Day 22 – 3 June In Vladivostok
The extra day in Vladivostok was primarily meant for servicing of the car. And, if time permitted, to go around the historic city just a bit. As the day panned out it was work, work and more work with no time at all for sightseeing. I wanted to at least take a ride across the magnificent Golden Bridge. Even that will have to wait for another visit to the city. With China playing spoilsport on updating blog posts and Facebook, I had to wake up early to complete all that. Further, I completely rearranged all the luggage so that I am good till the expedition ends in St Petersburg on 18th. This meant that the pants, T-shirts, socks, hankies, under clothes had to be coordinated and set in two overnighters. I was short of underclothes and nightwear. Hence, some time was spent in doing the laundry. With the hot morning sun all the clothes came dry in two hours.
I was hungry as hell by the time I had finished the laundry. I did not bother to shower or dress for breakfast and walked into the dining hall in shorts and sneakers. To say that I caught the eye of all those present would be the understatement of the century. Some even stared! I went on to the buffet counters and picked up a huge spread that included eggs, sandwiches, bacon, pancakes, sausages, juice and coffee. The stares moved from me to the plates in front of me. I was too lazy to move for multiple helpings. I got all of them in one go in two plates and two mugs. They were loaded to the brim. Towards the end I struggled to get through the portions. Just when I was expanding the stomach for the final assault one of the waitresses placed a bill on the table. I told her that breakfast is included in the room tariff, which I had paid last night while checking in. She took me to the buffet counter, where she showed me that the counter had two segments, one free with the room and the rest to be paid! It was the first time that I had ever faced such an arrangement. I had to pay extra for the scrambled egg, stuffed pancake and sandwich! I left the dining hall a lot wiser and a wee bit sheepish.
Andrey had promised to come by noon to take the car for servicing. He came to the hotel with his boss, Igor. The bucket list of things to do consisted of getting insurance for the car, servicing her, exchanging USD to RR and obtaining a local sim card to get the navigation system going. The easiest to do was the money exchange. The rest had their own set of difficulties attached to them. It is possible to obtain car insurance from those vending it in cars at vantage locations near the border and in cities. Andrey took me one such ‘car office’. The car offices represent multiple companies and hence, it is easier to shop around for the best policy in one location. After a lot of talk and checking documents the young man suggested that we go to the insurance company office because the car is registered outside Russia.
That being the case, Igor suggested that we do the car service first. It was quite far away from my hotel and it stared becoming very cold and misty – at 2 pm, in summer! Andrey explained how harsh the winters could be in Vladivostok. When we reached the Castrol franchise the team was in readiness to attend to the Champion. I drove on to the pit and handed over the oils and filters I was carrying with me. I also showed them the manual and the suggestions it had for the 20,000 km service. All were attended to most professionally. They suggested that I do not change the gear oil as it is normally done only after 40,000 km. I got the wipers changed too, as a matter of abundant precaution. In about an hour the Champion was ready for the Trans-Siberian highway. Before leaving the service station I requested Andrey to affix the sticker on Vladivostok on one side of the car and Igor on the off side to officially announce the readiness for the highway drive.
Without a car insurance I would not be able to drive further from Vladivostok. Hence, obtaining one was important. We went to the office of an insurance company and waited for what seemed like ages. Finally when our turn came I was nervous, because another insurance company, on phone, informed Andrey that the car documents have to be translated to Russian and notorised, which would take nearly five days! However, Andrey, I found, has a way with people, especially young women! He patiently explained the situation and helped the pretty, young girl to fill up the forms on line. It so transpired that she had Mahindra as a make in the format. Surprise, surprise. Moreover, she was reading a translated work of an Indian author! Such are the Guardian Angels. Estimates I had for the car insurance ranged from USD 100 to 200. In the end it was done for USD 25!
When we left the insurance office, after profusely thanking the GA, it had become colder and mistier. I felt quite uncomfortable outside the car. The next stop was in the MTC office to obtain a sim card, which was also done soon enough. I got the most data friendly plan so that navigation would work fine up to St Petersburg. The rush hour had caught up with us when we were returning to the Hotel. I could not thank Andrey enough. He had spent more than 7 hours with me to get all the work done. I had to bother him later again because the sim card refused to fire up and I kept on getting messages to contact the customer service center. Andrey stepped in again and got the sim working.
I was supposed to meet Anatoly at 4 pm, but it was too late by the time I got back to the hotel. Nevertheless, he paid a flying visit and apologized for not having come earlier. He had brought with him a sim of Beeline. I wondered why I needed two – but I am sure it is HIS design. Later, I moved all the rearranged luggage into the car and parked it in the secure parking. Before signing out for the night I informed the receptionist that I would leave at 5 am the next morning. She ordered a breakfast pack for me and arranged with the night attendant to open the car park when I wanted to get the car out in the morning. And, for the umpteenth time, I checked out the route to Khabarovsk and set it in Google Maps.