Early to bed, early to rise.
Nope. We probably should have hit the road earlier to make sure we made it to the border and through each side, but for whatever reason we didn’t get going until after 9. It would be a 6 hour drive to the border, but if you’ve been keeping up with this blog by now you’d know that actual drive time = Google estimate x 1.5. We were hoping we’d be able to make good enough time, but it became evident pretty quickly that we weren’t going to make the border while it was still open. This ended up being a very, very good thing for reasons that will be detailed further down.
For one thing, we were in Siberia and it was getting pretty darn cold and very windy. For me Siberia draws to mind the image of a barren icy field, maybe a mountain in the background and a bear just hanging out bored as fuck and hungry, and for good reason. The average high in our area was 51 Fahrenheit, and lucky for us we were there just in time for a cold snap. So yeah, it was cold. Sure is pretty though!
By about 4:30 it was very clear we wouldn’t get to the border, so we decided to find a place to stay for the night. We came across a little town and managed to find a hotel, but after discussing it we decided we should get to as close to the border as possible that way we wouldn’t have to drive a bunch before we hit the border in the morning. About an hour more away was a little town called Tashanta, which is literally the border town. Hopefully they had a hotel.
They did have a hotel. A hotel that was still partially under construction. The good news was that they had just enough rooms for our 3 teams, and luckily we had enough Rubles to cover. For reference, I think the rooms were something like $30. It was our team’s turn to cook so we went to the grocery store up the street to pick up some miscellaneous stuff, but really mostly beer.
Now this is where the day got really interesting. The hotel had a kitchen/dining area for guests to prepare food, and at about 6pm it was filled with a table of big burly Russian guys who we assumed worked at the border. Someone from the hotel had made them a spread of random meats, fruits, breads, etc… We didn’t want to interrupt so we decided to wait a little while before we started cooking. About an hour or so later they were still just hanging out, so we just said F it and got to cooking. Ryan whipped up a fantastic 3 course meal, and we all sat around after marveling at how far we’d come.
The big burly Russian guys had this ritual that had been repeating all night long. They would hang out for about 30 minutes doing their thing, drink some vodka, then go outside for a cigarette for about 15 minutes. Rinse repeat. Around 9:30 a couple of them stopped by our table on the way out to say hello (in Russian) and we all cheers’d.
An hour later we were on our way to tipsy so we decided to invite them to join tables. From here on things are a little spotty, so I’m gonna bullet point the highlights. Thankfully one of the younger guys did speak pretty decent English so we were able to actually talk with them for the most part. I apologize for the lack of pictures.
- They were all wearing track suits, classic Russian
- They can tell if a bottle of vodka sucks or not by swirling it around. 1/2 of ours wasn’t good.
- They were all in fact border guards, half of which had to work the next day
- One of them was named Stas. Stas was a big bear Tony Soprano looking guy. Like don’t fuck with that guy.
- Collectively we all decided that geo-politics are stupid, what’s important is hanging out with cool people (and getting crunk)
- At one point one of the guys went to his house to get some home-made vodka
- Home-made vodka is very good.
- Stas puts his number in my phone and says I can stay with him in Barnaul
- Stas likes that we’ve had fun in Russia. He asked if we had a problem with Russia. Re-translated he was asking if we had had any problems in Russia so far. We said no, he says good. Then he mimics for me to call his phone if so and he will pound someone’s face in. Not kidding.
- Stas then mimics that if we have any problems in Russia, to call him and he might stab them for us. He has grabbed a knife off the table to demonstrate his stabbing motion. Looks pretty solid, don’t make Stas stabby mad.
- The one English speaking guard whispers to me that Stas is part of the Russian mafia.
(Record scratch!) Are you kidding? We’re drinking homemade vodka with Russian border guards, one of whom is in or has ties to a mafia?!?!?! EPIC.
- Several times our new friends insist that we go outside with them to they smoke. Now I’m not usually one for peer-pressure especially involving cigarettes – I think they’re disgusting so I don’t smoke
- We all smoke several cigarettes because uh…this is one of the most surreal things that’s ever happened
- This goes on until 2 or so in the morning, and they’ve been doing it since before 6. Holy shit.
The gas station in Tashanta.