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Author: Maria Zehentner
Beitrag vom: 30.10.2017

To the grim Russians!

Russia, August 2017

Early in the morning we packed up and headed for the Russian border. We had some spy before entering, because many travelers we met on the way warned us about the "bad" Russians. They should be rude and gruff, and be closed to a joke. We were curious, because the only Russian we ever met was Alex from Moscow, and he could not have been any funnier.

The Kazakh emigration was without any problems. After a short wait, all three of us had to step in front of a counter, where the official acknowledged, the exit stamp, was given in our passports. Akela remained uncontrolled. Next step, the Russian authorities. A big tourist bus was in front of us and caused some delay, but basically everything went smoothly. The officials were a bit confused, because we had no exit stamp of Kazakhstan in our travel documents. But this is easily explained, as mentioned above, each of us has two passports, and the Russia Visa was stuck in the second passports.
But we were able to remedy the inconsistency quickly by presenting both passports to the officials. So everything was right. The Russians quickly inspected the truck and finally gave green light for the passage. Arrived on the Russian side, we concluded a car insurance for € 40. We could even stock up with Internet there. It saves time, if you could chop off errands such as the Internet or insurance right at the border but, sometimes the fastest solution is not always the best solution, because you sometimes get even fake stuff. Glad to have passed the checkpoints smoothly, we drove on excellent roads on Russian soil.

Our first stop was the city of Barnaul. There, we were already in close contact with Alexander, who was working for a large spare parts warehouse. Since the Kazakh workshop was not able to check our oldie, we decided to try our luck in Russia.
Thanks to a long stay in Germany, Alexander spoke our native language almost accent-free, which was very helpful for us. About 100km before reaching Barnaul, however, we threw out our plan to drive directly into the city. It was already dark and we would arrive in the city late in the evening, where we could not have done anything anyway.
We found a great camping spot at a small pond and had a nice dinner. After a good night story, we brought Lennox to bed. We ourselves, like so often when the little one fell asleep, stuck behind our laptops and started to work because there was always something to do. In this case, we searched doggedly on the www for the cheapest way to get flights home. Because in the middle of September we planned to fly home for three weeks. This task challenged us until two o'clock in the morning before we fell into our beds, tired, but with three airline tickets in our pockets.

The alarm clock stayed silent that morning until we were awakened by the warm rays of the sun shining through the skylight. We got up and did the morning toilet, but we could hardly find any motivation to drive on. We cuddled ourselves all three back to bed and started a big home cinema on our laptop. We watched "Moana", one of the newest Disney classics, that we had played on a stick in Iran.
We did not expect that this children's film penetrated our hearts in such a way and enormously inspired and motivated us in our actions. It almost broke out in a Moana hype. Leander downloaded the soundtrack, which ran non stop up and down. We laughed, danced and jumped to the beat of the music, hugging each other and making sure that nothing could stop us on our journey. In the best mood we hopped into the driver's cab in the late afternoon and roared the remaining kilometers to Barnaul. Our constant companion from the speaker of the box, the soundtrack of Moana.

During the trip, we agreed with Alexander a meeting point at a MAN workshop, which in his opinion was very capable for old trucks like ours, which ultimately proved to be a proper mistake. But later more.
At around 8:00 pm, we arrived at the meeting point. Alexander was very likeable right from the start. Leander gave him an update about the things we already knew, which needed to be fixed. Afterwards Alexander showed us a parking space right next to the workshop and promised, to be on the spot punctually the next morning to discuss everything with the mechanics.
Alex knocked on Akela's door punctually at eight. After a short talk, the garage doors for our oldie were opened and a first local inspection took place.

Sasha, as Alexander was called in Russian, and Leander went through our truck step by step with the mechanics. After several hours, we got a first diagnosis. Our power steering licked, the front stabilizers belonged swapped, the handlebar and tie rod had to be replaced, the differential rear end replaced and even more so 'little things'. Basically everything that we already knew since Kazakhstan. Now it was Alexander's turn to organize spare parts. He could not promise us anything, but promised to do his best.
So we had the afternoon off. The sun was high on the horizon and did its best to make us sweat. Lennox and I scouted for a nearby swimming pool while Leander stayed in the truck and crashed over his photos.
The next day we visited the zoo in Barnaul. Well, everybody has to make his own decision about zoos. Should they be supported now that they offer the animals a new home, perhaps seeing them as a practical example of learning for children? Or rather boycott, since wild animals are ultimately only held captive in narrow cages against their nature and are put on display purely for humans and money? It's an endless topic, that could be discussed for a long time. In this case, however, it was obvious that these animals are not even kept in a species-appropriate manner. Wolves, tigers and leopards fenced in small cages, side by side with their respective rivals, hardly any retreats. A prime example of how a zoo should not be – in our opinion at least.

