On some kind of scale, this isn’t the worst thing that has happened to either of us, but it’s close * (see below). And we can’t see any end in sight, yet. We have overstayed our Russian visas, by 10 days and counting! It’s a long, involved story that probably doesn’t make for very interesting reading so I won’t try and explain it all here, but we hadn’t realised our visas had expired on August 12th until we were detained by Customs at the ferry terminal yesterday (Wednesday August 21st). We had booked tickets to go to South Korea on the overnight ferry, but we sat in a little office in Customs and watched it sail without us. We have been fingerprinted and had mug shots taken, spent 4 nervous hours wondering what would happen to us, made statements which were translated into Cyrillic for us by an absolutely wonderful young woman who works for the ferry company. We were taken to a bank by a Customs officer and the young woman to pay our fines. And then we were allowed to leave, with some very vague instructions on where to go to lodge the paperwork. So, mug shots and fingerprinting … but we’re allowed to leave? Really? It all seems so ridiculous for 2 tourists who made a mistake and who now just want to leave the country. Not to mention frustrating.
As it always is in situations like this, it’s the kindness of strangers that get us through – the young woman at the ferry terminal, the Customs officers who were just doing their jobs and treated us well, the Russian people on the street that we ask for directions or information.
A complication of not having a valid visa is that we can’t stay at a hotel for longer than one night, so we’re having to move each day, and find somewhere that will accept us without the correct paperwork. We understand that they can get into trouble, but it just adds to the stress of it all.
We have been in touch with the Australian consul in Vladivostok and he is coming to meet us today. I hope he can help us.
UPDATE: The Australian consul in Vladivostok, Vladimir Gorokhov, has been amazingly helpful. However, because of a recent change (on August 9th) to immigration laws, the only way for us to leave the country is to be deported. So we have to go to court, hopefully tomorrow, to get some kind of ruling made and a stamp on a piece of paper to allow us to leave. We won’t be allowed back into Russia for 5 years and right at the moment I’m not feeling all that sad about that. I just want to leave and never come back.
We have been given permission to stay longer at the hotel we stayed at last night – it took the Australian consul, an Immigration department official, a long conversation with the hotel manager and a phone call to someone else higher up the chain, but thankfully we have a place to stay for the next couple of nights.
If you can overcome the thought of having friends/relatives who are regarded a criminals in one particular country we would love to hear from you – comments, emails, emergency chocolate …actually, don’t worry about the chocolate.
We’re both fine and keep reminding each other that one day we’ll laugh about this. Not yet though, we’re just working on getting out of here.
* My ‘worst thing’ was when Greg got sick and ended up in hospital in Spain a couple of years ago. I spent the next week feeling scared all the time and crying in the shower a lot.
Greg’s ‘worst thing’ was getting his Landcruiser stuck in a creek in the Simpson Desert and having to walk to Birdsville to get help. There may or may not have been tears.
There have been other ‘adventures’ that we have shared and now laugh about – the time we took a tandem bike to Viet Nam and got stuck on Highway 5 with no spare tyres and nowhere to spend the night. A Vietnamese family took us in and gave us a bed and a meal.
We lost our hotel room in Manhattan because we arrived after midnight because of flight delays. We had paid for it, but that didn’t matter, apparently. We ended up in an all-night diner talking to the cricket-obsessed Nepalese night manager who let us stay there for hours and then took us to the subway and taught us how to use it. I think he liked us because we share a home-town with the Chappell brothers.
As close as we got to our Ferry to South Korea. We watched it sail away while detained in Russian customs
Queue outside visa office. It only opened for two hours a day. It was the third office we had visited, but still the wrong one.
Discussions between the manager of the hotel and the head of the immigration office on whether we could stay at the hotel for the night, The discussions went on for ten minutes. The alternative was sleeping in a park.