Yesterday we experienced our first proper border crossing, from Poland into the Ukraine. We left Krakow at around midday and had a fairly long though good drive through Polish countryside on good roads. We arrived at the Ukrainian border at about five and joined the back of a long, snaking, stagnant line of cars and trucks.
After a couple of minutes we were amazed to see another Mongol Rally Micra draw up right behind us. It was Ed and Matt of Ice Cold In Ulaanbataar. We chatted, I thought about brewing up. And then a man in a truck drew up behind us and started gesturing for us to drive around. I was hesitant, but after a couple of French and German cars went for it the FOMO kicked in and we drove pretty much to the front of the queue. It turned out to be the EU lane.
On the Polish side our documents and car were examined and we were on our way. Unfortunately a tourist group from Djion France heading also for Odessa were turned back because they didn't have their car passport with them.
We were welcomed to Ukraine with some of the biggest pot holes known to mankind. After similar checking of documents and car we were allowed on our way, into the Ukraine. The whole thing took just over three hours, but felt relatively very quick and efficient compared to awful wait the locals had to endure. We've been warned not to drive through Moldova as the border crossings are apparently even worse.
By the time we got onto Ukrainian roads it was already getting dark and the journey was growing a little hairy. I took the first shift, and tried to ignore Kai's instructions to drive as fast as the locals. I was also concious that we hadn't modified our right hand drive beams.
Kai decided that the best technique for driving on Ukrainian roads was to drive right in the middle of the road, which meant that as the passenger, on the left hand side, I was sat directly in the path of on coming traffic. Kai, as the driver, had the only air bag. We took a very interesting route around our destination L'viv, as an awful lot of the main roads have been closed for maintenance work, but we did eventually find our hostel. On the fourth floor of a dark and slightly foreboding building without a lift. By this time I think we were both rather hungry and feeling rather stressed.
Between us Kai and I managed to avoid an owl and a pussy cat (it lost several lives). Really.
We did bump into another team Immaculate Pasta featuing Donald, Dougle and Jordan. They had zig-zagged up from Budapest and heading for Kviv, then down to Odessa and Iran. Nice.
- Mileage: 1682
For the first few days of our trip I think I was suffering from what I am calling car-ture shock. Or maybe Kai-ture shock But it seemed to lift yesterday and we had a really good day.
I really started to enjoy driving in the Ukraine, the roads could be a lot worse, and the drivers are fairly polite, and swerving around pot holes is always a fun challenge. The real problem is how quickly the roads can change, you can be driving along a section of decent dual carriage way and it will suddenly turn into a pot-holed track road, and then change back again after a few km.
Just as Kai and I were seriously discussing "wild camping", as Ed and Matt had called it, we saw a sign for a campsite and turned off. We turned out to be the only campers, but there were a few families and children relaxing by the bar and lake. I was starving, and the very friendly and accommodating staff opened the kitchen for us and made us some soupy broth and fried fish ribs. And then came the main course of sausage and fried potatoes. Jumping into the water was fantastic.
We got back on the road fairly early this morning to more beautiful weather and scenery. And then, out of the blue so to speak, we got stopped by the police. We quite quickly understood that we had been speeding at 80kph (50mph) in a 50kph (30mph) zone. We weren't quite sure what they wanted to do about it though, we tried to point out that someone had actually overtaken us as we'd been pulled over. Kai was driving and got called out of the car, and oddly went and sat in a police car. Negotiation started at 100 Euros. By the time Kai came back to the car it was down to 50 and Kai was suggesting 30. I went over with 30 Euros in our phrase book to take my turn. The inside door handle didn't work, which made me feel a bit trapped, but the young policeman told me to open it again from the outside. As he leafed through our phrase book I worried that the money would fall out prematurely, but amazingly it stayed put. We then resumed negotiations. We wrote "40" on his hand, I wrote "30" on his hand and he agreed. I handed over the money and kicked myself for not writing "20".
Not an hour later we were stopped again. I definitely wasn't speeding this time as I'd just turned out of a junction. Which turned out to be the problem, they actually had a video of me overtaking a truck as I left the junction. Now the truck had actually stopped, I thought, to allow me to overtake, which I did, there being nothing else on the road. I think the police were saying that I should have actually stopped at the junction, I assume there could be a stop sign that was hidden but the massive great fuck off lorry that I overtook. This time they asked for 400 UAH, and they accepted 200 after surprisingly finding a French Mongol Rally team who were just about to pull away. They were fined for crossing the dubious white line in the middle of the road, Which the French rallier said he did not do. Confusingly the Police man also said the speed limit is 90km/h, so I don't know how the hell they could find us an hour earlier doing 80km/h.
