Saturday, June 4, 2016

Day 23 – 4 June Vladivostok to Khabarovsk

The Champion received a lot of attention in Vladivostok. Initially, I thought that the right hand drive is the reason, besides the branding. Andrey corrected my impression. He said that right hand drive cars from Japan are very popular in Vladivostok. After he mentioned that I did notice quite a few of them in the city. And this morning when I was on the highway to Khabarovsk there were many right hand drive off-roading cars belting at breakneck speed. The other wrong impression I had was that Vladivostok had plenty of visitors from China. In fact, they turned out to be natives. Later I learnt that the Amur River had brought in Chinese invaders and settlers from the 17th century. In fact, the Chinese border from Khabarovsk is only 30 km away from the city.

It had rained overnight and the car was covered with flowers and leaves from the tree under which it had been parked. It took me a while to clear that away. It was not yet daylight when I left the hotel at 5 past 5 am. I was apprehensive about Google Maps getting me out of the city. If it malfunctioned I knew I would spend the better part of the day trying to get on to A370. My apprehensions were ill founded and I found myself very soon on the beautiful cable stay bridge spanning the Amur Bay.

The A370 is a decent stretch of road with rough patches at places. Quite a bit of road works are on and am sure that the surfacing will be done better soon. At the Russian border point I was asked to comment on the condition of roads in Russia since I had driven in the country in 2014 on the way to London. When I told them that I found the roads quite decent the officers were cynical and virtually mocked my observation. They felt that the roads are awful in their country. Of course, if the reference point is the road condition in neighboring China, I would entirely agree with their comment. Most of the highway to Khabarovsk was a single carriageway, where driving a right hand drive can be treacherous. One has to be extra careful while overtaking. I was happy that there were no tolls to pay – that would have been a challenge from a right hand drive car. I am told that tolling has not yet been introduced in the country. It had been proposed many times by the government but resentment from the people stayed the proposals.

Speed restrictions are many, especially where the highway passes through hamlets. I found many squads doing speed checks. I was stopped by one such squad. A young constable told me that I was over the speed limit of 50 kph. I pretended that I could not quite follow what he said. I told him that I am from India and am on an expedition in Siberia. The young man called his colleague who knew a bit of English. I repeated what I had told the young man. The older gentleman immediately said, “Oh yes, India-Russia good friends.” I took the cue and showed him the route from India to Russia through Myanmar and China. He was mighty impressed. By this time the young man had moved away, knowing that the conversation was not going to result in any penalties.  I was asked to produce my driving license and car documents. After a cursory examination of both, I was waved on.

I actually forgot to fuel yesterday in Vladivostok. So I was on the look out to find a fuel station shortly after leaving the city. I found one and took time to understand the process. Fueling is done by the customer at most of the fuel stations. One has to go to the counter and pay in advance of the filling. Thereafter the counter clerk releases the lock of the fuel nozzle and just to extent that one has paid for. I made two fueling stops on the way to Khabarovsk. At the second I made a mistake and the counter clerk, I suspect realized it too. The lady did not understand what I wanted. She put out a paper with 95 written on it. I thought she meant 95 liters and I wrote 50 underneath that. I paid 1995 Rub and I thought it was very expensive. After I had left the fuel station I checked the bill and found that I was charged for 95 octane and not diesel. The counter clerk had come up to the dispenser as I did not know how to reset the display and, I am sure, she realized that I had overpaid. Anyway that experience taught me another lesson.

Before I left the hotel in Vladivostok I collected the promised breakfast pack. In the car I realized that the pack was really substantial – a stuffed bun, a large sandwich, an orange and cranberry juice. I had them all while driving; normally I never stop for meals if I am alone on such trips. I do not like break in the momentum set. The only exception is a bio break. The 760 km to Khabarovsk took me just about 10 hours of easy driving. When I neared the city I lost data connectivity of the MTS sim. I switched over to Beeline and immediately got connected. Last night when Anatoly gave me the second sim I wondered why I needed it. It came in handy in Khabarovsk to reach Hotel Zarina without any hassle.

After the check in formalities I requested the lady at the reception to attest the log sheet. She did it without even wanting to know why she had to do that. Later she even affixed the sticker on the car. But she was so shy about it that she did not want any photos taken of her.

I had not had any lunch and therefore, I decided on an early dinner. I did not want anything heavy. I walked around wanting to get a snack and beer. I crossed the street and found a small kiosk on the sidewalk. I saw sausage buns, breads and large samosas. I picked up a samosa and a sausage bun. The owner of the kiosk was a smiling, grey haired man. As I was paying for the snacks he asked where I am from. When I mentioned India he broke into a sing song “Mera Jhoota Hai Japani, Yeh Patloon Englishstani… Who can forget Raj Kapoor?” It was Khadir from Kyrgyzstan, who migrated here 8 years ago and has been running the snack kiosk in Khabarovsk since then. He wanted a selfie with me in his kiosk. He asked his customers to wait till he finished the selfie with “my Indian friend”! When I was about to leave he gave me a fresh mint coin with Khabarovsk on the face of it as a keepsake for the visit. It is such incidents that make for a great expedition.

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