Our newly adopted Iranian family, all twenty of them, had coincidentally been staying in the same hotel and thus our ‘goodbyes’ were long and filled with more than a hint of sadness. We promised that we’d at least try to visit them in Iran at some future date, … visas permitting.
This was really our first day of riding in Russia and it’s really no different to riding anywhere else on this trip, … be confident, be courteous and smile. Out of Sochi we somehow managed to choose the right road and once free of the early morning commuter traffic we were soon slugging along behind diesel spilling trucks and Racing Lada’s winding upwards along the Black Sea coast, ‘Busy’ is the only word to describe it. We stopped for our first Russian fuel and were introduced to a totally new system. Here you need to estimate the quantity of petrol required, pay for it in advance and then hope that you’ve estimated correctly, .. all in Russian of course. The best thing about filling the tank here in Russia is the price, … £0.45 per litre, …. at last we have the promised cheap petrol that we’d expected since entering France.
At the town of Tuapse, we turned inland and followed the road Northeast towards Majkop on the ‘P254’. The road and scenery immediately changed to mountains, sweeping left and right hand bends and the asphalt became smooth and forgiving, … we began to relax and enjoy the journey. Then, 18 miles along this road and riding well below the speed limit it all changed as we were waved to the opposite side of the road by two Police Officers waving black and white batons. We pulled into the parking area, switched off the engines, dismounted and reached for our passports documents. We’d already been waved through two previous checkpoints earlier in the day but this time I was summoned to the police car while the second subordinate officer inspected the bikes with Alan.
Inside the police car I was told that we’d both committed the offence of ‘Crossing The Single White Line’ and that our Driving Licences would be confiscated unless we paid a fine of 5,000 Roubles ($200). As I speak no Russian and the burley Officer spoke no English, communication was achieved with the aid of A4 illustrations and many exaggerated hand gestures. After several minutes and countless doodles, I managed to convince the Officer that there was in fact, No White Line on the road. There followed a long and painful silence, the original A4 drawings were crumpled and thrown on to the back seat of the car and new illustrations were hurriedly drawn. The new offence was ‘Failing to Stop’ which carried the same fine of 5,000 Roubles. I eventually managed to convince the Officer that had I indeed ‘Failed to Stop’, … I wouldn’t currently be confined within his Police Car having this now heated conversation whilst he patted his open palm with 40cm of menacing hard wood.
There then followed a conversation with one of his English speaking ‘colleagues’ on the telephone. He basically laughed and suggested that in Russia the ways of the law worked slightly differently to those in England, ….. basically ‘Pay UP’ or ‘Stick Around’ as their guest for several uncomfortable days. After the call, the arresting officer played with his phone and then handed it to me, it showed two phrases written in Russian and then again in English below. I was amazed when I read the English translations: ‘Honey Pot’ and ‘Bribe’.
At this point I snapped, grabbed my documents from the dashboard and with help from our phrase book told him that we were journalists riding around the world and raising money for charity, … if he wanted money from us then we’d go down to the Police Station and deal with it there. After another minute or so of painful silence, I was again passed the telephone and I explained all of this to his English-speaking colleague who then relayed it back to the officer in Russian. After the call had ended the atmosphere in the car changed from ‘Official’ to ‘Hostile’ but the fine was reduced from 5,000 to 3,000 Roubles. An English/Russian row then erupted and I’m certain that many of the words used would not have appeared in any Berlitz Guide, …. it was to say the least a little heated. However, with the threat of several days in a Russian cell before us, I eventually gave in and got the fine reduced to 2,000 Roubles (or $100), refused to shake his hand, grabbed the remainder of our documents and got out of the area as quickly as possible.
On the Ferry from Trabzon to Sochi, Giya (George), the Georgian chess champion had donated $100 to be divided equally between our respective charities. That $100 donated by a total stranger, with no more money than you or I, now sits in the pocket of a corrupt Police Officer from Tuapse in Russia. It is such a shame that our view of Russia and the kindness and vibrancy of its’ people has now been somewhat tarnished by the actions of one corrupt police officer. If this post lands me in deep trouble whilst still travelling through Russia, ….. then so be it. The corrupt Officer fully understood that the money taken by him had been donated to a charity supporting terminally ill people yet still he smiled, wielded his baton and slipped the money into his greasy little pocket. We hope that this ‘Incident’ is a one-off occurrence but judging from various other travel blogs, ….. it may well be just the start.
Thankfully two things have happened since then that have restored my faith in people in general and Russian’s in particular. Firstly, my brother Alan in Boonville California has already donated the $100 on Giya’s behalf to our charities and secondly, we have since met more amazing Russian people who have bent over backwards to help us on our way. They include the family above who sent us in the direction of a suitable campsite after proudly posing for photographs with their new baby.
Perhaps the Captain of the Princess Victoria was right: ‘Russian Girls I Love, … Russian Women I Love, …. Etc’.