Long term traveling is quite different to a month’s getaway that up until now I’ve been more used to; we had visas to process and a whole six months to organise along the way. Some times, we spend day after day applying for visas, going back and forth to embassies, getting denied only to return with the requested documents to be denied again. To be honest, some days are really shit and finding ourselves sitting in the immigration department’s office of Belarus, with words of ‘deported’ and ‘punishment’ getting thrown around, was top of the list.
Back tracking, when applying for our visa if we were to get a tourist one we would only be allowed ten days, and needed the whole ten days of hotels booked. That sounded shit. Instead, when we returned the second time with our ‘friends’ invitation letter, we were able to score a private visa and a whole 30 days allowance in the country. However, the rules of this visa meant that we had to register with the Minsk police within five days of entering. So far, we had spent two days each in Hlybikaye and Braslav, meeting locals who had never met Australians before, eating home cooked traditional meals, staying in hostels completely empty but us, and walking around the unusual towns. Sticking to our rule of only hitch hiking, we had managed to hitch hike our way to Minsk, even getting picked up by a friendly Russian who drove us out of his way to the war memorial and impressive soviet statues.
Arriving in Minsk felt like arriving in Russia, and I instantly understood how it adopted the name ‘The Little Brother of Russia’. The roads were wide, far apart and the buildings were large, impressive and Soviet looking. Everything was extremely grand and bold. Even Tyral, who has been to Moscow, said it resembled it a lot, only on a smaller scale.
We were staying with an extremely friendly young married couple that ended up saving our asses when we later got into trouble. The lady who had ‘invited’ us to Belarus was out of the country while we were there, which we were unknown to prior to arrival, and so we had to find someone else who would vouch for us to stay in the country. Not having any actual friends in Belarus at this point made it hard, so we posted it on Couchsurfing and hoped someone would take pity in us and help us out. On our fifth day in the country we still hadn’t registered, as our couch surfing hosts didn’t own their apartment they were unable to help us out. No one had replied on Couchsurfing and we just hoped that the public holiday for International Woman’s Day would give us an extra day.
Finally, someone replied and said they would help us out, but that wasn’t until the Friday, two days over our allocated five days. We had read that it isn’t too big of a problem and others had done it, paid a small fine and been on their way. We hopped we would be the same.
But the next thing we knew, we were sitting in the immigration office, in trouble. Turns out, the public holiday did count as a day, so we were a day overdue on our registration. Our extremely kind host had called to check for us, worried that our easy-going Aussie way of tackling our problem would evidently get us thrown out of her country. She was a bit more knowledgeable about her countries customs and their strict law than we where.
Our host had to skip the rest of her day at work (which we felt absolutely awful about) to sit with us for around 5 hours, interpreting for us and trying to convince the angry looking, large Russian men not to deport us.
Not speaking a word of Russian, and the angry scary Belarusian Bruce Willis not speaking a word of English, made the whole ordeal that much more intimidating. The word punishment was getting thrown around an awful lot, making my hands sweat and my heart race. I had expected this to happen when we crossed the boarder into Belarus, Tyral being shuffled away in handcuffs by security guards and the two of us locked in a room under interrogation in a language neither of us understood. Neither of us ever expected it to happen now. This was definitely not a country I wanted to get into trouble in, the last country in Europe with the death penalty and extremely poor human rights. These irrational thoughts kept running through my head and clearly showing on my face as Tyral kept reassuring me we would be perfectly fine, although his face showed a little panic.
Various different intimidating officials came in and out of the office, some police offices, army looking officials and lawyers all giving us angry pissed off looks at all the paper work we had caused them.
Unsure what was going on, we got shuffled out of the office and told to come back in an hour so the board could ‘decide on our punishment’, what ever that meant, it didn’t sound good. Apparently there was a possibility that we might be deported the following morning and get a fine up to one thousand euros.
I wasn’t feeling confident at all, a huge DEPORTED red stamp across my passport was the last thing I wanted, let alone paying one thousand euros. We walked around in silence, both preying we wouldn’t be in too much trouble and kicking our dumb lazy butts that we aren’t more organised at this kind of thing.
Finally, we were allowed back in the office and told the severity of our punishment. We weren’t to be shipped out of the country like criminals, and only had to pay a fine of 45EURO. Thank god.
In the end, after actually registering the following day, it took two complete days, and two complete stranger’s generosity, to become legal in the country. An ordeal neither of us with to go through again. We had defiantly been taught a lesson.
– Does it matter if you don’t register in Belarus?