Seriously disappointed and stunned, Alexander picked us up from the zoo in the evening, and we drove back to Akela. Once there, he invited as to go for dinner together, which we gladly accepted. On this occasion, we also met his girlfriend Alisia. They took us to a chic restaurant, where we dined excellently. The drinks menu was also impressive, with the disadvantage ,that Mojito and Co had made themselves felt properly on the bill.

Slightly drunken, we drove home with two taxis separately. Still a bit drunken, we opened the door to Alex the next morning. Freshly brewed coffee, which the Russian consumed in rough quantities, was already made.

He explained, that some spare parts were already on his desk, while others caused him headaches. Some may even have to be flown in from Moscow. It was unbelievable, with how much effort Alexander took care of us. He did not depart from our side, neglected his remaining work, ordered taxi services to get into the laundry, did a big shopping with us, drove with us to the Russian warehouse and chatted about the history and politics of his country. In the evening, after her job, Alisia usually joined us. It seemed, as if the two of them had made themselves the task of not letting us down for a second.

Three days had passed so far, which we were already in the workshop. On the fourth, the parts arrived, and the work could start. The cooperation with the mechanics was, as in principle in all workshops, tedious and nerve-wracking. Work was only done consistently, when Leander stood next to them, pushing them to work. Always with Alexander, who removed the linguistic barrier. For Lennox and me, of course, such days were never a honey lick. We were on a world tour, there were other pictures ghosted through the head, than playing football on dirty workshop terrain. On the evening of the fifth day, the repair work seemed to be completed. Leander jumped into the cab and did a small rehearsal round on the grounds. But what was that? The truck could only be controlled poorly with massive force, until suddenly the steering wheel could be easily rotated – without the tyres moving? With hanging corners of his mouth and visibly devoured, Akela was left lying in front of the workshop. Leander and Alexander were looking for a set up with the mechanics, but that didn't make them smarter. It didn't help, the truck had to be taken back to the workshop again.

I had not mentioned, that the MAN workshop worked 24 hours a week in shifts. Until now we were lucky, that they worked on the during the day. Normally, we drove Akela out on the garage for the night, to have a nice sleep. But this should change now.

Alexander and Alisia felt terribly pity for us and tried to convince us to come to their apartment, to find at least a few hours rest. Their care was really touching and at the end of the day we were persuaded, which later turned out to be a mistake. Because when we returned to the workshop at midnight, the power steering of the truck was removed and laying next to the truck. The trace of a responsible mechanic was completly lost. Leander got angry and started running in circles. From the mechanics, who were still working, he got the information, that the responsible man went home, because of shift change. Nobody knew about anything. We had no other choice but to wait for the next morning.

Lennox had already fallen asleep in the taxi on the way back, so he could not hear the noise around us in the garage. Thank God he was one of the kids, who had a blessed sleep from which hardly nothing could awaken him. He slept through until the next morning. Leander and I had more of a problem, which everyone tried to deal with in their own way. While Leander crouched on the dining bench with headphones from which loud music poured, I rolled back and forward in our bed. It was sultry and stuffy, the smell of oil and diesel was everywhere, compressed air hammers were ubiquitous, and the working mechanics, who were constantly scurrying around somewhere. Leander had fallen into a light sleep, I couldn't close an eye. Thanks Vodka, I was able to fix this problem after a few glasses.

The first thing in the morning was to call Alexander, who was immediately on the spot again. We found out, that when the power steering was extended, the balls of the bearing had probably been lost and this mistake made the whole power steering unusable. No one in this workshop had the knowledge of repairing it, or how to solve the problem. But that didn't seem to bother anyone, except us. Leander started to freak out, now it´s enough. He was about to explode. He asked Alexander to go with him to the workshop manager and translate "literally" what he had to say to him. Alex sneaked behind Leander, presumably with a slight stomach ache. He already knew Leander a little bit, and he could imagine what would follow now. A flurry of words came out of Leander`s mouth, and Alex translated well.
He told the boss that we have been standing in the workshop now for days, and as he could see, with a little child. Nothing happened in these days. The truck still doesn`t work. There is no excuse for the damage caused, there is no effort to fix the truck, nobody asked us whether we need something to eat or drink, whether we can sleep or not. Nothing!!! Mistakes can happen, that`s human, but it makes the way how you gonna solve the problem! We felt badly treated.

There was one last thing Leander promised the boss. We would not sleep again in the garage during the night, that`s for sure. If the damage was not repaired by tonight, it could be, that he would let off steam in the workshop. And anyone who knows Leander knows, that he always keeps his promises!

The boss seamed to understand the problem, but an apology, however, still didn't come over his lips.

