Tuk to the Road

The trials and tukulations of Jo, Ants and Ting Tong the tuk tuk and our three-wheeled odyssey from Bangkok to Brighton...in aid of the mental health charity Mind. For more information please see www.tuktotheroad.com

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Love at First Sight

The Crimea, between Sudak and Yalta, the Ukraine.

We’ve been in the Ukraine for a mere 48 hours and already I am under its spell. The countryside is beautiful, the people wonderful and the nightclubs highly entertaining. I think Jo and I have got a great ten days ahead of us and as we tukked round the Crimean coast in the blazing sunshine today I felt the holiday mood set in. Although this journey has been unbelievable it’s also been fairly exhausting at times and for the next few days we are going to kick back, slap on the suncream and pretend we are just a normal pair of Brits abroad. Bliss.

Last time I put finger to keyboard was sitting in the back of Ting Tong at the border two days ago. I was a little nervous at what lay ahead as, since Jo has also explained, we had a little problem with our ‘dokumenti’. Unbeknownst to us the customs at Troitsk had only given Ting Tong a Russian passport till August 7th. We were exiting Russia on the 10th. Their mistake lay buried in the small print of one of the many vital documents we carry around, and had a policeman not pointed it out to us on a routine check the night before we would have had no idea. Now we could be facing serious trouble, through no fault of our own.

The problem was quickly spotted and, a la the Kazakh / Russian border, Jo and I were frogmarched into a small, stark room by an enormous, cross looking official. I didn’t fancy our chances. For ten minutes we were at an impasse, with me trying to explain that we had no idea why Troitsk had made the mistake, and him shaking his head and repeating that we had a problem. Then Jo whipped out a copy of Komsomolskaya Pravda, featuring an article about us written by our friend Evgenia in Almaty, and in an instant the issue of our faulty documents was dropped. He read and re-read the article, went and copied it, then came back and opened a large safe in the corner of the room, from which he produced a handful of Ukrainian Hryvnia and some Euros. As he handed them across the table he said that he understood about mental health problems, we both got the feeling he had either experienced them himself or knew someone who had. Whatever his motives, it was an extraordinary incident, and with our new friend in tow we skipped out of the office and into Ting Tong. After some photos and lots of thank yous the barrier rose up and we said Goodbye to Russia. We couldn’t believe it that at a second border crossing we had actually been given money by people who are notorious for exactly the opposite. What a brilliant end to our two weeks in Russia.

The Ukrainian side of the border passed without major incident and after six hours in Borderland we sped into country number Six. Since we were both dead beat after a night of camping and a series of insomniac nights in Volgograd we stopped for the night in the first town we came across, which happened to be Maryopol, a fairly large town on the Sea of Azov. When we found a hotel, which I can’t begin to remember the name of, I went in to investigate whilst Jo held the TT fort. The heavily made up, perfectly dressed receptionist took one look at my filthy T-Shirt and grubby Thai fisherman’s trousers and snottily said that they had no rooms, only ‘luxe’, i.e you can’t afford it so piss off. But since Jo and I had camped the night before and were in no mood for hotel hunting she had to eat her words and ‘luxe’ it was.

I went out to tell Jo the good news and found her and TT surrounded by a group of handsome young men, all asking the usual questions, with Jo looking perplexed and not understanding a word. Not taking no for an answer, they carried our bags up to our room, bought us beers and supper and then insisted we come out dancing with them. Both of us could think of nothing worse, we were shattered and pretty grubby and could hardly string a coherent sentence together in English, let alone Russian. But for some reason we found ourselves saying yes….

Half an hour later we were washed and downing our first shot of Vodka. An hour later we were at the Santa Barbara nightclub, with two bottles of vodka being planted in front of us and seven excitable Russians toasting England, Russia, three-wheels etc etc. Sasha, Vittya, Sergei, Alexei et al told us they lived in Novosibirsk in Siberia –where it regularly hits -40 - and were all metalworkers. Vittya, who had multiple tattoos and bullet wounds and shaved hair dyed leopard print, had spent four years fighting in Grozhny. From what I could understand the experience had affected him deeply. He was only my age and for the umpteenth time on this trip I appreciated what tame, easy lives we live in England. Sergei had multiple gold teeth and a bad case of wandering hands and Sasha was apparently married with a daughter but spent the evening looking lasciviously at Jo and dragging her off to dance. They also taught us an interesting Russian custom, which I still think they made up just for our / their benefit. Apparently its customary for two people to link their arms, drink a short of Vodka each then kiss each other passionately on the lips. To demonstrate that they weren’t having us on Sergei and Sasha shared a very unmanly kiss on the lips and then told us it was our turn……

At 2 a.m we staggered home, LOCKED the door of our bedroom and passed out. But not before Sasha and Vittya had begged to come in for a ‘nightcap’ and Sasha had been on his knees begging for ‘Diana’ (Joanna after too much vodka). What a funny and totally unexpected night.

Yesterday we awoke, feeling a little bleary but full of the joys of the Ukraine, and set off West for the Crimea. At about 6 0’clock, with a storm brewing in the distance, we pulled over at a ‘rinok’ (market) to get some veggies in case we had to camp. The vendors were all Crimean Tartars - more about them another time – and they loaded us up with every vegetable imaginable then refused to take any money. As we were exchanging phone numbers etc Jo said to one man ‘ Do you have email?’, so we could send him pictures. He let out a throaty laugh and said, ‘Internet? We have no money, only potatoes, how could we have internet?’ They had nothing yet had just given us so much. It was another one of those incidents that leaves you feeling humbled, incredibly grateful and wishing you could give something back.

I’ve written enough now and need to go to bed, so more tomorrow. We’re in a village in the Crimea, somewhere between Sudak and Yalta. No idea what it’s called but its got a beach and we’re sharing a house with some Russian punks from St Petersburg who we met in a café this afternoon. Xx Ants


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