The Rocky Road to Russia
Nepal in all it’s glory
The downhill struggle started in Nepal. It was not my favourite country to be fair. Everyone says you need a tolerance for Asia, you need to accept the way things are done but Nepal takes that a step too far. Don’t get me wrong, there are amazing things to see and do but you need to be the type of person that does not let things get to you.
We already had a bit of a struggle with not being able to lift money, a drunken hostel owner on arrival and dust filled air that has shortened our lives. However, we took that all in our stride. The real annoyance was when we tried to get our flight to Russia.
The Last Straw
After spending one hour or so trying to get into the airport and another 45 minutes in the queue, we arrived at the check in desk to be told our names are not on the list. Just another hiccup, right? We had our reservation printed and showed it to the clerk to be told our names were not on the list again as if we would smile and nod and walk away for him to serve the next customer.
We stuck to our guns and eventually got him to phone and find out what the problem was. After 15-30 minutes of him phoning and having a chat with whoever may have been on the other end, we were told the flight was overbooked and to come back tomorrow as we had been put on that one.
We asked about everyone else that was in the queue to be told casually that some would be on the flight and some wouldn’t. Long story short we argued a bit, realised he was too laid back for anything to change and headed on back to the hostel with our tail between our legs to try again in 24hrs.
When S**t hit the fan
So we tried again after 24hrs and eventually got to fly. I’ll just add that the airport in Kathmandu is the worst I have seen in my life. It is more like a cattle market than anything else and that is not just being mean. I love the experience of travelling and I am laid back but this really tested me.
The travel time totalled 15 hours from Kathmandu to Moscow with a long stop in Dubai of around 6hrs. We thought this time in a large Dubai airport would be great but it was in a rubbish small terminal and was really boring.
After the full 15 hours we landed in Vnukovo airport in Moscow, looking forward to exploring a controversial country and finding out what it was like for ourselves.
…and your Visa?
We got to the passport control with glum faces as usual, waiting in separate queues and hedging our bets at which would go quicker. I got to the desk to hear the words “and your visa?”.
She was referring to the visa I didn’t have. I blame my travel buddy as he arranged all the other visas and assumed Russia was in the EU or something. It was an issue but I knew that you could usually sort this thing out at the airport such as in Turkey and we would be on our merry way. However, this is not the case….
We were asked to go sit down not too far from the passport control barrier where we I caught up with Martin, the one I was travelling with. We still assumed at this point we would be granted some sort of transit visa or at least be allowed into the departure lounge or something. You can tell our spirits at this point were still high.
Worse than we thought
It turns out the immigration officer was nice…considering she was a Russian immigration officer. I advised her that it was “a small mistake” and there was surely something that we could do to work things out. When travelling, there are always hiccups that work out just fine. In this case, we were obviously backpackers, had reservations for accommodations and flights out of Russia booked. I quickly learned that things were not okay, and this was more serious than I initially thought. The nice officer abruptly reminded me that this was serious.
The negotiations involved this immigration officer running back and forward to speak with the powers that be. We got asked all sorts of questions about where?why?how? when? what? These were easy to answer as we were not spies or terrorists yet they still wanted to send us back to Dubai…..bloody Dubai. Not exactly the answer we were hoping for.
We took a stand against being sent back to Dubai. I mean, how can you deport someone to a country they don’t even come from. Surely, you have to send them to their country of residence. Obviously at this point I forgot we were negotiating with Russia.
There was a lot of discussion until I asked “Aren’t there any flights to Germany we can book as that is where we planned to visit next?” This was greeted with surprise as they obviously did not expect us “illegal trespassers” to have money for flights. We were swiftly informed that there were flights to Memmingen, Germany and that we could maybe book those. She agreed this with the powers that be and things were starting to look a little better.
Turns out the only way of booking these flights was on the immigration officers mobile phone in Russian and we would be flying with the delightful Pobeda Airlines. Yes, I had never heard of them either. We had no idea where Memmingen was either but at this point, anywhere in Germany was better than being stuck in Dubai or a Russian Airport.
Luckily for us, the flights only cost £50 each which was I was happy about considering we didn’t have the luxury of shopping around. The massive downside though is that these flights were not until 10:40 the next day – 20 hrs from the time we landed in Russia. We still had the impression at this stage now the flights had been booked we would get to go into departures and find somewhere to sleep. Again, it was obvious we were not anything other than backpackers.
NO, apparently we were not allowed and we were not even told what would happen to us during this period. I guess that regardless of our intentions, we would be treated like criminals all the same.
The thing that amazes me at this time is that we were literally being deported or diverted as I like to call it from Russia and we were still laughing and joking. This is why everyone needs to travel, it takes away your worry and anxiety. I think back now and wonder how we were not scared shitless but at the time, it was just another story to share with people when we got home.
We even had a laugh with the immigration officers as the booking process went smoothly until I tried to pay on her phone and it would not load. I joked about how the only time I desperately wanted it to take my money and it refused. They did have a sense of humour after all.
Sitting at Passport Control
After booking the flights and making the immigration officer happy, we sat at the same seats for around 8 hours wondering what would happen. We had ways of passing the time at this stage by watching all the people coming in from their flights, reading books, calling family, making jokes etc. It really helped that Russia women are very beautiful and the immigration officers were mostly made up of the prettiest ones. This sounds bad but you could say we were admiring the culture.
