Russia #1 – Arriving in Siberia – November 2014

February 15, 2019

Our emergency trip back to Ulaanbaatar, (the capital of Mongolia), to pick up repair suspension parts from Hellwig and get the necessary visas and extensions had been fun and interesting, but it definitely threw a wrench into our expected travel plans. We had hoped to drive back to the capital on the spectacular road we had followed to reach Olgii, stop at some ger (yurt) summer camps, and then head south and west again to cross the Central Gobi Desert.

Most of the Russian highways were in excellent condition.

Most of the Russian highways were in excellent condition.

Now, our visas for Mongolia were running out and winter was approaching rapidly. With all the repairs made, we decided to turn north to cross into Russia. Reports of that road had been good or not so good. After waiting for a change of guard and lunch hour to pass, crossing the border was slow but relatively easy except for paying a fine at the Mongolian border for Gary being late in registering at an immigration office.

Crossing the Mongolian-Russian Border

And then, an officer suddenly asked to see our insurance papers. At the entry port, no one required it. Quick thinking. Monika flashed her AAA card and claimed it was our international insurance that covered Mongolia. Quite surprised they thought it was a credit card. Oh no, it’s our insurance card. Baffled, they let us go. Entering Russia was efficient and uneventful.

Arriving in Rubtsovsk, there was no doubt that winter had arrived. Almost always below freezing.

Arriving in Rubtsovsk, there was no doubt that winter had arrived. Almost always below freezing.

The drive north along the beautiful Chuya River was relaxing after our trip across the Northern Gobi but first, we had to stop in Kosh-Agach. We had stumbled into this fly-spec of a town in 1996 on our way across the mountains of Tuva and the Altai Republic. Its personality had not changed in 18 years, and as our Lonely Planet’s 1996 addition of Russia, Ukraine & Belarus guide book clearly pointed out, Kosh-Agach was “in the middle nowhere”. Kosh-Agach is the driest inhabited place in the Russian Federation. 

Arriving in Rubstovsk, Altai Republic

We spent some wonderful evenings with our old friends. Thanks to Vitali who is fluent in English, the conversations flowed easily. We had much to catch up. Left to right, Svetlana, Vitaly, yours truly, Nina and Losha.

We spent some wonderful evenings with our old friends. Thanks to Vitali who is fluent in English, the conversations flowed easily. We had much to catch up. Left to right, Svetlana, Vitaly, yours truly, Nina and Losha.

Our old friends, Vitaly and Losha, in the city of Rubtsovsk, had emailed that they could help us with a second problem. Due to an unsigned agreement between Russia and Switzerland & Germany, residents of those two countries could not apply for the normal one-month visa outside their home country or country of residence. All Monika could get was a ten-day transit visa with her Swiss passport. Great, except it was about 4,000 miles east to our destination of Vladivostok on the Pacific Coast, and by the way, it was winter in Siberia, and we were driving, not flying!

Famous Russian Hospitality

Arriving in Rubtsovsk we were met with typical Russian hospitality. Losha’s wife, Nina, was busy making fresh crêpes with homemade jam. Losha had just left for a fishing trip to nearby Kazakhstan but turned right around and was back the next day. No one had ever dreamt of us returning someday. We immediately felt like we were back home! 

Since Vitaly wasn't there to translate, Mr. Google came up with some really strange interpretations of our text.

Since Vitaly wasn’t there to translate, Mr. Google came up with some really strange interpretations of our text.

After several phone calls by Vitaly and his wife Svetlana, who knew someone in the local immigration office, they filled out a flurry of paperwork, took Monika to a passport photo studio and a bank to pay fees. Unfortunately, the immigration office in Rubtsovsk did not have the authority to give her an extension so Vitaly was kind enough to call ahead to Barnaul, the capital of Altai, to advise them when we were coming and that they needed to have an English speaking person at the desk. He later set up another appointment in Chita, as we needed more time to cross the vast expanse of wintry Siberia.

Invigorating Banyas and Wonderful Parties

To present a man a knife is highly revered in Russia. Gary let the three guys pick a knife from his stash of gifts.

To present a man a knife is highly revered in Russia. Gary let the guys pick a knife from his stash of gifts.

While all this was being done we had a great visit with several old friends and enjoyed an invigorating Russian “banya”, (sauna), wonderful food and, well, it was Russia, a little vodka. Only our generous 1996 hosts, Loriss and Larisa, were sadly missing. Loriss had passed away several years ago and Larisa now lives with her daughter in Yekaterinenburg. The pleasure of seeing each other again was huge for all of us and brought back wonderful memories of Autumn mushroom hunting & campfire cook-outs, fishing excursions, rafting on the Katun river, saunas and jumping in a cold creek or a red heart shaped bathtub, and the most fabulous birthday party anyone had ever thrown for Monika (yup, here we go again). They were all members of a club called the “Rubtsovsk Tourist Club” where families got together and were involved in many different outdoor activities. 

Open Markets and new Super Markets

Ana is quite a performer. She takes dancing and singing lessons and competes successfully in beauty/talent competitions.

Ana is quite a performer. She takes dancing and singing lessons and competes successfully in beauty/talent competitions.

A couple of trips to the local open market with Vitaly, acting as our guide and chauffeur, brought pleasant memories and having been in Muslim countries for much of the last year, we were happy to see pork and tasty sausages again. While we were running around town, a friend of Vitaly was both a computer and a Garmin expert and he made quick of erasing our “turn-by-turn” Garmin China microchip and installing a detailed map of Russia which we did not have.

An annoying Clunk

There was also an annoying “clunk” coming from the front suspension. We visited a couple of mechanic shops in town and one guy said it was the front sway bar, but I knew that I had not checked or repacked the front wheel bearings for over 35,000 horrible miles, a service I would normally do every 20,000 miles.

A last parting shot with lovely Nina, our hostess, and Gary.

A last parting shot with lovely Nina, our hostess, and Gary.

In sub-zero weather we got a sunny day and a second mechanic agreed with me. He knew exactly what he was doing and without even taking the big Michelin XZL tires off, an inspection showed there was still plenty of grease on the bearings but he was able to get a full turn on both outside bearing retaining nuts. Very fortunately, we did have the Dynatrac Free-Spin hub kits that replaced the problematic factory unit-bearings. The Dynatrac Free-Spin hubs use normal Timken bearings and seals and can be serviced anywhere. I did carry a full set of bearings and seals, and I had the big locknut socket needed to remove the outer bearing nuts. The “clunk” was gone!!

Saying Good-Bye to our wonderful Friends

Saying a sad goodbye to our wonderful Russian friends, we started across a tortuous route with stops at the necessary immigration offices to have Monika’s visa extended for another ten days.

 

One Response to “Russia #1 – Arriving in Siberia – November 2014”

  1. Just wanted to drop you a note to thank you for sharing your adventures. We’ve always followed you through your writings since your early Turtle 1 adventures from I believe 4 wheeler magazine if I remember correctly. We’ve always found them fascinating. We met you once while were were both visiting Little Big Horn in Wyoming back in the summer of 1985. I have a picture of Turtle 1 pulling your travel trailer. We have certainly enjoyed this several year old trip and hope you’re able to keep making new ones which you will continue to share. Thanks again, Larry and Betty Miller

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