Day 1 – Arrival in Russia
The day came quickly. I had two packed rucksacks. The bulk of my equipment was to be carried in my Berghaus Cyclops Vulcan, my trusty 25 year old rucksack which I’d kept from my military days. This is a 100 litre rucksack (80 litres for the core and 20 litres for the pouches). New pouches had to be sourced as they’d gone missing over the years and Berghaus no longer had the right pouches in stock. However, those great guys over at Endicotts managed to source me the right pouches and in time. I thoroughly recommend their services as they’re very knowledgeable and were of much more help than the folks at Berghaus. The second rucksack was a 65 litre rucksack which had served me well on Mont Blanc. In this, I had basics, such as my tablet, camera, including daily wear contact lenses, reading material etc. The contact lenses turned out to be important, as you’ll see. Basically everything I had in these two rucksacks was meant to keep me going for 10 days. So after waking up very early in the morning, I flew to Moscow.
Once I arrived in Moscow, I was to meet my friend, Bob, who had flown in from the UAE, in a hotel that was close by to the airport. This was where I made my first mistake in my first encounter with Russian taxi drivers. The first thing I learnt about Moscow taxi drivers, is that they’re ready to rip you off as soon as they get the chance. I am a pretty experienced traveller, but for one of the few times in my life I had a brain fart which led to me paying $40 for a 300m trip from the airport to the hotel. If I’d been paying more attention, I would have noticed that there was a hotel shuttle bus going from the airport to the hotel. I really am not normally like this. To this day, I still do not understand how I was so bloody stupid and I still beat myself up about. Something I need to chalk up to experience.
Anyway, I met Bob at the hotel as arranged and we just hung around waiting for the rest of the guys to arrive. The guys from the UK were arriving at the other airport, Domodedovo and had to cross Moscow to arrive at Sheremetyevo. Our German friend, Matthias, was arriving at the same airport as Bob and me. When Matthias arrived, we duly checked in, only to find out that there was a delay on our flight, which just seemed to be getting longer and longer. If I recall correctly, this went up to seven hours! So once the guys (Marco, Jason, Paul and Mark) from the UK arrived, Bob, Matthias and I tried to change our flight to an earlier flight so that we could all fly together. Now in Russia, this is easier said than done. Unlike most major international airports, we found that in Moscow, most people just spoke Russian and our Russian was pretty much non-existent. So after much running around, we succeeded. The problem was that we had already checked in our luggage for our earlier flight, so we needed to ensure that it was going to follow us. Trying to confirm that this was the case with the Russian ground staff really wasn’t easy. They seemed to communicate to us that everything was in order. Again, being an experienced traveller, my travel senses were tingling but there was nothing we could do about it.
So off we went to board our flight. It turned out that Matthias, Bob and I were booked on a different flight to the UK guys and there was a 5 minute difference in departure times. Not a big issue, but surprising anyway.
As you can guess, once we arrived at Mineralnye Vody, everybody picked up their luggage. But not Bob, Matthias and me. As our flights had arrived in Mineralnye Vody around midnight, there were very few staff to try and help us. The people that we did get to speak with were Russian (surprise, surprise) and had no command of English (there’s a recurring theme here). As with our experience in Moscow, we just knew that we weren’t going to find any English speakers here. Speaking French, Arabic or German didn’t help us at all either. Once we finally got our message across that our luggage had been left in Moscow, we realised that we could do nothing more and get on the minibus to take us to our next stop, which was in a small town called Terskol. Once we got out of the airport, around 1am, I promptly fell asleep on the minibus for the 4 hour journey. Apparently the driving by our Russian driver was very interesting. I missed all of this (including an apparent birdstrike), which was probably a good thing, because if we had been in an accident, I could have died in my sleep without knowing any different. Apparently Russian driving is exactly like that which you see all those YouTube videos.
Anyway, once we arrived at Terskol, which was about 5-ish, we were met by our tour manager. We explained our situation with the lost luggage (which was much more efficiently handled now we had a Russian speaker) and were guided to our rooms with the hope in our heads that our luggage would actually find us before we started our training climbs. Thank goodness that I had my spare contacts in my second rucksack.
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