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The Long Road to Paris: Borders and Bureaucracy

July 12, 2011 Today we did not have a lot of miles to cover, but we did have a border to cross and honestly we always have to plan for some car problem. Today it was Clay. Just 2km from the border we heard on our walkie-talkie that his oil pressure had dropped and he needed to pull over. One of the hoses that had been used for an earlier repair had come off and he lost most of his oil. This time he discovered the problem before his engine was ruined. While adding oil, he also discovered the leak in the water pump was worse. Sometimes it’s a bit uncanny to compare our real long road to Paris to the description in the fictional version. At the border, we did get in line with all the trucks, but in reality, the trucks form a separate line from the cars. Ed (that is fictional Ed, Page 230) walked to the head of the line, “stopped to watch as the border guards inspected a smelly truck loaded with noisy pigs. Pigs to Latvia, now that would be a way to sneak something or someone across the border. Not even border guards would want to search through that.” Well, our truck loads of pigs were going from Latvia into Russia, I couldn’t help but laugh as I made my way on foot across the border. I have no idea how we came up with the pig scenario for the novel, but it was all there in reality! I walked as the cars were loaded with all the luggage from our group and only the drivers stayed with the cars. My trip across the border was easy compared to Ed’s. Jan Ed’s view: We had traveled all of Russia with two support vans. They were not permitted to cross the border into Latvia. That meant, Tatiana, who will go all the way to Paris with us, Dennis, Jeff and Ed (Gavin) had to cross on foot and all the luggage in the vans had to be loaded into our cars — mostly into Stewball as we are the only ones with a back seat and enough room! The requirements were this: Each of our four “race” cars must have only one person, the driver, when leaving the Russian checkpoint and crossing the one-mile neutral zone to the Latvian checkpoint. The others had to walk. Our eight pedestrians were cleared with little waiting and walked to the waiting Latvian vans. Each of us presented our documents and then waited. And waited, alternately pacing and dozing in our packed cars.  After about two hours, we learned that our documents were lacking a small sticker that Kazakhstan authorities were supposed to have put on them. Calls were made to Kazakhstan. Tatiana used her best allure (she later admitted she considered trying tears) but to no avail. The official on the Kazakhstan side was not in. More calls were made to more authorities, higher-ups in the chain of command. Eventually after 4 and a half hours, a decision was made to let us go. Jerry and his Corvette cleared first. I had only a slight problem. They wanted to see the VIN number on the car. Had they read the novel and thought this was a different car than the one I entered Russia in? I explained, with Tatiana’s help, that the number was under the back seat which would have to be removed to show them. This meant removing all the luggage. Well, even Russian border guards have a sense of humor. They all just laughed and waved me on. O.K., now the next problem was Clay did not have his original title, only a copy. Clay’s car was in front of me and I could not get around it. Clay either could not, or would not leave the immigration officer’s window to move his car over. So I waited another 20 minutes for him. Meantime, Tatiana got a call from the Latvian side. A decision was made for one of the vans to go on to the hotel in Daugavpils. (At the point they called, we had no idea when we would cross or even if it would be today. Shades of China/Kazakhstan border crossing.) But there was one more problem: There was only room for seven of our eight people. Someone had to volunteer to stay behind with the remaining van. Jan, bless her heart, volunteered to wait for me. It was only 5 and a half hours, but it seemed an eternity. (Jan’s edit: I was told it may be well after dark before the cars crossed and I didn’t want to leave Ed with the rest of the driving at that point. I could wait here, or wait at the hotel.) The good part was our hotel. I don’t know how stars are assigned. This was three-star, but equaled or bettered most Russian four-star hotel. Great cool room, great dinner and lovely view. Tomorrow, Lithuania. Ed

The Long Road to Paris: And Now from Russia

