4,890 miles from Edinburgh.
Woke up in Volgograd with brutal hangovers. We might have been vodka drinking Russians last night but this morning we were back to being miserable Scotsmen. Truly miserable. After walking shakily along the road to get a kebab for breakfast and then spending an age packing we crawled out of Volgograd at 1 o’clock, heading for Astrakhan. After only 4 hours of driving we pulled into a field, rustled up a couple of pot noodles and went to sleep.
Woke the next morning feeling substantially better and set our sights on Kazakhstan. Managing to get packed up and away by 9 (early by MMC’s usual standards), AJ was cheerily predicting Kazakhstan by lunchtime. This was not to be. Astrakhan proved to be a maze and at one point we ended up in a wooded area we think was a paintball arena. Backtracking we came across the bridge we wanted only to find it blocked off by three 12 year olds on bikes and some concrete blocks. Luckily, a taxi driver sprang from his car and seemed to know exactly where we trying to get to. He helpfully drew us a map of how to get back to the main road. At this point he enquired as to whether we had any dollars or not and we realised that his presence at this bridge was maybe not such a coincidence. He was more than pleased with his whisky anyway.
After getting lost twice more, almost crashing, and then not being able to find anything to eat more substantial than a snickers each, we arrived at the border. Predictably this took ages for no reason, arriving at 12 we reckon they were just eating their lunch. Made it through ok after an hour and a half of waiting listening to Order of the Phoenix. The Kazakh side was a ludicrous 9km further down the road which makes this by far the biggest no mans land we’ve encountered. Presumably Russia is so big they’re not that bothered about hanging on to every little bit of it.
This was not our finest border crossing. Firstly we failed to get the ticket upon arrival that gets stamped to show you’ve been through passport and then customs control. We also didn’t bother to collect or fill in a migration card. Zack doesn’t have a visa for Kazakhstan partly because of time constraints but luckily due to a recent change, UK citizens do not require one for a period of less than 15 days. He was still a little apprehensive the border guard might not know this however. Sure enough AJ saw his face visibly fall when the woman behind the desk flicked through his passport and said “Vsia?” For about 30 seconds we stood there fearing the worst. Then out of nowhere one of the soldiers strode over and in perfect English said, “Don’t worry boys, I’ll sort this”. Not only did he sort out Zack’s visa issue, (which was totally fine) he also filled in all our forms for us and walked us through the whole border process.
Our faith in humanity restored we rolled up to the gate behind which lay Kazakhstan and got stuck behind a lorry. AJ overtook it and bam, a policeman pulled us over. Must have covered less than 100 yards. Apparently we’d gone through a stop sign, which didn’t exist and no one else seemed to be observing. A Russian behind us did the same thing and was also pulled over. While being fleeced of the last of our Russian cash AJ complained to his fellow law breaker who just shrugged and said, “This is Kazakhstan”
A slightly sour taste in our mouths we pressed on along the truly awful road In search of oil and that all important Camel selfy. It can only get better from here.