At the start of this week I & the Quist family said goodbye to my younger brother, Chris, who flew back to a very warm Australia after enduring a very chilly Canada. Chris headed home with a suprise for his girlfriend, a beard, & I set about planning the final aspects of the Russian leg of the journey before heading off. When I arrived in Edmonton 2 weeks ago I had to send my passport off to Passports Plus (a visa issuing company) to have my Belarus Visa completed. Due to the up-coming holidays at that stage of the year as well as the short time that I was to stay in Edmonton, I had payed extra to have the passport processed in 24hrs & returned to me straight after Christmas. My passport though, didn't turn up as agreed & Passports Plus were closed for the Christmas break. I was scheduled to leave Edmonton on the 2nd of January, which was also the first day Passports Plus were to be open after the return date of December 31st came & went. I made contact with them early in the morning to discover that they had forgotten to place the passport on the 24hr turn-around list & so it was sitting in Washington DC & not likely to be returned for another week. The lady on the other end of the phone believed that I hadn't given them authorisation for the 24hr processing option but after I reminded her that our enitre conversation the week before was about me not wanting to send it back to them to have the Visa completed because of a lack of time & that she had said that she could rush it through for me on 24hr processing & have it back to me well before I left, she finally agreed to do all that she could to get me my passport. Unfortunatly we then discovered that the Belarus embassy was closed & so the absolute earliest I could receive my passport by would be the 4th, unless I wanted to pay $1100 & I could have it on the 3rd. Either way, I wasn't going to make my flight. I opted for the 4th of January, forgot about the missed flight & simply set about changing my itinerary. I couldn't change all of the 3 flights to Vladivostok & so had to purchase some from scratch, costing me another $870 on top of the original cost of the flights. Through the help of Epay Lara at Glades Travel in Sydney I managed to get a new flight departing on Saturday morning at 6am. I would arrive in Vladivostok after the Trans Siberian train had left & would have to wait for the Tuesday train, forcing me to make a direct path to Moscow on the train without any stops (6days worth). I was a little concerned on the Friday when my passport hadn't arrived by lunchtime & then even more so when I couldn't contact anyone at Passports Plus. It wasn't looking good & though it hadn't really bothered me too much in losing the first flight (& valuable funds), the thought of losing another flight & potentially any chance of having enough funds to finish this journey was beginning to wear on me. There were a lot of prayers being said & by 4pm I needed to get out & just go for a walk. The passport was nowhere to be seen & as I walked up along the snowy country road, every car that came into view made my hopes rise for a split second as I thought it just may be the delivery, but it never came. I just walked & prayed. I prayed for the passport to come, but mainly for God's will. If it didn't come, then it had better be a part of His plan in all this! At around 4:30pm I arrived back at the house & rang Fedex. Passports Plus hadn't given me a tracking number so I had no access to it but after explaining the circumstances & handing over all me personal details the lady on the other end gave me the tracking number & confirmed that it was in fact in Edmonton. She then though told me that it wouldn't be delivered until Monday because the address I'd given her wasn't a correct mailing address. That sent all of us into a spin as we tried to find out what the 'correct mailing address' was. Eventually we discovered that the rural address I'd given them was in fact the correct mailing address & that there was no other means by which to mail to the farm. I then contacted the local Fedex branch to ask where the parcel was so that I could pick it up myself & I was told that they'd call me back once they'd tracked it down. Half an hour later the phone rang & Fedex informed me that the package had accidently been sent to Fort Saskatchewen, a neighbouring town, & that it wouldn't be available until Monday. I asked calmly if I could please go & pick it up & she told me that that was fine, & I could meet the driver at the depot at 5:30pm. So, with my bag packed & my hair still not grey we all piled into the Quist's van & made the pilgrimage to the Fedex depot. The package wasn't there when we arrived, so we sat in the van & prayed. At 5:45 the driver turned up & thankfully, there