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Discussion in 'Ride Reports - Epic Rides' started by Flyred, May 11, 2019.
I wondered what that crossing would be like. yikes
So I made it 30km from the Azerbaijan border before the sun started getting low and you dont want to ride in the dark here either. There was a plain little truck stop and I pulled in there. I asked about a room. 60 AZ bucks. Ok Not a great deal but I dont have an option. Later, when I walked out to ask about wifi passwords- is out!- But I see it and its full strength. No! Is out! I looked on the counter and there was the room price list. My room was 50 AZ bucks.
So I go to the outdoor dining area and order dinner which is the one thing they are cooking tonight with the option of Take it or Leave it. It was grilled animal parts, fruit, and bread. I ordered a beer and opened the bottle when it came and took a big swig of Pear Juice.
I asked for the bill and it was 15 AZ bucks. I handed the waiter a 20. He stared at me. I said you owe me a 5. He stared at me. I took out my phone and showed him on the calculator that 20 - 15 = 5. He stared at me. Whatever dude. I walked away.
So of all the pictures of Azerbaijan that I took, I needed one that captures the essence of the place and its people. I chose this picture.
I will always remember Azerbaijan this way
Getting out of Azerbaijan was surprisingly easy. There were lines that moved in an orderly fashion. There were soldiers directing people to the correct windows. I was through in less than an hour.
I was sent a survey by Azerbaijan to fill out what I thought of their country. I wrote about the fiasco getting in. I spent a good 20 minutes filling in all the questions. At the end there was NO SUBMIT button. And so ends my time spent on anything Azerbaijan
I have a special place in my heart for Russian people. They are beat down in so many ways, but they always find something to laugh about. And when the absurdity gets too much they shrug and say "Russia".
So This was my 3rd time entering Russia. I thought I knew the process but every crossing has its own little quirks. This station had four little offices that you rode to and stopped at. They were each only 20' apart. But you had to move ahead when commanded and not cross the almost invisible painted line.
Window 1 show passport and bike papers. My WHO Yellow card shot record always draws attention as they open all the folds. I say it is required in Brazil.
Window 2 Open panniers and duffle bag. Let soldier look around at your stuff ( They all thought my huge stack of maps was worthy of leafing through to see all the countries.)
Window 3 Show passport and bike papers again. Soldier says Welcome back to Russia. I get on the bike and ride to the gate, waiting for it to lift. Nothing. Then soldiers start yelling at me. I missed window 4.
Ride back and park.
Window 4 is customs. Fill out a form in Russian- You do read Russian,right? Go to Window 4 where a very nice man tells me to come in and sit. He speaks almost English and helps me with the form. He makes some copies but the copy machine only copies what is on the edges of the paper, so he draws lines and tells me what to write. You can tell he is frustrated. The copy machine has been like this for a few weeks. He needs it for his job. But the repairman still has not come.
So I get a Custom declaration with stamps and all my bike info. He tells me it will get me through all the Russian Federation countries. He didnt give me a Immigration card. No one wanted to see that Customs Dec.
As border crossings went, this was not too bad. Of course I need bike insurance so once cleared past the last gate I ride 100 meters in a frontier town to the insurance store. The guy speaks no English. I show him my AZ insurance and say Russia. Ok, he starts typing up a form and both of us use Google translate. Easy. Do you take AZ bucks? No with a heavy sigh, like he doesnt make enough to put up with boobs like me. So the policy has been written but I cant pay for it. So ride back to the wall where the money changers are all standing. I wave 400 AZ bucks. The mob surrounds me with hands full of Rubles to exchange. Whats the rate ( I know what the official amount should be) One of the guys grabs my AZ bucks and shoves Rubles in my hand. They all laugh. I just got ripped off for a whole $10. Rubles are 65 to $1 USD. They are play money anymore
Now that Im past the warring clans that are the Caucuses I can add their flags. Georgia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan.
So its a few miles to the nearest town of any size. I do pass several good options for motels but I want to get some distance in today because Im heading to Kazakhstan next- No I'm not. I pull into Makhachkala and start looking for a hotel with secure parking. A BMW 1150 GS pulls along side. Its a Russian from Moscow. Holy Cow! He actually said that. Holy Cow! Youre from America? Yes and I need a hotel. So Follow Me! and away we ride...to a bar
Its a dry state because in Dagastan. Muslim territory. No beer here. But good espresso. I ask about hotels. He wants to take photos of me with his friends. I'm watching the sun get lower. He asks the bar owner and he says you need to go here and points at google maps at a cross roads. No hotel. He swears there is a hotel there that is secure. So I say my goodbyes and into both the now gloom of night and rain off I go.
