Bored of Borders

We left Fedosiya at the break of day at 8:15 and headed into the unknown – the border with Russian Federation. No one knew, how long we will have to wait in line, how many papers we’ll have to sign and if the border patrol will let us through with the two gas tanks in the back of our van. In other words, we were completely ready for anything that could come our way. When the cyclists started to push their pedals, the temperature was 10 degrees below zero and a mild sidewind was poking their left cheek, but the road was clear of foreign substances – not at all a bad start of the day. Our route took us along the coastline of the Black sea, which looked a bit lonely with no sunshades and vacationers, only seagulls crying in the air. As the day grew older, the sun pulled the thermometer bar to the +3 mark and started to defrost the snowbanks making the road sweat a little for the first time during the last 14 days. To tell you the truth, the first part of the day was so easy and uninteresting, that Roberts asked Aigars to tell him a joke, any joke, just to spice things up a notch. The interesting part of the day started after 112 kilometers, when we reached the Port of Crimea and the border of Ukraine and Russian Federation. So, everything started at 14:00. Following the instructions of a uniformed guy we bought ferry tickets for us and the van and parted our ways with Aigars – he drove the van to the customs control, but the rest of us entered the port on foot with the bikes by their side. Less than hundred meters from the gate Karlis B. gave a good-by kiss to the Ukrainian land marking the end of our route through this country. Surprise, surprise – by the gate the ticket-controller refused us passage, because we didn’t have tickets for the bikes. After a quick run to the ticket counter we got into the customs zone. Everybody got through with no hustle except for me – I had to withstand a five minutes long staring contest with the ladies behind the glass until they decided, that I look kind of alike with the bearded guy in my passport picture. After a half hour long enjoyment of the open style docks we finally got on the ferry to Russia. Interestingly enough the ferry was made in Riga ship-building factory in the far 1953. After we filled out the very small and official migration cards, at 16:05 the ferry arrived at Caucasus port and spat out a load of people, who actually ran down the trap and into the customs office. When we got to the sausage line, we understood what the fuss was all about. Slow is one way of describing the border crossing experience in Caucasus port. While Aigars was loading out the contents of our van and the pedalers were waiting in line with their bikes, I was invited to have a private chat in one of the small offices in the back of the waiting-room. The guys in civil clothing were very friendly and maybe even too friendly. They asked all of the usual questions about the reason of the visit, the vehicle, traveling companions, destination etc. But they asked them several times over and over again using different wording and with the questions leading me to the wrong answers. At some point I realized, that this is not a friendly conversation, but a carefully performed interrogation, and it seemed that the most suspicious thing about our group was the lack of spectators’ passes that allow to enter the security perimeter around Sochi. At last the officers suggested that we turn back, get on the ferry and head back to Ukraine to get the fan pass and then return here. The suggestion stroke me as strange since the spectator pass is available through the Internet and getting it has nothing to do with returning to Ukraine, so I tried to find the reason, why we cant get into Russia. After some chatting it turned out, that there is none. When we finally got to this conclusion, the guys gave me back my passport and kindly showed me the way into the Russian Federation. I’m still confused about the reason of this particular conversation and don’t really know, if the chatty officer was making actual notes or drawing circles in his notepad. But in the end it doesn’t matter, because I got through. When I got to the other side, Aigars and the cyclists were still waiting for the passage. Next came the cyclists, who had gone through with no problems, apart for waiting in the slow line for a couple of hours. Aigars, however, was not so fortunate. Because of some missing papers, the lady behind the small window refused to let the van through – the warrant was not good enough for her. After a couple of minutes the officer found a solution – the one missing document could be replaced by three new forms. The only problem was that these forms had to be filled out in Russian, which is not Aigars second language. Sure, he made some spelling and grammar mistakes, but somehow he managed to fill out the requested forms and get the van through. Because of the time difference we had lost 2 hours, so, when we finally got out of the borderland, the correct time was 22:30. Nice time for continuing the ride to the hotel 90 kilometers away. The pedalers got back on their bikes and dived into the Russian night. After no more than 11 kilometers we had to search for our passports again, because we passed the first police station in Russia and the officers wanted to redo the work already done at the border control point. The policemen took our passports and documents of the van and left us on the chilly road for a while. One of their own was trying to speed up his colleagues, by stating the obvious, “Get it done faster! The guys are freezing here.” And it worked. We got our papers back and rejoined with the dark road followed by the best wishes of the policemen. Honestly, based on the usual horror stories about the Russian police force we were ready for a bit different welcome and we have to admit that sometimes it’s good to be wrong. The pedalers had pushed for 35 kilometers on the Russian soil, when at 23:30 (local time) they decided, that it’s enough for today, and we drove the final stretch together in the van.

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