Two and a half months ago we arrived at the Kazakhstan border. After all the Chinese bureaucratic paperwork bulls***, arrogant people and rice, we were happy to leave the country. Goodbye china!
Crossing borders takes time, but is fairly easy. Crossing borders with a motorbike is something we had never done and was heavily discouraged by everyone we asked. We were too stubborn to just give it up, at least not without trying. So we headed to the Kazakh border with all the preparation that was practically possible. There were multiple border crossings to choose from, we chose to try a small border post where the rules might not be as strict as the bigger ones, due to bureaucracy. We arrived in the afternoon, but the whole border town was strangely deserted. We informed at one of the soldiers standing at the gate, but all we got in return was a mouthful of Chinese yelling and him pointing his huge gun around. We decided not to stress him any further and go back to the nearest hotel to inform any further. After half an hour communicating with our hand and feet we understood that the border closes in the weekend, and of course it happened to be Saturday. We stayed in the hotel for two nights and tried again.
Getting out of china was a piece of cake! The supervisor was very happy to see not only one but two Europeans and we got a VIP treatment getting out of the country. Before we knew it we were in no-man's-land. Halfway we got stopped by a guard at a gate, saying that we have to wait. So we did. Apparently the border in Kazakhstan opens an hour later due to the two hours' time difference between the countries. We then got at the Kazakh border where we again get a VIP treatment passing all the lines. Before we knew it we were driving away! This was too good to be true, never have we had such a fast border crossing before without a motorbike! And then it happened. At the LAST gate we get in communication problems with the guard and he sends us back to the Kazakh customs. It gets from bad to worse and we end up talking to everyone in the whole damn place. We were there at opening time and I remember seeing the sun go down when we left. Still the next day we had to continue at a bigger customs office in the next city 600 km away. The custom officers were really nice, gave us lunch, dinner, a place to sleep everything! They even spoke English! Never have we been welcomed so warmly to a country as in Kazakhstan! I know they had the bureaucratic bulls*** to stick to, like in china, but the whole communication and anticipation around it was more humane. This made all the bulls*** much more bearable. Besides that we received a lot of help of the Dutch embassy in Astana. The whole problem was that the bike wasn't registered, so it would be easier to sell it without paying taxes. Therefore they made a law that you can only cross the country by transporting it on a truck, renting a customs escort until the Russian border or paying a 1500 euro deposit and get it back after you have left the country. Eventually in short, we paid a s***load of money to the Kazakhstan customs which we are hoping to get back. Hehe yeah right I hear you thinking. Well at the moment we are still waiting, but it looks positive though. Keep fingers crossed!
Quote Kazakh customs worker: "We don't need tourists, we have oil." Because they don't need them, they can be nice out of themselves. For the first time we were not seen as a source of income or as a movie star. Though, we did get a bit feeling we were a status object when we received dinner twice in one evening and got a city tour in the newest land cruiser and bmw m3 series.
Finally we were able to drive without escort in Kazakhstan! The roads were terrible! Sometimes we were driving 20 kmh on a bitumen highway! The bumps and holes in the road made us fly regularly, im surprised the bike survived. There are no maps available, so navigation was by pictures of google maps. The fuel was very cheap though, we never paid more than 10 euros for a full tank (max 19 liters)! We eventually made it to the capital Astana. After driving thousands of kilometers through savannah and then hitting the city, made us drive around with our mouths open. We never expected such a newly built city. There must be oil involved! They literally built a new half of city next to the old part and finished it recently. It looks amazing! We had many troubles finding properly priced accommodation as everything was extremely overpriced. This is where we said goodbye to the cheap Asian prices. But eventually outside of town we found a very nice Bed & Breakfast with English speaking management. We ended up staying here for a while as we had a few problems getting the Russian visa.
