Monday, 28 May 2012

Mount Elbrus - Part Two

And here we go!

On to the Hoppa-Bus at 5am and hope that at Check-In the big bags are below 20kgs. Unfortunately mine won’t fit in to the over bag, that doesn’t bode well. Through passport control, security and on to the first of our flights, this one takes us to Brussels.

We have to walk through security and what feels like the entire length of the country to find our gate, B92. Only to conclude that Brussels airport has the longest, straightest, continuous line of airport gates in the known world, which as we walk across a bridge over to the gate we see that it was barely 20metres from where the bus from the plane dropped us off!

The next flight will take us to Moscow- Domodedovo. In the departure lounge we see 6 other mountaineers, also headed to Mt. Elbrus. BJ becomes disappointed as he mistakenly thought we’d have the mountain to ourselves. On the plane we start chatting to them and they seem a likeable enough bunch of guys (plus one girl), laughing and joking on the plane together. Sitting next to us on the plane is a Russian girl, who BJ chats to in FlemEnglish, who cannot hide her amusement at our banter, we end up involving her in our jokes and jibes. She thinks that we’re “pretty crazy English guys”, which suits us just fine.

We arrive at Domodedovo where we witness the Russian queuing system. It’s basically form an orderly mob then lay siege to the few immigration desks that are manned. The visa is scanned, the passport is scanned, a document is produced and thrust before me. All the while I’m very aware not to squash the small child against the gate which it is intensely trying to get through, its mother hasn’t a clue to its whereabouts. The finger belonging to the official, who is very attractive but will not engage in a smile whatsoever, stabs towards the places where I must sign. The document is torn in two and one half is tucked into the passport, thrust back at me and the light atop the gate changes from red to blue and I’m in!

Now to indulge in the hunt for the carousel that will deliver our bags. Even meeting back up with the Russian girl again doesn’t help any; she is none the wiser to where we need to be. Finally we spot the other climbers and crowd eagerly at the carousel to retrieve our bags.

BOLLOCKS!!! Mine’s one of the first out and I can see that my thermos has sprung free from the pouch on the side of my bag and gone. It’s annoying for two reasons, firstly because I wanted a hot drink for summit night and more over that flask had been with me on my adventures and subsequently carried the scars of the journeys.

So with bags on shoulders we head off in search of a cab to our hotel. As we loiter by the official taxi desk waiting to find the cost of a cab a furtive guy rushes up and offers us his “cab”. We spend 5 minutes bartering him down from 4600Rubles (£96) to 1500 (£30), with that he grabs our bags finds a trolley and takes off at a crazy pace through the airport. Each taxi employee he meets he asks the way to our hotel. Between the speed he’s moving at and his lack of local hotel knowledge we quickly figure out we could lose our bags at any moment. We chase him out of the airport and into the heat of downtown Moscow and through Bedlam! There are people, trolleys, luggage and vehicles everywhere going in every direction. We pursue our driver across this crazy scene, reminiscent of that moment in a movie just before the meteor strikes and everyone is trying to make it to safety, to his unmarked/private car. As he opens the boot we see that he has his groceries in there, which are carefully moved aside so he can fit one bag in. I jump in so that he can’t disappear with any of our kit, the second bag is fed in beside me on the back seat. BJ jumps in next to the driver and we’re off!

We fly across the busy car park and towards the barriers, where we sneak through on the taillights of an authorized Taxi. The dual carriageway is heaving on the other side heading towards the airport. Our driver has no idea of right of way, queuing or in fact our basic need to arrive alive. We’re driving half off the road along the hard shoulder, which is baked, potholed, deeply rutted mud and at least a foot lower, in order to undertake at most 5 other vehicles. We point out that there isn’t really that much need to rush and then remember his groceries baking in the boot. He continues to pop in and out of the line of traffic dodging the oncoming cars. Through the trees on the opposite side of the road I spot the hotel and attempt to convey this to the driver, he flashes a look in each direction and we hurtle into the approach road. We now have to convince the driver to drop us at the front door, which he is loathed to do probably due to him not being a licensed cab. The Ramada looks so incongruous here on this plot amongst the forest, it is so new looking we wonder if it has just this moment opened.

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