You are currently viewing Day 116: Arrested Development

Day 116: Arrested Development

The boat over to Tallinn was quick and easy and got me in to the capital of Estonia in fine fettle just around noon. I grabbed a cab across town (and what a marvellously delightful town it is!) and jumped a bus to Narva, on the Russian border.

Here’s the plan… I don’t have a Russian visa, so I can’t actually go into Russia proper, but what I can do is go up to the border and talk to the border guards, and then I’m technically in that country, yeah?

Er… no.

The border post, and there was only one, was on the European side of the river. Fences, CCTV and border guards standing all around. This was not going to be the cakewalk I expected. IDIOT!! WHAT WERE YOU THINKING? Russia! Putin! Gulags! The KGB!

So I had a gander at a map on the wall near the border and discovered that further down the river it splits in two and runs either side of an old industrial complex. There was a chance that I could sneak onto this island and sneak back without arousing suspicion.

Or so I thought.

IDIOT!! WHAT WERE YOU THINKING? Russia! Putin! Gulags! The KGB!

I walked along the riverbank until I saw what I was after – a concrete strip, probably dating from the war, half submerged in the shallow water which created an artificial ford. I could just amble across – as long as I didn’t attempt to scale the CLIFF on the far side of the river, I figured I’d be fine.

So I started picking my way across the river. I had got half way and was fairly satisfied I had stepped foot in Russia when the flares went off. Where they for me?

IDIOT!! WHAT WERE YOU THINKING? Russia! Putin! Gulags! The KGB!

I trotted back towards the European Union as nonchalantly as I could. Just keep walking, Graham, you’ll be fine, you’re just a tourist who’s a bit lost. With a HD camcorder! And a GPS device!

IDIOT!! WHAT WERE YOU THINKING? Russia! Putin! Gulags! The KGB!

Oh god… I could hear the sirens… two border guards came running at me, hands on their holsters…

Before I knew it, I was being whisked away to a tumble-down industrial complex on the outskirts of Narva. It was all a bit surreal to be honest. I just acted dumb (not too hard!) and explained that I read the map wrong and was trying to get into the island in the middle of the river which was still Estonia. The island that was a half-mile upstream from where I was trying to cross.

The good thing was that these guys were Estonians, not the Russians. They told me that if I’d been caught by the Russians, I would have been held for three days because they would assume I was a British spy WITH A SILLY HAT ON.

Thanks to my schooling, and especially my time spent in Mr. Row’s office, I’m not a bad liar, and I tend not to stress out in situations like this. So I remained calm, they gave me cake (cake or death!) and orange juice until a lawyer got there. The border guys were really nice, they didn’t shout and scream and one even drove across town to pick my bag up from the museum where I had left it earlier.

When the lawyer arrived we had a chat, I think they were just concerned that I was exiting Russia illegally, but my pockets where stuffed full of evidence that I had arrived in Estonia that day. They photocopied all my stuff and then made damn sure I was on the next bus back to Tallinn. Given that Estonia is now a frontier of the European Union, I guess they aren’t too impressed with stupid ginger types who go wandering off into no-mans-land like borders aren’t a matter of life and death.

The sad thing is, although us merry band of brothers in Europe can wander about our 40-odd countries willy-nilly without so much as a passport, there are still borders out there that people are still in danger of being shot dead if they try to cross.

On the bus back to Tallinn I got online (thank you Vodafone!) and checked my GPS log – oh YES! I did step foot in Russia – I made it far enough across the river, only a few meters, but far enough to claim my entry.

Okay, so I feel it’s cheating a little to say I’ve visited the biggest country on Earth (all 11 time zones of it) but my task is to step foot in these places, and it’s not like I’m going to go any further than a couple of meters into Somalia is it?!

I took the overnight coach to Lithuania. It passed through Latvia on the way. I was so thirsty, I nearly cried. Are there no vending machines in this part of the world? 

Graham Hughes

Graham Hughes is a British adventurer, presenter, filmmaker and author. He is the only person to have travelled to every country in the world without flying. From 2014 to 2017 he lived off-grid on a private island that he won in a game show, before returning to the UK to campaign for a better future for the generations to come.

This Post Has 6 Comments

  1. Ulf

    When we went through that area a few years ago there were vending machines in Latvia. We went the other way around, and we had to spent all our Latvian currency shortly before we entered Estonia. Now, we tried all we could do to get rid of our money. We even entered one supermarket three times because all we bought turned out to be so cheap that we still had money left. We ended up fueling our car and then just leaving the spare money behind at some gas station…

  2. pintobitters

    “I trotted back towards the European Union as nonchalantly as I could. Just keep walking, Graham, you’ll be fine, you’re just a tourist who’s a bit lost. With a HD camcorder! And a GPS device!”

    WAY TO GO, MAN! GAD! wattan adventure! Hope you got some good footage! James Bond would be prouid! WWTBE!!

  3. Olly

    To decide if it is interesting space for me or not – I found category of my own country… to say that comment on a page was less then nothing is to make a compliment – sad.

  4. Nic

    I see what you are trying to do. But honestly, if you don’t REALLY visit these countries I just don’t see the point in what you are trying to achieve. Visiting a country is about experiencing it and emerging yourself in its culture. I visited Russia this year and its one of the most amazing places I have ever been,I loved every second of this fascinating place. And to limit it to having technically stepped foot on a small island in a river is quite sad really. All you are doing is looking at the countries and numbers to tick off, sure I have a map I love to shade in where I have been and love nothing more than listing places, but when I do that, I also know I have had some amazing experiences in those places. Yeah this was a bit of fun and an experience in itself, but thats not to say it can’t be then coupled with actually giving enough respect to that country you so badly want to tick off to actually visit it. Im not saying spend 30 days on the Trans siberian I know you have a time scale, but at least visit Moscow for a few days. The Visa fee is a little steep that is true, but that is something you surely would have considered before embarking on this challenge.

    1. Graham

      Urgh. Did somebody not get the memo?

  5. Antal

    If you take a ferry from Estonia to Saint Petersburg, you can get free visa from the border and you also can see the Russian “Rome”, which is amazing!

Leave a Reply