Welcome to Russia.

Special Birthday Wishes to Walt from Aunt Pat!

In the last two days we have not only crossed the Russia border we have registered our visas in Barnaul. Two significant achievements. But not without some difficulties.

After spending one night in our pleasant, if noisy, parking place in Semey we were moved on by hotel security. With the help of a friendly local business man we re-located to a more central, secure, undercover parking area (50.411438°N 80.255200°E) complete with armed guards, valet re-parking and a beer "garden". Cost $1.00USA per night. There was also a fine open air restaurant nearby, with live(ish) music and an English language menu. We ate well for about $5.00USA per head including beer.

In the morning we drove north from Semey thru dense cedar forests (the first forests for ages) to the Kazakstan - Russian border. We were expecting some delays at the Russian border and we were not disappointed. But first we had to leave Kazakstan.

This proved more difficult than expected because we did not have a customs declaration form that they thought we should have. Eventually, after two different "interpreters" had been extracted from passing coaches, and each confirmed that we did not have, and claimed never to have had the required form we were allowed to proceed on a majority decision (three to one I think).

As we tried to leave the Kazakstan side of the border to drive the 7km to the Russian side (we found out in Semey that there was 7km of no-man's land between the borders) we were stopped and told we could not go any further until we had purchased "insurance" from a very pleasant lady who alas spoke no English and whose many forms were all in Cyrillic. We were naturally a little unhappy to be required to buy Kazakstan insurance retrospectively as we left the country (rather like being required to bet on the horse you know lost!). After 15 minutes of us loudly declining to buy 15 days of retrospective insurance, we finally understood that we were standing in Russia and this was Russian insurance! We then spent the next ten minutes persuading the lady that in spite of our being adamant that under no circumstance would we buy 15 days of insurance from her we now wanted 5 months worth!

The insurance documentation consisted of two certificates (we still do not know what one of them is for), a receipt and a claim form, all in Cyrillic. The posted prices varied by engine size and fuel, but we all ended up paying the same $116.00USA, (revised several hours later up to $125.00USA, when it emerged that the "correct" Dollar - Rouble exchange rate was 28 not 30, it was actually 28.75). Armed with our insurance certificates our vehicles were permitted to drive into Russia (there is no no-man's land).

The next five hours were spent getting our passports stamped, our entry cards stamped, our immigration cards stamped, our progress slip stamped (5 times) and getting a certificate that we believe is some sort of road tax (but only valid for two months). This required the transcription of our vehicle engine number, chassis number, year of manufacture, VIN number, odometer reading, our driving licence number and inside leg measurement into Sanskrit and this to be written down longhand several times, entered into a computer with one finger (twice?) printed out, and finally inscribed on stone, then copied, stamped, signed, counter signed and counter stamped, at least twice. Welcome to Russia.

The vehicles were then inspected fairly thoroughly. However we were not required to complete a currency declaration form nor to admit to carrying vast quantities of drugs, books, CDs, and electronic equipment (the night before we had all practiced being economical with the truth on copies of the notorious Russian customs form which requires you to list any weapons, drugs, strong medicine, electronic equipment, books etc. you have).

We were very glad we were not carrying any GPS systems, CB Radios or Satellite phones.

The entire border crossing took from 11:00 to 18:30. It was hot and humid. Almost everybody was helpful and cheerful. The system was just so complicated and required so many stamps, signatures and counter checks that six or seven hours seemed about right. Welcome to Russia.

When finally through the border we decided to drive on a few kilometers and wild camp. Unfortunately the road was under repair and the detour was through a muddy field. OJ was almost but not quite stuck in the mud! Welcome to Russia.

When we awoke in the morning the police were waiting for us (a great deal better than waking us up in the night). Only Imp was stopped, and the inspection of his documents was brief. On our 350km drive to Barnaul we encountered only two other police checks.

The main reason for staying in Barnaul was to register with the OVIR. Depending on who you ask you have to register with the OVIR every night you are in Russia, or whenever you spend more than three nights in one place. But almost everybody agrees you must register at least once within the first 72 hours of being in Russia.

You have a choice of registering at an "approved" hotel or at an OVIR office, if you can find one. When we tried to negotiate with the staff at the Barnaul Hotel they were adamant that we must all stay there before they would register us (and this required us to pay in Roubles, which we did not have). However Pat found a helpful lady working at the Intourist office (who spoke German) and she offered to lead us to a bank and then to the OVIR office where, with her help, we could register without staying at a hotel. It seemed like a good idea at the time! Alas the OVIR office said they could not register us because we had business visas not tourist visas (we have business visas because you can't get multiple entry tourist visas that last five months - are you still following this?) Welcome to Russia.

So we returned to the Barnaul Hotel (53.347980°N 83.761740°E) payed $20.00USA for a grotty double room each and got registered in 15 minutes. The rooms on the 11th floor got used only for showering and washing clothes. The car park charged an additional $4.00 for the night.

Welcome to Russia.

Stephen Stewart.

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