Never has a visa application been so hard. Officially you can only get a Russian visa in your home country. Kazakhstan is not our home country, but as stubborn as we are we decided to try anyway. The first time we went to the embassy, it was holiday. We came back the next week to hear they only do applications on Tuesday and Thursday. We came back the next Thursday finding an endless line of Russians waiting at the gate. We waited for 3 hours to see the Russian embassy close in front of our face. We came back really early the next Tuesday where we heard you have to put your name on the list on Monday or Wednesday morning. Bystanders said we wouldn't have a chance getting in that day. Luckily we're stubborn, because when the gate opened I just pushed through and dragged Jasmin in behind me. Everyone was shouting, pulling and pushing. It was good we were wearing our motorbike armor because there was even an old man hitting Jasmin with his walking stick! When we got in, everything was fine and we received our transit visa the same day. They gave us the maximum time, 10 days counting directly. We received the visa in the end of the day, the 10th day would be on a Saturday and we needed a backup day, so that left us with only 7 days of driving. That's 3500 km on Kazakh and Russian roads in 7 days! Yay, another challenge! I don't even want to imagine what would have happened if we would have got a flat tire…
The border crossing to Russia was easy. Kazakhstan and Russia have a customs union, so we didn't have to go through all that bulls*** again. Just the visas, routine checks and Russian insurance. The roads were immediately better, but still we were navigating on our Google maps pictures. Now we were facing heavy traffic. Trucks trucks and trucks. And oh yeah, the crazy Russian drivers! Holy crap they drive so aggressive, I thought Chinese drivers were crazy! The funny thing is, we still don't know what the national speed limit is on the highways! Nowhere were there signs, only where to go slower and ending signs of them after that. I just copied the average Russian driver and adapted to the insanity of driving in this part of the world! We drove and drove many long days and in the north of Russia we hit our first proper rain in our trip. We were not prepared for heavy rain, so we were soaked within minutes. That's when it started getting cold, but we had to keep driving. We tried putting plastic bags around our feet, but it eventually just filled more rain then it held out.
Quote Wikitravel: "Smile at a Russian in the street and most likely they will not respond in kind. An automatic Western smile is widely regarded as insincere. While that tradition is slowly changing as Russia smiling is still very rare in customer service." Very true, never saw we anyone smile. We found it very funny to try and make people laugh, as this usually ends up in awkward situations.
Finally on our 7th day we reached the Finnish border. The Russian border customs had never seen such documents, so they were clueless. Eventually in the customs office for trucks they told us we had the wrong documents or there were a few missing, they were going to take care of it the next day. We were told to go and RELAX in Russia for a bit longer. Smart that we planned a backup day! Arriving the next morning everything was still unclear but that it was ok and that we could go to Finland. That is nice to hear when your 1500 euro deposit is at stake. At the Finnish border customs we good-heartedly declared our motorbike , we could have easily driven away without. We received a 5 days driving permission to drive around finland and they told us to report at a bigger customs office in Tampere.
No more were we able to pay a full tank of petrol out of our pocket coins. The fuel prices more than doubled at the other side of the border. Our first welcome to the EU.
After meeting Jasmin's family and having a relaxing weekend we drove to Tampere to start importing the motorbike. Nobody spoke English so Jasmin had to translate everything, and they were very impatient and unhelpful in the whole process. In short we had to pay 1200 euro import taxes and insurance on top of that. Our second welcome to the EU. Strangely enough, we didn't have that kind of money in our pockets so we left again. We hit the internet to do some research. There is another way of importing a motorbike, as removal goods. This way no taxes are needed to pay, but there were many rules. One of them is that the vehicle needed to be owned for at least 6 months. We only had half of that time, but it was worth a shot. We sent a letter to the board of customs in Finland. Also we tried going to a smaller customs office in another town. Straight away we were helped by an English speaking officer, which also told us that a cold treatment in Tampere was very known. He gave us a 3 month permission to drive around in whole Scandinavia! In that time we needed to make a decision about what to do. He gave us his phone number for further questions. Again a world of difference.
I wish I could have told you more about touristic stuff to make you all jealous, but this time the trip was more of a mission that could have gone wrong in so many points. We have learned and experienced so many things, it is unimaginable. There are only a few people in this world that have done the same trip, but none of them did it on an unregistered bike in such a short time. The newspaper in Finland was amazed by our journey and put a full page story in yesterday's edition. I guess we're famous now!
So now we still have some time left to drive around on our motorbike. After a year of travelling around the world it is time again to start looking for a job. Not only for our financial situation, after a year of being a nomad it would be nice to settle down again. Have your own place and some personal space. Our plan is to head to Norway, where the oil and gas business is booming. Wish us luck!