Belarus - the second unexpected detour from our rtw route, a wonderful month in the life of Atuk, and paperwork
While all roads lead to Rome, our rtw itinerary in some invisible dimension seems to be magnetized to my home country Belarus. And while it's always great to see my family, I wish there was at least one time that I was going to visit them without having to arrange some documents. Just like the first time during this rtw trip - about a year ago when we flew to Belarus from China in order to exchange my passport that didn't have any visa pages left - this time Belarus became the last chapter of our rtw trip for pretty much the same reason - getting my new passport in place of the one stolen in Ecuador. In the previous post I described our thorny path from Ecuador to Belarus (me) and Spain (Jordi) with no documents except temporary certificates issued by our consulates, with a puppy that only had documentation for Belarus and a lot of determination to make it home with our dog. After quite a few surprises with the flight tickets and the actual flights because of the puppy, we finally made it back from our rtw trip to our separate parental homes. After a week we all got reunited in Belarus, just in time for the new year celebration, and below is a short summary of the wonderful month we spent there.
The delightful part of our stay in Belarus:
Inevitable and yummy family visits were an integral part of our stay in Belarus, especially because our visit unintentionally got timed with all the season's festivals. The other big chunk of our time went into long walks with Atuk in the nearby forest, skiing, teaching our puppy to pull and trying skijoring. Without a doubt, this was the most delightful part of our stay, as we couldn't dream of a better place and time to introduce our Alaskan malamute to snow and all the snow-related things which are without a doubt the core of a malamute's genetic program. It was sunny but frosty, there was plenty of snow, my mum lives just 5 minutes' walk from the forest and there are ski trails all around it. In our daily walks/skiing sessions in the forest Atuk has transitioned from being angry with skiers, to wanting to chase them, to getting much quieter and being able to pull us (with some help) in our skijoring sessions. He developed a much better sense of the need to stay aware of our whereabouts which came as a natural consequence of playing hide-and-seek among the snow-covered fur trees. He lost quite a few of his milk teeth in the snow which was providing a natural cooling effect for his itching gums. We buried him in the snow plenty of times as if it were sand from the beach, to his utter delight. He rolled and rolled down snowdrifts on every single walk. To show us how much he loves snow every time on approaching home he'd protest by dropping down and refusing to walk any further. In short, there seems to be no better way to bring out delight in a malamute puppy than giving him snow :-)!
Some views of the Belarusian snow-clad forest:
Some family shots:
Atuk against the never-changing white background:
Buried in the snow:
Splashes of colour in the white winter landscape:
Festival period - New Year, Christmas and Epiphany:
The frustrating part of our stay in Belarus:
That was the happy part of our stay in Belarus. But just like the previous time after China, a lot of our effort this time had to be invested into annoying paper work. This time we had an additional headache due to the fact that the legalized and certified police report from Ecuador had to be translated into Russian and the translation certified as well. Strangely enough, this was one of the few cases of modern reality when it was cheaper and faster to solve the task through the usual brick-and-mortar translation businesses rather than the ones visible in the internet. These latter ones were charging much higher prices and wouldn't give any discount for the fact that I'd provide them with the translation of the document, but on a visit to a state notarius office in Minsk I secured the complete list of every single certified translator in the capital and in a matter of one day had the translation edited and signed by a wonderfully helpful owner of a small translation company which isn't really visible in the search engines but precisely for that reason doesn't need to transfer the burden of their SEO campaigns on the customer.
