Vicky Tang’s Diary
Belarus Wetlands

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August 2, 2009: Journey to Minsk

Small plane 1 The man at the hotel gives me the timetable for the train to the airport. Upon arrival the staff tell me that there are no trains running due to track work. Fortunately there is an airport express bus that leaves every 10 minutes for Alexanderplatz. Check-in and customs is a breeze. In the waiting lounge I don’t notice many people; perhaps I might get a spare seat beside me. I hear the boarding call and go downstairs to the waiting bus. We drive across the tarmac to the small plane. It is a 52-seater (13 rows, 4 across). The men have to duck their heads as they walk down the aisle. This is definitely the smallest plane I haven’t jumped out of! The air hostess hands out sweets to combat the air pressure change as we take off. Upon arrival at Minsk I follow the crowd to passport control. I hand over my passport and letter of invitation. She scrutinises my Inside small plane documents and says “visa?” I explain that there is no embassy in my country and that I was told to purchase one at the airport. Mind you, this is all in slow English, my Russian is not nearly good enough and I hope she understands. She points me towards a set of stairs. It is dark upstairs and the door is slightly ajar. I knock and call out “Hello?” A kind man appears and helps me to complete the lengthy 2-page form. I pay my money and head towards the insurance desk. There is no one there. I don’t ask the man because he has disappeared back into the office. Maybe I don’t need to buy insurance any more. I attempt passport control again. “Medical insurance?” She points. I explain in English that there is no one upstairs. I hope she understands me. She shakes her head and continues to point. I have no choice but to leave the line. Fortunately I see the friendly visa man descending the stirs. He ushers me to the insurance lady standing by the immigration counter. I pay my money (€7, hardly worth the effort) and hope that I will be successful on my third attempt. Another plane has arrived and I have to queue behind 20 noisy young schoolchildren. My turn comes and I am ecstatic to finally get through. I pick up my lonely bag from the long still conveyor and head for the bus stop until I realise that I don’t have any local currency. I head down the hall looking for a currency exchange desk of ATM. The CE is already closed and the ATM is upstairs. I am glad I bought a new trolley bag with backpack straps as there is no lift or escalator in sight. I go up two flights of stairs and along the terminal eagerly looking for more signs. The building is empty. There is no one to ask for directions. I appear to be on the departure level. I see the sign for a bar. I make the hand motions for inserting a card into a machine and getting cash. She points to the right. I have no other option but to trust that she has understood. I walk and I walk and I walk. Finally, I see an ATM. It has the ‘blue screen of death’. I am deflated. I look around for another ATM. I walk further up the never-ending terminal. I see a sign for another foreign exchange office. I practically run there. There are already two guys in the queue but I am happy that the office is still open. I try to change my remaining Euros but he refuses because there is a small tear in one of the notes. I am almost ready to cry. I pull myself together and withdraw from my credit card. I ask for the equivalent of US$200 and get BUR600,000 in return. WOOT! I am an instant half millionaire. Finally, I am off to catch the taxi to town ... I don’t think I can stomach the drama of the bus and train. I get a text message from Mastura. They are having dinner. I choose to join them directly rather than stop at the hotel first. It has been 8 hours since my last meal. I am starving. I get them to order first. I hand the phone to the driver so that Mastura can give the driver directions to the restaurant in Russian. I begin to relax a bit. More than an hour after touchdown. I am in Belarus and about to meet some of my fellow bog mates. It is a short subway ride and 3-minute walk back to the hotel. I check in and enter my room. It is clean and sufficient. The walls are covered in textured wallpaper and the bed is covered in jacquard.
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