Of course the last major border crossing had to go out with a bang. Perhaps just to remind us that this trip hasn't been all beer and skittles, but in fact, weeks of driving pleasure punctuated by A-Hole border chiefs plotting to use their blasphemous bureaucracy to make our lives momentarily (sometimes for hours on end) living hell.

After shooting down the M9 highway that links Moscow to Riga, past the toothless simpletons selling stuffed foxes and bear heads next to their pickled cucumbers by the side of the road, we finally happened upon kilometres of trucks queued up to cross the border.

We didn't hesitate politely like we might have ten months ago, but continued driving past them, straight to the near front of the queue.

As usual, the man at the 1st gate hut with his heater full boar listening to crap FM only allowed a few vehicles in at a time, so we waited our turn, and then drove forward into the customs bay, popped the hood, opened all the doors and went to the window, where the hatted official man was waiting to give his wrath.

He spoke only in Russian, urging us to give over all the paperwork in our arsenal; passports, migrations cards, carnet de passage, car registration, customs import form that we’d failed to surrender in Kazakhstan, our original birth certificates, our last 24 months electricity bills, 8 yrs of schools reports and a note from my mum.

We gave him everything, and he looked it all over for a few moments, with certain disdain, finally asking us for our car passport. We gestured to the carnet (which IS our car passport) but he wasn’t convinced. He walked out of his booth quickly. Then he came back, empty handed, ignored us, and continued to process the next people in the queue. This went on for a while, whilst we waited, shivering in the cold. After 15 minutes, we joined the queue again to ask where our paperwork had gone and what we were to do, but we were waived away, and told to wait. So we waited.

After about another 45 minutes of people being processed through the border, whilst Bob sat stagnant in the 2nd lane, we were getting a bit jack. We contemplated running the border, but as the border chief had pissed off with ALL our documents, we thought better of it. Joe got back in the queue and was asked again for a car passport. ARGH!!!! As he tried to explain again that all the documents we showed him qualified that he owned the car, had imported it from Australia, through Kazakhstan and had the right permit printed in his visa, the chief shook his head, wilfully misunderstanding the English, and yelling back in Russian. We were told to wait again. Joe decided to walk inside the nearby customs building to try and influence the process.

Inside, a guy who looked Kazakhstani was having a tougher time. It looked as though about 3 Aryan looking Russian blokes were bullying the crap out of him for whatever reason, not driving a Lada perhaps. He looked completely defeated as they yelled at him and laughed at his responses.

Finally, a lady had come out to where Joe sat, waiting, and asked where we brought the car into Kazakhstan. He told her Khorgos, which she seemed slightly disturbed, even disbelieving.

 ‘I need the number for Khorgos’ she said, as though she didn’t believe that we’d been there.

‘What number?’ Joe had asked. But it was a futile question. She disappeared. For another 90 minutes.

About an hour later I came to sit inside more permanently with Joe. There was no point waiting in the cold car anymore, watching other people get processed whilst we were ignored.

There was no one to ask what the problem was. Despite the fact that the massive concrete building swelled with official looking people, none of them bustled around doing their jobs. In fact only about 3 people seemed to make the operation work. The rest strolled around eating biscuits, popping outside to smoke cigarettes and distract the ones that were working and laugh menacingly at each others jokes.

We sat on the plastic chairs in the disused security screening area, in full view of anyone passing by who we might be able to stop and ask for help. We were getting desperate. Time was ticking on, and we weren’t sure whether there was a serious problem with our paperwork, or if they were just building up to a long and inventive way to secure a ‘fine’ for something not being in order.

In low whispers we made pacts that we’d ask the next person who walked past where our papers were, and what the problem was. Someone walked in.

‘Not him!’ I said, seeing an angry man with a moustache who looked like he’d eat his own children for fun. A few more passed that I didn’t like to the look of, and finally Joe got to his feet in desperation,

‘eezveeneechee pahzhalsta?’ he said to the man with a smile ‘er, Documents? Where?’ But the man made a grimace that he couldn’t understand him and said: ‘WAIT’

We sat down again, deflated.

Finally the woman walked back into the room and gave us the thumbs up. We’re not sure what the thumbs up meant, but it was the most positive thing that had happened in the last 4 hours, so we followed. She took her bundle of papers into another man in an office, who seemed determined to find fault, but eventually, he handed the paperwork over the very first man (the customs chief in the window) and we were directed outside.

We thought this meant it was our turn to be processed. Not so. He continued processing other people in the queue. Joe lined up again, and the guy looked at the documents once more.

‘Car passport? He asked. Joe nearly reached through the window and strangled him.

Eventually, he got bored of this game and decided instead that Joe needed to fill in some sort of form, the same as the one we’d been able to produce for Kazakhstan. He was given a form and told to go away and fill it in. He came back, and was gestured that his hand writing had been too messy, and that he should fill it in again. This schoolmaster joke went on over the course of 30 mins, until finally, the document was done. The guy then got up, inspected the car, gave us back all our paperwork and waived us onto the 2nd bay – passport control.

We pulled up, opened all the doors and popped the bonnet again, then went to the window for round two.

‘Passports. Migration Cards.’ He said, and we handed them over.

‘CAR PASSPORT!’ he bellowed. We handed over the carnet.


Joe was fed up by this stage.

‘IT IS A CAR PASSPORT. IT’S JUST FROM ANOTHER COUNTRY’ he said sternly, through clenched teeth.

The guy flicked through, bewildered, as if not having that CIS special card was the be all and end all.

Then, over the course of 20 minutes he scrutinised our passports. Shone them under every light possible, counted the pages, asked me twice where I had got my Russian visa from.

For a moment, as I stood shivering outside his booth, I imagined the scene. Two little scared blondies being interrogated by this soviet sleuth determined to find something James Bond in our tourist visas. What was he expecting to find? What was the massive problem if we were trying to LEAVE his country, not get into it??

When he was comfortable that he’d given us enough trouble, he sent his pal into our car to give it a good look over. But I think everyone had had their fun by then, and after a few questions, he let us go.

We counted all our paperwork to make sure nothing was missing, and drove extremely quickly forward, and into the arms of the EU. Thank god.

What a difference 100m makes. We pulled up and the first guy we spoke to said;

‘Hello! You drove your car here from Australia?? Wow!’

We opened up all the doors and bonnet and he snooped around. Not realising he in fact WAS customs, Joe watched him cautiously, slightly annoyed;

‘Go on have a good look then mate.’ Oops. Luckily he was still friendly. He gave us our customs declarations and explained how we should fill them out – he explained in English. I wanted to hug him.

The passport control guy was just as friendly.

‘How long have you been driving for? Where have you been?’

We filled in our customs declarations and were told to go buy some insurance in a nice warm building, where we helped ourselves to a cup of coffee too.

Twenty minutes later, all our paperwork was sorted and we were waving good bye, and driving into the cosy, calm, easy-going EU…

Oh for the love of open borders to come!