Monday, July 21, 2014

DAY 33 – 18 July 2014; Miass to Samara

Sleep was difficult with events of the previous day playing snakes and ladders in the mind. Rationalising that the money may have been destined for someone else to put it to better use provided, at best, only temporary relief. I even kept asking Mother Mary, whose pictures were in the recess that housed the envelope in the bag, how SHE let such a drastic thing happen.

The non-availability of an attached bathroom and a WC severely affected the 3 Ss; S..t, Shave and Shampoo. The Inn that we were in had huge parking for trucks and private vehicles. It is a secure area and parking is charged with the room. Before we started out at 5.15 am we had a light meal from the Café attached to the Inn. I had Crepes and Coffee. The road ahead was meant to be tough with crossing the Ural Mountains. In the end it did not seem such a big deal. But the decision to stay in Miass certainly was the right one for taking the mountain road in the night would have been risky. Besides the road condition banditry is an added risk. However, in the morning both the risks are minimised and we did the crossing quite easily. The number of accidents involving trucks on the route is large. And we found evidence of that. On the way Geniya stopped at a souvenir shop from where we picked up some knick knacks.
Geniya decided to take the route via Samara instead of Ufa to reduce travel through the Urals and also use better roads. The landscape in Russia upto Samara was spectacularly unspectacular. The land was flat after the mountains, some stretches had pine and other coniferous tress and the road stretched long and straight as far as the eye could see.

A few hundred kms short of Samara we found a few people posing for photographs beneath a sign borad that, naturally, was in Russian. Almost every village had such sign boards and sometimes with the date when the village was established and hence, did not pay much attention when we passed the current one. It is only when Baiju noticed a fuel station showing time that was 2 hours behind and the mobile phones picked up the revised time we realised that we had crossed over from Asia into Europe! Thus, on the 33rd day of the journey we got into the second Continent and after travelling nearly 13,000 kms.

This day we lost patience with the tactics of Geniya on the road. The self imposed speed restrictions, which saw even run down LADAs overtaking us on the highway, severely tested us. Spending extra time on the road meant that recovery time was low. Each day was becoming a physically draining experience. We brought this to the notice of Ali, who instructed Geniya to get us a SIM to be used with the Navigation software so that Geniya’s services could be disposed off. Later, however, we decided that Geniya would come with us to Moscow but as an escort and not as a pilot. He was finding it difficult to get a hotel booking in Samara. Finally with the assistance from Ali’s office we found accommodation in Holiday Inn in Samara.

The lady at the reception of the hotel spoke good English and that helped us clarify what we could do in the few hours that we remained in Samara. After evaluating options I decided on a walk by the Bay area. Samara is a beautiful city situated at the confluence of the Volga and the Samara Rivers. The waters are intensively used for cruises, freight transportation and water sports. The beach has many activities including beach volleyball, basketball, sand art and sun bathing. The embankment is ringed by cafes, eateries and clubs. I walked around quite a bit soaking in the carnival atmosphere, it being a Friday evening. I walked around and discovered a theatre with the statue of Pinocchio at the entrance, a Catholic Church and many other quaint buildings and churches. Samara is a leading industrial centre and is among the top ten cities in Russia. In the past it was known for its wheat production and trading. In modern times the economy has diversified into aerospace industry, construction equipment, chocolates and Vodka. It is also a major transportation hub providing cost effective access to the Urals, Siberia and Central Asia. It has an efficient network of roads, trams, rail links, airport and waterways.

I spoke to Ali about the plans for the next day. The distance from Samara to Moscow is about 1100 kms. I had decided to take it in two days – the first covering about 800 kms with the balance to be done on the second day. Ali suggested that we leave early the next day and drive through to Moscow, however late, so that we could get better rest in bed. He also mentioned that we would find it tougher to get into Moscow on Sunday rather than on Saturday night. It sounded reasonable. I discussed with Lal and Baiju and came to the conclusion that we would leave at 5 am and be done with the long drive in one stretch. They had looked forward to a heavy Continental breakfast the next day. That had to be forgone. Before hitting the sack we had dinner of rabbit meat, beef, tiger prawns and pancakes with ice cream in the hotel restaurant. 

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