Monday, July 21, 2014

DAY 32 – 17 July 2014; Kostanay to Miass

There are days you wish were not part of your life. But they are also the days that make you more mortal
and vulnerable. 17 July 2014 was one of those days. The day started off on the wrong foot. I had settled with Geniya, or so I thought, over dinner last night that we would leave after breakfast at 8 am. Even after we had finished our breakfast and loaded luggage into the car there was no sight of Geniya and Bek. I called their room to hear sleepy voices. A little while later they came down for breakfast; once they were done we got into the car. Then they went missing. I got the hotel reception to speak to them on their mobile and was told that they have gone to a garage to repair the car! I could have kicked the embedded stones from the paving outside the hotel and not felt the pain. It was frustrating. They had not told me about the repair, or so I thought. Later Ali told me that Geniya, in his inimitable language that did not signify the right meaning, had asked us to rest in the morning a little while longer for him to repair the car. I recalled then that he had said something about extra sleep over dinner the previous night. Lal, Baiju and I thought that he was offering the services of Bek to drive our car when we took rest in it on the way to Ufa. We had politely declined the offer too. Well, we had to wait a few hours before the repair was completed and we were on our way at 11.30 am to the Russian border of Troitsk, 170 kms away.

That was not all. As we were waiting for Geniya to report back to the hotel after the repair to the car I thought of getting USD changed to Roubles. I also wanted to dispose off the remaining Kazakh Tenge by converting that to the Russian currency. The foreign exchange for our travel was a mix of currency notes and travel cards. The currency was RMB, USD, Euro and Pound Sterling. I had distributed the currency amongst the three in envelopes with the name of the person and the currency in it written on the face of the envelopes. After China it was USD, Euro and Pounds with us. I carried my envelope containing USD 3100, 690 Euro and 500 GBP in a recess of my office bag that I lugged around all the time for it contained my passport and other valuable documents. On this day when I looked for the envelope it was nowhere to be found! I searched all over in the car and in all my baggage. It was not there. I could not believe that I had either misplaced the envelope or that it was lifted from my bag. I thought I remembered handling the envelope in Almaty when I wanted to change USD to Kazakh currency. Nearly INR 300,000 had been lost through negligence. Most importantly, we all know how the difficulty we had in raising funds for the journey; and here, I had let down the team by being negligent. We are short of funds but the hospitality of friends and well wishers were keeping our heads above water. This loss was a huge blow. I calculated that what the money that I lost was meant for our sustenance for 3 weeks! I called up a friend and requested for a loan that would be repaid once we get back to Cochin. It was immediately arranged and the full blown crisis was temporarily doused. Never having misplaced or lost money in the past this was galling and terribly painful. More than the sense of personal loss it was the pain of letting the team down. The way Lal and Baiju handled it I was able to get over the loss without feeling more miserable.

We reached the Kazakhstan border in Troitsk and had to wait for a while in a long queue of passenger cars and commercial vehicles. While waiting there Geniya arranged for exchanging USD and Tenge into Roubles and for the Russian insurance that cost R 1400. We also met a group of 3 Brits who were on a London – Russia – London drive. Their car, a rundown and rusty Vauxhall, with broken springs and bashed in doors made us feel a totally professional team. The exit through Kazakhstan was a lengthier process than the entry. After that was done – it took us over an hour – we drove to the Russian border and expected to get that completed in quick time to drive another 600 kms to Ufa. But that is when the next bomb exploded.
The stern immigration lady official, speaking only Russian, naturally, got into a fit and started making a lot of noise. Geniya gently told me that she had discovered some mistake in my visa! I was livid. I thought that she was looking at the old attached passport and trying to relate the number in that to the one on the visa. Lal and Baiju had proper visa, she told Geniya. However, all three of us were asked to stand by and await orders from someone above regarding my entry into Russia on a faulty visa. And I kept praying to HIM. The dark day was getting darker; quite literally too, for it started raining heavily. After a couple of hours we were cleared. The superior officer had accepted that the mistake was done by the Russian Embassy in Delhi – the visa showed my Passport Number as L3199080 when the correct Number is L1399080! It was certainly divine intervention and firm action by Ali and Geniya.

By the time we left the border post the rain had become heavy. We went about 40 kms and did a U-turn back towards Troitsk. We were certain that Geniya had lost his way – he would not accept that. Later we took a route through Troitsk city, filled fuel and got on to the road to Ufa. It was not clear that we would not be able to make it to Ufa for the Urals were not that friendly for night travel. Geniya located a small Inn in Miass, at the foothills of the Urals. The accommodation was sparse, but we were persuaded by Geniya and Ali to rest there since the Inn had secure parking. Ali also advised us to leave by 5 am so that we could reach the next destination in time. By the time we settled into our beds after dinner it was close to midnight.

It was a day that proved that the best planning can go awry for the silliest of reasons – it was a day to forget. A day, we all hoped, would never again happen during the journey.

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