On the last few kilometers to the russian border, the condition of the military main road from Stepantsminda is getting from bad to worse. Luckily we also have less rain the more we ride out of the Caucasus area. Right before the russian border we face a road work, where the trucks have a hard time to drive past. So we have to wait quite a while, before we are able to continue. The georgian customs is very easy. However on the russian side we have to wait in a huge queue as a start. Dozens of “important “customs officers walk around everywhere, but that doesn’t seem to affect the lenght of the queue. Usually we try to travel without any prejudice, but this place suddenly matches all the rumours about this country perfectly. Lots of people with a tough face and it is strongly adviceable not to question anything. After more than an hour we are commanded in a building. A cleaning lady has just wiped the floor and we unfortunately make a big mess with our muddy boots again – but neither the grumpy officer, nor the cleaning lady care a straw about that. They check and stamp our documents and it already seems like we are finished soon. We were wrong – our bikes still have to go though customs.
We get a new, older and obviously very important officer, to bring us to another building. We have to fill out a new form for the bikes. Unfortunately it is written in cyrillic and he is not able to speak a single word in English, of course. He points to a note on the wall, which is a sample of the cyrillic document and some English scribbles. So we end up with a group of travellers and try to complete our forms with a mixture of the sample’s gibberish and a guessing game. The officer becomes even more grumpy, when none of us has a pen and he has to organise one.
Afterwards they guide us to a small hut. We have to wait another 20 minutes, since the officer there is very busy playing with his smartphone. He finally just informs us, that we need duplicate copies of our form. So we walk back to the other building, ask again for pens (that didn’t put the officer in a better mood) and fill in a duplicate. This country probably doesn’t know carbon copies yet and the copier in the back is not for tourists.
When we return to Mr. Smartphone, the computers are suddenly not working anymore. So they just bring us to a queue with at least 50 people waiting at the departure side of the customs. We are ordered to stay exactly at this place and that’s what we are doing for the next 2 hours, till something is happening again.
A small counter window has opened and dozens of people try to be the first to hand in their documents. We also line up, although several truckers assert that we are wrong. The officer is seriously stressed and starts shouting at us every time we try to hand in our papers. Eventually a border guard notices our situation and is willing to help us. He takes a look at our forms and – what a surprise! – we have the wrong documents. Therefore we return to the first building, where we meet two malaysian tourists that have started loosing faith, too. This time a sample doesn’t exist, but the young soldier manages to help us – with hardly any English, in duplicate copies and only one pen for the whole group, of course.
Afterwards we return to Mr. Smartphone, where the computers seem to work again. We have to compete with dozens of pushing truckers one more time and finally, after “only” 4 hours, we are able to enter Russia.
The landscape gets more and more unspectacular while leaving the Caucasus area. In Vladikavkaz we start to ride eastwards. The only exciting occurrence left, are the regular police check posts and the fact that we are riding through Chechnya in the moment. Every once in a while we get stopped by heavily armed officers and we enter a container office to present our documents. Nobody speaks English and the only thing we hear quite often, are the german words “Hitler kaputt, Stalin kaputt – höhö”. (Hitler broken, Stalin broken – *laughing*). That’s really a place for profound conversations.
We start getting tired, so we decide to take a hostel in Grozny, the capital of Chechnya. This area doesn’t seem to have many tourists, since everybody starts honking as soon as they notice us. That doesn’t make Grozny’s traffic very relaxing. The city looks quite modern, but there are almost no people on the streets. We don’t know if this is normal, or it is because of Ramadan. Grozny doesn’t offer many hostels, so we just grab the first cheap one with separated bedrooms for male and female. The owner looks like a perverted nerd. He can speak English though, continously rails at the muslims living in this region and proclaims, how hard his life is because of that. The hostel is situated in the topmost floor of the building and is secured by a massive steel gate in the stairway. Our order is to return before 11 pm – otherwise the gate is closed and we can sleep outside.
We are starving, but it is really hard to find a restaurant in a non-touristy, muslim city during Ramadan before sunset. We can only find a russian Burger King and we are the only customers, of couse. The menu is in cyrillic, nobody speaks english and we also can’t really identify the images. The only words we can roughly read are something like “Porn Shock” (роли люкс), so Miriam orders two “Porn Shock” menus. I guess, you can probably imagine the faces of the female employees. However after some shyly laughter we finally get something to eat after a long day. We later found out, that these cyrillic words mean “Royal Deluxe” by the way.
The next morning we leave towards Astrakhan. The landscape turns into a steppe first and finally into a desert. The amount of police check posts decreases as well, but an annoying crosswind suddenly comes up. We are riding straight ahead for hundreds of kilometers and there is nothing to see – not even traffic. It is still very exhausting though, since the road has sometimes 30 cm (12 inch) deep groves caused by the trucks and the heat.
In the middle of nowhere we reach another check post. After the ordinary procedure we pass the check post at the opposite side of the road a few hundred meters later. For any reason we also have a stop sign on our side of the road. An officer is spinning his truncheon like crazy (whatever that means?) and we start to stop, since we don’t want to receive another ticket like in Georgia before. A few seconds later an enraged police cur starts running towards us like hell and doesn’t look very friendly. I’m a bit confused and unsure, if I should follow the stop sign or rather accelerate to escape from the beast. I decide to stop, since I assume the officer can recall his dog. Unfortunately I was wrong and the god damn fucking cur lock jaws into my left boot. I almost come off my motorcycle, but manage to accelerate again, while my left pannier pushes the beast aside until it has to let go. Luckily nothing serious happened – only my little toe got bruised and my boot got pierced. I had to repair it with some seam grip to make it waterproof again.
We decide to ride all the way to Astrakhan in one go. There is absolutely nothing to see on the whole route. When we reach Astrakhan the air is full of insects and it has become dark already. While Miriam is asking for a hotel room, I have to do a photo shooting with two insanely drunken couples. In the end of the day we are completely wasted, sleep in very a pink room and meet the first russian person, that can speak English properly. We stay for two nights to have a little rest after that trip.
The next day we go for a walk through the city and try to organise motorcycle tyres without any success. For the first time on our trip, it is hard to get contact to people – everything is very “russian”.
We are happy to leave to Kazakhstan now, so we have only spent three days in Russia. Probably the russian part of the Caucasus area would have been nice with better weather. The area between the Caucasus and Astrakhan is not even worth mentioning. The people were neither friendly nor unfriendly. However, unless you are not very much into police check posts, you can happily ignore this part of the world. Therefore we also can’t provide many photos.