Suddenly, a specialist was found, who could possibly repair the steering. But not on the same day. So again, what else could we do than waiting? The power steering was brought by a transport service to the named specialist. We couldn't do anything and sat on needles. Thanks to Heaven, Leander could not clearly find out who was responsible for the damage caused. Because that could have turned out badly for this guy. Since Akela was still unable to drive out of the garage, the mechanics came with crowbars in the evening, put them on the rims, and shook the truck centimetre by centimetre out of the garage, which of course did not happen without scraping. But at least we had a reasonably quiet night.

During the next day, our power steering swirled in, obviously repaired. Alexander arranged the repair, and we nervously stepped around on the spot. Suddenly the redemptive information came, that everything was back in the right place and should run flawlessly.

Leander didn't quite trust the peace. He immediately jumped behind the wheel, drove Akela out of the garage and did some laps with neat wheel hits.

The power steering seemed to work, but the guys did forget to adjust the steering play and so, the steering wheel was completely skewed while driving straight. Which meant, back into the workshop!

We already had lost faith, but late in the evening the moment came, and Akela was able to drive out of the workshop area. The farewell to the MAN garage was short and painless.

The one from Alexander and Alisia's the next day was far more emotional. Thank you very much for your sacrifice and efforts. Alexander made it his mission to be available 24 hours for us during the entire stay. Apart from the tireless translation services he provided, he organised spare parts, that were basically not available at affordable prices. Not to mention his free time, which he sacrificed for us. Alisia also spent every spare minute after her job with us in the workshop and tried to keep us, and especially Lennox, happy. None of this was taken for granted, and we hope to be able to revenge on you at some point. We cannot give you more than a big thank you at the moment, but it comes from the heart.

After this workshop marathon we hoped for some relaxing days in the Russian Altai. The Republic of Altai is located in the very south of Siberia, where Russia, Kazakhstan, China and Mongolia meet. Due to the diversity of its flora and fauna and the ancient culture, the mountains have become a magnet for many people. Up to heights of 1800m, the mountain slopes are covered with cedars, pines, larch, spruce and birch trees. Apart from its natural beauty, the Siberian Altai stands for mystery and inaccessibility, like hardly any other part of the earth. This may be, because foreigners were not allowed to travel freely to Siberia for a long time. The central power of the Altai, the mountain goddess Belucha, is omnipresent and is revered as the origin of the healing shamans. We were very curious about this part of Russia.

On the way there, not far from Barnaul, Leander again complained about the steering of Akela. He didn't drive straight, you always had to adjust the steering wheel. A short call to Alexander quickly remedied it. He advised us to stop in the small town of Byisk, which was about 170km from Barnaul and was on our way to the Altai Mountains anyway. There lived his friend Max, whom he had already contacted. Max was supposed to accompany us to a workshop, where the truck should be inspected for a short time.

A few kilometers before Byisk we called Max. He explained us the way to a meeting point, where he was already waiting for us with a mechanic.

As we rolled into the parking lot, we were greeted equally friendly and exuberant. Max was tall, of handsome figure and seemed extremely charming and helpful. He translated the mechanic Leander's problem into English, who sat right under the truck to measure the track and width of the tires – with a cable channel, mind you! After about 20 minutes Max explained us, that it was set wrong by a few centimeters and that we had an appointment in a workshop the next day. For the night he would have a quiet place for us to sleep, we should just drive after him.

Actually, we weren't in the mood for entertainment, we just wanted to have a rest. But somehow everything was different here. While we were following Max's Jeep, I received a strange call from Alexander. He instructed me, that everything that would happen in Byisk should not be questioned and, that everything would go at Max's expense, as he insisted on it.

Alexander had stirred the advertising drum in our favor to Max. This one, in turn, was apparently so enthusiastic about us and Akela when he met us in person, that we simply received a ban on spending our money. Confused, I lay down and told Leander what I had just been told on the phone. Hm, oblique story. We weren't quite sure if we should get involved.

Everything what happens in Byisk, stays in Byisk?? Hangover in Russian?

But, we were already in the middle of it, so f... off, let`s do it!

After a few minutes, he stopped at a high garden fence through which a villa flashed through. The gate opened, and we were sledged in. Inside we had a beautiful garden with gazebo and a parking lot, where we could park Akela. We got out and waited for Max, who came. He invited us to the garden gazebo and served tea and coffee. During a nice conversation we finally had the opportunity to learn a little more about the person Max. He was the managing director of a large company in Byisk. The property he had taken us to, was a hotel for business partners and customers. Or people like us, who were allowed to enjoy his hospitality.