July 1, 2011 Picture this: A London pub, Czech Budweiser beer in Kurgan, Russia. Now is that cosmopolitan or what? Our hotel seems very Russian, but not in a bad way. We actually have a suite with overstuffed furniture covered in dark brown velvet. We had to plug in the water heater to get hot water and it was only after my lukewarm shower that we noticed. Our babushka sits at her desk by the elevator and doesn’t smile, although she was very helpful when Ed gave me the car key instead of the room key when I went up to get my camera! Of course I didn’t notice until I climbed the four flights of stairs. Do you think we’re tired at the end of the day? I do remember that our 'Welcome to Russia' dinner included red caviar and champagne. We crossed the border from Kazakhstan into Russia today. Nothing like crossing from China into Kazakhstan. That was a nightmare of waiting. That crossing took seven hours and with only 15 minutes until the border closed, did our cars come through. Today we arrived at the Kazakhstan border about 10:00 a.m. and we were through both borders by 11:35 a.m. The wood houses with their blue and white trim and neat fences are everywhere and as much a part of Eastern Russia as the groves of birch trees. Other than long lines of trucks, it had nothing in common with the last crossing. Lots of picture-taking smiling guards, but still the ever-present sniffing German shepherds. We really felt we experienced the setting described in The Long Road to Paris on pages 230-237. We didn’t have Vald to help us, but we did have Egor, our Kazan guide. We were met by John and Tatiana our Russian guides. Tatiana will go all the way to Paris with us. It’s a small world. In western China we met Chuck Brown from Kernersville, N.C. Today the driver of our support van was wearing a UNC Tar Heel shirt! Through John I learned he had been the driver for a group of scientists from UNC (and elsewhere). He was eager to have a photo taken with us when he learned that both Ed and I had taught there. So Russia. We were here in 2009 on the train from Vladivostok to Moscow, but driving this country is different. Roads so far are much like Kazakhstan, mostly two-lane highways with lots of bumps and dips but drivers are much more aggressive. If I can remember my skills from China I’ll do alright. Car update: Stewball has a black eye. Yup, somewhere in Kazakhstan, something (bird or rock) broke the glass in the left front headlight. The official story will be bird since that is what happened to Schuster in 1908. The first day it burned alright but now no light at all. Both in Kazakhstan and Russia you have to run with headlights on in the daytime as well as night. The traffic police in Kazakhstan didn’t seem to care, we saw many cars with only one headlight. The only thing we get pulled over for is to satisfy the curiosity of the highway police and give them a chance to see the cars close up. However, we have learned this is not the case in Russia. Tatiana will see if she can locate one in Ekaterinburg but Ed is doubtful. We have been in touch with Klaus, our rally friend from Germany who will meet us in Vilnius, Lithuania and hopefully he will have tracked down a new headlight. If not, Ed is sure we can find one in Berlin. Tomorrow is the run to Ekaterinburg, then a day off to visit this interesting city with the Church of Blood that stands at the site where Czar Nicholas II and his family were executed in 1918. Jan

The Long Road to Paris: Entering Kazakhstan

Duct Tape — Don't Leave Home Without It June 14, 2011 So as not to distress any more toll booth attendants, Ed duct-taped our license plate to the underside of the right side visor. So now when we approach a toll booth, we just flip it down! Very clever man. Who knows what additional uses we will have for it before we are done. We traveled more secondary roads today, which produced much shaking and bumping of the cars. Jerry’s Corvette didn’t like the potholes at all, and he has an unidentified rattle that most likely will require pulling the right rear wheel off. We will loan him our jack stands for his diagnostic look in the morning. Today was my birthday, and at dinner I was surprised with a cake with candles. It all got sort of mixed up since Ed and I opted to have dinner alone in the hotel restaurant that had Western food. We had lamb chops, French fries and a Caesar salad. We have had some very good Chinese food, but it is nice to have a change. As a gift, I have a bottle of Chinese "wine," 42 percent alcohol! I haven’t opened it yet. Thank you, Doug and Mir Corporation for my birthday celebration.  Already Tuesday, and everyone spent the morning off working on their cars. We canceled the tour of the city and a visit to a museum. We will do a boat tour of the Yellow River in the afternoon. More from the road tomorrow. Jan If I Were a Chinese Parent ... June 16, 2011 I would encourage my child to become a civil engineer. Forget the computer software or even hardware, the construction of highways, dams, elevated rail beds (for the high-speed trains China is developing, streets and roads for new apartment buildings are proceeding at a mind-boggling rate). This country is trying to put together an infrastructure for the future. There is a lot they don’t yet have, clean air and drinkable water and sanitation standards. If your child isn’t material for engineering, then send them to school to become a trunk mechanic. The number of trucks on the roads here must outdo the cars and most of them are in bad repair with diesel fumes emitting from the back. They are all so overloaded they breakdown on a regular basis, clogging the already overcrowded roads. So much has happened since I was last able to get online, that I hardly know where to begin. But the most important thing is Stewball. We may have a very serious problem. Yesterday it was cutting out in low r.p.m. Ed changed the spark plugs and leaned out the fuel since we were at high altitudes — nearly 8,000 ft. Today by the afternoon it was running even worse. Now he