Today was our most ambitious drive of the trip. We wanted to make it as close to the Russian border as possible while staying on major highways, so we decided to try to make it to Pavlodar. 857 kilometers over 11.5 hours if we went non-stop. Since no one got crunk the night before we were able to all get up around 7 and hit the road.
About an hour into the drive we hit an annoying setback: the police. Keep in mind we are driving through the equivalent of western Texas. There’s nothing for miles and miles and it’s pretty flat, with the occasional hill. And traffic is almost none. Nevertheless, there are traffic laws like not overtaking another car when a solid white line shows up in the middle of the road, and understandably don’t do it in the event you are actually on a hill. We have no idea where the cop came from, but nevertheless he appeared from somewhere and pulled Ryan over for passing on a white line. Since he was driving he’s the one who had to go hang out in the passenger seat of the squad car and figure out what the fuck happened – which turns out was a lot. While this is happening the older partner in the duo kinda just yucked it up with the rest of us for the next hour. He signed our cars and tried telling us about where we should go while we were still in the country, granted he spoke zero English. He showed us pics of his family and let us meander around. Imagine being in a traffic stop in the States (or anywhere) and having free reign to leave the vehicle, pee on the side of the road, and even take pictures while the driver is dealing with the police.
While we were twiddling our thumbs, hoping that we were being friendly enough that they would get bored and leave, Ryan was legitimately being fucked with by the other cop. Make no mistake, we were in extortion territory. Crazily enough, they had frame by frame video of when Ryan crossed the white line. Very unnecessarily sophisticated I would say. Oh yeah, our headlights weren’t on either, and we didn’t have proof of insurance – which I’m still not sure we actually needed. The negotiations for all of these fines started at the low low price of $1800 USD. HAHAHAHAHAHAHA. WHAT? The cop took Ryan’s wallet and thumbed through it looking for cash – which he was wise enough to not keep any in – and even pointed at cards with the Visa logo and told him “ATM card, you get money” to which Ryan had to reply that you can’t do that with credit cards. The cop then inquired how on earth we were traveling across the world with no money. Make no mistake, this was not his first extortion rodeo. I should also point out that this entire negotiation is happening via Google Translate. As far as the insurance charge went Ryan just kept thumbing through our binder of paperwork and handing him random pieces of paper. After around an hour we were let go for $16 USD, $15 worth of Kazakh money, and I think a pack of cigarettes. It is said that the average salary in Kazakhstan for a police officer is around $400-500 a year, so they still made out well. In general you really shouldn’t pay bribes, but we broke at least 2 laws so ya know, whatever. Note to future rallyers: The magic word is “embassy” if you end up in a situation that might warrant outside intervention. That’s not to say they’re gonna get you out of anything, but if they’re asking for cash directly the threat is a decent warning.
The rest of the day was boring and flat. We ended up making it into Pavlodar around 11pm, and to our delight Ryan guided us to a KFC in town. After his fried chicken last night, we were all craving a little comfort food. It was quite frankly, amazing.
The next few hours however, were not. We drove back and forth across town trying to find a hotel to stay in. I lost count, but I think it took a little over 2 hours and at the 7th stop we found somewhere that would work. It ended up costing us around $18 per room, which is annoyingly cheap for the trouble. The good news was that we were 1.5 hours from the Russian border, so the next day would be a breeze comparatively speaking.