Google maps says its on the road to Chechnya. My Garmin is completely lost. Im driving about 30 miles out into the desert in the dark and rain. There is nothing out here. But then Garmin says there is a goat trail coming up and sure enough, there is a road and a sign in Arabesque that looks vaguely like a hotel sign. 1/2 mile and Im at a huge convention center style business hotel out in the middle of a desert...and the gate is closed and locked
I ride around the building and the back gate is open. This place must have 200 rooms and I am the only guest
A change in plans
Crossing into Russia, a guard told me he didnt think I could cross into Ukraine from Russia. I was getting mixed answers on the forums as well. The next option would be to ride to Latvia and that would add 6 days to my ride. So I diverted away from Kazakhstan again. I missed it in 2014 when I came by and it was 120F there. I cant dress for that temperature.
So since Im already on the road to Chechnya, we'll go this way
The guys at the bar in Махачкала had told me about Dubki. A huge canyon, second only to the Grand Canyon itself. So up the road and a stop because I am out of Rubles again. In fact I didnt get breakfast because-is problem- No credit card readers seem to work anywhere here.
I pull into Kizilyurt and ask for 5000 rubles and it gives me one 5000 RU note. All I have to do is go in the bank and ask for change. Easy. Right?
In the Amazon there is a saying that a man with a $20 bill has no money because no one can break such a huge amount. So I go into the bank to break this into smaller bills and the process.. take a number. Get called to a window. Explain my problem. Need supervisor. Get sent through an airlock door into a small room with a teller behind bullet proof glass. Explain what I need. Passport. Visa. This visa is expired! No. The NEW visa. Home address. The teller makes several trips to a supervisors desk. Supervisor comes and asks where am I staying? Where are you going? Where are you staying where you are going? He scans every page of my passport twice. 20 minutes spent to break a 5. So finally it is done. The teller comes out with a stack of 50RU notes which is the American equivalent of getting change at the post office from the stamp machine in Susan B Anthony dollar coins except these notes are worth ,75 cents each. So now my wallet is fat with very small bills. I think this what a stripper must feel like at the end of her shift.
The good news is this town is the exit you need to take to go to Dubki. The road going south climbs immediatly.
Yes, you can put on a big woolly hat, hold a fake AK47 and straddle that poor little donkey to get a picture of the town far below
At the view spot above, a local family was there that I said hello to. I headed higher up the mountain to see the biggest canyon. When I came into Dubki, the family pulled beside me and waved me to follow them. We drove down dirt back roads and up a pretty crappy stretch but they led me too a viewing spot I would never have found on my own.
The family that guided me here invited me to their house for lunch. You can not refuse a Dagastani mother when she says come. Eat.
A future World Rider. This kid didn't want to get off the bike the whole time us men were talking
School was just getting out. All the boys wanted seat time.
The man on the left is an engineer at the hydro dam on the lake in the canyon. The man on the right was who found me. He is my youngest sons age. The 3 of us ate lunch together made by mom. Fresh salad, bread, and tea. All delicious.
Our conversation was very fun. A mixture of Dagastani Russian, German, Spanish, and a little English. For some reason the lyrics to the Beatles song Yesterday was printed and taped to a kitchen cabinet. I sang for my lunch. Me and Paul McCartney sound exactly alike.
I have more pictures but cant get them to transfer off Whatsapp
Dagastan will be the last mountains you will see for several weeks on this route.
New course. Im going to Rostov on Dany
Entering Chechnya during Ramadan. I stopped at this fruit stand because I hadnt eaten since lunch yesterday.
You cant pull single bananas off a bunch here so I had to buy the whole bunch. I was starving, so will the vender sat on my bike I ate 4 bananas. Ramadan is when muslims cant eat during daylight hours
The end of a fun day.
After being fed and meeting a great family in Dubki, I rode past Grosny. I pulled over to check my map and get my bearings and a local cop walks up. It's Magoned. He helps me find where I am on the map, we are laughing about his thinking I am Lost. Welcome to Grozny! is the only English he speaks. He invites me to his house to eat and says you can sleep there tonight. I have to decline. I have already lost a lot of the day at Dubki. So off I go heading into Chechnya during Ramadan.
