“You need a form like this! For your car!” The boyish-looking immigration officer demanded for the third time as he pointed to the small rectangle of paper that was our pass through the border crossing. You pick it up when you arrive at the border gate, they write down your license plate number and how many people are in the car and you get it stamped by immigration. Without it you can’t leave and you have to go back to the beginning.
“Yes, we know. That’s it. That’s our piece of paper!” we said in unison.
“No, you need a form like this!”
“Yes. That’s it! The one you’re holding.”
“You mean,” he said, turning the paper over, “This is it? Ohh! [Swears in Russian]” He laughed and turned beet red as his colleagues in the back room started razzing him.
This was easily the most fun we’d had crossing a border. It’s a universal truth, once you get people laughing life gets a little easier. We’d had a couple of attempts at being good samaritans during the day. Flying along between Astana and Pavlodar we spied a gentleman optimistically waving cars down. Flat tire, let’s see if we can help. He had been busy taking a shredded tire off its rim and indicated that he needed an inner tube, which we didn’t have. We apologized, but looked for a tube in the next gas station 10 minutes up the road, anyway. To no avail. Our next stop was for a body lying the road, but by the time we’d turned around someone else had revived the corpse.
Back in Russia we missed the turn for Barnaul in the dark and wound up camping in a field without crickets. The silence was a little disconcerting, but perhaps they’d been eaten by the gigantic mosquitoes.