17 August, 2012; 08:04
So, the next morning…
We went toward the Russian border as night fell, and, since it was a 24 hour border and we didn’t want to have the crossing delay us by several hours the next day, we plowed on. We’d heard nothing but horror stories about how difficult and strenuous the border into Russia would be, we were expecting the worst. Much to our surprise, it was a breeze. The guards recognized us as a rally team, and, having probably dealt with plenty of foreigners with no clue what to do at a border crossing, they pointed us well and waved us through. The customs guard, when searching our car, did little more than open each door and shine his light in. Then, after a hearty, “Welcome to Russia!” we were in.
We drove another hour to find a spot by the road to camp. Unfortunately, at this point it was 4am, and, as we harbored hopes of reaching the border the next day, we would be leaving at 7 and working on minimal sleep. It got very cold in the night, and, as I slept in the car, I searched for my sleeping bag; I discovered it wrapped around Chase, and was forced to sleep under my spare clothing.
Chase and Michael have a tendency, upon being woken, to be in a horrible mood, so I’ve adopted a passive aggressive method of just walking circles around their tent after I’ve gotten them up. It takes a little while, but it’s easier than having to scream at them.
We made the road around 8, and were off on our way to Barnaul, where we planned to grab some food, currency, and stretch our legs. Along the way, we found an abandoned child’s playhouse, or what we assume was one. It was a massive structure made from steel that looked like a carnival funhouse. Naturally, as when we see any derelict structure, we wanted to go inside. We found a hole in the fence and entered through a door into the upstairs portion. The interior shocked us as we stepped cautiously into the wooden panneled interior. It look like a Sunday School room, specifically reminiscent of the one I remember at Little Creek. We explored around a bit and then loaded back up into the car.
We entered Barnaul in a miserable state; tired and hungry, Chase and Michael resorted to short tempers, while I, in typical fashion, simply followed along silently behind them. We found an exchange for our Kazakhi currency, but they refused to change it, as they only dealt in Rubles, Euros, and Dollars. The first ATM we tried was only in Russian, and I managed to somehow lock my card on it (no worries, yet; I called BoA and they told me it should reset itself at noon today, my time). Chase and Michael found one in English and got some cash.
Our first stop was a small cafe, hoping they’d have some Wi-Fi. Unfortunately, they had no internet, and we did a poor job communicating that we’d be happy with whatever our waitress brought us. In the end we settled on tea and resolved to go back to the BBQ place we’d seen on the way in. When we got there, we realized that they had internet, and we set about making a game plan. I called BoA, but they didn’t open until 7pm local time, so we’d have to stay in town for another 7 hours. We looked up the address of the hostel we’d originally intended to use, deciding that, at that point, we might as well get a good night’s sleep, all chances of reaching the border already gone.
Once again, we ordered by chance, pointing at our menus and hoping we got something tasty; honestly, we figured, “BBQ, this can’t go wrong.” It didn’t, but not because we ended up with any sweet savory BBQ dishes. Michael was able to discern the word pasta, and Chase and I let fortune guide our meal. Mikey’s pasta came bathed in a cream sauce, and, much to our surprise, both of our meals did as well. Evidently, BBQ doesn’t mean the same thing in Russia as it does in America. Still, my chicken, Chase’s beef, and Michael’s pasta were all very tasty, especially since we’d had no breakfast.
Since the map showed hostel to be a short distance’s walk from our restaurant, we made the executive decision to hoof it, expecting finding it to be easier on foot. In one parking lot near where the map showed our hostel, we saw a couple of Rally cars and hoped we’d found the spot. Unfortunately, it was just another hotel, the nightly rate double that of the hostel. We ate again, mostly looking for Wi-Fi, and corrected our map. Pro Tip: when looking for things in other countries on Google Maps, the best way is to find where they’ve mapped it on their website compare that to GM; simply searching for it or entering the address almost always fails.
When we found it, the girl at the desk informed us that there were no beds left in the hostel, not surprising since the last big wave of ralliers was pushin through the city. With the time near 7 already and circumstance guiding our hand, we decided to go back and use the Wi-Fi and then head out of town and camp somehere along the way to the border.
Last night we stopped early, shortly after midnight, in a construction site on the side of the road. We woke at 7:30, the others in slightly better spirits (though not significantly) that yesterday morning, and now we have, once again, set our sights on the Russian-Mongolian border. There have been reports from teams waiting in excess of 20 hours to get across the border (some kind of problems with importing cars), so we’ve stocked up on food and water and are expecting to have plenty of time to sit and jaw with other teams who also find themselve in the queue. With a little luck, we’ll be in Mongolia tomorrow, or the next day.