I end up here. At the Dubai Hotel. A fancy name for a very simple hotel.
It's 3 flights of stairs up to the lobby over a supermarket down a back street. But they have a secure garage to park my bike.
The manager of the hotel is a nice woman. Like most jobs in the 3rd world, your shift is 24/7. A "administration" sign on a storage room door was also where she slept. Just a narrow bed by the supply shelves
I am starving again, because salad just doesnt stay with me very long, so I go on a walk to find dinner...and it's Ramadan. All the restaurants are closed until sunset. The supermarket was open though, so the standard dinner of sardines, bread, water, and a candy bar for dessert.
When I had crossed into Russia, the owner of the car ahead of me gave me a gift of a bag of Hazelnuts in the shell. I had no use for it, so I gave it to the woman hotel manager and she snatched up the bag like it was gold
This little town I am in is right next to Beslin, Chechnya. It's been a while but look up that name.
Russias south to Rostov
After Dagastan the view doesnt change for many hundreds of miles. Flat farmland as far as you can see. The only highlight is the fields of yellow flowers.. But the roads are straight and good condition. The speed limits are 100kph unless its not and there are many police with radars.
Russia still reveres the soldiers that fought The Great Patriotic War. The week of May 9th is celebrations, parades, and everyone flying flags.
But the old USSR police state is still alive. I pulled off the road to get a picture of the state and national flags on this hill. An old police guard with an AK that was standing watch over a highway bridge in Chechnya told me to move along! No pictures!
A tea stop. after yet another police checkpoint
Human labor out in the field. Lots of them.
So I get to my hotel in Rostov. I am soaked in sweat and tired. The main road through Rostov that my hotel sits on is divided with a jersey barrier that runs uninterrupted for a mile. I am stuck in traffic that is barely moving and I cant get across the wall to get to my hotel. I finally find a left turn lane and scoot back.
My hotel is asking for the immigration card that I was never given. I am dripping sweat and tired. The front desk girl is adamant that I must have that card. A guest in the lobby that speaks English offers to translate. She too says I must have that card and I should call the embassy in Washington DC. I start to gather my stuff to leave. To Hell with this. Suddenly the loss of a customer bring them to their senses and they say they dont need the card.
So I get to my tiny room and grab the curtain and whip it open...and my hand goes right through it.
Tuck that back behind the blackout curtain. Nothing to see here
Rostov is very crowded and traffic is nuts. I had planned to stay here 2 days but I got information from a friend that the road from Rostov to Odessa was now under Ukraine Army control. I could cut 4 days off my ride by taking this shortcut.
So 8am the next day I rode the 2 hours to the Russian border.
Russia/Ukraine border at Максимов.
I am wondering as I ride towards the border because there is almost no traffic. I stop to buy gas to get rid of excess rubles because I wont be needing them soon. I get to the border and there are no other vehicles.
I get flagged through the first gate and pull up to the the customs window and a group of border police surround me. Where are you going? Odessa? No. Is war zone. Well shit. Well give me me documents back so I can start riding all the way around Ukraine.
Two plain clothes cops arrive reminding me of Steve Martin and Dan Ackroyd's We're two wild and crazy guys! characters. Denim and polyester. Come with us. Why? Because. Come with us. Why? Just for 5 minutes. Come with us. No. They didnt know how to react to that one. Come with us. So I agree but take my time putting away some stuff and securing the bike.
They wanted to know why I had so many stamps in my passport. Are you military? No. ( Contractors aren't technically military ). Do you have Instagram? Facebook? What are your user names? They didnt ask for passwords but I wouldnt have given them anyway.
The 5 minutes stretched to 30 and the whole thing was just absurd. The Dan Ackroyd character had a notebook that had nothing written in it. He handed me a pen that didnt work. The power went out for a few minutes. These guys were so bored that I was their big deal for the month.
I told them I was kind of a big deal. People know me. Yes. I used a line from Ron Burgundy in Anchorman on the Russian police
You have to wonder how badly you scored in training to be sent to the station that has no traffic.
Finally released and back on the bike retracing my tracks to Rostov and it is May 9th. Traffic stops. All the cars are flying flags. I am in a parade against my will. Over to the dirt shoulder and pass hundreds of stopped cars. They are all headed to a war memorial that I had passed heading west.
I made a good effort to get to Kursk but rain and a long day won out.
