Thursday, June 4, 2009

The "Almost" Trip to Ulan-Ude 6/4/09

The "Almost" Trip to Ulan-Ude 

Clear, blue skies with large fluffy clouds during the day
At 11:45 pm Temp 45 F
Tomorrow high 72F
Wind, yes 5-7 mph

We have been planning for a month to go to the eastern cities of the mission, Angarsk, Irkutsk, and Ulan-Ude. We were all packed and ready by 8:30 pm, but had to wait for an hour for the cab and the office elders to arrive at 9:30 to take us to the voxall; (train station) for our 10:27pm 40 hour train ride all the way to Ulan-Ude. We, and the Bowdens, a senior couple Humanitarian missionaries, each had a deluxe coupe; (compartment), and we were ready for that 40 hour train ride through spring-time Siberia past Krasnoyarsk and Irkutsk to Ulan-Ude for financial clerk training, a Family Night Seminar, and a repeat of that in Irkutsk and Angarsk later in the week, arriving home again on the 14th. We also planned to see these cities and Lake Baikal. This is what we were to look like in our compartment, a picture from another train trip.

Our first event was getting 4 senior missionaries, two office elders, and a 300 lb taxi driver into the 7 passenger van with all of our luggage, which consisted of one carry-on each, two larger suitcases full of training materials, two briefcases, a five-liter bottle of water, and two lunch baskets. The taxi driver had dropped the back seat to accommodate the luggage so we had to double-up the general seating, getting five into the three middle seats while I sat in the front left seat (this was a right steering import) holding my 35 lb briefcase.

Cindy, Sister Bowden, and the elders laughed most of the way to the voxall about one thing or another, giving the driver cause to shake his head more than once at the frivolity (Russians don't do frivolous) occasioned by the cramped quarters and the van bottoming out at every pothole, which means about every 20-30 feet. I think the driver removed the shock absorbers some time ago, intending to replace them, but never quite getting around to it.

The next event was the mile power-walk getting the six of us and our 11 pieces of baggage though the train station, down the 63 steps to the tunnel that crosses under the tracks, up the 63 stairs at the other end of the tunnel to the platform and then finding wagon (car) number 11, after one false start at the wrong end of the train, we finally arriving at the cute, but surly, attendant waiting to check us in and direct us to our cozy compartment.

Now comes the main event, the check to see if our papers "are in order"; well, they weren't. When we gave her our passports and tickets, she began to examine the first one, turn pages in the passport, examine the visa, flip through the passport page again and finally announce that our papers, "were not in order". After a few curt words to the elders we are told that our passport numbers did not match the numbers on the ticket; BIG problem. It seems that the travel agent in our office used the wrong passports to purchase our tickets and this young lady was not about to let us slide-by.

Elder Petersen adroitly sought to persuade the attendant that our passports were in order and it was just a mix-up because we had two passports and the wrong one was used for the purchase, that's all; no-big-deal. She wasn't budging. Next he called the travel agent, Pyotr, to let him argue the point. She passed the phone to her supervisor who had a 15 minute conversation with Pyotr to no avail. Finally, at 10:27 the train pulled out of the station with us standing on the platform and elder Petersen talking to Pyotr on the phone, getting new instructions as to how to get the rest of our ticket canceled and obtain a partial refund.

As the elders were trying to get us to cross the four sets of tracks over to the station, our hesitation gave the 300 lb railroad "usher" (no doubt a relative of the cab driver) a chance to say nyet, nyet to that idea and ushered us UP the 88 steps to the overpass leading to the station's main level and the Kassa (cashier) where we would obtain the refund slips. After another call to Pyotr which Elder Petersen handed to the cashier, she disappeared for about 15 minutes and finally reappeared with our partial refund slips.

The immediate need now was to find the cab that the elders had asked to wait at the other end of the station. We headed out of the entry, down the 61 steps to the lower street level, then up the incline of the access road about a quarter mile to find our waiting cab with it's sullen driver just dying to take us all home again. This precipitated another giggly ride home and found us piled up at the lower access door of our building.

As I put the magnetic button-key into the receptacle, the new domaphone that was installed today beeped promisingly, but would not open. That's right fans, we were locked out of our building because the new system was not recognizing our old electronic key. Finally a young lady approached, wanting to get into the building and she tried her key. It also did not work. Fortunately, she knew someone in one of the apartments, and, ringing that number, she was able to get them to release the door from their new domaphone and we all got in.

Finally inside our apartment with our luggage and having said goodbye to the elders, I decided this was the right occasion to drink the last bottle of root beer that was chilled in the refrigerator and celebrate our escape from this series of unfortunate events and the prospects of tomorrow's meeting with Pyotr and our new plan. We are keeping our bags packed for a quick exit.

What a country


Shannon Simmons said...

oh dad. only in russia. only those series of events. it makes for a great read & high-quality, edge of the seat entertainment I tell ya! "yor papars ar not in ordar." Probably the most dreaded phrase of the day. But at least you have the root beer to celebrate with! love ya!

lelia said...

With every installment of your blog I am so looking forward to sharing your adventure. However the six days will be minuscle compared to your two years in Novo. What a couple, what a ride - well almost ride. Cute story. What's next?

Mom/Cindy said...

This was the first time that our papers were now in order enough to keep us from "something". These second passports are going to be a "bugger" forever. But we can do it!!!! Wahoo!!!! A journal moment.
Thanks for recording it, Elder Dougie.
Love, ya. Sister Cindy

Andrea S said...

Bummer that your trip got delayed but I' glad to hear everything worked out you are on your way. Enjoy your trip. (I'm slighlty envious of your train trip. One of the things I miss most form my mission is riding trains.)

Anonymous said...

I've discovered your blog only about a month ago!!! I'm Elder Jensen's (birthday elder) mother. Can I just tell you how much he loves the both of you!!!! Many letters share his appreciation for you and your wife! Elder Jensen returns in one month! Thank you for being a most important part of his experience and guiding these young men! Sincerely, Susan

Diane Keys said...

I was a little behind in my reading, so I just read your blog for June 4th. I was laughing so hard when, about 2/3 of the way through your blog, the Russian anthem just started playing, which made me laugh harder. You and Cindy are gracefully living the motto: "It's all good." Thank you for taking us along on this adventure. Love, Diane

Melinda said...

I am sitting in my daughters air conditioned home in Sacramento thinking "this is the stuff that people who haven't served a mission in Eastern Europe just don't understand." We have been home from our mission for about 6 weeks and have come to the conclusion that our mission was a once in a lifetime experience that you just can't to justice to in a one hour fireside. I hope we can meet when you come home. We will certainly have a few things in common to discuss.