19.04.09 Tekos, Russia
My day began in the Hotel Kerch by taking advantage of the finest shower I had found in the Ukraine. This was followed by an hour or so to take advantage of the wireless internet in the hotel lobby. I was paying up for these things, so I might as well use them I figured.
Eventually, after my complimentary omelette breakfast, I packed up the bike and headed out towards the ferry to Russia, 15 km out of town.
I arrived at the port at 10:00, only to learn there was a ferry at 10:15, but the customs and immigration process for that boat had closed and the next one was at 1:15pm. Bad start to the day. Wasting 3 hours at a sleepy Ukranian ferry port was not something I was looking forward to. I found the ticket office … it would cost me about 3 EUR for me and 4 EUR for the motorcycle. I returned to the motorcycle to get my documents to find a traffic police officer waiting for me. I had apparently crossed a railway crossing with a flashing red light 500 yards before the port, and he was determined to nail me for my last 500 yards in the Ukraine.
The customs guys came over to see what the fuss was about, thought my motorcycle was pretty cool and pleaded with the traffic cop to let it go, but the cop was having none of it. It took about an hour to write out my ticket in duplicate, write out the penalty in duplicate and for me to go the the bank, change money, pay the 32 EUR penalty, get a receipt from the bank, get a receipt from the cop etc etc etc. About 50 forms and an hour later and he was done. After he was gone, I bought my ferry ticket and spent my last 3-4 EUR worth of Ukranian Hryvna on fruit juice and bounty bars. Having seen me go through all the drama with the traffic cop, the customs and immigration guys were apologetic and sped me thru to wait for the arrival of the 1:15 ferry.
The ferry eventually loaded up and pulled out about 2pm … which translated to 3pm in Russia … the Russian port of Port Kavkaz was an hour ahead of the Ukranian Port Krym. The crossing was only 20-30 minutes, but I wondered when I would clear the Russian port, bearing in mind I was arriving at 3:30pm. To my pleasant surprise, the Russian side was far more efficient than my arrival in the Ukraine at Reni 8 days ago. Immigration only looked at my passport for a minute (unlike the 15 minutes of scrutinising every stamp and every blank page that the Ukranians did). As for customs, a kind motherly woman shepherded me thru the whole process, and tho she spoke no English, helped me fill out the forms and arranged my insurance. Note for budding travellers … Russia accepts the Green Card insurance set up too these days and they actually asked for it … implying they would have happily honoured it. As I didnt have that I took 5 month insurance for about 50 EUR. That should cover my whole travels in Russia.
I was out of the port and on the road by 4:15pm. I was amazed at how relatively efficient it had been, particularly compared with the awkward guy I dealt with at Reni, who I suspect was awkward because he wanted a bribe. In contrast the Russians were relatively efficient. I had met a couple of guys on the ferry deck, one of whom was on my route and invited me to stay with him that night, 300 km down the road. He gave me his phone number, but now that I was out of the port, I called it, and it seems I had the wrong number. Oh well.
15 km down the road from the port and I stopped at a police checkpoint to have my documents checked for the first time in the trip. A quick glance at the International Driving Permit (IDP), the International Certificate for Motor Vehicles (ICMV) and my Passport and he waved me on my way. No long lingering glances or shaking of the head implying problems (really implying bribe time) … so far I was glad to be out of Ukraine and into the relative civility of Russia. Even the roads were better here.
I motored thru the summer resort city of Anapa, then the major industrial centre and port city of Novorossiysk before finding another great road south from Gelendzhik. The road was not busy and wound past valley streams and really quaint villages. Immediately I began to think of camping for the night. It was after 7:30pm now and the sunlight was just about gone. A few km past the village of Tekos, I saw a campfire next to a cottage up on the hill. I slammed on the brakes and rode up the dirt track to the cottage. Around the fire were 7 or 8 Kolkhozniki – guys who worked together on a small communal farm. They told me to forget the idea of camping as it was too cold in the night, and to stay in the cottage instead.
In the soviet times, farms were either of the Kolkhoz or Sovkhoz variety. The Sovkhoz farms were fully state owned and run and larger, while the Kolkhoz farms were semi private, smaller and the kolkhozniki (people who worked the kolkhoz) had to provide a set amount of produce to the government – the remainder was theirs. The ultimate Soviet idea was to move everything over to the sovkhoz style farms, but successive soviets realised the partially privatised kolkhoz farms were far more efficient and never got around to sovkhozing the lot.
The kolkhozniki plied me with chai (tea) plov (meat and rice) and stories. Let me digress from the story here for a second. I will post a picture of my meal. Partly to show how simple life is in a kolkhoz and partly because I have recently received a request from a “high ranking official” to post more pictures of food. Apparently a picture that doesnt include food or a motorcycle is a wasted picture. Yes, I know what you are thinking, this sounds like a man with some strange fetishes, and you are probably right, but never-the-less, I feel obliged to honour the request – thus the picture of Kolkhoz dining service plov above. Gordon Ramsay eat your heart out baby.
