Our Greek friend, nick-named Dollar joined us for this Leg. We re-packed our bikes and the Toyota and headed towards the Russian border where we planned to sleep on the 3rd night in the town where the Olympic Winter Games were going to take place the following year.
But a few kilometres from the border we were stopped by the army who informed us that there was a group from Chechnya across the border in Russia who had claimed a part of Georgia for themselves and the border was closed. We were forced to turn around and head to the harbour town of Poti where we managed to book 3 cabins on the larges Train-Car-Ferry, it took 90 train cars in the belly of the ferry and then 60 trucks parked on the upper level. We spent the next three nights on the ferry heading to Odessa. This voyage took twice as long due to macanical problems and the 6 of us were forced to spend every waking hour getting to know and understand the psyche of a Russian truck-driver. We learnt that vests were in fashion and that those with the longest toe-nails could drink the most vodka. We sat and watched Russian TV and Russian Videos, we ate a lot of cabbage and eventually invented several games to stay sane and not lose our minds.
But the time on the ferry could not prepare us for the border crossing once we docked as first customs inspectors came on board to inspect all the trucks and then immigration officers came to have a look at all the Passports and Visa’s. Then Linda, the sniffer-dog was brought on boards and we all had our crotches and luggage sniffed by Linda. Her handler then tied her to a Fire Escape and went for lunch in the Ferries Dining Room. During his absence Peens thought it would be a good idea to give Linda some dried meat flavoured with chillies, (called Biltong in Afrikaans but known as Jerky in the U.S.A.) which Linda ate.
As our motorbikes were parked behind the train-cars at the bottom of the ferry we were the 1st off the ferry, we now had to pass through the actual customs and Immigrations into the Ukraine, it was 19h00 and the border was closing at Midnight, more than enough time I thought. But then it went horribly wrong as none of the people at the border could speak any English and we were not very fast in communication using Google Translate as it was done word by word and only help when asking something, it is not so good for understanding what they meant or wanted us to do. We eventually realised that we had to park on the side to allow the two train Locomotives to drive in and out of the ferry to offload all the cartridges.
Then two Custom Officers came to search us and the bikes and all they then spoke the 1st of three English words they knew “Cocaine” to which we said we did not have any Drugs, they decided we looked dirty, poor and like typical Drug-smugglers and they then asked us to unpack everything we had on the bike and empty the entire back of old Brutes. They returned once we had packed out all our possessions, but they returned with Linda, the sniffer dog.
This happened to great applause and amusement to the 60 truck drivers who were all still standing on the upper deck of the ferry waiting for the train carriages to be off-loaded. They laughed and haggled us. But then the Chilly-Biltong inside Linda had to, lets say, “come out” and instead of being an obedient sniffer-dog she ran for the grass next to our vehicles to relieve herself, only to be dragged back to search the Drug-Smugglers. This happened several times before the dog-handler understood what was happening. Then the next two English words were spoken, “Vodka” and “Cigarettes” in a very threatening tone, to which we once again answered “No, as none of us smoked and we did not have any Vodka, (we did have some French Red Wine and some beers but we kept quiet.) We later realised that this was asked for a bribe and if we only knew this we might have come to some agreement, but as we did not give them anything we were branded as “difficult customers that needed to be taught a lesson. So everything was searched and sniffed, unpacked un rolled. And when they could not find anything serious enough they started with the next best irritating thing, to send us from one office to the other, only to be sent back for a stamp that person “forgot” to give us, then the next person wanted photo copies of all our paperwork, and he must have known the office where the photocopier is kept in now closed and locked, but they did not realise how resilient this group was and after several attempts to get to the office of the most senior female officer on duty, and many respectful advances from Tex, who fancy himself as “good with the ladies” or maybe I should say “Gentleman” (the American Passport might also have helped,) a junior (who I saw get his uniform from the person who’s shift he was replacing,) was sent to open the copier room for us. I believe that it was actually or due to my Lost Puppy Look that this nice lady helped us. But by 23h00 we were still not even in the main queue and was now behind the 60 truck drivers, it did not look like we were going to make it through before they closed. While waiting in line one of the truck-drivers who we became friends with on the Ferry and who could speak and understand English very well went to speak to the senior in charge and had a long discussion with her and we suspect he must have picked-up from our conversations that we all have our own businesses and in spite of looking destitute and dirty are actually very well educated and financially secure and it might be a good idea if we get treated a little better and with just a little more respect. After this discussion the two Custom guys who searched us were summonsed and verbally abused in front of all of us, then we were moved to the front of the line, our documents stamped and with 10 minutes to spare drove through the border and headed for Odessa.
The next morning we went to see if what we heard about Odessa was true. Odessa’s claim-to-fame is that it is\was the place where the Russians sent their daughters to Finishing-School and that every woman, no matter how old id dressed impeccable. And this was true, the females from this town know how to dress classy and I saw that long-gloves were making a come-back, and the gloves matched the shoes and that matched the handbag etc.
We now headed East and then down the Crimean Peninsula and our 1st stop was Sevastopol, (the city with the most beautiful woman in the world without a doubt.) After a harbour tour past all the Russian War-ships and Submarines we rode to Balaklava and went for a tour through the tunnel under the mountain in which the Russian submarines during the Cold War would surface to get re-fuelled, re-stocked and re-armed. Today it is a Sub-Marine Museum.
We continued East along the coast, riding along the cliffs and at night we chose a little holiday town and blended in with the Ukrainian and Russian Holiday makers. Peens noticed on Google Earth a sandbank on the North Eastern Corner of the Peninsula and though it looked like there might be a track we could not get confirmation that there is a bridge joining it with the mainland, but the frill of 100km of soft sandy track got the better of our judgement and the next day we went in-search of the sand-bank, which we did find and which was only about 100m wide at some places, but eventually after much fun and a few drag-races and taking a lot of risk we were on a tar road again.
But two days before we were supposed to arrive in Kiev we were met with another “big challenge” when Dollar, (our back-up driver for the Toyota) after a night with drinking vodka with locals and getting them to pose on our bike for photos, we met in a village where no tourist ever could have pass-through, he fell asleep and rolled the Land Cruiser onto its side and then slid into a potato field. When the local farmers helped him to get out they un-clipped his seatbelt and he then fell down to the passenger side which was at the bottom and he then broke some ribs. We received his bad news with his GPS Coordinates and had to turn back. The diesel injectors had to be screwed out as it was suffering from Hydraulic Lock and after some panel-beating the Toyota could be driven again, but we realised it would not be allowed to cross over from Ukraine to Russia in the state it was in. Poor old Peens who tried to chat-up the owner of the restaurant we ate at a few days ago was given a big jar of tomatoe\chilly sauce, and in spite of us all warning him to give it to someone, he continued transporting it in the back of Brutes, so when she rolled the tomatoe sauce was mixed with all our kit and other stuff on the back of Brutes, so it was a big mess and he had to clean this without using a hose.
We had to make a new plan and it was decided to find a panel-beater in Kiev and as luck would have it there was also a KTM dealership, so another list was made and everything left there for the winter.
We spent 2 days in Kiev being tourists and then flew to Moscow where Marina, the Russian Paraglider Champion spent three days showing us all the tourist sites and a glimpse into her life as a resident of Moscow.