has determined that the compression is seriously low on number three valve. The best news would be that it is out of adjustment. He is out now with Stewball trying to determine that. The worst news would be a burned valve which of course he is not prepared to deal with. One choice may be to truck the car to Almaty, Kazakhstan. We know there is a garage there that can do this work. Right now we just don’t know. It may be that we can’t move with the group tomorrow. I will let you know the outcome as soon as I am back online. Hopefully still on the road to Paris, Jan Catch Up June 17, 2011 Already in the Silk Road Resort hotel in Dunhuang. A town founded during the Han Dynasty in 111 B.C. This place makes up for last night — that one was “best available” and  that included a rock-hard bed, cold shower and Motel 6 food. The good part was meeting up with a group of Global Motorcycle riders, Americans and Canadians, traveling from Istanbul to Xi’an. 8,000 miles. They are also booked with Mir Corp. so Doug asked if we wanted to meet them one night — and we thought we were hardy! We have two nights here in Dunhuang. Since I have some time, and internet, I’ll catch you up on some of our activities and sites since some have asked for more. Let me back up to the Great Wall. I never did get to share that experience. Yesterday we had a photo op at the most Western end. I must say, this was not nearly as impressive as the Juyyongguan section near Beijing. We climbed a section near Beijing. I even have a plaque to prove I did it! It is overwhelming to think that this section dates to the Ming Dynasty — 1366-1644 and stretches over 3,800 miles. The western section is much older and dates back nearly 2,000 years. I really found this much more impressive than the terra cotta warriors. The story of the warriors is fascinating. but I really got tired of all those statues!   Ed is out searching for an engine repair shop, and once he returns, I’ll post an update on Stewball. Just to say, we did drive today. The engine is still cutting out, but no worse than yesterday. When the time is right (not the middle of the night in the U.S., he will call Mid America Motor Works to see if he can get cylinder heads shipped in, and how fast? Enjoying this stop on the road to Paris, Jan Beetle for Sale or Rent June 18, 2011 In 1908, when the remaining French team (out of the original three that started in N.Y.) arrived in Vladivostok, they sold their car to a Chinese businessman because their financial support was withdrawn. They continued to Paris by train. Today, I stayed behind because of “personal travel problems” and did not go on the camel ride in the Gobi. (More from Jan on that later. Just let me say from the pictures, she looks good on a camel.) But this is my blog. I was in front of our elegant hotel, (it is laid out to replicate the architecture of the Tang Dynasty — mud walls enclose a courtyard and our room has a view of the Gobi Desert) checking the oil in Stewball when a Chinese man approach me who said this was his hotel. He said he wanted to ask a personal question. “How much would you sell the Beetle for? It must be very valuable and I want it for a museum. You can fly on to Paris.” I told him that it really wasn’t valuable, that there were many of them still in the U.S. He paused, then added,”you must be very wealthy, perhaps a billionaire.” I assured him I was not, but that I really wanted to drive this car around the world, not fly to Paris. If he had approached me yesterday, history might have repeated itself! I have learned Jack Crabtree driving his Model A, doesn’t take “Out” seriously. So, after checking in, Jack, Peter, our Chinese guide and I went searching for an engine repair shop in this tourist city, one cylinder misfiring as we went. Almost at the same time, Peter and I spotted a hole in the wall VW service place! Peter explained our problem. They were fascinated by Stewball, most likely having never seen an air-cooled one, and went to work immediately. Peter told me afterward he had explained to them that if they didn’t think they could work on this engine, to not even touch it! There was no inside work space, this was done outdoors. It wasn’t compression after all. The new distributor that the San Francisco shop put on (without consulting me) was bad. I had a spare along - so much for not having the one part that you will surely need. They put it on. Stewball is healthy again. Total bill for two hours labor, and Castrol 20W-50 oil for an oil change, $50.00 U.S.  