For a cityboy, this was an evening out of a fairytale for me. I was in the foothills of the Caucasus mountains, set in wild forested hills, clear water streams in a small cabin / cottage with the kind of guys who more than any I have ever met, are the real salt of the earth. These guys had very little in the way of posessions, but beamed happiness at having all they need. All the fruit, vegetables etc they need come from the kolkhoz, and its all very fresh. They also kept bees and cut some huge chunks of fresh honeycomb for me. very tasty. Many of the kolkhozniki lived in nearby villages and went home about 10pm, leaving me in the company of a family from Dagestan who lived permanently in the cottage. As is typical of Dagestan, the family was completely mixed ethnically. The father was Tatar, the mother Russian, the son and daughter mixed and the daughters boyfriend was Tabasaran. They set me up in a small room complete with power socket to recharge all my phones, laptop etc etc. Fantastic stuff.
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I woke up after a fantastic nights sleep, on a very dodgy bed, was cooked breakfast and chai by Mama-san, and packed up my gear and hit the road down to Tuapse, before I turned inland and through the mountains. The road from my overnight kolkhoz to Tuapse was by the coast and motels and restaurants lined the route, tho many were not yet open at this time of year. By mid-May it would be really easy to have a wide choice of places to stay if motorcycling in these parts.
I needed to change some USD, as I only had a couple of hundred rubles on me, and I would soon need some fuel. Perhaps tonight I would also want a hotel and some food. It was sunday and the policeman I spoke to in Tuapse said there was nothing open today, and tomorrow is a holiday. I was unlikely to last till Tuesday without rubles, so needed to find something. The cop said it was possible I would find something open in Maykop, the next big town I was heading thru, and though it would be a stretch for the fuel tank, I had a few rubles with which to top up with if things got close. So I turned inland and headed for Maykop. The road was another great riding road. In fact I will add the whole section from Gelendzhik – Tuapse – Apsheronsk to the recommended roads section. It was through forested hills, following mountain streams the whole way. It really fitted in with the whole back to nature feel I had since arriving in Russia.
One of the things I love about this country is it has so much wilderness and nature, and the Russians love that and use it. People are always out picnicing in the forest. There are a little more than 2 times as many people in Russian as in the UK, in a country hundreds of times the size. There was no real chance to shower with the kolkhozniki, and having seen their latrine, I decided to wait a while and find my own location somewhere down the road. Being in the forest and the mountains, hundreds of opportunities persented themselves and eventually I turned off the road, down a track that led just 30 or 40 yards through the forest to a mountain stream. There is something “back to nature” about taking a dump in the woods. Maybe I have been cooped up in the city too long, but that and washing in a mountain stream, on the rocks, in the sunshine, in the forest, was extremely liberating. I had only been in Russia less than 24 hours, but the whole exposure to nature has been incredibly uplifting.
After my little break, I got back on the road, got to Maykop, which is the capital of the Adegey Republic, one of many semi-autonomous republics for the many nationalities in the North Caucasus. I found an open “obmen valuti” (currency exchange booth) in the centre of town, just as my fuel warning light came on and got myself some much needed rubles. Apart from topping up with fuel, I also took the chance to grab some lunch and chat with an Adegey father and daughter who had also stopped at the same Shaurma stall. I only went another 40 km out of town, where I saw a modern looking hotel. It was only 4:15pm but I thought I might as well have an early day.
I was the only guest in the hotel, so could afford to take a bed in a shared room knowing I would have the room to myself. It was only 8 EUR, and had a nice open fireplace. Allegedly it had internet and a sauna too, but the internet was only for the expensive rooms (more like 45 EUR). And the Sauna took 3 hours to heat up so they decided not to turn it on for a cheapskate in a shared room. I chatted with the receptionist, a cossack girl, about Adegeya.
Historically the cossacks were native Ukrainian horsemen who were loyal to the Russian Tsars and were instumental in the expansion of the Russian empire. The Tsar had promised them land just North of the Caucasus and the cossacks went in and took it, pushing the native peoples up into the hills and mountains. Accordingly the cossacks and the North Caucasian nationalities have historically been on opposing teams, and that history seemed to remain in the receptionist who clearly had no intention of mixing with the Adegey, despite being born here and having lived here all her life. She didnt go to Maykop when she wanted the big city shopping trip, but to Krasnodar, an ethnic Russian city 4 times further away. “Too many Adegey in Maykop” she said.
A note for travellers to Russia / Kazakhstan … the russian words for Cossack (pronounced kaZAK) and Kazakh (pronounched kaZAKH – with the KH being like the gutteral ending to the scottish ‘loch’) are remarkably similar for two completely unrelated peoples. If you dont make the effort to clarify the ending and say the work ‘Kazakh’ as we often do in english, you will likely be confused as to meaning Cossack. Similarly, the words for a female of each is also remarkably similar. A female cossack is a ‘kaZATCHka’ while a female kazakh is a ‘kaZASHka’.
As I suspected, post oil and tyre change fuel economy on the bike has returned to normal levels, around 25 km / litre (4l/100 km or 70 mpg). I filled up earlier today with 20 litres, having just done 500 km, much on twisty mountain roads.