Driving to China (ish) - Day 15

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May 15th 2015
Published: May 19th 2015
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Day 15 - Chelyabinsk to Kostanay

It was time to leave Russia. The border with Kazakhstan was 80 miles due south of Chelyabinsk, just after the town of Troisk. The landscape had flattened out again after crossing the Urals and now as we approached the steppes of Kazakhstan.

As with our last border crossing we'd read tales of 3 to 4 hour delays and brusque, unhelpful officials, but were all confident that it would be quicker. We all guessed at around 1hr 50 mins, but in the end were across in half that time. On the Russian side they hadn't heard about Kazakhstan's new rules allowing Brits to stay for 15 days visa free (they came into force last June), so we had to convince them that if they stamped us out from Russia we wouldn't get caught in some sort limbo world betwen borders.

On the Kazakh side, they were delighted and quite impressed that we had driven all the way there, though less impressed when I admitted that I didn't know Wayne Rooney.

Immediately after the border we got car insurance for 2 weeks (it cost about £7.50) and were on our merry way.

We were immediately into flat landscapes and fields of corn. The roads were quite smooth and we made good time, but were very watchful for traffic police...... and with good reason. Kazakhstan in recent years has had a terrible reputation for shakedowns by traffic police, with minor or even non-existent infractions giving a justification for police to extort money. The web is replete with horror stories.

So despite checking at the border that the car was totally in compliance and then sticking scrupulously to the speed limit, both myself as driver and Dave as co-pilot were watching the horizon like hawks.

Our first encounter came about 40 miles into the country. It was a permanent police checkpoint with it's own small building. As we approached on the highway an officer beckon me to stop with his mini-light-sabre baton. I showed him my passport and that the only things we had in the boot (trunk) were clothes, camping gear, car spares and the odd kitchen sink, and he motioned us to leave.

Then he changed his mind. He led me up into the building, past a 2nd officer, into a back room and closed the door. Of course at this point I was thinking "here we go....", but put on my best 'happy-to-be-here-as-a-tourist-in-your-wonderful-country-sir' face. I sat down opposite an older senior officer who barked a few questions in what I think was Russian rather than Kazakh, so I responded with my I-would-love-to-help-but-I-just-don't-understand face, dug out a copy of our route map and started gesticulating away. The senior guy and the first officer started talking rapidly. After a couple of minutes of this the senior guy got up and walked out leaving the first officer standing over me.

More questions in Russian, then he dug a 50 rouble note out of his pocket and brandished it at me. It seemed that we had come to the crux of the matter, but I was determined to play hardball with lots of ignorant-tourist expressions and shrugging of shoulders.

The strange thing was, he was smiling the whole time, and finally pushed the note into my hand. I realised that he thought I might return to Russia and could use this small bit of currency. He was GIVING IT TO ME.

Then he saluted me, shook my hand, and led me from the room. I was that surprised, I decided to give him a £5 note from my wallet as a souvenir. He was bowled over. I got another handshake and salute from the 2nd officer, was free to go and drove off, flabbergasted.

I think I must be the only person in history to have made money from a police shakedown. What I got, you can't teach :-)

The roads being quite good, we had a fullish tank of fuel (ie less worry about weight and therefore strain on the springs). Fuel prices up to Germany were about the same as i the UK. Poland was a little less, and Lithuania and Latvia down to about £0.95p per litre. Russia was substantially less.....about £0.49p per litre. Kazakhstan was about £0.45p.

In the UK we have 98 and 95 octane unleaded and also diesel. Once into Poland and beyond, 92 octane started showing up and then also 80 octane (I saw a Lada Riva filling up on this, even though it must be as combustible as orange squash). By the time we reach Kazakhstan it's all over the place; availability is hit-and-miss and they throw in 96 and 93 octane sometimes just to spice it up. There are stations everywhere though, so you seldom wait long to find your poison.

As usual thereafter we took turns driving till we reached our stop for the night in Kostanay. We found an ATM to draw cash - check out their gorgeous money in the pic - and made for the Ostrov Hotel.

We were booked into literally the only hotel in town, and after John and Dave F played billiards and I caught up on some blogging, we had some beers then hit the hay.



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