Disclaimer: Due to the number of comments that have been received it has been felt necessary to clarify that this trip is in no way based on "The Long Way Round" which the authors of the trip were not aware and nor was it first broadcast of at the time at which this trip was drunkenly conceived. The authors of this trip would like to distinguish their intended trip from the journey undertaken in "The Long Way Round" in that unlike Charlie Borman and Ewan McGregor they are not experienced riders (they have both only been riding motorbikes for just over one year), they are not receiving sponsorship and they will not have a support crew with them at any point on the journey. Just to avoid any further confusion it has been thought that it would be helpful to point out that Tom Horovitch and Peter Caley are both fictional characters and are not famous film stars.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Pavlodar, Kazakhstan - 6933 miles from London (GMT + 6 hours)

There's a problem. Russian customs notice that the import documents aren't in order and make phone calls.
We were running a couple of minutes late, not good if were had been taking part competitively in the Siberian International Marathon, but as we were merely observers, all it meant was that we heard, but did not see, the start of the race. We were however in time to watch the crowds of runners go through the start point and the start of a number of side races between groups of young school children, Hari Christnas and other unlikely candidates.
P8050136 P8050123
We then wondered around the flower market, which had special anniversary celebration flower displays, stopped to watch a man selling small snakes and to then buy a bust of Lenin (what trip to Russia would be complete without one - in fact this is only one of two physical souvenirs that I have from the country), dropped in to the Museum of Writing to find it was a building site and instead paid a visit to a military museum which was very boring and we ended up just sitting and watching Russians posing in front of military hardware for family photographs. It was a very hot Siberian day, not good for the runners, but a good excuse to go to a bar by the River Irtysh. This is where we met a Russian couple who barely spoke English, but still insisted on buying us beer and food all evening, having numerous pictures taken with us and then, as we were leaving, signing bank notes and presenting one to each of us at the end of the evening to remember them by (this incidentally was how I got my second physical souvenir). These were the last civilians we were to interact with in Russia and, partly because of the alcohol, but mostly because of the hospitality that two strangers, completely unprompted and without the desire for anything in return, showed us, this left me with a warm feeling about the country and its people. We had come across this type of behavior throughout Russia and a reminder of it on the last evening seemed very apt.
The next day wasn't so pleasant. On the Russian side of the Russian / Kazakhstan border we lined up with the truck drivers at the numerous porta-cabins to have our documents inspected. As we thought would happen, at the customs cabin they had immediately and correctly spotted that our import permits for the bikes had expired two weeks earlier. Phone calls were made and the word "problem" used a lot and then we were questioned about why we hadn't taken the bikes out of the country earlier. With gestures, a few words of Russian and some photographs we told a well rehearsed story about the problem with the tire that Peter had in Perm. The problem was acknowledged, but 14 days was pronounced to be an excessive time to sort it out. One of the border guards was then sent outside with us to inspect the bikes. He looked at Peter's old tire, which had been patched up and he was carrying as a spare and an invoice from BMW in Perm, which for some unknown reason referred to the wrong frame number for the bike. This caused confusion which passed about five minutes later and Peter was told that he could go, but that I must stay behind in Russia. This was totally illogical and we realised immediately that this was some sort of game which we knew we had to play. We therefore objected hard to the proposed cause of action and the border guard predictably said that he might be able to help if we were prepared to pay an unofficial fine. We knew it was to be an "unofficial" fine because he put his finger to his lips and said "shhhh". He asked us to make him an offer. We had been prepared for this too and we made our lowest opening offer, 1000 Roubles each (about 40 pounds in total). To our surprise this was accepted which was great news for us, because the actual official cost of extending the permits was considerably more than this. So the import permit saga which had caused us to spend four days in and out of various government offices, to return from Moscow to St Petersburg on a night train and then to race through European Russia had ended in a 40 pound bribe to a Russian border guard! As we have come to learn on this trip, that is the way it goes…
After the one hour closure for lunch, the border reopened and with the correctly stamped Russian paperwork stuffed in our tank bags, we proceeded to the Kazakh side. It immediately felt like we were entering a different country as the border guards were Mongol or Chinese looking.
The Kazakh side of the border
The Kazakh officials took great interest in us and we became a curiosity for a few hours, during which time we were made to unpack the bikes in front of all the other motorists who were proceeding uneventfully through the border. We had to repeatedly answer the same questions in Russian about, among other things, where we were from, where we were going, how much the bikes were worth, how big the engines are and how fast they went. These were questions that, since entering Russia, we had been used to answering up to a dozen times a day when we were on the road. It was all pretty good natured, if not a little humiliating. At one point totally out of the blue I was given a tape of Kazakh music which was a nice surprise. The whole fiasco seemed to come to a sudden end when I was asked what my profession was. When I said that my friend and I were both lawyers, we were told to repack the bikes and one of the Kazakh guards said the words I had been waiting for: "Tom, go Kazakhstan". And I did.
Peter reading The Lonely Planet in Pavlodar
Pavlodar was described in the Lonely Planet as being heavily a industrial town, but we found it to be surprisingly pleasant with a good vibe. The hospitality continued the evening we arrived in a riverside beer tent when a man slammed down a beer and, without making eye contact with either of us, said in English "for you", and walked off. Before leaving town we visited the photography museum dedicated to the work of D.P Bagaev, a local photographer who had lived on the site, but unfortunately much of the museum seemed to have burnt down in a fire caused by a malfunctioning central heating system and as a result we weren't charged for entry. We also conducted an interview for a local newspaper which was set up after a journalist had noticed the bikes outside the hotel. Leaving Pavloldar, we headed east bound for Semey, a place we had been concerned about during the planning stage of the trip due to 467 nuclear tests carried out by the Russians just outside the town in an area known as the Polygon between 1949 and 1991. Lake Balapan within the Polygon is a 400m wide, 800m deep crater left by a 130 kiloton nuclear explosion and since filled with water. Radiation in the lake is meant to be 200 times the national average. Apparently Semey’s local hospitals still struggle to cope with local residents who still suffer as a result of these tests.
Written by Tom

Kazahkstan calling; will you accept the charges?
We now both have Kazakh mobile numbers:
Tom: 0077 0576 67714;
Peter: 0077 0576 67712
The cost of calling the UK from these is extortionate and using my Orange SIM it is one pound seventy five a minute. If you want to call us, a service called Telediscount offer calls to Kazakh mobile numbers for 10 pence a minute. Just dial 0871 999 28 28 and then enter the mobile number. It is very simple. Their web-site explains more: www.telediscount.co.uk/index2.php

I have a Skype account but I don't yet understand how to use it.
My Skype address: tom_skype_phone


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