Mayan Prophecy Countdown
Another late start due to waiting for breakfast, but no worries I did set off with Russia firmly in my mind. The weather was quite nice, still a tad cool but dry for the moment and within a few hours I was entering Latvia :)
The road surface immediately turned to crap but although I had expected it to be crap from here on in, it did get better. Mind you, the main road running through some of the towns took a tortuous route sometimes, lucky the signs were good so getting lost was not an issue :)
It was while getting fuel I bought a heated small pizza for lunch and it was lucky I did so, as there was nothing later on. Latvia is a very small country and the route I was using took me across it and it was only about 150km, so a short time all up. One distinction here though, I smelt my first road kill in a long time, and in fact I have not seen anything except the occasional dead dog/cat in over a month or so, despite the warning signs advising of deer etc. Anyway, it smelt but I never saw it, one of the bonuses of bike riding, experiencing nature as it is :) As I got close to the Russian border the road deteriorated once again, as it seems to do universally on border areas and I was soon passing a long line up of trucks, then cars parked on the road. I went to the front of the queue, as you do on bikes and found red lights and the beginning of the art of learning patience!
This must be the usual practice, because there are a number of portaloos on the sides of the roads, spaced about every 100m or so, they looked like they were permanent decorations!!! That green shed and blue signs in the last photo above is the Latvian exit point and was a controlled area. Basically, they only let in a number of trucks and cars once some have been processed and moved through the system. It was a very slow system which I had been warned about. But, after an hour or so there was some movement and we, those in the front of the queue, got to move forward up to the gate keepers lodge. About 10 trucks and 10 cars at a time were let through(there were at least 50 trucks in the line up and as many cars), here we showed passports and were given a process slip, basically a slip of paper with a number of boxes to be stamped as you move through the line.
This was another half hours wait as there were still cars in the system ahead of me but I was soon under the cover and the beginning of the line proper.
I was now at the exit point and had my passport stamped out OK, but I ran into a small snag with the bike paperwork. Basically, I had Green Card Insurance(3rd Party) which covered all of northern Europe, but it had run out on the 22nd June!!! Because I never got asked for my paperwork anywhere I had totally forgotten it, honest occifer!! So, I waited while he checked it out, basically because I was still in Latvia, which is part of the EU, I needed insurance, my argument in return was, I only need to travel 200m and I would then have to buy Russian insurance anyway, so it is not needed, surely? Ah, but that is not the way it works, I would need to buy some it seems. His boss came out and said I would have to pay a fine, or if I slipped him 5Euro, he would let it go. That was OK and I would have done so, but I had no cash, I used all my cash up in Poland and have been using the credit card since then. We were at an impasse, until he said, do I have anything of Australian on me, so I showed him the little fluffy Koala Bear key rings I carry, nah, he was not that interested, I said here is my credit card, give me the fine and I will pay. He went away for a bit then came back and said, go to that window over there and hand over all your Koala Bears ;) So, I got away with it and the total cost was 6 Koala Bears, the Ozzie World Travellers best friends :)
So, I got my exit stamps and was now free to proceed to the next queue, the Russian entry point. Due to my slowness at the last bit, I was now behind all the cars as they had gone through with no problems.
While I was at the back of the above line there were some small showers of rain and I went and pleaded with the nice blonde gate girl and after a small phone call, she let me through to the next stage which was under cover, thanks miss :)
Entering Russia was quite easy at this point, just painfully slow. I showed my passport and once they had seen the visa I filled out a tourist entry slip and I was OK to proceed to customs. Here there was one person to look at all the paperwork, no wonder the system is so slow and he was painstakingly methodical in his procedure and asked me to fill out two copies of the customs and vehicle import documents. He kept passing them back asking for a date, a comma here, tick that box but eventually I had my paperwork stamped and was free to enter Russia :) Crikey it was a long process and I had short circuited the system at a few points too! From the time I arrived at the line up of trucks to taking this next photo, 5 hours had passed, a new personal record, Honduras was only 4 hours!!!!
It was now 7.45pm, still daylight of course and I had also lost an hour in crossing another time zone, but it was only a short distance to the first town up the road. I had asked a few truckies about hotels and they had mentioned this town had some, so I headed there, and lucky for me the road signs were not that hard to read, I was heading to the town of Ostrov and failing that the next town of Pskov :)
I did get there a bit after 8pm and after asking some cops at a service station found a truck stop cum hotel on the towns outskirts. They wanted cash so now I had to go find an ATM, which I did do so after riding the worst road I have ever rode!! A couple of young kids were interested in the bike where I was parked at the bank, so I snapped a photo, I wish I had a printer to give him a copy :( Anyway, I managed to get some cash out and headed back to the truck stop, in this video you can see how bad the road is, as much as I tried to miss the potholes I still got some. I reckon my front rim will have some dings in it if all the roads are like this!!! Towards the end, you will see on the left hand side the truck stop secure parking, with security guard, the yellow building is the truck wash repair joint then the red building is where I stayed, upstairs.
I got a room to myself with 3 beds and free WiFi but a toilet down the hallway and shower downstairs, but at $18 a night quite cheap :) Also downstairs was a restaurant/bar so I had dinner and beer. All the comforts I need to try and come to terms with the fact I was now in a real foreign country and NO idea of the language :)
Cheers from Ostrov, Russian Federation