20 Oct 2009

Border crossing a la Kazakhstan and Russia

My munitions, grapes and rooibos tea :)

The train from Aktöbe to Moscow left late in the evening. Zhibek helped me get my stuff on the train and under my bed and then she left. My bunkmates introduced themselves. There was a Tatjana in her 50's, who knitted socks the whole next day, Sveta, a year younger than I, going to spend some time with her boyfriend in Moscow. And Irina, who spent most of the trip in her friends compartment.
As the train started, a conductor came around with a clipboard and wrote down our passport information down on paper. Two hours into the trip the train stopped and we were woken up. A uniformed guy came and picked up everyone's passports. Then after a while a few guys in camouflauge came with a sniffer dog. Then again someone. and again... They just look around and walk through. After about an hour they came back through calling out the names on the passports and giving them back to us. We left there at about midnight.
Before 3 am we were woken up again by a few uniformed people checking everyone's luggage. Some people's stuff they opened and pawed through. For me they just told me to lift my bed so they could see my bags and asked me what I had in them. I told them I had clothes, but they had already turned to the next person. I was happy I didn't have to open my duffelbag and then have to try to fit everything back in afterwards. But at 3 o'clock! пожалуйста!
Then I slept for a little while until about 4.30 when they came around and looked at our passports again.
At 9 I woke up and realized we were at the Uralsk station. Still in Kazakhstan! All that and I wasn't even in Russia yet.. What fun :)
Finally at 11 we got to the border and it took an hour for everyone to get their Kaz exit stamps. And more uniforms traipsing through looking at people and luggage.
Half hour of train ride and then a 2 hour wait while everyone gets their Russian entry stamp. Need I say, there were plenty of border guards marching through again... Then I was finally in Russia! What a process... But all in all it was pretty painless. No problems, no bribes, no guns. I was happy.
I napped on and off for the rest of the day. At one point I woke up when Tamara and Galina (my friends from the previous afternoon) came for a visit from the next car over. We chatted for a while. They were sweet :)
Tatjana knitted her socks and talked about a cat she had. But I had a hard time understanding her, so I slept again. We passed a train heading the opposite direction. The destination was written on the side. Tashkent. They still had a few days ahead of them. Would that I could have jumped trains!
Towards evening we came to the Volga river at Saratov. It's so big it looks like a lake. Reminded me a lot of the Río Plata, except the Volga was blue, not brown. It was really pretty, especially with the setting sun and blue water and green islands in the middle. After the brown expanses of Kazakhstan, this was like paradise :)
We were in Saratov for 45 min, so we went outside and stood and talked. There were a bunch of people going to some congress in Moscow. Irina, in my compartment, was one of them, so all her friends came to talk too. They asked me about myself and my family and what I was doing in Almaty. Wished me a good journey.

After an uneventful night we arrived in Moscow the next morning. My last leg of traveling platzkart (slumberparty) was over.


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