A Grand Don’t Come For Free

28 Aug 2010, by Brian in Uncategorized

IMG_1736Sheltered by a stand of trees, we didn’t quite wake up as the sun rose over the eastern shore of Lake Baikal this morning, but we were up and back on the road as early as we could muster after a full day of driving the day before. Driving along the lake reminded me a lot of driving north up the Puget Sound, with lots of evergreen trees surrounding us. By 9am we were speeding our way to Ulan Ude. Well paved roads allowed us to cross nearly 400 klicks in 4 hours.

Turning south to Kyaktah at lunch time, the landscape changed as if we had crossed a border, but we still had more than 200k to go. What was happening was Irkutsk Oblast giving way to the Buryat Republic… both states inside Russia, but with Buryatia really having the feel of Mongolia already. The Buryat people are Mongolian and we started to see Mongolian writing, Ovoo’s (rock shrines with blue banners tied to them) and the odd Ger or two. The flat expanse of Siberia lay behind us as the rolling hills opened up, lined with evergreen trees where the road cut through the forested hills. The road was good enough that we could go pretty fast, but not so good that we didn’t have to avoid pot holes and animals… this was real rally driving again. We only slowed down a few times for towns & police checks (“documents please, ok, carry on your way”), and by 3pm we were exiting the Russian border at Kyaktah.

Everyone was pretty thrilled with excitement. We had just completed this really amazing driving section of the rally, and now we were finally about to cross into Mongolia, our last crossing before going home, and make our way to Ulaan Baatar to be re-united with Kim. I couldn’t wait to see her and hold her in my arms again, and everything was going amazingly to plan.

Until we hit the Mongolian border that is. The Mongolian border was necessarily a little trickier than the rest, because now we are importing the vehicles for donation, and have to make sure all the right paperwork is complete before we can move on. We couldn’t do that however, because we were told we couldn’t “make declaration”. We tried and failed for about 30 minutes to find out *why* we couldn’t make the declaration today… and were constantly told we had to come back tomorrow… come back from where!? Were we camping out at the border or what? Well, we’d find out later that we could not camp there, but that’s beside the point. Eventually we were told that the customs agent who does the declaration was “absent”. Why? The border is open! She was “on holiday”. And there is nobody who can do her job when she’s on vacation or sick? Does all traffic from Russia wait on the word of this one woman? It seemed like there were other people who could in fact do the job, and as we talked to more people we were told they could but they were “too busy”. Really frustrating. We begged to call her or find somebody who could process the customs declaration, when out of the blue she just shows up! With all the time wasted, it was getting late and the border was almost closing. Even though she was finally present she tried to also tell us “tomorrow, tomorrow”, because the border was closed. We explained we’d already been here for 3 hours and pointed at the clock because the border was not in fact closed yet. So she reluctantly started doing the paperwork… hunting and pecking at the keyboard, laboriously entering our car details into the computer one painstaking letter at a time.

Then there was a new twist. Only one of the cars had customs duty paid. It seems the Adventurists neglected to pay duty on both of our cars!! Why? I have no idea. We paid them our registration at the same time, our deposit at the same time. There is absolutely no reason duty on both cars should not have been paid at the same time. Somebody’s clerical error somewhere was keeping us at this border. Thanks a lot guys. I called the Adventurists and was told that if we paid the duty ourselves in cash, we could be reimbursed. Customs duty: $1007. Tom and Jean and I scraped together our emergency stashes of cash and had $1k ready to go. But this had to be converted to Tugrog, so we ran down to the exchange desk to get 1.3 million Tugrog… bank closed, come back tomorrow. Seriously!! This was the deal breaker. They absolutely would not exchange our money after 7pm, and we could not pay for the duty in dollars. No negotiating. We begged her to take our money and exchange it herself in the morning. We offered to pay “extra fees”. We tried everything. Anything to get through this border and make it to UB tonight. Nothing doing. The border guards had all gone home, and nobody would even look at our paperwork to let us through even if we could pay. Truly, a grand don’t come for free. ¬† The day started out so well, only to lead to such disappointment.

Hastily we packed some of our gear out of the car (laptop. satellite, sleeping bag) and walked a kilometer into town for a cheap hotel and a bite to eat. I was able to get a hold of Kim at her hotel and explain this miserable situation. We’ve had a few hours sleep and it’s time again to head back and start all over. I can only hope there are no hangups due to it being Sunday now, and they can process us and get us on our way.


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