After tea, he disappeared with Leander for a few minutes in the hotel. When he returned, he grinned over both ears and shook his head. Max had shown him a two-room suite, which he provided to us. He left it to us whether we wanted to stay in the truck or in the hotel. Quite casual, not intrusive, just helpful. There was also an indoor pool for Lennox, and we didn't have to worry about food either. A short time later Max joined us again in the summer foliage. He asked Lennox if he liked dogs, the little one nodded. He took our youngstar by the hand and went with him to a slap, opened it, and out jumped a huge Malamut Husky. Totally playful, but a number too big for Lennox. "Do you want a smaller one," the Russian asked Lennox again. Our son nodded. Max rose and walked into the hotel. After a few minutes, he came back with a three-month-old sausage dog named Archibald in his arm, looked at Lennox and said, "Small enough?" Lennox, who had a fat grin on his face, answered with joy "Da", which means yes in Russian.

Max apologized because he still had some business appointments to do. We should feel at home and he will be back for dinner. Incredibly, we still couldn't believe it. We stayed in a great hotel with pool, were allowed to stay in a dreamy suite, got to eat and drink, our car was taken care of... and all that for free? Just because we were sympathetic to him? Well, we didn't think about it anymore and jumped into the pool. Later, Leander checked with Alexander on the phone, if everything was really right here. Alexander just laughed and said, that Max was just "crazy."

Leander said to Alex on the phone, that it would be nice if he and Alisia were here aswell. Leander was just kidding, but Alexander was really thinking about the idea. They could make it until dinner, It didn't take much persuasion. Just in time for dinner, the two were there. Max, too, had reentered in the meantime. He led us all into the garden foliage, where his staff conjured up fine Russian specialities on the table. Of course, a lot of vodka was on the table too. Until late into the night we ate, drank and were having fung, until Max eventually asked the two men, if they wanna go for a drive with the Buchanka.

A Buchanka is an all-terrain vehicle in Russia. It is compact and box-like shaped, which gave him the colloquial name Buchanka, which means box bread. Some models of them have cult status in Russia.

The Russian said good night to us after the little trip and went to bed. The four of us continued to celebrate for some time, which we bitterly regretted the next day, especially Leander and Alexander. They already had an appointment with Akela in the workshop at 09:00. Lennox and I were able to sleep out, which is not very difficult in such rooms. After breakfast we cuddled up in the bed again and watched Disney Channel, which is a very rear situation, because we do not have a TV in Akela.

In the early afternoon, the men returned with Akela. The workshop could not find any gross errors. The track has been discontinued and hopefully it`s ok now. In any case, the truck drove straight again.

Alisia and Alexander said goodbye after lunch and drove back to Barnaul. The three of us enjoyed the rest of the day and extended it by one night. Not because we were outrageous, but because Max had insisted on it. Unfortunately, he was not present for dinner. He had to attend appointments outside the city and probably did not return until late in the evening. Which was no disadvantage for us, because we wouldn't have lasted another vodka night. Since we were in a bad way according to the circumstances, we lay down to sleep early. In the middle of the night we were awakened by the ringing of the phone, Max was at the other end and asked if we were still awake. He had just returned from his business appointment and would have a surprise for us. Sleep-drunk leander comforted him the next morning.

Visibly recovered, I went down to the garden with Lennox after breakfast. The little one ran ahead, but met me shortly afterwards very excited on the stairs. "Mom, Mom," he shouted, "Max has a wolf skin." No glue of which he was talking, I followed Lennox. Outside in the garden, Max met me with a broad smile. On his arm a wolf skin, which he hung around my neck with a wink and the words "It's for you!" So slowly it darkened me again. Leander and he had talked about Akela, wolves and wolf skins, during our dinner with lots of vodka. Eh voila, now he was a proud owner of a wolf skin, thanks to Max. I was speechless and didn't want to accept it at first. But Max insisted, that it would be the greatest joy for him if we liked it. In various shops we had already casually seen at what prices such trophies were traded. A bad conscience overran me. When Leander joined and I offered him our present, he was just speechless like I was.

But that was still not enough. After two wonderful days, the moment of saying goodbye had come. Max still covered us with plenty of fish, honey and deer blood. Deer blood is extracted from the bast-covered antlers of a slain animal. It apparently serves to strengthen the immune system and contributes to the improvement of male potency.

As a tiny thank you, I cooked a typical Austrian dish, which is called „Kaiserschmarren“ for Max in Akela's kitchen, which he had tasted for the second time during our stay. He really was a fan of an Austrian Kaiserschmarren.

Max, thank you very much for your extraordinary, helpfulness and immeasurable hospitality. You are unique, and we will always remember you as the "crazy" Russian.

He drove in front of us and led us out of his town safely, before we squeezed into a parking lot and said goodbye. And finally we gave him back the wolf skin. So beautiful and nice as it was, we felt uncomfortable with a real fur. We like wolves more, when they are still alive.

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