In the morning we were pleasantly surprised that the trucks had been perfectly safe, and the lads had had a good night’s sleep. We left at 07:45, and after some terrible roads past countless mines arrived at the Russian border at border at 9am and got our best news so far no queue! There were two trucks waiting to go in, and only half a dozen on the exit side, very quiet. Our fixer was there and guided us through the formalities. We were ushered into the customs compound and sat looking into no mans land for 3hrs. In between the borders we could see around 40 trucks, on both sides, and hoped we wouldn’t have to sit in there too. We settled down to read, chat, and make coffee and Pot Noodles.
On a couple of occasions we were entertained by the soldiers rush into the adjacent fields, guns brandished. Both times the overweight guards came panting back empty-handed, either the quarry had escaped or they were false alarms. A solitary soldier guarded the exit barrier, and had a semi automatic rifle, and a Stinger to go with his flimsy barrier. At one point he received a radio call, and rushed off to his hut to change his blue woolly hat for his official uniform furry hat, which was obviously not as comfortable. Maybe an officer was coming, but after an hour he sneakily donned his woolly one again, and seemed happier. I asked if there was a toilet available, and when I indicated it was only for a pee he pointed at the fence by the truck, he wouldn’t let me use his Portaloo. A soldier was busy ‘sweeping’ dirt around with an old-fashioned ‘witches broom’ in a futile attempt to keep the crossing clear of dust! Once through we drove directly to the Russian border, our fixer tagging along, and we had to go through the same rigmarole again. Entertainment was provided by two Serbian trucks with tilt trailers, who had been refused entry as their loads had shifted on the terribly paved roads and were bulging out of the tilts. One backed up at a 90 degree angle to the others trailer, and proceeded to reverse into the other, trying to ram the load back into place! Amazing to watch, imagine this happening at Dover? After 5 hours we were cleared to exit.
We had been told we would have an escort car in Russia, but nobody was waiting for us, so Bryan and Rich decided to go on our own, again I was apprehensive. After 2km we were stopped at a police checkpoint, here we go I thought, I knew we should be escorted. The policeman asked if we were English. After Bryan replied ‘Yes’ he spouted off English words, smiling. ‘Churchill, Bentley, you have Bentley?’ He clearly didn’t understand ATA carnets so he waved us off with a smile. Once we were clear of the first few villages and onto the motorway the roads very good, mostly dual carriageway and in good condition, amazing really. We made good progress, keeping pace with the more modern European trucks while avoiding coughing, struggling Kamaz and Maz belching out black smoke. Every now and then we would pull into lane one and let a flying Kenworth or Freightliner whizz past, and we commented it would have been a whole lot slower had we been escorted.
After some time we skirted Rostov-on-Don which looked very modern with brightly lit streets and buildings, and very Western brand names such as McDonalds and Ikea. Once past Rostov our progress was slowed a little due to new motorways under construction but a reasonable pace was maintained. When we were around half an hour from Krasnodar we were pulled over at a police checkpoint. As we were driving Kevin and I were asked to take our documents over to the police hut, we suspected we were about to be relieved of some money for a fictitious traffic offence. The policeman noted down in a large log our vehicle and personal details and our destination. We had driven over a weighbridge as we entered the checkpoint and this was noted in the book too. He then tried to enter the information into an archaic looking computer, but when it refused to work he gave up. He tried to understand the ATA Carnet, scratched his head and gave up. Then in very broken English he asked if we had any souvenirs, T-shirt, hats? When we said no he wondered if we had any English or American money we could give him, but as we had none on us and couldn’t be bothered to go and find some in the trucks, said no, to which he seemed very disappointed. He then proceeded to fetch some plain paper, and drew us directions to the venue in Krasnodar which was a real help. He then shook hands with us and bade us farewell. We were most surprised at how friendly he was, as was Brian when I related the tale once back in the cab. We followed his directions which were very accurate and were shortly parked up at the impressive looking new arena in the very north of the town. After a celebratory beer we ordered a taxi to our hotel and left Brian and Rich to carry on celebrating!