I got this motel and was happy to be done
Russia to Kursk
Back into the rain for a boring ride to Kursk. The road at least was fine and for a while the speed limit was posted as 130kph. But it was raining hard so there was no way I was going to ride that fast.
But I got to Kursk with little trouble and went in search of a hotel
At the edge of town was a gas station that had a mini museum
Leaving Kursk and Russia. Hello Ukraine
I get up early excited to be leaving Russia. At 730am I get a call in my hotel room. Please come downstairs. Is it breakfast time?
The elevator door opens and there at the front desk are Alex and Olga. Two more plain clothes police. Documents please. We sit and talk for 30 minutes again. Lots of fascination with my WHO vaccination card stapled in the back of the passport. It folds way out and they have to look at every panel. I tell them it is required for Brazil. Alex speaks good English and is a pleasant guy. He says he really wants out of Russia. After all this wasted motion again I say If this card is so important, you have all my information, why dont you make me one and bring it to me? That just gets blank stares. It's never about trying to solve the problem
That's Kursk out there
A fun run to Ukraine. The Russians now hate the Ukrainians ever since Russia invaded and stole half their country so their president could have a nice spot to park his boat.
Russia has let the road to the border deteriorate in area but nothing to the level of Georgia. Getting out of Russia is always harder than getting into almost anyplace else-talking about you, Azerbaijan.
Pull up to the first window. Show passport ( I think I showed my passport to 10 people this crossing and all of them had to unfold my WHO yellow card) Open Panniers. They love looking at all my maps. Bike document ( the "original" title). And so there I stand. They still want the immigration form. Sorry. No. I get passed window to window. I am tainted goods. I finally to to Gretchen. The blond passport stamping lady with the Betty Page haircut except blond. She gets performance anxiety. Her hand hovers over my passport with the stamp ready. No, she flips through the pages then back to the page with the entrance stamp. She turns the book 90 degrees then back again. She calls here supervisor. She knows if she stamps my passport a famous international spy will get away (sarcasm for the KGB guys reading this. Hi Alex). And them she does it. The stamp heard around the World and suddenly I am being told to come and sit in a waiting room again. 20 minutes go by and not a sound from the door the border cop had exited through.
Then the cop is back saying Go, Go!
I walk slowly back to Gretchens window and recover my passport. Stow everything and ride across the no mans land to Ukraine.
The attractive blond Ukrainian woman border guard armed to the teeth with an AK, a pistol, a satchel bag with a gas mask, and magazine pouches asks for my documents and that is when I found that Gretchen still had my bike title.
A slow ride back across no mans land to the Russian border again and I am yelling at the guard to get my bike documents. 10 minutes later a very sheepish young guard brings my my paperwork and I am done with Russia.
My stress level dropped by half. I knew now that the police would not be at my hotel every morning.
Crossing into Ukraine still wasnt a breeze, I had to go to the two windows twice. It felt like Ground hog day. I had to leave my motorcycle in no mans land and walk, WALK?, into Ukraine 150m to buy insurance-she took Rubles. When I came back to the border the attractive woman border guard was now at that gate and she asked for a little piece of paper she had given my at the Russian side gate. I didnt have it. Oh fuck. Here we go again...
Then the insurance lady comes jogging down the road waving the missing paper. Crisis averted
The road is shit for the entire way to Kiev. Not shit like Georgian roads but the surface was more patch than road.
Coming apart faster than they can fix it
I speak enough Russian to know this wasnt going to be real NYC pizza. I went in and looked at the menu. A hard pass
The pedestrian walking street
I walk in Miminos for a beer. I sit down, ask for a menu and the waiter brings me a hot cup of coffee. Do I look tired?
This was where I had the Georgian lamb stew
The traveling Zippo makes a cameo
I did celebrate my escape from Russia. Sumy had a smoke shop and a tiny selection of cigars. I bought the most expensive, $2.50, and celebrated. It was the worst cigar I had ever had
There is a huge Bazaar here. Its basically a farmer market and swap meet
I never could pronounce the hotels name
The next morning I came down for breakfast and had been told by the desk clerk 7am. I walked in a the sign said open at 7am. I was the only customer. There was a bored looking waitress behind the counter playing with her phone. She rudely informs me that breakfast today starts at 730am. Ok. Can I have a cup of coffee? Holy shit. She lit into me and then called the boss. The front desk clerk that had told me 7am came and asked me to leave and come back later. Customer service does not exist here
After a crappy breakfast, it was about 400km to Kiev