from left to right: Uantchern, Benson, Vinnie, Boon Leong and Myself.
Our flight to Moscow started on the 2nd-Aug at 2.30am. CK had went ahead one week prior and was at Moscow. He would be joining us to the trip to Mineralyne Vody at the domestic airport. The flight took 10 hours. As usual, i could not sleep a wink in a seated position, so, i ended up watching a lot of movies in the in-flight display. We landed in Moscow at 8.10am (10 hours flight + 5 hour timezone correction).
Russian Style Interrogation
While everything went smoothly for others in the team at the immigration, my adventure started right from the get go. At the immigration counter, the officer took longer than usual to process my passport, then told me to wait at the side and made a few phone calls. I tried to ask him what the problem was, but he could not or rather did not say anything other than “Please wait”. Then a rather grumpy looking officer came over, and asked me to follow him. I complied and followed him. He took me to a room (more like a store room without any windows) and told me to “sit”. So, i sat there waiting for something to happen. It took nearly an hour before another officer came and took me to an interrogation room. He used a Russian to English conversion app through which our communication took place.
Essentially, he was just blindly stonewalling and making it difficult for me. It started out with saying that my visa was not accurate, then he changed and told me that the agency that invited me was blacklisted and finally told me that we will let you in but at your own risk. Essentially i countered saying that, if the agency was blacklisted then i would not have gotten the visa. Also, i asked him how the other members of my team (going through the same agency) went through while i cannot. Since i have obtained my visa, it could not be invalid, unless the Russian embassy in Singapore messed up, which was not the case anyway. Finally, i told him that i will continue with my trip no matter what. He felt exasperated and after this brief conversation, he led me back to the room and made me sit for another hour.
In the mean time, the team members got a little worried. They approached the Singapore Airlines representative office to find out my whereabouts. They had called the immigration and asked them, to which their response was all passengers were cleared. Somehow, they did not mention that i was sitting in the room being interrogated.
Back in the room, i was again escorted to the interrogation room and asked a few more silly questions. In the meantime, the representative officer from Singapore Airlines had identified my whereabouts and came over to talk to the immigration office. Within 5 minutes of her arrival, i was sent through immigration and i never saw the officer again.
To Minerlyne Vody
After all the excitement in the first 2 hours, the rest of the time was spent waiting for the domestic flight to Mineralyne Vody. The first thing that we did after we came out was to convert some Euros to Roubles and also get a SIM card with a data plan. The SIM card had pretty good rates for data with about 600 Roubles for 5GB. However, what we did not know was that, The prepaid SIM is charged a tariff once you go to Minerlyne Vody. So, essentially, it was only usable in Moscow. We spent the rest of the time at a restaurant where we had lunch.
At 4.20pm, we boarded the S7 flight to Mineralyne Vody which took about 2 hours. From the flight, you can see the vast expanse of plain fields till the horizon.
Once at Mineralyne Vody, our guide, Ms. Dasha Chuenko, was waiting outside to receive us. We were immediately escorted to a 10 seater van which was to take us to Cheget, a village near Terskol, the closest town to Elbrus.
Terskol is a 3 hour drive from Mineralyne Vody and the travel was at night. On the way, we stopped at a store to get us some beers to overcome the drudgery of traveling at night. This is to be my last alcoholic beverage till after the summit. We reached Cheget at around 10pm to a beautiful cottage like hotel run by a traditional Russian family.
We were allotted room and we retired off to bed. The guide informed us that the first of our acclimatization treks to Terskol Observatory at 3,100m will be tomorrow after breakfast. So, we went off to bed.