RideUnlimited: Nightmare Border Crossings and Passport Drama in Russia
When I last blogged for We Buy Any Bike we were leaving Kurchatov in Kazakhstan and heading north to Russia. I mentioned the border crossing being slightly different from our past experiences, which usually took about 40 mins to get through the whole process. It was different alright!
We rode to the border crossing straight up from Semipalatinsk
Arriving there about 4 pm, and assuming it would be the usual drill. The bikes got waved through at every crossing we had done before, the guards want motorbikes done and out of the way quickly so we ride to the front of the queue and get flagged instantly.
I know to drivers this might seem unfair and pushing in, but this is the way all of the borders had dealt with us before this one, everything is faster for bikes such as vehicle and luggage checks which take minutes compared to cars or lorries. We rode to the front as usual and were met with a screaming guard, telling us to get to the back which was about 8 lorries long and 15/20 cars. Although this was a first for us, we rode to the back and got in line. However, the line didn’t move, four hours later and still we hadn’t moved an inch.
The dark closed in, the rain started and the mosquitoes spotted us, their dinner. We sat in the dark, soaked through with our helmets on; I could actually hear the mosquitoes tapping my visor trying to get my face! After five hours the queue began to move... just before we fully lost our minds. After getting through the first gate there were more delays, but we eventually got back into Russia at about 2 am. Luckily our hotel had a 24hr desk so we were able to get in and pass out! So after the worst border crossing yet, we were in, and about to meet up with some visitors!
The next day we rode straight to Barnual which was about 4 hours away, it rained the entire way.
We were used to the weather in the Stans, dry and extremely hot so we were in shock with this depressing grey sky in Russia. After reaching our hotel in Barnaul it wasn’t long before... my parents arrived!! My mum and dad set off from England in their Landrover and drove 4000 miles in 9 days, which is about 450 miles every single day. Hard going! Especially their route, full of extremely boring straight roads.
My parents love travelling and have been going to weird and wonderful places all over the world since before I was born, guess that’s where I get it! Although they had never done a trip quite like this before, with the timed mission to meet us in time so we could see Mongolia together and still mean that Dave and I reach the BAM road before the season closed in. Seeing my parents again after so many months was quite emotional, and we couldn’t wait to get adventuring together.
The four of us had a few days in Barnual before heading out through Siberia to the Mongolian border.
We took a couple of days riding and driving down to the border at Tashanta, which was 500 miles away. There wasn’t a massive amount going on in Tashanta, it’s a dusty little town with a couple of shops and a bank so fine for just a one-night stay, pot noodles all around. The next day was finally Mongolia day, somewhere we had all been so excited to get to! Mum and dad had been driving big distances nearly every day for two weeks at this point, so we had the plan to get over the border in the early morning and set up camp the other side, try and have the rest of the day relaxing! However, fate had different plans and once again the border didn’t go as planned, more a much more stressful reason this time.
We got to the gates and everyone started getting their documents out, I looked over at Dave to see a face of pure horror. He said ‘I don’t have my passport’... I was fairly calm at this point thinking he hadn’t looked everywhere. We pulled out the queue and went to the side of the road, after checking all bags, pockets, panniers we realised it was true, no passport. Losing a passport was our worst nightmare, it can cause huge problems and even having to ride straight back to England.
We began riding back to the hotel we had stayed the night before, praying it would be there.
That was the longest 40 mins ever, Dave and I usually talk constantly with our headsets but there was silence as we both started thinking of all the possible outcomes of this. What I was thinking is Dave’s passport was probably lost, fallen out of his pocket at some point and gone forever. This then meant the following things would have to be researched:
- How and where do you get an Emergency British Passport – I was pretty sure we could only get this in Moscow 2,600 miles away
- If we rode to Russia it would take weeks and our dreams of riding East Siberia would be over because of the weather. If we tried to fly, it would be expensive, and also could Dave even fly without a passport? We were told this could be possible with a police statement
- Either way, you can only travel through 6 countries on an emergency passport, so we were returning to the UK way earlier than planned no matter what...
We arrived back at the hotel we had stayed at, it wasn’t there. The only thing we could now do is ride back to Barnaul and retrace our steps. Also, this was the nearest place we could get flights to Moscow Russia if needed.
Back on the road again!
900 miles back the same way we had come just a day before. Luckily Altai Russia has beautiful roads and scenery so the ride was fun. Apart from the occasional panic attack when remembering the passport situation. Once back in Barnaul, Russia we went to the last hotel we stayed at, nothing, we got back on our bikes and rode into the city centre.
We went into the last supermarket in Russia we’d gone to before leaving town. I didn’t think for a second we would find it this way. I was already researching the nearest police station. Where we'd be able to discuss the written statement needed to board a plane. As soon as we walked back into the supermarket, one of the staff members started walking towards us and smiling. It felt like we froze in time but were actually walking full speed to meet her! She said ‘passport’!!! I could not believe it, and until I saw the passport with Dave’s face in it I didn’t. She ran off and came back with it in her hand, gave it to Dave who quickly flicked to find his details. He looked at me ‘I don’t bloody believe it!’ It was found.
All of the stress and planning of how to get around the emergency passport drama was gone! It felt like a huge weight on my chest had been lifted. We were pretty hysterical and caused a scene in the shop in Russia. We went to meet my parents. They'd had been waiting at the hotel for us and had a lot of drinks to celebrate!
So now the Russia adventure could continue. We had overcome the worse set back we had encountered on the trip. Onwards to Mongolia!
Due to us needing to backtrack our time in Mongolia was cut short, we decided to ride past our original border crossing. We entered the country much further along East, just up from the city of Irkutsk. Barnaul to Irkutsk was a massive 2000km ride on a very boring straight road. We did this in 4 days!
Irkutsk is one of the largest cities in Siberia, its located about 850 km to the south-east of Krasnoyarsk. About 520 km north of Ulaanbaatar which is the capital of Mongolia. Irkutsk is a pleasantly historic city. It's a very popular stop on the Trans-Siberian Railway between Moscow and all points east. Irkutsk is one of my favourite cities so far on this trip. Full of 19th-century architecture, revived churches, classy little cafes and loads of nice hotels. After riding every day for the past two weeks (getting to the Mongolian border. Turning around riding straight back to Barnaul and from there to Irkutsk). We gave ourselves a few days exploring this exciting city.
This probably isn’t the most exciting blog to read regarding motorcycle travel, but it's life. Travelling by bike isn’t always fun times and exciting trails. Sometimes the mundanity of paperwork can put a stop to all your dreams! What we did learn, however, is that the plans can change. As soon as we thought the passport was lost. We were creating new plans and thinking of how we could resolve it as quickly as possible. We were lucky this time and everything worked out in the best possible way. But I now know that we’ll always be able to adjust and re-strategise when needed to keep the adventure going!
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24 Sept 2018