunately nothing happened and I just seem to be a novelty. Most people so far are intrigued by the trip. However when they hear I’m going by myself they shake their heads and give me a look like I’m slightly crazy.
As I write to you I’m sitting in Boris’ roof tent outside a dodgy hotel called the Jockey Hotel in Lv’iv, Ukraine. It’s on the site of what looks like an abandoned race course but its wifi reaches into the carpark.
Tomorrow I head for Kiev and my first couple of nights of couchsurfing with a local called Lev. Couchsurfing is an experiment that I think will play a major part on this trip. It combines that opportunity to meet the locals, save some accommodation costs, (hopefully) improve security and prove regular internet access for planning. It should add to the adventure.
Don’t forget you can follow my live progress via the Delorme Satellite Tracker under the route tab.