August 31, 2003 - Brest, Belarus 156km, 96 miles***

Leaving Lublin, Poland at 7:15a after our first breakfast of the trip, we zigzagged east and west, up and down a bunch of hills, theoretically heading north on PL19. The road eventually decided to head that way, We took this heavily trafficked, mostly beat-up, 2 lane (with some shoulders!) thoroughfare 30km/18mi up to Lubartow, where we stopped at a small Lux grocery store, had some refreshments and a map discussion, Charlie and I had a reasonable headwind from the N-NW slowing us down and the road was unpleasant, so we decided to diagonal NE through the countryside to Parczew, and then figure out what to do from there.

At this point, the only theme of the day (little did I know) appeared to be farming in Poland. The first two photos of the day, just following, are of the rural road and view.

They ‘strip’ farm here. The countryside is full of rows of rotating crops, usually perpendicular to the road, maybe 50-100 feet wide and 300 to 1000 feet long. Various fields have potatoes, tomatoes, tobacco, ‘gourds’, brussel sprout stalks, corn, giant cabbage looking things, a variety of other stuff I didn’t recognize, and then about 1/3rd of the strips were fallow. Steve DelVecchio would have been handy to have on this leg.

There were people working outside all over. Horse and tractor drawn trailers, people picking tomatoes and potatoes, some lady breaking open ‘gourds’ (that’s what Charlie called them), hand and machine ploughing… you get the picture. (Oops.. that’s what I’m supposed to provide…)

After stopping in Parczew for a kiosk break…

(They have these little shops in small towns and all around big cities. A Polish version of a 7/11, they carry a variety of things from shampoo to candy to beverages all displayed through the front window, and supplied from behind the merchandise through a tiny window by an unseen person, I think.)

…we headed NE to Wiszmice for another couple hours while the wind continued to build. Vectoring into it most of this time, the going was slower than usual. Then there was no good way to get from Wiszmice to the Brest border crossing – it’s N then E or E then N – but given the wind, we decided to head straight east to Slavatycze.

As Charlie pointed out, this was the best riding of part III so far. A good road and a reasonable tail wind gave us 30km in maybe an hour. I was so happy with this road, I took a picture of it.

Slavatyce is at the Russian border, which here is the Bug River (I’m not making up any of these names). I took two pictures at the rural border crossing outside this town. The Belarusians had an imposing structure and the Poles had this guy in a little booth (no kidding – see for yourself). There was virtually no traffic crossing the border here.

At this point we had to head North on grey two-lane (rural, bad surfaces) roads, into the wind again with building storm conditions. We rode 35km/20mi on to Terespol (Poland border town across from Brest), taking a couple of rain breaks (we got all wet anyway), did some slight regrouping in anticipation of the unknowns at the border, then turned right and after a few more kilometers, headed into the crowded, chaotic, bureaucratic border, where we spent the next couple hours trying to get through.

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There are at least 6 processes you have to go through to get into Belarus, AFTER you’ve gotten your letter of introduction, Visa and insurance information. This is how you do it:

First, ride around all the cars lined up single file waiting to get into the checkpoint. It’s raining, you’re cold and wet. The guy wearing the uniform will yell at you. Then Charlie will do his (this is standard practice for him – it works) “who me?”, disarming smile and laugh, and crude Russian to try to get what he wants. This guard merely checks to see if you have a passport and visa, and if you do, he gives you a little card.

Then, you ride into the area of multiple lines of cars, trucks and busses waiting for the next step.

We ACCIDENTALLY skipped step 2 and went to step 3 where they sent us back to step 2. I’m not sure what they do in step 2 because Charlie handled this one while I guarded the bikes – but it results in at least a couple stamps and some writing on the card given in step 1. This guy is waving his finger at Charlie as part of the process.

Step 3 started handling me before Charlie got done with step 2. A couple other guards came up and harassed me, and try as I might I couldn’t explain that it was all Charlie’s fault, whatever it was they were complaining about. We were a source of curiosity and entertainment for many people who hung out of bus windows and otherwise milled about checking out our stuff and selves. (At some point here, another guard came up and told me, with a variety of arm motions, no picture taking… so go with the narrative here.)

Out of one of the busses came Larissa (sp?), a blond Russian woman who immigrated to Leipzig and was taking a bus from Germany to Moscow, and then to some point beyond (2 days total travel by bus) where her parents live. (This may be moving along fast as you read it, but we’re over an hour into the process at this point, mostly being patient. People are sleeping, cooking, eating, starting and ending relationships, telling stories, playing cards, etc.)

Larissa saves me from prison by explaining that I actually do have a passport and visa, but they are with my friend back at step 2. Then they (two of them) tell her a bunch of stuff that equates to “we can’t ride bikes into Belarus”. It’s not allowed. Through Larissa we debate this a bit, one guy goes into one of the many little white sheds with mirrored windows facing out and calls his “chief” to discuss this. He comes back and says that we can’t ride bikes into Belarus, but we can get in maybe if someone will give us and our bikes a ride (a machina (car) can go through, but not a veloped).

(addendum: Charlie informs me he was actually doing steps 2 and 3, one of which consisted of inspection and the other of checking and form stamping – so there are actually 7 steps. Add one to each of the following steps.)

OK, we’re making progress here. Charlie comes back from step 2, gives me the passports, visas and stamped up little cards and I wait arond then go find the (actually not unpleasant) guards that are the only ones in step 3 now authorized to deal with me/us. They give me entry/exit forms to fill out. I do both Charlie’s and mine, even signing his name for him, rather than trying to actually find him and get him to do it. It works out.

In the meantime at least two Russians have volunteered to drive us across the border. Larissa and I talked to one of them, who was finished with his process (step 3 and 4) but waited for quite a while for us.

We proceed to step four, where they check out everything from steps 1, 2 and 3, and then let you pass to step 5 – BUT NOOOOO. Our Russian driver’s forms said he was only one person and there were actually 3 of us with the new hot tub, new TV, old wheelbarrow and well used bikes in the van now. He went back to step 3 – for some reason this didn’t take too long – and got properly endorsed.

Step 5 is a military checkpoint. From the back of the van I took a picture of the gate as the soldier checked the papers, opened the van, inspected us and the stuff, and then let us pass.

Step 6 is the obligatory medical insurance.

6 days of insurance cost $2. (Our driver paid for us because we didn’t have any small bills (!). The guy filled out forms (everyone here still uses paper and carbon paper) and then our driver took us the extra few kilometers across the river, where our hotel immediately waited. Here’s the wonderful driver and the hotel:

Thank god for Charlie and the Driver. I would never have guessed that “benapyc typnct” (the second n is backwards) meant “Belarus Hotel”.

Check in was similarly fun. Our bikes are in room 28 of the bowels down below. They still have my passport, and the only lady who spoke English in the hotel seems to have gone home or something. My room is fully equipped with beer and shot glasses, tea and dinner settings for 6 people, a TV with 4 Russian stations, and an analog (rotary) telephone. (The digital looking phone in the “living room” is actually analog.)

Everything is unplugged. The lights, TV etc.you plug in before turning on – our first sign of some power problem here. More on Belarus and Brest tomorrow….

(disclaimer of the day: the kilometers and mileage numbers are somewhat inconsistent. The kilometers total is accurate, the mileage is a rough conversion (*.61 or so).)

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