It's Going To Get A lot Worse Before It Gets Worse

The Border

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August 18th 2006



''But right now it seems the world's turned upside down, I got to hope that better times will come around, not going to stop and let the hard times drag me down, you know I'll be home soon'' - Sven Curth

For the bulk of the trip, we have utilized the Lily Tomlin quote, ''It's Going To Get A lot Worse Before It Gets Worse'' whenever the times were tough. Sadly, it has proved incredibly accurate in summing up our situation, we just did not know how bad it could get.

We awoke to another miserable day, but it wasn't raining. We all went to work trying to refit the clutch cable. After a few hours, it was brutally evident that our efforts were futile. We set the hand clutch up again with a few modifications to ease use.

The Dukes had left the night prior with our map and phrase book in tow. Luckily we are highly trained rally professionals with an amazing sense of direction. We turned left and started driving. For the first time in quite awhile we made decent time, reaching the Russian border outside of Semey just after dusk. Everyone was well worn so we decided to camp and hit the border first thing in the morning.

The wind blew and the rain fell and I got very little sleep.

We rose early and were to the border by 730 just in time for a shift change, one hour wait the guard announced. Par for course, we waited. Amazingly, he was relatively accurate in his prediction. We entered the border fiasco in good spirits, joking our way through the Kazakh side. They had already seen quite a number of rally teams and the novelty of the US passports seemed to quicken the pace. We arrived on the Russian side in good time and we were optimistic about reaching Barnaul in good time. Things were going well, Dominic was playing the insurance game, Vaughn was closing out his stamps, and I was admiring the class decor of the Russian customs booth.

However the more guards became involved the more bleak the situation became.

Unfortunately, the remaining BCMC member was not faring quite as well. Patrick was starting to draw a crowd of border guards, including the obligatory angry female guard. The attention was not completely unexpected. When Patrick flew to Kiev, he utilized one of his entries on his visa. Due to cost and time, we had purchased double entry visas for Russia and Kazakhstan. Basically, this means that when Kazakh stamped Patrick his visa was void and he had already entered Russia twice, voiding that visa as well. Kazakhstan should never have let Patrick out with his visa situation and now he couldn't get into Russia or Kazakhstan leaving him in limbo. We all felt that given the remote location of the border and our ability to dumbfound practically anyone with idiocy that we would be able to weasel across. However the more guards became involved the more bleak the situation became. We took another shot with the female guard utilizing an unheard of number of hand gestures and trying to look as sad as possible. She finally put her hat on and gestured for us to follow. I thought we were in the clear but then she walked straight by our cars and on towards the Kaza border. We quickly realized she was escorting Patrick off of Russian soil. With a bit of pleading, we were able to get some more time and let Patrick grab his gear. We were all a bit shocked and dumbfounded by the situation. Since we did not have an operational cellphone, there was very little that we could do at the border. We made sure Patrick had cash and all the important phone numbers, said our good byes and headed for the next town not knowing if we would see Patrick again on this trip.

Luckily it was a short trip to the next city. Dom and I went to sort a phone and Vaughn went to work on the hand clutch. Things change upon crossing the Kz border, the people are paler, the towns are a bit more developed, and there are half a thousand cell phone stores. Luckily we chose the one with two young ladies that would bypass all the paperwork and hook two very raggedy looking Americans with a phone. I think we got extra points for wearing winter hats, which everyone seemed to enjoy laughing at. Listen, 50 F feels whole lot colder when you've sweltered away in 100 F in the desert for two weeks.

"So you don't speak Russian, you don't know where you are going, and your cars barely run, what are you doing?" Dom responds, "We're on the Mongol Rally." "Ahhh, ralliers."

With phone in hand, we battled through the flock of street children that seemed intent on getting money from the extremely dirty fellows driving a broken Fiesta. They kept touching our feet and blessing themselves, one even hobbled after us for nearly half a mile. Dom was desperately trying to get help from someone at the US Embassy in Moscow to no avail. He got pointed toward the embassy in Kaza and finally reached someone who cared about Patrick's plight. Anne from the Embassy said, "So you don't speak Russian, you don't know where you are going, and your cars barely run, what are you doing?" Dom responds, "We're on the Mongol Rally." "Ahhh, ralliers." was the answer from Anne. She promised to go to work on the situation immediately. We found a sketchy roadhouse within 10 km of the border and I headed to update Patrick on our progress.

Not expecting to be able to make face to face contact, I wrote a note for Patrick. To try to get his spirits up I tagged the end with a "PS Russian women are still beautiful." I entered through the main entrance of the border with little hassles, just some random hand gestures and the typical dumbfounding idiocy. The anger female border guard found me near instantaneously, I handed her the note to deliver to Patrick. She scanned it apparently showing her deft grasp of the written English language. Of course the only part she picked up on was the last line and she repeated, "Russian waaaameeen?" I figured I was in deep enough no reason to hide and read of the line. She turned as red as the Soviet flag and walked away towards Patrick. About a half hour later, I spot Patrick talking on a cell phone with a border guard nearby. It seems Patrick had stumbled upon two young ladies on the rally and had garnered their cell phone for use. He had then made contact with Anne at the US Embassy. Things didn't appear to be as bad as expected for Patrick, the Kazaks were taking good care of him and he was in good spirits. I headed back to the roadhouse feeling much better about the situation.

It was late in the night when the drunk Russian Slava challenged me to the old handshake contest

The girls and two other rally teams ended up at the roadhouse and things got a bit messy. It was late in the night when the drunk Russian Slava challenged me to the old handshake contest, in between bouts of heavily hitting on the girls. I stared him in the eyes and squeezed as hard as possible, luckily he relented stating, "You stronger, we arm wrestle." I quickly negotiated my way out knowing that no good could possibly come of this.

We woke up with hurting heads and the ring of our new cellie. Anne was on the other end with good news that a Russian visa was in the works and we should wait at the border for the official word. We all headed to the border and set up camp just outside the fence where Patrick could occasionally get access. Dom and I worked on the cars tweaking and cleaning while Vaughn refitted the hand clutch to near perfection. The day went on and on with no good news.

Finally at the end, Anne stated that the Russians could care less and our only chance was with a Colonel in Barnaul whose phone was busy all day. She also indicated that something had to happen on Friday because nothing would happen over the weekend. To further complicate matters, our Russian visas expired in 4 days and we were starting to push whether or not we could make it out of Russia on time. When asked what the repercussions would be, it was plainly stated that we should get out. We reluctantly left Patrick at 10:30 pm, formulating a plan to drive to Barnaul the following day to get the visa in person.

I arrived back at the border early the next morning while Dom and Vaughn sorted cash and more minutes for the phone. The Russian border guard hustled right over to me and stated coldly, "Patrick gone, you leave now." I couldn't get much more out of him, but did decipher that Patrick was in Kaza. I moved my rig a bit away from the border and waited for the others. When they arrived, Dom got Anne on the phone and she talked directly to the guards. The news was not positive, one said Patrick was in Kaza, one said he was in Russia, and one didn't say a thing. We decided we were waiting on the border until we knew exactly where Patrick was.