I have to say, the police have been pretty pleasant, not intimidating at all, though they are crooks. The price of freedom seems to be ~20EUR a pop here.
- Miles: 2k+
- Days camping in tent: 2
- Jumps in water: 11
- Mosquito bites: 21 (thankfully we brought DEET)
- Sunflowers passed: a lot
Yesterday was a bit of an adventure. We left Odessa fairly early, hoping to get through Moldovia (there's no direct Ukraine - Romania border crossing) to the Romanian side of the Danube Delta and a hotel that had been recommended to us by a friend. I was a little dubious about the hotel as it looked expensive. We had a look at the roads on Google maps and plotted a scenic route, that looked fairly short by our recent standards. As we left Odessa we noticed a sign to Reni, one of the border towns, pointing in the opposite direction, but we decided to take the more scenic route along the coast.
The roads got steadily smaller and more pot-holed and slower, and we began to realise why you might want to take a more main road the long way around. At one point we took a wrong turn, but could have kept going, but we didn't want to have to drive past a, very colourful, funeral procession, so we turned back. At the crest of a hill, on a narrow, straight road lined with trees and mounds of earth, we could see what lay before us. Two mud tracks either side of a large concrete bridge. We decided to go for it.
I was driving and after a little while the car got a bit bogged down. We stopped and I suggested going back. Kai pointed out that we'd actually come a long way, and looking back I was amazed, driving it, it felt like no distance. We paced it out and decided to go on. Kai got behind the wheel and managed to drive the car up on to the brushy verge and got it to the bridge.
We had a look the other side of the massive slab of concrete that served as a bridge and decided that the worst of it was over. I took back control and drove. All went well until the track the car was straddling got larger and larger until the car fell in. The bottom of the car was now resting on the mud. This was when we started to realise how isolated we were, there really wasn't another person or building to be seen for miles. I started scavenging for useful items, and found some large rocks and a bit of old tractor tyre. Using the rocks as a base we jacked the car up as far as we could and slid the tyre under the wheel. With me lifting and Kai driving, we managed to get the car free again, and made it back onto beloved pot holed tarmac.
If you haven't seen them already, Kai posted a couple of videos last night in the previous post.
Even without that it would probably have been our slowest day yet doing just a couple of hundred kilometers in about eight hours. Reaching the border town Reni at about 7pm we were on the look out for somewhere to stop and spotted a sign for camping, swimming, a restaurant and a hotel. We spent the better part of two hours looking for that place. We did eventually find it. It turned out to be a poor small hotel with a yard, and a great big hole in the yard. Dispirited we left. Kai wouldn't hear of camping and we made it for the border.
The Ukranian - Moldovan border was quiet. We bought the "green card" insurance on advice and the Moldovans took their time searching our car, which made me very nervous, despite the fact I knew there wasn't anything in there that we shouldn't have. After getting into Moldova we drove the 100 or so yards to the Romanian border and spent a bit longer there waiting to get through, but didn't get searched. By now it was getting on for 10:30pm and we were knackered so went to hotel Galati on the Romanian side. As we pulled up we were surprised to see three other Mongol Rally cars already in the car park. It turned out that all of these teams had the same story, they needed to wait for a V5, or an official letter of permission to drive the car, before they could enter the Ukraine.
We took it easy this morning and after lunch made our slow way to the Danube Delta. Reaching our recommended hotel I again tried to persuade Kai that we should camp. He promised to camp the next night, but wanted to stay in the hotel. Unfortunately the hotel was full and I got my way. I don't want to tempt fate, but we found an absolutely perfect spot, and I am typing this, sitting on one of our £5 ASDA camping chairs, the sun setting behind me, the Danube Delta to my left and our car and tent to my right. The only thing we can hear is the occasional fish jumping out of the water, the odd frog ribberting and the odd wild dog barking.
P.S. Our night was only slightly marred by the cloud of mosquitoes that joined us after sunset, and we ate our second sitting of noodles locked in the car. The night went fine, although I have to say that the sound of dogs sniffing around the tent was a bit creepy.