Tuesday, July 12: So here we are once again. It’s about 10:30 in Dauguvpil, Latvia and I’m just sitting in my bed, trying to hear myself think over the sound of Grampa snoring (not so easy). You know this post is going to have at least some substance to it because we checked another border crossing off the list; today it was Russia to Latvia and once again, things didn’t quite go as planned. So without further a do… here it goes.
I was up really late last night writing blog posts and inspiring young Russian children and generally being a great person, but this morning that came back to haunt me. Waking up was just plain hard. And it’s never easy, but today it was crossing into the realm of cruel and unusual. But I didn’t really have a choice, so I got up. Our bags apparently arrived sometime around 2:30 last night and a much needed shower soon followed their retrieval from reception. The morning was a little hectic; I had to eat, I had to load up the blog posts I had written and I had to go be a hero to the kid from last night who wanted to sit in the Corvette. So it was a little busy, but we soon got underway.
Now, I’m not sure if I’ve mentioned the navigational issues we’ve been having in Russia, so here’s a little refresher. In every city we get lost. Every one. As Grampa said, “If the city only had two streets, we’d take the wrong one.” And it’s true. Inevitably, every day after a long drive, we find ourselves having to make U-turns in traffic or stopped on the side of a busy street to check directions. So the past couple of days, our tour managers have tried to smooth out the process by picking up local cabs or drivers to lead us in and out of the city. The success of this plan is debatable, but this morning was an interesting chapter in it’s short history. Right as we were about to leave, this guy in a taxi drives up and jumps out of his car. Now keep in mind that’s it’s raining at this point – not hard but still… he was getting wet. He approaches our car first and starts trying to talk to me in Russian. Of course I can’t understand a single word he was saying, but through past experience and a few hand gestures I was able to determine that he wanted a picture. Of course this was fine with me – I couldn’t have cared less what he did – so I said yeah sure go ahead knock yourself out. After a bit more confusion we had to bring in a translator and it was further determined that, although he wanted to take a picture, he didn’t have a camera, but he was still asking to take a picture. By this point I already knew he was crazy. I just though forget it and got in the car to get ready to leave. But our tour managers had the bright idea that this was the right guy to get us out of the city. And to their credit, he did get us out of the city with no problems. But he was still a crazy nutjob. I’m being 100% serious when I say he honked his horn for the entire time he was leading us out – through the whole city. Even when we were just sitting at a gas station he honked his horn. The
only reason he stopped was to get out and give us all used lottery tickets with pictures of cars on them and I was lucky enough to be given his address (if anyone is looking for a pen pal). But like I said, he got the job done.
So we were out of town and on the road headed for the border. You wouldn’t think that a bumpy road would put you to sleep, but it sure seems to work wonders on me, especially after a late night. I think it was 90 miles to the border and I slept for probably 70 or so. I did manage to wake up just in time for the mechanical scare of the day. Recall, if you will, the improvised oil pressure gauge set up we had to devise in order to get back on the road (for reference purposes see “Tighten it Up”). Well today that temporary setup came apart and we lost a bunch of oil in a hurry.
Those were tense moments as we sat on the side of the road, making the necessary repairs. We could reassemble the gauge line and stop the leak pretty easily, but we had to wait for more oil to be sure that we had caught the problem early enough. I can’t express how relieved I was when I heard the engine turn over. One wasted engine was bad enough, but had we lost another from the exact same problem, I would have just lost it. But thankfully that didn’t happen and we can move on to other things.
At that point the border was only about 10 miles away, so in no time we were doing nothing but waiting. Once again, our efforts to move quickly and efficiently were choked out by the poisonous cloud of bureaucracy. The problem this time it seems, was a missing sticker. Don’t ask me how it happened, but someone way back at the China/Kazakhstan border left a very important sticker off of our customs forms. Maybe it has something to do with the brand new trade union deal between Russia and Kazakhstan, I don’t know and at this point it’s not important. What was important was the fact that only the drivers had to stay with the cars, so the rest of us headed across the border to Latvia. I imagine we must have looked quite strange – comical even – just a group of seven Americans strolling through the border with only a couple computer bags and sack lunches between them. But that’s just how we roll I suppose. Anyway, we made it through the border with minimal delays and were soon on the other side, waiting once again.
This is where the description gets a little hazy because after this point I pretty much slept for the rest of the day. First, in the back of the van, only to be awakened so that I could move to a seat and we could go ahead and drive to the hotel. There I slept until we made a stop at a gas station for some snacks, and let me tell you, gas stations are a great way to judge how close you are to civilization (this one was very close). It was truly a beautiful sight to see a well stocked gas station with a fully functioning, clean bathroom. Also I think it was here that we learned about the first of the cars making it across the border. But soon we were off once again, and after one Pringle’s can worth of time I was back asleep. When we got to the hotel, I was awake long enough to reach my bed and there I remained until dinner.
So that’s it for that day. Unfortunately the internet is hardly functional at this hotel so those pictures I promised might have to wait until Lithuania. Nine days until Paris and I can hardly wait.