was the package & inside was my passport (& a bill for over $500 from Passports Plus). I was so relieved to finally have the passport in my hands & right at the 11th hour; my bus to Calgary airport was leaving in one hour. We drove into the city, picked up my bus ticket & then sat in a cafe for half an hour with a very satisfying warm drink. Thank you so much to the Quist family, for all of your hospitality & support, your warmth & humour & in particular your generosity of faith. And thank you to Colin & Laura (across the farm road) for letting Chris & I stay in your basement! At 7pm I was on the bus & heading south for he 3hr trip to Calgary. I arrived at 10:30pm, bought some food, walked for one & a half hours to the airport, called a few people back home to let them know that I was finally on my way & then checked in at 4am. I didn't sleep that night & on the 4hr flight to San Fancisco I didn't sleep either. I had 2hrs in San Francisco before boarding my Korean Air flight to Seoul in South Korea. I was fascinated by the touch screen interactive system mounted on the back of every single seat on the plane & it had everything like movies, documentaries, music, games & even Blackjack if I really got bored. We took off at 1:20pm & I still hadn't slept. To my frustration, airline seats aren't built for people my height & I simply couldn't get to sleep. The back of the chairs finish at my shoulders & my knees were already hitting the seat in front of me so I wasn't able to slide down. I tried sliding my feet under the seat & sliding down my chair to get more comfortable but there just wasn't enough room. I stayed awake for all but 20min of the enitre flight. Other than not sleeping for 36hours, the flight was unforgetable. The flight path took us north-west up over Alaska, across the Bering Strait & down across Kamatchaka peninsula in Russia. The incredible array of mountain peaks & ice was breath-taking. We followed the sun the whole way with it getting away from us a little as we headed up over Alaska but as we dipped back down along the Russian coastline the sun slowly rose over the south-western horizon again & pretty much stayed there for the entire trip, setting as we landed in Seoul. The service onboard was fantastic & I was even more impressed at Seoul airport where I discovered that they place all transit passengers (I flew to Vladivostok the next morning) in the Hyatt Hotel & pay for all meals. Not bad at all. I've always wondered what the Hyatt looked like on the inside :-) I got one of the best nights sleeps I've had in a long time. This morning as I entered the airport I amazingly discovered that I'd been carrying a 3inch nail in my wallet since leaving Calgary Airport (long story) so once I'd inconspicuously tossed it in the bin I boared my flight & made the short hop across the Sea of Okotsk to Vladivostok. A good friend of mine, Justin Carrick, decided to join me for the Trans Siberian Railway so he has been caught up in all the passport mayham but is now thus aquainted with this diverse city. He has been sitting here for four days by himself, practising his Russian on the receptionist & taxi drivers & discovering snow for the first time in his life (he's from Perth). Both of us had very similar experiences coming into Vladivostok; firstly we saw the decommissioned aircraft sitting along the side of the runway, followed by an enourmous smoke stack (perhaps for burning decommissioned planes?) & then the Russian soldiers on the tarmac. And believe it or not, the movies are all correct!! Half of the soldiers, all in their bushy black head attire, were women with long blonde hair! And I'd always thought that Hollywood was so pathetic with its casting. Both Justin & I also discovered on our taxi rides into Vladivostok that keeping a safe distance while driving is not efficient & thus unheard of. I also saw 3 minor bigles on the trip from the airport to the hotel - Not so efficient now. This evening Justin & I walked down to the Bay of Vladivostok... & then walked out across it. I pointed the camera at Justo & asked him to explain what the main dangers were in walking across a frozen sea but before he could answer I tripped over a chunk of ice & strained to keep upright. So, it turns out that the first danger of walking across a frozen sea is trying to film someone & not watching were you're going. So, at long last, I can very happily say, "Hello from wintery Vladivostok!" Next week we hope to be in Moscow, but the journey continues here & now. Please pray for us & in particular, for the unity of all Christians, in truth & in love. Peace be with ya, Samuel & Justin (or in Russian, Самуэль и Джастин).
"When anxiety was great within me, your consolation brought joy to my soul." Psalm 94:19