Monday, 24 October 2011
But the countryside I am riding through is delightfully rural, with picturesque little houses set in their own plots among fruit trees.
Monday, 10 October 2011
I am free of No Man's Land at last! On Friday morning a determined Ukrainian lady vet official who was on duty for the day marched up to my lorry and ordered me to the office to ply me with tea and snacks, exhorting me with cries of 'kushit, kushit' (Eat, eat). Vera (seen below with me) fussed over me like a mother hen, but more importantly gave me the good news that the documentation was on the way! The horses were loaded up, but I had to go through all the customs process again, which as before took another couple of hours, though at least many of the customs officials now knew me by name! But interestingly no-one asked for the £1000 worth of hrivnas as a deposit which I had ready. Sometimes it seems as if the right hand does not know what the left hand is doing in some of these Eastern European countries. Finally the lorry was waved through in mid afternoon, and off I went, complete with parting gift from Vera - an enormous loaf of bread which should last a week.
It was getting dark by the time I reached Makeevka near Donetsk, where I had been invited to stay with Nadiya, who met me in the car with husband Nikolai. We off loaded the horses at a nearby stables before driving back to their flat overlooking a reservoir.
Nadiya teaches English, and the following day when she discovered I was qualified to teach English, she whisked me off to help with her English classes at Saturday language school, Here we are with one of the older classes. On Friday night, when I was attempting to follow Nicolai through the strange and busy streets of Makeevka in the dark, I nearly ran into a car, which raised a storm of abuse from the woman driver - directed at Nadiya in the passenger seat of the lorry as of course in Ukraine vehicles are left hand drive. Embarrassingly Nadiya recognised the driver as the mother of two of the children in this class, and we had to apologise profusely to her when she turned up to collect them!
Sunday was Donetsk sightseeing day, and my new volunteer driver Rupert arrived just in time to join the fun. Here is Rupert and the girls in front of the huge Shakhtar football stadium. Donetsk is in a fever of excitement as it is hosting the Football Euro 2012, and the area near the stadium has been majorly revamped.
Donetsk is an iron and steel town, and next port of call was an amazing park full of iron work sculptures, many of them the result of an annual metalwork competition which attracts competitors from all over Europe.
.....this time in No Man's Land on the waste ground between Russia and Ukraine. I arrived at the border on Tuesday morning and managed to get through Russian customs with not too much difficulty although they seemed to be fussing un-necessarily about an absent document. But I knew my Kazakh 'team', including Gadik the vet, had double-checked the border requirements with the Ukraine Border Commission, which was why I had horse passprorts and up to date veterinary documents specifying exactly which border crossings we would be using, not to mention £1000 worth of Ukrainian hrivna stashed away in my bag to pay the deposit we had been told we would need.
But after much toing and froing and sitting around in offices while the Ukrainian vet officer and other assorted officials shook their heads and made copious phone calls, I was told categorically that some documentation was missing. But with my limited Russian it was almost impossible to decipher what it was and how I would go about getting it. They directed me to drive back to Russia until I pointed out that my Russian visa was now defunct as I had officially been stamped out. I can go forward but not back, and the horses can go back but not forward, and of course I cannot abandon them. So I have been sent out onto No Mans Land while we untangle the mess. The vet official would not let me unload the horses, so they had to stay on board on Tuesday night, not unsurprisingly keeping me awake with their stamping. I feel a bit like Tom Hanks in the film 'The Terminal' except with no elderly male version of Catherine Zeta Jones.
I have desperately been phoning Matt and Rowena, the British Consulate, and Nadiya the Ukrainian contact given me by the British Council to see if we can find out , exactly what is required. It appears the horses need some sort of Certificate of Transit to enable them to travel across the Ukraine once they have entered.
Yesterday I temporarily breathed a sigh of relief when a new vet officer told me everything was in hand and he had applied for the certificate. He also gained permission for me to take the horses off the lorry, and they are happily grazing in the long grass at the side of the road, which eases the stress factor as far as I am concerned.
I have arrived at the Russia-Ukraine border!
I made good progress over the last week and had the excitement of crossing over two more major rivers - the quietly flowing Don ......
.........and the Donetsk, on a rather scarily high bridge, at least for me..........
Giving his son a ride on Bolashak is this friendly guy from Zimovniki, who gave us advice on routes and found an excellent cafe to eat and Skype.
John Wayne rides again ...........
We ran into another Catch 22 of bureaucracy on our way across Russia as it transpired that the Russian border police had not given us some necessary form to log our kms travelled as the Mercedes is too old to have a tachograph. But although it was not our fault, we were still required to pay a fine at certain points. However these two amiable officers let us off - apparently a ride on Bolashak goes a long way in these parts.
Bolashak and I arriving at the Russia-Ukraine border...I am now staying overnight at the nearby town of Shakhty as I need to sort out train ticket home for Baurzhan, and around £1000 worth of Ukrainian hrivnas before tackling the border. I have to hand over a deposit of 40% of the value of the horses there, to be reimbursed when leaving the country - something to do with controlling the importation of horses.
I will be very sad to see Baurzhan leave. He has been a trusty and resourceful companion, even though he managed to lose my tethers, run over my saddle, and get the lorry stuck on the steppe - but it all adds to the challenge!
Sunday, 9 October 2011
As I have ridden past Elista and into Rostov province, the scenery has begun to change quite markedly from dry open treeless steppe to a landscape of enormous unfenced arable fields bounded by lines of trees. At this time of year the fields have either been ploughed, or lie fallow with large herds of fat cattle grazing on the stubble, sometimes mere dots on the horizon.
What we British would call proper grass has begun to appear, and the horses are eating their fill with the help of 'Doctor Green' who will hopefully put some more flesh on their bones as they both need more condition.