11 Oct, 2009
Posted by: Scott In: The Rally
The flight on Air Astana to Novosibirsk was pretty uneventful. I arrived in the early afternoon, very tired, and set about on my first mission: finding a bus to take me to the train station. Unfortunately, I didn’t have many Russian rubles on me, I had no idea where the bus stop was, and the train station was quite a long ways away. I stepped out of the terminal and was immediately ‘attacked’ by multiple cabbies asking where I was going and if I needed a taxi. I refused all of them and lugged my bags towards the nearest bus. No luck–it wasn’t the one I was looking for.
Still not sure if this was the bus stop proper or not I walked around outside for a bit, scouting the area, trying to appear confident and like I knew what I was doing. It evidently didn’t work as I still has taxi drivers pestering me left and right. Holding out my only ten ruble note I said I was taking a bus and said I didn’t have enough cash for a taxi and one of the guys told me that it also looked like I didn’t have enough to even take the bus and to go back to the terminal to exchange some money. I made my way to the cash exchange window where a middle-aged woman was busy talking on the phone. After ignoring me for the better part of five minutes I left to look for an ATM and withdrew 300 rubles ($10). That’d give me enough money to ride the bus and maybe grab a bite to eat before boarding the train.
Walking outside I was approached again by the same guy that had told me to exchange money. He said that the bus would take a long time to get to the train station as it was rush hour and would be making many stops–why not just ride in his car for a bit more? He would charge me 120 rubles versus the 30 it would cost if I took the bus. I decided to just take the taxi instead of waiting in some unspecified area for a bus that would come at some unspecified time.
The drive did indeed end up taking some time–almost an hour in fact. During that time I was treated to a ‘tour’ of Novosibirsk and some interesting conversation from the driver and his partner. It was amazing how much Russian I had picked up during the journey–I could make my way through conversations pretty well by this point! Still didn’t understand most of the things they said, but I could usually get the gist of the topic of conversation.
When we reached the station I got out to grab my bags from the trunk. I then started to hand over the 120 rubles when the driver stated matter-of-factly that the total came to 3,600 rubles ($120). Yup–scammed again by the same trick that had been pulled on us at the Almaty airport–stating the price per kilometer in a way that made one think that it was the price for the entire journey. This time instead of fighting with the guys I decided to put on the pity routine. As I had already told them that I was here doing a charity rally it wasn’t too difficult. I opened up my wallet and explained that this money that I had just withdrawn was all the money I had and that I needed it to buy food while on the train for the next three days. I acted as though I was very sorry for not having $120 and asked if we could come to some sort of deal. The driver looked at my cellphone and said he would be happy to trade it for his own and just cancel out any money owed. Seeing as it was originally a $25 phone that I had bought refurbished I happily agreed to this, but the deal was off once he found out that it didn’t display Russian characters. In a last ditch effort to just get the heck out of there I said that I had a last $25 or so in the ATM and if they could accept that and let me be on my way I would be ever so grateful. They luckily agreed to this, I grabbed the money out, handed it over, and said goodbye to the two scammers. Although it was in the end only about a quarter of what they were originally asking for I’m sure they made out pretty good overall–it’s quite a bit more than a local would have paid I’m sure!
I dragged my bags over to the train terminal and looked for my departure on the electronic billboard. I looked and looked and couldn’t find it. That’s when I realized I was in the domestic terminal. I crossed the plaza to the international departures terminal and had something to eat at the overpriced cafeteria on the first floor before spending the remaining few hours before departure in the waiting room. At around 9:30PM I went outside to find that the train had arrived. Mongol women were all over the place, hanging out of the train windows and walking up and down the platform holding mannequins dressed in whatever Chinese-made clothing products they had available for sale. I made my way past them and boarded the train to try and find my compartment. It turned out to be a four-berth room with boxes of clothing and mannequins strewn all over the place. One of the middle aged Mongol women rushed into the room and quickly set about getting everything in order. This was my new roommate.