Some traditional views of Minsk:
Importing a puppy from South America into EU - the scheme that eventually worked out:
Once my passport was in the pipeline and would be ready for collection in about two weeks, it was time to take care of our nationality-less puppy. Our previous post was about the beginning of our project of bringing a South American puppy into EU which we planned using a convenient gap in the EC Regulation No 998/2003 (the main document for non-commercial movement of animals into EU). Below is the second and final chapter of this puppy import story. The main idea of the EU law on animal import is that pets coming from third countries (not EU member states) need to have an international-looking veterinary passport, a microchip, a valid rabies vaccination and - here's the tricky part - a serological test for rabies anti-bodies which requires a waiting period of three months after taking the blood sample. In a normal non-travelling situation this test is just a formality which probably costs half-an-hour and a hundred euro, but on a rtw trip waiting in some country for 3 months just to be able to legally enter Europe with a pet is a huge nuisance. We did the usual thing that human-beings do in a situation when the law doesn't match the practical reality - find gaps in it. The above-mentioned regulation by the European Commission from 2003 gave us a perfect flaw - apparently the test was not required for pets travelling from third countries listed in the Annex C of the document on the grounds that these countries after carrying out anti-rabies campaigns (like adding the anti-rabies vaccine into food for wild animals) have been added to the EU list of rabies-free countries. Apparently, Belarus was added to that list (before US :-) somewhere in 2010, so all we needed to bring Atuk to Spain was to turn him into a Belarusian puppy.
The next couple of weeks were full of the usual ups and downs of this long project. My first call to a private vet in the capital left me in low spirits as they told me it would be impossible for them to transfer my puppy's vaccinations into a new passport and sign for his microchip since "they had no idea how, where, when etc. it was applied". We then turned to the only (state) veterinarian in Osipovichi who had no trouble making Atuk's passport and transferring all the vaccinations, but wouldn't sign for the microchip as the state clinics are so poorly equipped they didn't even own a microchip scanner. She also sent us all the way to the regional capital Mogilev (a whole day trip) to obtain just one signature on the fresh health certificate she issued which stated that the animal was travelling from an area with quiet epidemiological situation, - a document required by the Belarusian customs in order to issue the EU form we had already compiled ourselves (to the huge surprise at our sophistication of the state veterinary control employees in Mogilev). Then because we thought that the state vet in Osipovichi had simply forgotten to sign for the microchip and didn't expect any problems in obtaining that signature, when she firmly refused to do it just two days before our departure for Spain, we needed to urgently find a solution.
Local men fishing in the Dubrovenka river, Mogilev:
There was something else to consider as well: we had scheduled our departure date right after an event which we couldn't miss - a sled dog race at a ski station near Minsk - and it would have been disastrous to miss it over a stupid missing signature. So we applied our usual strategy - feeling lucky - and having looked up a few private vet clinics which could implant microchips (so would own a scanner) and their working hours - spent the entire morning at the really colourful event (Zaviruha) and rushed to a vet to obtain the missing signature in the afternoon. Below is a short summary of how it went.
Zaviruha - a colourful international sled dog racing event:
That Saturday morning we got up at 5am to take one of the first trains to Minsk, and on arrival in the capital took a bus to a station which had minivan service to Raubichi - the ski station which would host the event. On exiting the bus Atuk introduced us to the owners of a sweet little husky puppy named Darwin, whose owners emerged from the same bus and who - we rightly assumed - were going to the same event. All 6 of us (4 people and 2 puppies) went to check about the tickets and departure times and then spent some time waiting for a minivan together surrounded by a whole bunch of teenagers with skis and snow-boards obviously heading for the same location. To our huge disappointment, the driver of the minivan told us that dogs were not allowed so our only choice was to take a taxi. After some bargaining on our side (something we considerably improved at during this rtw trip), we managed to take the price down to half the quoted one - to a more decent 10 euro per couple, and half-an-hour later arrived at Raubichi. The event was a real delight for us and our puppy, as Atuk got a lot of socializing opportunities with dogs like himself and we got to see