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Beastly Blog
Tuesday, 14 December 2004
Ural Challenge
28th November ? 14th December 2004

Moscow ? Suzdal ? Nizny Novogorad ? Cheboksary ? Kazan ? Ufa ? Chelyabinsk - Yekatrinaberg - Chelyabinsk

Apologies for the length of this update but this has been the most surreal few weeks with naked banyas, television interviews, crossing 3 time zones, visits to garages, -25oC temperatures, broken heaters, off road club meets and some of the most amazing and generous people in Russia! As well as the standard stops for corrupt police!

We left Moscow with 2 new additions to our beastly adventure. Galiya (owner of Porga in St Petersburg) and Martia, decided that they wanted to join our expedition to Yekatrinaburg.

The start of December has brought us four Police stops in a day slightly above average. Police stations are noted by an ANC sign at the side of the road and you are warned in advance. The Police stand out in the street with batons lurking in anticipation to flag you down to inspect your documents. The first police stop was an inquisitive cop wanting to know where we were from and going to. The second was not quite so inquisitive and wanted to find any reason to squeeze money out of us. After a few drinks the night before the Beast smelt like a vodka factory, so it was anticipated that the Police would try to breathalise Greg as an option to squeeze funds from our tightly clenched fists. So Greg was dragged into the police station to have a breath test. He was asked to breath into a plastic cup which was then taken off him and smelt by the police man?. The breathaliser! He was then going to get a more advanced breathaliser (probably a bigger cup!) so it was decided that a small ?present? to the police force should be given before a chance was given to say that Greg was over the 0.04% blood/alcohol limit. The third stop involved the policemen asking to see inside the back of the vehicle. Greg couldn?t open the door from outside so asked Adrian to push the door open from inside. Adrian didn?t have his trousers on due to the warmth in the back of the Beast. He went to kick the door open. At the same time Greg was pulling the door open. Greg pulled the door open and was confronted by Adrian?s barely clad arse and two giggling policemen.

Our drive through Russia has allowed us to see the good and the bad side of it as well as a lot of snow! Our first stop in Suzdal saw the temperatures drop to -21oC, quite cold and a poorly Beast who didn?t want to get out of bed until she was dragged by a large lorry half way around Suzdal. Our heater had burnt out and wasn?t working either so driving was not much fun as you would wipe the ice crystals from the windscreen only to be blinded by ice 10 seconds later. Opening the bonnet cover gave us some respite, but the feet of those sitting in the front suffered turning a waxy white colour (the next step black and frostbite!!).

We wizzed our way across Russia travelling from one faceless Soviet town to another, travelling in the darkness due to the mid winter daylight setting in at 3pm. Evening driving took us across the southern Siberian roads where the wind blows the snow across the road in snakes and the sides of the roads vanish into the oblivion. We were covering upto 600km per day, taking us to Chelyabinsk where we arrived at midnight tired and looking forward to bed. We met Galiya?s cousin, Sascha and his friend Alexei expecting to go to his house in Chelyabinsk. Little did we know what was in store for us for the evening. We drove our Beast to a garage that Alexei knew with slight trepidation. The girls had explained a few of our problems and suggested that we get a service done (which although we know how to do a 10,000 mile service it is a bit difficult when all the greasing points are iced up and your fingers feel like they are going to drop off!). We then all piled into a VW people mover and had the pleasure to listen to 2 hours of Russian folk songs played on the accordion by Sascha. We were driven to Yekatrinaberg and then to a supermarket where we got a few provisions. Looking tried and bedraggled and maybe a bit like tramps, we were followed everywhere around the supermarket by the security guards, which all culminated in Alexis being accused of shop lifting!

We then went to Alexei?s house for dinner at 4am! We crawled into bed at 6am after several vodkas. The following day Alexei took us to the location where, in the 1918 revolution, the Bolshevik?s murdered the Romanov?s (the Tsars of Russia) and threw their bodies into a mine poured acid over the top to destroy the bodies. The Russian Orthodox church has constructed several beautiful wooden churches and in one of the churches you can see the bones of the Romanov?s, revered as saints when they were alive.

