Kyle’s Journey in Armenia

Just Another Peace Corps Blog

  • Kyle? In Armenia?

    My name is Kyle, and I am a Peace Corps volunteer in Noyemberyan, Armenia. I will live here until August 2008 and am an Information Technology volunteer. In addition to my primary assignment developing my region's WiFi internet, I also teach computer and English classes to area youth. Thank you for visiting!

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6
Aug 2008
Bye Bye Russia
Posted in Peace Corps by Kyle at 8:34 pm |

The most careful readers of my blog may have noticed that I said our Trans-Siberian train traveled from Moscow to Ulan Bator (almost…). Perhaps a better phrasing would have been, “our Trans-Siberian train traveled from Moscow to Ulan Bator, but Kathy, Heather and I were left at the border because of some bad visa advice.” Let me start from the beginning.

We decided to purchase our Russian visas in Armenia, because a) thousands of Armenians go to Russia yearly so it should be easy and b) we were there. After investigating the process online, we realize we need an invitation letter from a hotel we’re staying at. No problem - there are hundreds of sites offering them for cheap online. Just one caveat - the Russia embassy in Yerevan onlyaccepts visa invitations from Levon Travel in Yerevan. So yes, the mafia has even infiltrated the Russian embassy - another example of the underlying corruption that just keeps hurting Armenia’s prospects for growth.

So, we went through the motions, paid the exorbitant fee ($275 - the actual visa fee is $150), and submitted our paperwork for a standard, 30 day tourist visa. We get it back, and our entry date is fine, but our exit date is printed as 31 July. Even a kindergartner knows that July 21-31 is not 30 days. The reason this was a concern is that we left Moscow on the 29th, and the train wouldn’t cross the border until August 2. Leaving us with an expired visa on August 2. Follow??

We immediately point this out, and which point they say, “Well, you can’t change a visa once it’s issued. You must pay for a new one. Regardless, after you get on the train on the 29th, you enter into a free travel zone (like an airplane) and you will be able to cross the border just fine on August 2nd.” We asked, and confirmed this, three times before we left Armenia.

Fast forward to August 2, 2008. After 5 days of train ride, viewing the beautiful countryside and meeting interesting travelers, our trip came to an end with a Russian customs official pronouncing, “You have a bigproblem.” They pulled us off the train with our luggage, took our passports until we paid a fine and the train left, and then instead of sending us out of the country with a lesson learned, they put true Russian bureaucracy back in action. We had to get on a night train, go back to the town of Ulan Ude, Russia, and wait. And wait. And wait. This was Saturday. The visa office wouldn’t open until Monday at 2. We show up early, to be taken to a customs office where an “incident report” was filed against us, fingerprints taken, and a million forms signed. They made nothing easy; the office was in a village about 20 km from the town center; we had to pay our fines at the bank, not in cash to them; and we had to have THREE passport size photos taken at our own expense (in addition to the 3 nights we had to stay at a hotel).

Anyway, finally on Tuesday at 6 PM we got our exit visa, and just today did I sit on a 12 hour bus to Mongolia. So, I’m out of Russia, and I couldn’t be happier for it. The country is ridiculous, the people unfriendly and unhelpful, and NO ONE spoke English in the entire country. There was one consolation to the whole trip, it’s that we got to see what Ulan Ude is truly famous for:

 Lenin's Head - 1

That’s right - the world’s largest Lenin head. Right outside my hotel balcony. Jealous???


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The views expressed herein are the views of the author and do not express those of Peace Corps Armenia or the United States government.