all the dogs and the race. An unexpected twist of this visit was how Atuk almost got the title of "the most beautiful dog of Belarus" - a "beauty contest" for all the present non-competing dogs which was probably the organizers' idea to keep the present owners more entertained. The way they organized it was that at the entrance everybody was given a little red ribbon which they could give to any dog they liked. And while saying that Atuk could have gotten the title is an exaggeration, judging by the amount of bright ribbons tied all along his leash by the time we left in order to obtain the missing signature in our puppy's new Belarusian passport - at least an hour before the results would be known - we were probably running somewhere in the top three (together with another Alaskan malamute puppy Maya and our husky friend Darwin). This last signature-obtaining part went remarkably smooth, as first we managed to get a free lift to Minsk from an awesome Belarusian programmer who picked us - the two hitch-hikers with a puppy - in a country were everybody is afraid that if you do that you'd end up as a slave somewhere at a brick plant in Dagestan. Then the vet we turned to agreed to put the precious signature, despite the fact that their only scanner was still with the few other vets from the clinic at the race we'd just left. Then with the signature in place we decided to take another quick trip to a state vet to ask them to scan our microchip which had never been scanned anywhere except Peru where it was implanted: luckily, the usual long queue was understanding and we managed to get the confirmation that the chip could be read, in just a couple of minutes. Then it was time for the return trip back to Osipovichi, where we had a dinner scheduled with my aunt. We finally made it home at around 11pm, very tired (Atuk could hardly walk already in Minsk) but satisfied and with a lot of red ribbons.
The early trip to Minsk:
Atuk meeting a lot of dogs like himself:
By afternoon Atuk had a lot of red ribbons, each standing for a "like" from a Zaviruha spectator:
Atuk and Maya:
Atuk and Darwin:
Waiting for the race:
And the race begins:
A few frozen moments of howling and pulling before the start of the only malamute team at the race:
Hitch-hiking back to Minsk:
Walking to the vet to arrange the last missing signature in Atuk's Belarusian passport - after the whole day of socializing at Zaviruha he still had the strength to pick up curious objects in the street:
Late train back to Osipovichi:
Last brush strokes in our rtw trip:
Earlier that same week we'd received my tourist visa for Spain from the French Consulate in Minsk - a quick fix to let me return to Spain without my stolen Spanish residence permit, which cost us two trips to Minsk and 60 euro. So with Atuk's documents all in order we were now completely set for our departure for Europe. The next day was our last day in Belarus, so to celebrate it we went for the last skiing session with Atuk and my sister in the forest and stopped for another bountiful dinner at my grandma's. Late in the evening with two light backpacks and our puppy's giant crate we took a train to Minsk in order to catch our night bus to Riga, Latvia, from where we had a flight to Barcelona with AirBaltic the next day. Crossing the border with Lithuania took us by surprise as we prepared Atuk's EU import certificate in Latvian which we thought would be the language of our country of entry into EU but it turned out the bus was going through Vilnius first. It was also the moment of truth of our pet-import scheme (see above), and just as we expected, the reality was much easier than the regulations. There was no check whatsoever at the Belarusian side of customs and hardly any at the EU one: a couple of sweet guys, delighted by the look of our cute puppy cheerfully looking at them through the frame of his crate, had a brief look at his rabies vaccination, made a joke and wished us a good trip. That was it - we were all inside Europe! From then on it was very straightforward as all we had to do was on arrival in Riga take a bus to the airport, register for the flight, pay 50 euro for our puppy and take the flight to Barcelona. We arrived back in Spain from our 33-months rtw trip on January 28, 2013 and our puppy Atuk was finally able to meet his new buddy - our cat Balu.
Our last day in Belarus:
Atuk was so exhausted after the skiing on our last day in Belarus we almost had to carry him home :-):
Registering the departure date of our last journey during this rtw trip:
Now back in Spain we have no idea what future brings, but we are sure that people create their own reality with their thoughts and choices, and in that sense we don't need to worry about all the gloomy crisis reports. We'll probably use this webpage from now on as a place to put our future travelogs, and I might make a few reflection posts. But at the moment, we express our huge thanks to those of you who were patiently following us over these wandering/wondering years (especially to Jan van Maastricht) and we wish you all to be happy!
Olga and Jordi