We had 3 days in Krasnodar meaning we all got a 45 hour break. The time was spent exploring the city, which to be honest didn’t take very long. It’s not at all pretty, and not a lot to see at all. We did get a taxi to the reputedly largest shopping centre in Russia that was on the outskirts of the city and spent a day there. I managed to buy a proper Russian fur hat that was well needed, as although it was sunny it was still very cold. When we got to the trucks on the night of the show we found we had to travel to Rostov-on-Dom on the crew coach, as the local promoter wanted to travel with the trucks to guide them into the venue. On the way out of the city we overtook the trucks which had been pulled into the same police check that had collared us on the way down! The journey to Rostov took 4 hours, and we were dropped at the crew hotel in the very early hours. We had to get a taxi to our hotel, and spent a good couple of hours trying to persuade the receptionist we were booked in. However, due to an oversight we were too early, i.e. before midday and she was reluctant to let us into our rooms as we had to pay for an extra day, and although we assured her when people woke later in the day in England we could arrange it she still did not want to do it. The situation wasn’t helped by her drunk brother who arrived driving a car and immediately wanted to be our best friend and ply us with drink. In the end we had to leave a deposit of our own money just so we could get to bed as we had to drive that night.
We returned to the trucks at 10pm, and by 11pm we were ready to leave. Most of the load had to go to Moscow airport to be flown elsewhere, and the remainder had to go back to Switzerland and a few pieces to Sheffield. Brian loaded all the stuff for the airport, and after we were unloaded we were to take the Switzerland gear from Rich, leaving him with just Sheffield to tip. We decided we would transfer the remaining gear after Moscow so that we would have some goods on each truck going through the border into Latvia so as not to confuse the customs men, and it would also give us a little weight at the front of the trucks for traction should the snow come down. It was still freezing cold and it was now raining. We weaved our way out of the city to the motorway, 2 lane of course, and passed countless prostitutes with umbrellas and wellington boots.
An hour from the city we found a DKV garage and filled our tanks, which was a slow process as they only had one pump. While we were filling we swapped the digi cards over. Shortly after leaving we came across a horrendous crash involving two trucks, one of them had the cab ripped off the chassis mounts. We had seen the police on the opposite side of the motorway rushing to it so we went around it and continued, this was the first of many crashes we would see throughout the night, the Russians don’t do night driving very well. The roads were reasonable enough, still all dual carriageway except for several very long stretches of single track through road works where they were updating the motorway. In places there was snow on the ground but we had been lucky so far. I jumped in the bunk for a snooze and when I woke Bryan tells me I missed a large section of new motorway, no wonder I slept so well, and it’s now -7 degrees C. I take over for a drive and there are the aftermath of several accidents on the road, one car rolled over and lots more in collisions, driving at night is risky here. On the outskirts of Moscow we came across a new paege, we’ve never seen a paege before in Russia, and quite clearly neither had many of the locals judging by the queues and confusion that was being caused. We had to place 120RR in a tray which was slid back in and out again with our receipt on it. We arrived at a garage near Moscow airport in the early afternoon and phoned our contact Andre to tell him we had arrived at the arranged meeting point. Although we were due to unload the following morning we were told today would be ok. Andre turned up about an hour later in his car and we followed him to the cargo terminal at the airport. Now I have done air freight work in England, and it’s a big pain due to security, and id badges etc. However, we drove up to the barrier, Andre said something to the guards and we were waved through! We found the shed that served as the cargo terminal and backed up to a door. Within a few minutes the airport handlers arrived and helped us roll the flight cases out of the trailer via our own ramp. We were tipped and ready to go within an hour, no fuss, no security checks on us, no bother, and a bonus was it had warmed up to +4 degrees C for the unload.
On the way into the airport area we had spotted a garage the trucks could park at for the night, so we headed for that, and when we met Rich we backed up to his back doors. Unfortunately the padlock on Rich’s truck was frozen solid, so Rich sprayed some WD40 onto the lock and set light to it, and after a few seconds had to beat the flames out with a rag! Not to be tried at home folks, but it worked! We had been told that if we wanted a fixers help at the border going home, we would have to be escorted between Moscow and the border as so far we hadn’t used the escort services the company provides, so they had lost a lot of money. Reluctantly we agreed, and our escort car arrived that evening, even though we weren’t going for 9 hours yet, he was going to sleep in his jeep! He was one of the regular escort drivers we have and is very good, and he said he would give Kevin and I a lift to the airport hotel and collect us again at 4am to return us to the trucks. As we left in his jeep, using one of the ramps Brian and Rich transferred the Swiss cargo onto Brian’s truck before getting some sleep.
- A New/Different Russia? – Part 1 by Nick Ireland (truckblog.co.uk)