Have you ever messed up a travel plan? Booked a train on the wrong day or maybe overbooked the accommodation by a few nights? It happens to the best of us! But have you ever done messed up so badly, you sat on a train with no idea if you were going to get deported from Belarus, a country with notoriously strict border control…
We had arrived in Warsaw that morning, blear eyed and yawning, after taking an appallingly uncomfortable Flix Night Bus all the way from Berlin. After a few hours wandering the city we made our way back to the train station for some much needed food and preparation.
Our excitement had been building all day
We sit in McDonalds, munching on burgers so tasty, but horribly bad for us. But we really don’t care. We want to be full for this journey. I was keen to get to the supermarket and stock up on supplies but James was delaying. He was quiet, snappy, and urgently looking at his phone.
His agitation was alarming…
Not keen to press the issue I walked silently beside him as we browsed the supermarket for snacks. We still had hours to go until our train, so I was in no hurry. Suddenly, he stops abruptly and whispers. “I’ve fucked it, I’ve completely fucked it” Of course I immediately asked him why…
“I’ve got the wrong date for our Visas”
Ah. Well that might be a problem. We had indeed selected the following day as the beginning of our transit visa through Belarus.
Panicked, I studied the timetable, hoping we would find the answer to our problem. Our train was due to arrive in Belarus at 7:15pm Polish time. However, Belarus is 2 hours ahead, so we would actually be arriving at 9:15pm. There is also a 2 hour wait at the border for customs and track changing. So, technically we would only be entering the country 45 minutes earlier than our Visa allowed.
Surely that would work….?
We went to the platform, frantically researching potential accommodation in the border town and noting down all the trains that we could catch should we be deported from Belarus. We were so frenzied we almost didn’t notice the delayed train announcement.
Our prayers had been answered!
As we waited at the station, the delay extended and extended. It might be the first time in history I was willing a train to be as late as humanly possible. Even when the train arrived, and we sat in the station… seemingly for no reason, the train continued to be delayed!
In the end, the train was 2 hours late! I’d also like to point out that this was the only train that was the late for the entire 50 days of train travel. THE ONLY TRAIN!
Lucky doesn’t even cut it!
Our projected arrival time had now gone from 9:15pm to 11:45pm: much more likely we would be shown leniency! Slightly more relaxed and hopeful, we began to make friends with our cabin companions.
Time for Border Control
Too soon it seemed the train was rolling into Brest, Belarus and we had to deal with customs. We arrived as predicted at 11:45pm. It couldn’t have gone better, or so we thought…
We handed over our passports, all smiles and confidence and sat patiently for them to be returned. And they began to return them. The carriage attendant started walking back and forth handing them out. Great. The two guys in our cabin got theirs back. Awesome.
Then we waited. And waited…
All of a sudden it wasn’t looking so good. Then, the fierce border lady came into our cabin and sternly asked us to come with her. We grabbed some valuables and joined a small group of other passengers onto the freezing platform.
She told us that because our visa didn’t start until tomorrow we would not be able to stay on the train. We had to come to the customs office and rejoin the train later.
Frustratingly, by the time we actually piled off the train it was 12am and officially we were allowed in the country. Very, very annoying.
So we are taken to the customs office. Our passports are still with the border officer and she disappears into a back room. One of our fellow travellers starts to become agitated and starts harassing members of staff every time he see’s one. The two Indian men sat next to us happily chat away, seemingly unconcerned that they have been detained for having two passports.
And we waited some more…
A local train arrives and we witness all the passengers walk through this little duty free area to get their passports checked. It’s a quick process, with a lot of shoving and queue jumping. Soon the room is quiet again.
And we still wait…
Minutes turn to hours and we are acutely aware that the train is due to leave soon. Suddenly doubts about the officers promises we would make it back to the train begin to appear.
Are we going to get deported from Belarus?
What if we don’t make it. Or they keep our passports. What if there is some other issue they are sorting out before us? James began to come up with ridiculous scenarios that sounded like they’d been fabricated with a Bond Movie script in mind. All I could do was reassure him it would all be fine and we would soon be on our way!
And we were!
Our growing anxiety had been for naught. The officer came back 10 minutes before the train was due to leave, passports and entry forms in her hands. She even had a smile for us!
We were back on the train in no time and off for some much needed sleep!
Moral of the story: definitely make sure you get your visa dates correct! If we hadn’t been so lucky we would have had to book a different train and wait in the border town for two days for that train to arrive! When things like flights and tours are involved, the stakes could be even higher. I’m so glad it all panned out well and can’t believe how lucky we were!
At least now, we have the funny story of how we almost got deported from Belarus!
Do you have any stories like this? Let me know in the comments any major travel mistakes you’ve made!
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