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The Last of Russia

October 3, 2015 0 Comments

Feeling the Chill – 7.4 degrees

We entered Russia a few weeks ago and only stayed a fortnight as we entered Russia in Siberia, and it’s as cold at this time of the year as they say.

Our first camp in Russia, as I’ve said previously (but it bears repeating!), it was minus  7.4°c in the morning. And it really didn’t get much better. In fact, the further north we went the colder it got. I got nervous when we were at a tyre shop for Barry and all the blokes were coming in buying steel spiked ice tyres. Obviously they knew something we didn’t, but we had the advantage that we were getting out of there.

Heading south to Kazakhstan we’ve struck some interesting Russians along the way, some a bit scary. One bloke, stopped us on the road, (it was a gravel back road and we were looking for accommodation) in the afternoon.

It seemed harmless enough, two blokes – one old one young. The old guy was an animated talker, then he went to the back door of his car, opened it, and was getting something out. I kid you not, I thought it was going to be a rifle and I was praying Barry, behind me, was in a position to run him down.

Anyway, he pulled out a coat and put it on! He wanted to help us with accommodation! We drove on 5km and found ourselves in a second little town, population 500, where we dropped into a youth hostel, thinking it would be a fit for us. But it seemed a sort of refuge for young Russian alcoholics and drug users, so we moved on, after half of them, 15 odd, came out to look at the cars and talk Russian to us! Harmless enough, but a bit nerve racking when a few young fella’s get behind you and you can’t see them.

Border Crossing

It was funny when we left the Russian border to enter Kazakhstan. The Russian inspector wanted to know if we had drugs or guns. I said no to both, but showed him our vitamin supplements. He wanted to look inside our rooftop camper. I tried to get him to relent, but he had already asked, so he couldn’t back off, so when he saw what a pain the backside it was to close, he realised my reluctance. He was a lovely fellow.

The Kazakhstan inspector had a quick look at us, signed our slip of paper, and told us to keep moving – awesome. At the time he was turning out a Subaru and contents, owned by a few young fella’s inside, so we were low risk. By the time Barry and Donna came through he took a few souvenirs off them!


Well we’ve been in this country for six days now and I’m still not sure how to take it! The people in the majority are friendly and willing to participate with you. They toot their horn and wave as they pass. Drivers are way better than Indonesian and Chinese, not as good as Australians, as sometimes, like the Russians, you have to push them out of the way when merging!

The shopkeepers are great. They giggle a lot, and are careful to not over-charge. The cafe girls can be a completely different proposition. Some are awesome, like the shopkeeper, some are surly and uncooperative. Like the one in Russia, when Barry called her a grumpy thing, and she replied in English. Barry was embarrassed, but she deserved it!

The countryside is relatively boring, (down the east side of Kazak), but that is because we are heading south, on the east side of the country, skirting some huge mountains to the east of us, in China and Kyrgezstan. We’re making our way to a National Park, just down the road, which has a few endemic highlights. And the bitumen roads are piss-poor.

I have my theory there, and it’s related to corruption. The bitumen highway has broken sides, a failed subgrade, so it’s full of humps and hollows, and the spacing of lateral dips is such that you get a headache. I don’t think I’ve driven on a more miserable highway. The realistic maximum is 65km/h if you want to keep your car together!

By far the most disappointing aspect to date has been the Kazakhstan traffic police. Our experience to date reveals 75 percent of cops are looking for a cash bribe rather than issuing a ticket for a traffic infringement. Both Barry and I have been (separately) caught out.

It seems the go is, when you are pulled up, you put 4000 Tenge ($28aud), in your hand, jump out of the car, shake the hand of one of the senior police at their catching place, leaving the cash in their hand, and get back in your car, and off you go.

Oncoming drivers (truck and car), will flash you when they have seen police, so you can have a chance to get your car in order (speed, lights on, etc) before you reach them. An earlier blog details an experience I had and future blogs will update you on my progress. Because, when I get to Almaty, a bloody big city, I’m going to find out how to skin the cop that swindled me.

There must be a fair bit of crime in Kazak and Russia, because:

1: When you buy fuel, you have to pay the amount first, giving the girl/man the cash through a little slot too small to feed a bloody sausage. And it means you have to guess how much you need to fill-er-up.

2: When you go to the supermarket, if it’s a big supermarket, there’ll be lots of young security guys buzzing around, accompanied by a middle aged man with an under/over pump action shotgun! So, I don’t see a lot of room for shenanigans.

So, in summary to date, Kazakhstan is far less ‘fun’ than, say Mongolia.

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