I distinctly remember Martin calling his mum to let her know about the events unfolding and it was more laughter than worry. Incredible. This picture really sums up the full scenario. Not the greatest picture but really sets the scene.
Whilst sitting, most likely admiring the woman, we were kindly informed that we would have to pay a fine of 2000 RUBLES. I was pretty worried at this stage considering I had no idea how much 2000 Rubles converted to. We searched Google on a dodgy connection to find something similar to the picture below. At the time, it converted to £20 and stupid me offered to pay it there and then.
They were quick to refuse this offer as if I was trying to bribe them, which I probably would have if it made my trip easier. Offering to bribe Russian immigration officers during deportation did not seem like a great idea though so I kept quiet after this.
Instead, they provided both my friend and I with a 2 page Russian document and told us to pay the monstrous fine at our bank within 30 days. This made me laugh as I pictured the looks I would get if I walked into my local TSB branch with a Russian document asking to pay 2000 rubles. I still have not paid it to this date as I lost the instructions…ooops!
I wondered if I am banned from Russia?
My greatest memory of the deportation is playing a game called Plague Inc. This game involves infecting a country with a plague, and essentially trying to kill the world by strengthening this plague
It sounds very sad but it is a great game. I started a new game and chose RUSSIA. Instead of killing the world, I tried to kill all of Russia. This ironic message then appeared….
Our Final Resting Place
The last flight landed and the final batch of passengers passed security. At this point, the night had fallen and passport control began to close. We were curious to know what was going to happen to us at this stage. Soon after, we got shifted.
They had cordoned off an area further down the corridor. This area had been selected as it had toilets and seats. This is obviously the place they held their prisoners until deportation. There were a few Asian men there already and just outside the cordoned off area was a desk with a grumpy officer who I was to supervise us.
After taking our seats and trying to make ourselves comfortable, we realised how cold it was and that we had nothing to keep us warm. I have a bit of a brass neck at times and quickly asked for blankets because we had nothing to keep us warm. I was instantly refused, not sure if he didn’t understand me or did not give a f**k but either way, we got no blankets.
We did not want to sleep too early so we just stared out the window onto the runway, played on our mobiles without internet, chatted or read books. It is between 8pm – midnight at this stage and to be fair, we were really becoming bored out of our skulls.
We had already had some aeroplane food whilst sitting in our last location which was not too bad but it had been hours and we were rather hungry again. I was not going to bother asking for anything as I had already upset Mr. Grumpy supervising us.
Thankfully, a short while later, one of our fellow deportees pointed out that the boxes across from us contained food for us to eat. We tucked into the below average aeroplane meal to pass some time. I don’t remember what it was but pretty sure there was rice and it wasn’t Michelin Star.
Reminding them to Deport Us
Coming up to the morning after hours of broken sleep in uncomfortable positions in the freezing cold, we were absolutely buzzing to get out of there. Next stop Germany and weren’t we glad. I walked up to the Immigration Officer supervising us, to the front of his desk just outside the cordoned off area to address him and ask him about our flight.
He shouted at me get back into the area as if I had stepped out of line in a military exercise. I proceeded to ask in my clearest tone “Memmingen 10:40” in order to query the flight we would be deported on. He shrugged me off, obviously not understanding and pissed off for my previous actions.
After liaising with Martin, I decided to type the words “Memmingen 10:40” into my phone to once again try find out how we were going to get to our flight. He suddenly clicked and started flicking through his book to find our names and indicated that someone would be along. He literally would have forgotten to deport us. The man had one job and that was to deport us. How do you forget that?
It was finally time to leave, we assumed we would be shown to our gate and advised not too leave but nope. We were escorted by one straight faced female immigration officer all the way until our seat-belts were fastened. We got taken into the back of an immigration van and led to our seats where the officer passed us onto the cabin crew who were told to watch us. Crazy. If I remember correctly, I got an aisle seat, we were first on the plane and we didn’t need boarding passes(?).
I tell you one thing, deportation has it’s perks.
Amusing Russian Man
About 15-30 minutes later everyone started to board the plane probably wondering how we got on before them. I tried to make a conversation with a Russian family sat down on the seats around me, looking to share my story. They did not understand me much so I handed the father of the family my Russian document detailing my fine.
I have never seen a person read something so passionately. He read one side totally focused and hastily flipped it over to read the other side. He signalled his amusement at the situation regardless of the language barrier and insisted his family read the document too. I am glad they were amused but wish someone could have translated it for me.
A few hours later we landed in Memmingen airport which we had discovered was only 100km or so from Munich. This was a relief as we hoped that we could easily find a way to Berlin and be back on schedule.
Our itinerary at this point was shot, and we were more concerned about making our next flight from Berlin over what Munich had to offer. Our flight from Berlin to Krakow was not for another 5 days but we were at the other side of Germany without a plan.
Luckily, I found a Bla Bla Car that was heading for Krakow for 35 euros each passenger so we booked that and started to enjoy the rest of our trip. If you are curious, it went swimmingly.
Look at this photo and imagine the relief………
DON’T FORGET YOUR VISA IF YOU PLAN TO VISIT RUSSIA.
But….if you do it’s going to be a great story for the grandkids.