So, no sale or rent for Stewball, we continue to Paris, Ed The Ghost of George Schuster June 19, 2011 If part of this adventure was to feel the presence of George Schuster and his crew, today did it. We drove from Dunhaung, a photographer’s delight with the ever-changing light on the Gobi desert sand to Hami, a distance of 267 miles. Piece of cake — NOT. There are a lot of things I don’t understand about China and here is one more. There is only one road to Hami, that I get, there are no towns between these two cities and no needs for multiple roads, but tearing up a distance of 138 miles before resurfacing any of it, that I don’t get. So, all the traffic still continues — or not — on rock-strewn, rutted, gutted, potholed, sometimes muddy, flooded road. This photo was the best section. Once the road got really bad, I couldn’t take photos. It is really hard to describe this drive. People have made their own detours, sometimes going up onto what will be the new road, then back down onto our not-road. The trunks mostly stood still. Engines off, drivers sleeping or hunkering in groups, smoking and talking until our cars came by then they all waved and smiled and helped us snake our way, creating lanes, among the trucks to continue our very slow journey. I do believe these trunk drivers have more patience and courtesy than those in the U.S. We saw no indication of irritation or impatience — just resignation. They moved to the right and left, leaving space for cars to make a third or even fourth lane to make what progress we could. It took seven hours to cover this 138 miles. Like Schuster, we even had to build a ramp of rocks and straw to get up and over a not yet finished bridge on one of our many man-made detours. It was a challenge in driving that we have never experienced. There were no police to move things along, just drivers helping drivers. What a life this is. Tomorrow, Ed will check the oil bath air cleaner because of all the sand. Jan and Ed Bits and Pieces from China June 21, 2011 Ever wonder who writes the instructions for your electronic devices? Check out these fire safety instructions on the door of a recent hotel. “Please don’t worry if a fire is occurring. Our hotel have owned superior facilities to ensure your transmitted to safety. Please follow the direction route to the information corridor and the safeguards will take you out to the safe belts. Point profess your location.” We have really been welcomed by people everywhere. I don’t know what I expected, but I did expect the Chinese to be more reserved, maybe even suspicious of us and our activity. I am coming away with a different opinion. They are very curious about our cars and us as Americans driving through their country. Ed was told by one young woman, traveling with her parents, that he is a good example for the older people in China. That life can still be an adventure. We don’t see old cars in China. We were told by an American, Chuck Brown from Kernersville, N.C., who has lived in Beijing for the last nine years, that cars have an “end of life” when you buy one. I forgot to ask him how long is the life of a car, but he did say buses have 10 years. From the trucks we’ve seen, I don’t think that law affects them but maybe it is just the overloading and long hauls. Everywhere we stop, including for gas, we have new friends wanting photos with us. It is never-ending, without common language, we smile, shake hands and use lots of gesturing. The message is clear, they are glad to have us here. The language is so different that it is even difficult to read the body language or voice inflection, but being pulled to the car for a photo is clear! Today we elected not to tour Urumqi, and stayed behind to take off the oil bath air cleaner and check it. I washed off the Gobi dust and dirt from the past two days while Ed managed the engine. Even in the depths of the hotel garage, we managed to collect various (hotel employees?) people watching and even holding the flashlight for Ed. Then it got more interesting. While having lunch — again in the hotel, we were approached by one of the young men who had been in the parking garage who asked in English if his girlfriend, a reporter for the Urumqi newspaper, could interview us. His English was not good enough, so the hotel manager served as translator. We have no idea what the article really will say since there was a lot of conversation that did not get translated. So if anyone following the blog, reads Chinese, we’d be happy to have a translation of the article. The lovely young reporter gave us her card, and respecting the Chinese tradition of exchanging business cards (with two hands) we gave her one with the photo of Stewball. Since hers is in Chinese, we don’t even know if she really is a reporter! Picture taking followed, but I didn’t have my camera this time. Tomorrow is a short run only 171 miles so we will not depart until 10:00 a.m. Tonight is a dinner with Uighur folk dancing. I am sure that will produce photos. Jan Enough of China! June 23, 2011 Three thousand miles is at least one thousand too many. I retract my comments that I made about Chinese food, hotels and rapture. That was Beijing. People who think they know China after a visit to Beijing are like those who think they know the U.S. after a visit to New York City. As we have driven west, the food and hotels, with very few exceptions, have become worse and worse. China has a long way to go to bring this entire county up to any Western standard. From reading the IHT, I know they hope the high-speed train will connect East and West (of China), but not yet. Health and sanitation does not seem to be on the agenda yet, just energy, roads and infrastructure that impresses. Tomorrow is the border crossing, really two borders, first China, then 2 km of neutral zone and then the Kazakhstan border. Of course each border requires different documentation. Cross your fingers that our paper work is in order, or we will get to experience Doug’s promised “opportunities for adventure." We have learned only the