Released from our campsite in Sergiev Posad we head towards Moscow, the truck is making some odd noises, a crunking or breaking sound so we decided to reach out to our overland friends and they recommend a garage in the north-west part of Moscow at the ARB Russia distribution centre that specialises in Land Rover servicing. Perfect, a place that can fix Land Rovers, no surprise it was very busy, we met Dmitry and he said they could identify what our problem is.
We spent a couple of hours chatting while the mechanics checking the truck, Dmitry said there was a problem with the transfer case, gears and CV joints. This was a concern as replacing these parts were very expensive. Trying to determine if it was broken or on the way to becoming broken was difficult, we had less than 10,000km left so we had to weigh up if we need this to be done. After much debate and messages back and forth between our mechanic in Australia and comparing the costs, we decided to go through with the work. Dmitry managed to source the gears from local breakers which reduced the initial quote. Dmitry very kindly offered for us to stay at his home, welcoming us in and introduced us to his family, taking us around Moscow and a tour along the Moskva River.
As the work was carried out on the following day we took the Moscow metro into the centre and spent the day at the Kremlin, Saint Basil’s Cathedral and Red Square. Within in the Kremlin if any pedestrians deviated from the designated walkways and would step over the boundary line a very angry Russian guard would either blow his whistle with authority or flap his arms in an alarming manner. Chinese tourist, after Chinese tourist, kept going off-piste to the despair of the guards!
With the work carried on the truck and a tortious multi-trip search from a compatible ATM to allow us to withdraw funds, we arrived back at ARB Moscow, said our goodbyes to Dmitry and hit the road to St. Petersburg. It took a good 3hrs to get out of Moscow, it was like driving in LA when it rains, nobody moves. The delays mean we’re not going to get to St. Peterburg that evening and spend the night in Veliky Novgorod.
On the drive, we noticed the speedo was 10km out compared to the sat nav speedo, we contacted Dmitry and he arranged for the original speed sensor from the transfer case to be shipped to his friend Stanislav in St. Petersburg.
We arrive in St. Petersburg on a gloriously sunny day and drive bang into the centre, the traffic was light and after a bit of investigation, we find a low-budget room with off-street parking suitable for our high truck and book for a couple of nights. The first thing we notice is that St. Petersburg feels a lot like Europe, nothing like Russia we’ve experienced so far. Tristan did have a slight run-in with the local police for drinking in the street which apparently is prohibited, after a stern telling off and the confiscation of near empty beer can he was let off with a warning instead of the 700 Ruble fine (€10) and 6hrs in a Ruski prison. Naughty.
We wander around the streets taking in the State Hermitage Museum, Grand Palace, General Staff Building, Yusupov Palace, Peter and Paul Fortress, Savior on the Spilled Blood and find traditional Russian beef stroganoff which was a delight.
The following day we head over to the 4×4 centre to swap out the speed sensor, while we are there we get the mechanics to see if they can fix our original problem of crunking or breaking sound which since the 70,000 Ruble “fix”. (i’m not going to work it to another currency, it makes me sad). Turns out the rear lower control arm rubber bushings were heavily worn and needed replacing. Rubber bushings. These are about 1000 Rubles . . .
We have to spend another night in St. Petersburg, which becomes a drama, we book a place on bookings.com and turn up and the hotel is not operational. We have left the truck at this point so we are wandering the outskirts of St. Petersburg between communist blocks at dusk, great. We find another place, eventually, gain access after a good samaritan translates the address which is incorrect on the booking and then we spend a night in an 8 story concrete box 2 degrees off being a cosy crack den. Viva-la-Russia
The next morning we meet the truck, have a few pictures taken with Stanislav which ends on their website with an article about us which was cool and head to the Russian border near the Estonia town of Lütä. http://ex-roadmedia.ru/4×4/puteshestviya/novosti-i-anonsy/5961-iz-avstralii-v-angliyu-na-starom-kruzake-kakovo-eto
We have read that this is supposed to be an easy border crossing and it turns out this information is correct. The Russian border security guard was most interested in our truck, he then grabs me, looks directly into my eyes and says these words “There is nothing stronger than a Kalashnikov AK-47 or a Toyota Landcruiser, so says Saddam Hussein . . . nice car!” then shakes my hand. A little flustered we quickly move on to the Estonia part of the process where they think our truck is American. Robyn jumps around like kangaroos, something clicks with the border team and they enter the truck as Australian in their system, check our documents and allow us to pass.
We spend the night at a truck stop about 300 meters across from the border and crack open a few beers. Russia is a vast country with huge expanses of nothing in between towns and monuments, crazy drivers and for the most part sceptical locals that seems like they are plotting against us, like cats. We met some good people on the way and enjoyed parts of it, think both of would have preferred to have viewed it from the comfort of an armchair seat on the trans-Siberian express but hey at least we got the truck fixed!!**
** The next day the newly installed CV joint snaps. We are beyond pissed off. A miscommunication or misdiagnosis of worn rubber bushings resulted in the replacement of the transfer case, gears and CVs joints which have failed less than 1000km of travel. We are forced to remove the CV joint & shaft and disconnect the driveshaft and run the truck in 2 wheel drive for the rest of the trip. This definitely tarnished the last part of our trip, after all the money and time we spent getting this ‘fixed’ we are let down by an inferior part with no chance of getting a replacement part or any kind of warranty.