14 Aug, 2009
Posted by: Scott In: The Rally
We headed towards Astrakhan, the last major city in Russia before the border. Again, we were routed through the city, this time during rush hour. Outside of the city we ended up going over an interesting floating bridge where we had to pay a toll to cross. We were stopped for the fiftieth time by AK-47 welding border security guards because of our lack of a front license plate. After a brief explanation of how we don’t have front plates in Michigan, they let us go. Note to anyone planning on doing the rally with a US car–make sure you have a front license plate. It’s quite a pain getting stopped all the time.
The border crossing took a few hours but was relatively hassle-free. There were three other teams waiting to cross and we decided to band together for the time being. The first customs guy asked me where I was from. I replied Detroit and he said “Oooh…gangster city. Eminem! Respect!”, as he bumped his fist against his chest. It was pretty amusing. I made the small mistake of driving my car out of customs before my papers were stamped properly (every border crossing is a five or six part process–the paperwork involved is amazing), and one of the border guards who spoke English acted like it was a big deal and made me drive my car back. “You broke a big law, this is serious,” he said. “What can we do to make this go away?” I hemmed and hawwed a bit but because his English was so good it was hard to get around the fact that he wanted a bribe. I also wanted to catch up to the other teams and get moving before nightfall, so I bargained the bribe down from $50 to $28 and handed it over. I tried to give him all one dollar bills but he said those were worthless…ended up getting rid of $8 worth of them on him though!
It was already nightfall by the time we all had our paperwork finished, insurance purchased, and money changed. We were all pretty exhausted. We decided to search for a place to camp, as the next city wasn’t for a ways and the roads were pretty bad. We went a few minutes and found a dirt road that led into a field. The ground wasn’t totally dry and there were quite a few bugs, but we decided to set up camp anyway. We cooked our meals and sat around in our camping chairs when a car pulled off the road and drove straight for us. I was thinking it was the land owner, but it was actually just two teenagers that saw our lights and came over to see what was up. Imagine doing that in the U.S.! It looked like they had just gotten done swimming in some nearby creek and they were very interested in what we were doing. We all took a picture together and then they were back on their way. The next morning we were woken up when a herd of cows came over to graze. We were then off to Atyrau, Kazakhstan.
Pictures have been posted in the gallery.