Welcome back to Russia
After arriving in Ulaanbaatar on July 19th, I visited some travel agencies to find a jeep in order to go back into the Gobi and complete the few stages Madame de Bourboulon had made150 years ago before reaching Urga (presently Ulaanbaatar). A bit south of Choir, her route went slightly east of the railway line and it couldnít be done by train any longer. After shopping around for a couple of days, I found an agency which was willing to let me make my own itinerary.
On the 23rd I left the Mongolian capital with a driver at the wheel of a Russian jeep. We passed Choir where the road ended and drove south on a track with the Trans Siberian line in view on our right. A bit further south I asked the driver to cut across the desert. I wanted to visit another confluence point which was less than twenty kilometers east. With the help of my GPS we made it directly to the location. Then we turned south and spend the night near the place where Madame de Bourboulon had camped.
For the next three days we stayed near the places where she had also stayed and followed her route all the way back to Ulaanbaatar. Along the way we also visited another confluence point. Two days later I continued to follow her route but this time on a horse. Then, on August 2nd, I took the train again to make the last two stages before reaching the Russian border which I crossed at Altanbulag, the exact same location through which she had passed herself. The Russian cathedral of Kiakhta, which she had so much admired from the Mongolian side just before going across the border, can still be seen. Unfortunately, it had been ransacked a few decades ago and abandoned and it doesnít look so magnificent anymore.
After reaching Ulan-Ude, which at the time was called Verjneoudinsk, she continued her journey by crossing Lake Baikal before reaching Irkutsk. Ulan-Ude is where I had to abandon her route for a while in order to go back to China to pick up my motorbike. On August 8th, I boarded the Trans Manchurian, which goes from Moscow to Beijing, and arrived in Harbin on the 10th. I had my small digital camera stolen the next day but I replaced it the following day before taking a bus on the 13th to reach Suifenhe, the border town where my motorbike was kept.
I had to wait at the border three days before being allowed to cross it. Chinese customs release my motorbike in no time. But it was a complete different story with the military. Two months ago it was Chinese customs which didnít want to let me in. This time it was the army which didnít want to let me out. In order to do so, the motorbike had to be placed on a truck in order to reach Russia. The problem is that all trucks coming from China and going to Russia were full.
Chinese customs officers helped me a lot, and finally on the 17th they stopped an empty truck and assisted me to put the motorbike on the open platform. The truck went through all the check points before stopping six kilometers further down the hill at Russian customs. I filled up all the papers, was told to go back into the truck cabin, waited for about 30 minutes, and was refused entry to Russia with no explanation.
In the meantime, the truck driver had been ordered to take me and my motorbike back to China. It took me a while to realize what was going on. And we had already driven for a couple of hundred meters when I told the driver that I couldnít go back to China. I had no visa. I asked him to take me back to Russia again.
He didnít know what to do but he finally agreed to turn his truck around and went back to the Russian buildings down the road. An army officer came out from one of the buildings and ordered the driver to go back to China.
I got off the truck with my passport on hand as well as the Russian insurance for the bike I had taken in Vladivostok and the bill of lading. I handed over all the documents to the officer and told him that I had no visa to go back to China and that I couldnít understand why I was denied to enter Russia this time although I had been admitted two months before.
The officer looked at all the documents before giving them back to me. He left and went back into the building. He came out five minutes later. The decision had been reversed and I could enter Russia again with my motorbike.
Posted by Fabrice Blocteur at 04:47 PM