We were then taken to Revda, a small town outside of Yekatrinaberg where we experienced the real secret Russia with several days of heavy indulgence in vodka, Russian cooking, accordion playing, drop pit toilets and banyas in Sascha and Natasha?s wooden house. Now for those of you that don?t know what a Banya is let me explain. A banya could be considered by some to be a torture room but it is a place for warming yourself up and for many towns in Russia which don?t have in-house running water, a place to have a shower and clean. A banya is a sauna with a difference. Sascha takes the art of banyas to the extreme. There is none of the namby pamby bikini or towel wearing of the western world? no no no you get in there naked. You are then subjected to 80 degree heat as well as being beaten by birch and fir branches. You certainly feel refreshed after running outside into the -15oC temperature and rolling around in the snow. After an amazing walk up into the hills overlooking Revda ,seeing snow rainbows and exploring the pine forests, we bid a sad farewell to the generosity of a wonderful Russian family.

From Sascha?s house we went to the Off Road club in Yekatrinaberg where we sat down to a light lunch expecting to talk to them about the roads in Kazakhstan which were reported to be some of the worst in Central Asia. We didn?t expect the Yekatrinaberg television crew who piled in through the door to talk to us. We explained where we had been, what we had done and the people we had met with poor Martia diligently translating for us. We were then whisked out to a restaurant owned by one of the members of the off road club where we drank more vodka, a local licqueur made from pine kernels and a slightly alcoholic brown liquid made from stewed bread. We also discussed their bid to enter into the Murmansk ? Vladivostock race to be held in early January 2005: 14,000km in 14 days across country. Slightly surreal in that Adrian and Alexis, sitting in the middle of Russia were conducting the whole conversation in Spanish! We were then taken for some late night drinking in the local strip club where several members of the Beast Crew were delighted to have private dance sessions by some of the young ladies and men!
We were delighted to have the pleasure of listening to Vladimir who played us some classic Russian folk songs on the guitar until the early hour of the morning.

After a few days enjoying the hospitality of Alexei and his wife Tanya we headed back to Chelyabinsk to pick up old Beasty. The update told us that we had low gear box oil and all the other oils had been topped up. They told us that the additive (to make unleaded petrol leaded) that we had been putting in had destroyed the carburettor membrane. They were waiting to speak to us in order to help us sort out our problems. We explained to the mechanics where we were going and what we were doing. They mended our heater and bed as well as other little things. We decided that to head to the border would be a bit mad to we decided to stay in Chelyabinsk for the night and take out the manager, Sascha, to say thanks for their help.

The following day brought us more problems. The engine was pinking ? a sign of the valves going. The Russian wet test for compression ? normally using petrol to see if the valves fire - involved putting a flame over the valves to see if it lit! Two valves had burnt out (probably from poor petrol). Health and safety is quite obviously a priority in Russia as the mechanics were smoking whilst draining the fuel from the engine and standing in the pit full of petrol fumes! A set of valves were located from a Volga and lathed down to size, with the mechanics working over the weekend to get her ready. Meanwhile we had to extend our visas in order to stay in the country. Alexei came down to oversee the works and ensure that we could get off on time. He took us to Oleg, the garage owner?s house several km out of Chelyabinsk. We got out of the car to be confronted by several security guards armed with AK47s and edged into Oleg?s house. Oleg is the Russian equivalent of Eddie Stobart, owning a fleet of 140 trucks which are serviced in garages like the one the Beast was in. He also owned 5 aeroplanes and was planning to fly around the world in 2005.

We bid a fond farewell to Galiya and Martia who flew back to St Petersburg leaving us to head for the Kazak border and more adventure. Without them we wouldn?t have discovered our Secret Russia!

Posted by Alexis at 12:01 AM GMT
Updated: Saturday, 25 December 2004 6:36 PM GMT
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