We expected the journey to Astrachan to be relatively boring and uninteresting. The landscape gradually becoming a prairie. A slightly unpleasant experience was a massive mosquito attack during one night, which forced us to spend a few evening hours inside our car. The situation then got slightly better so we moved into our tent, where we still had to kill dozens of them. Next morning we could hear their buzzing outside, knowing they are just waiting for us to come out of our tent. Within 10 minutes we packed up everything and left as quickly as possible. We then camped in front of Volgograd, where we found a very nice lagoon with a sandy beach and cliffs near the Volga river. Everything seemed ideal (the freshwater however was still damn cold) until we found out that our rear absorber is distorted. Fortunately we were able to fix it ourselves. The worse was still to come.

After visiting the Mamajev Kurgan with the monumental statue of the Mother of Russia, the museum of defense and a Czech restaurant, we finally headed towards Astrachan. After approximately 20km however, we heard a very strange noise from the rear part of our car. We diverged from the major road and noticed there is some viscous liquid pouring out from our rear right wheel. We wanted to take the wheel off to find out what the problem was, but in a moment a guy called Sergey stopped nearby and offered us to drive some 2km with him, that he would help us. Because we thought he works for some car repair service we followed him. In the end however, it turned out that he was an owner of a company responsible for collecting excrements, a former policeman, a former teacher at the university in Tjumen, a lover of Thai box and samba and that his biggest hobby is off-road racing. We arrived at his company headquarters just when one of his colleagues celebrated 30th birthday. Sergey asked one of his workers (a guy from Uzbekistan) Abdul to help us. We are soon told that the steering-stub bearing is damaged and the one on the other side as well. Because it is Saturday evening, the shops are closed and we are invited to the celebration. At the party Yarin got another nickname: “slabaja mašina” (weak machine) because he refused to drink vodka with Svetlana. When the party is over Alexej told us we can sleep in the garage so that we don’t have to pay for a hotel. The next day we went shopping with Sergey to buy the spare parts needed to repair our car and he also told us that we should use more road-like tires. Our engine undergone full diagnostics and so we had to stay in Volgograd for another night. In the evening we went to the cinema with Andrey and Michal and their wives to see Pirates of the Caribbean IV in 3D and in Russian. The next morning we got a report from the engine diagnostics showing the electronics of the air-intake mechanism were damaged. Despite all the time Sergey and Abdul dedicated to us, they refused any sort of a reward and so we at least gave them our old off-road tires as a gift. All in all, this unexpected circumstance cost us over 20 thousand crowns (for the new tires, spare parts and engine diagnostics) and we were one day behind our plan. But we think it was worth the pleasant experience and don’t understand why traveling in Russia is in the Czech republic regarded as something so undesirable. Maybe we are just lucky.

The 400km long journey to Astrachan went ok and the repairs made to our car resulted in a 2 to 3 liters/100km lower fuel consumption. Astrachan is already characterized by the blending of various nationalities, cultures and religions. Today we should get our visa even though the Kazakhstani consulate is not opened today. It’s because we should be driving one of the consul over the borders to Atyrau and from there he would fly to Astana. This would surely make things easier for us when crossing the border as we wouldn’t have to undergo all the safety checks at the borders. Fingers crossed. Next time we will already be writing from a different continent.

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