New Friends

“Ahten” Pemoht Suzuki welcome us like long lost family, we try to explain the problem although of course its charging beautifully today. The problem we think is the regulator and it is displaying the same symptoms it did inTurkey, the voltmeter is slowly creeping downwards and although it is still charging the output is intermittantly weak. I try to explain although intermittant faults are a pain even when you speak the same language they always seem to disapear when you don’t want them to. Andrew Jnr at the garage speaks a fair bit of English and I try my best to explain that I think it is the regulator and that the fault comes and goes and that this is will be my second regulator since leaving home. Part of the reason for fitting a small car alternator was that they are normally much more reliable, we agree that the problem might be caused by water ingress as it is mounted in the open and they make us a superb aluminium splashguard and refuse any payment for it, we take off the alternator for them to look at while we take the bike to customs tomorrow. Andrew snr calls his daughter as she speaks excellent English and she pops in to say hello. Natasha turns out to be a cracking lass full of infectious enthusiasm and good company. She explains that her Dad would like to arrange an interview with a local auto magazine and asks would that be okay. We are happy to oblige and agree to meet again tomorrow. We head back to the hostel and familiarise ourself with the setup, we have use of a computer, wifi access, a shared kitchen, a washing machine and like minded company with a mixture of French, German, Russian and Bolivian travellers. This is our first taste of hostelling and it is very sociable, we swap travel stories and notes until the small hours.  
Next day we jump on the bike and head down to the ferry terminal, we meet Katya who will be my guide through the vaguries of Russian customs, Karen waits patiently with the bike while Katya whizzes me across town in her car to the customs office. she is very good at her job and I dutifully follow her instructions, wait here, sign this, show this, fill this form in. By about lunchtime we are all done bar one all important persons stamp, we wait until after lunch but no one appears so we arrange to meet tomorrow and we head back to the hostel.
Next day I meet Katya again leaving Karen at the hostel this time, the important person never does appear but Katya seems to find a way around it and leads me into an office where customs people sit at desks like islands in a sea of paperwork. it is stacked up everywhere in piles all over the floor and every available flat surface, the Russians do seem to love their paperwork and generate masses of it, we have been lucky to get through here in two days I have read accounts of people who have been stuck here for weeks quite literally ! I thank and pay Katya and ride the bike up to the gate of customs, I cannot go any further and it feels very strange watching her being wheeled away, the first time we have been seperated since we left. I head back on the bus to the hostel to meet Karen and go to the interview. Once we get there we meet the reporter and an interpreter/photographer and we conduct procedings in a corner of the garage. We answer their questions as best we can and the interview goes well we think, afterwards Anna the interpreter/photographer offers to show us around a little as she is free. We take her up on the offer and set off together sightseeing on the peninsular. Unfortunately the weather has other ideas and heavy rain blows in amazingly the first we have had in our second visit to Russia. Anna calls her Dad to see if he is free to rescue us as by now we are a good walk from the bus which bought us here. He is busy but is keen to take us all out tomorrow if we are free we agree to meet tomorrow and sprint for the bus in the pouring rain. We invite Anna back to our hostel for tea an offer she accepts. We wake next morning and after breakfast we meet Anna and her Dad whose name is Dima, he has a  Mitsubishi 4×4 and suggests an alternative tour of Vladivosok. He is a good driver and takes us on an excellent off road tour of the lesser known parts of Vladivostok including an amazing viewpoint over the whole city. After this we head to a first world war fortress part of a chain built into the hills surrounding Vladivostok. The entrance looks uninspiring but we soon discover that this place is like an iceberg nine tenths of it is underground. It is a fascinating labyrinth on several levels and we are glad we bought our headtorches and that Dima knows it so well as it is completely pitch black and you could get very lost down there. If it was in England it would either be completely out of bounds or over-restored with safety rails everywhere. Here it is exactly as it was when the USSR gave it up in the 1980′s except that every scrap of salvagable metal (including all the steps which makes things interesting in places) was stripped out and sold by the locals during the aftermath dubbed Peristroika. Dima explained that during the breakup of the USSR there were some really hard times for ordinary Russians. It was a fascinating tour and one which money couldn’t buy only local knowledge and curiousity led people to explore this hidden and previously forbidden legacy of the Soviet Union. Afterwards we head back to the hostel and sort out our gear ready to leave that evening, we have to be at the ferry port at 7pm. We say goodbye to our fellow hostellers and grab our survival bags, jackets and helmets and head for the bus stop. Bus travel is really cheap and a good way to get around a busy city like Vlad. The fare is 11 roubles no matter how far you go, to put that into perspective it costs 20 roubles for a Snickers bar. We arrive at the ferry port to see our boat manoevering into dock, this is not a good sign as it takes quite a while to unload and turn around a ship of this size. We head up to the Dong Chun office only to discover that the boat has been delayed by rough weather, they did try to call my Russian mobile but it wouldn’t connect, we shrug our shoulders and agree to come back tomorrow at 10am. I ask him to call my mobile while I am there and sure enough it doesn’t want to play ball. I call theirs and that rings and works fine, his colleague calls me and that works ok so we agree that if anything changes he knows how to get hold of me. We catch the bus back to the hostel and explain to our flatmates why we are back, fortunately they have room.

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