10 Aug, 2009
The Long Haul: To Russia
Posted by: Scott In: The Rally
We were behind schedule and had to try and catch up. To accomplish this we decided to drive straight on through the night and try to hit Volgograd, Russia sometime the next day.
In Ukraine freeways don’t go around cities as much as right through them. And not directly through them–they take you in a confusing maze of paths through each city. This resulted in us getting a bit lost almost every time we hit a mjaor city. Signs would often disappear (see previous post), and we would be left circling city streets trying to find where the highway started up again. This is even harder to do when it’s dark out, which was the case for our entire drive through Ukraine.
At one point we were hopelessly lost and stopped to get some gas and directions. Most of the stations over here are full-service, so I told the attendant to fill our car up. He puts the nozzle in and starts the gas, which proceeds to start gushing out of the bottom of the car. Oh oh. I told him to turn off the pump and investigated below. Luckily it wasn’t a hole in the gas tank. It seems that rust had eaten through the metal hose that connects the gas nozzle input and the gas tank. It had fallen down and was resting on the wheel. We were able to grab it through the wheel well and hold it up while putting gas in. Couldn’t do much to fix it at the time, so we left it as it was, hoping that it wouldn’t get worse and end up falling off entirely.
While we were investigating the problem a small van pulled up blaring techno music. A young guy got out to put gas in and translated what the attendant was saying into English. We asked him for directions and he offered to drive us in the right direction of where we were going. Lucky for us, since it turned out to be quite complicated to get back to the freeway.
It was around 2:00AM and I was driving down the freeway outside of a small city when a cop walked into the middle of the road flagged me to stop. I pulled over to the side and a cop approaches me with a speed gun and shows me that I was doing 84KPH. He appears very stern and yells at me in Ukrainian/Russian that I was doing 24KPH over the speed limit. This was news to me, since the speed limit for that part of the road should have been about 90KPH. He motions for me to get out of the car and points to a passage in what appears to be a book of traffic laws that indicates that the fine for such an offense is 640 rubles–almost $100. He tells me to get in the passenger side of the police car–his partner keeps using the speed gun on oncoming traffic and motioning people to stop. Each ‘offender’ already has cash in hand ready to fork over. It was obviously a side-job–I had heard much of this type of behavior happening in Ukraine.
He continued to berate me in Russian while I maintained the blank look of total on-comprehension (not hard, since I really didn’t understand what he was saying). He wanted money–that much was clear. But I wasn’t about to hand over $100. I told him that we didn’t have any cash and only used credit cards. He asked how we paid for food. I said that we had food in the car that we ate. He asked about buying gasoline. I said we only stopped at places that took credit cards (not sure if they could actually search the car and find the cash we had on us). He was getting annoyed.
I went to the car and grabbed my Russian phrasebook–just to ake it look like I was really trying to cooperate. I asked if maybe I could send the money to the police department by mail–not an option. I asked if I could pay by credit card–no go. I took an extra long time looking up words in the dictionary just to buy time. I wasn’t going to lose this battle. After almost an hour of this cherade he just asked (yes, he asked!) if I could pay for the police car’s tank of fuel by credit card. I was about to give in just to get out of there, but it would have cost time to go back to the previous city, so I pretended to not understand him yet again. It worked. He gave me a disgusted look, yelled some stuff at me, threw me my documents, and I was free to go.
I continued driving on towards Russia. Eventually the sun came up and we made the Russian border mid-morning. We stopped off at a small border town and tried to find some food and supplies, but the place was so small that we just left with a couple bottles of water. I had some trepidations about the border because of our last experience trying to get into the Ukraine, and because of what I had heard from previous ralliers. Turned out to be a snap getting through though, we were all clear in under three hours, no problems at all. The guy that did our paperwork did ask for a pain-in-the-ass tax from us of $15, but he was a generally nice, young guy, so we decidedto oblige and offload a few of our one dollar bills on him.
Pictures have been posted in the gallery.