driver of the car can cross with the car, Jan along with the other navigators will cross in a bus (make that bribe a driver with an already full bus to let them stand in the isle with our extra luggage for the 2 km trip). No one is allowed to walk this distance and no photographs. Our support vehicles cannot cross (they are Chinese) and new vehicles and drivers will meet us on the Kazakhstan side. All I can say, is, if you plan to drive China, be prepared for friendly people, a travel adventure and the lack of creature comfort as we know it. I am really ready for a different country and I am not alone. Ed Lost But Not Lonely in Kazakhstan June 27, 2011 NOTE: This is being posted by daughter, Lilla, since for some reason we cannot access our blog here. Today finds us in Karaganda, somewhere between Almaty and Astana. Actually this is the second largest city in Kazakhstan. But the story is how we got here. The day started out easy enough and we only had a run of 251 miles. There are not a lot of roads in Kazakhstan. The only thing I would trade in Kazakhstan with China are the roads — that is most of them. We did have our share of road horrors in China. The Kazakhstan Highway is a two-lane, often bumpy surfaced road. The washout of the undersurface produces potholes and broken surface near the shoulders. The good thing is traffic is much lighter, especially truck traffic, but we still have to make our way around many broken down trucks. It’s quite straight from Almaty to Astana but somehow we managed to lose our lead vehicle and Jerry’s corvette. It’s really not hard if you get stuck behind a couple of trucks and out of range of the walkie-talkies we are using for communications. We really expected they would be waiting for us at the city border but they apparently thought we had stopped to let Jack in his Model A and the back support vehicle catch up. Point is, we entered the city (remember, second largest in Kazakhstan) with no one to guide us to the hotel. Not without our own resources, we stopped by the side of the road to wait on Jack. We knew we were ahead of him. Minutes after we stopped a car stopped behind us and out popped three young people. With no common language — there is a lot of English here — they gestured, could they photograph themselves with our car? We of course said yes, then with a bit more sign language, they wanted to know where we were heading. I pulled out our World Race itinerary and showed them the name of the hotel. The young man indicated he could lead us there.  Now this is something you have to understand, in Kazakhstan and Russia, there are lots of informal “taxis”. People pick up money by taking on passengers. This is well described on pages 218 and 219 in The Long Road to Paris T. That was Moscow, but it could have been any city in Kazakhstan as well. We followed them easily and with only a slight degree of anxiety. They lead us directly to our hotel, which was quite close to the side of the city where we entered. There in the parking lot was Jerry’s Corvette and our lead vehicle wondering how we had found the hotel since we were not with Jack or the other support vehicle. This guidance was not for money, just friendship and interest. We introduced our guide to our new friends, pictures all around and a wave goodbye! I don’t think we need a lead vehicle again on this road to Paris! You may not read another post until Russia, but all is well. Stewball is over his bad fuel problem, no more dieseling and Jan and Ed are well too. Jan We Love Kazakhstan! June 29, 2011 We are now slightly more than half way between Beijing and Paris and have a day off in Astana, the capital of Kazakhstan only since 1997. Almaty was the capital before that. According to our guide, Alexander, the president made this decision based on natural threats — Almaty has twice been destroyed by earthquakes and once by flooding — and man-made threats since Almaty is very close to the border with China. Anyway, like Almaty, this is a beautiful, clean, modern city. We walked through the city center yesterday afternoon. I have been surprised at how much English is spoken here. I had assumed a second language would be Russian since they were part of the Soviet Union for so long. Those we speak to ask us if we like the city and like Kazakhstan. They are proud of their country’s progress and are curious if we see it the same way. I am happy to say we do. I don’t know what I expected, but this county is certainly a place to watch. They have their act together. So, today for some was a tour of the city, for us, a tour of the parking lot. Ed had to adjust valves and lubricate the car. We were in early enough to do this yesterday, but this job must be done when the engine is cold, so, it was a job for this morning. Ed borrowed Jack’s grease gun and his blue blanket to make things more comfortable. I helped, well, sort of. I played gopher and washed the exterior and straighten up the interior. Seems car maintenance is the way all the drivers spend any day off. Tomorrow we are back on the road to Paris a run of 368 miles to the border town of Petropavlovsk. It will be an early start to be sure. We have enjoyed our time in Kazakhstan. This country I would happily return to. Jan

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