Russian Despatches: Roads and fools


Russian despatches: Roads and fools

Russia only has two problems, explained our native tour guide: Roads and fools. As much as I like our Russian interpreter, I beg to differ.

Our Mazda 3 adventure across Siberia may have taught us a lot about the new hatchback, but it's also taught us a whole host of reasons why we should never, ever, ever return.

These include – and in no particular order – stray dogs, angry waitresses, boiled potatoes (for breakfast), dirty bed sheets (before you've got in them), the national dish (don't ask), the weather, kamikaze cows, the hole-in-the-ground toilets (note to Russia: It's 2013), fake coke and all other road users. In fact, I think roads and fools are the last of the country's problems.

That said the roads are pretty high up on the list of Things The Russians Don't Do Well. Today our poor Mazda 3 test cars have been hammered, battered and abused by the patchwork quilt of 'road' surfaces that appear to have been repaired by Coco the Clown.

One minute we'll be driving on a bumpy tarmac-a-like surface, the next tackling a gravel stage that even Sebastian Loeb would describe as 'tricky'. You may have read about the Cheddar Gorge-sized (no exaggeration) potholes in my previous updates, but today they've been even deeper.

So much so, one side-swiped the MD of Mazda UK and two of his dealers, as they crashed into a tyre-bashing hole – the impact was so hard it bent two wheels. Fortunately the support team brought a boot full of spares with them and the team were soon on their way.

Russian Despatches: Roads and fools

Russian Despatches: Roads and fools

The way the new Mazda 3 has coped with the conditions has been nothing short of remarkable. In fact I'm surprised we haven't lost any more wheels – or whole cars – to the punishing roads.

Our travels today – not far from the Mongolian border – have brought with them a whole new range of sights and scenery. The landscape has been a mix of African Serengeti and Austrian Alps. Some of the lowlands have been so lush and dipped in morning mist, that you half expected to see a herd of bison wondering across the plains.

We've passed 'Buddhist Trees' on the side of the roads too – traveller shrines where you're expected to spend a penny (cash) as an offering for luck. The trees are covered in rags and paper, hung there as an offering to aid safe travels.

Our convoy of Mazdas has been getting very strange looks from the locals (human and cattle). Not only do the 3s look like cars from the future compared to the locals' transportation, but with 16 cars in total it's quite a sight. I can't help thinking that most of them are thinking to themselves how stupid we are for trying to tackle the journey in hatchbacks.

During our 400-mile leg today we've had to make way for cows randomly crossing the road and even more construction sites where all the workers seem to be doing nothing but smoke. No wonder the roads are so poor...

Because of the distance, Mazda has been plying us with super-strength Russian energy drinks too. With names like Burn and Adrenaline Rush, these foul liquids make Red Bull look about as potent as breast milk and are surprisingly addictive. That could be down to their hallucinogenic powers... or at least that's what I think they offer. Either that or I really did see a tree with toilet roll on the branches masquerading as a Buddhist temple...

This is our last day on the road out here in Russia. We finish tonight in Ulan Ude, some 1,400-miles from Blagoveshensk where we set off from on Wednesday. It's been an eye-opening trip and we've learnt a huge amount about the new 3. As hatchbacks go this is one tough cookie – and a car I've really rather fallen in love with, even if it does look a bit like a BMW 1 Series...

Russian despatches day one: The crazy drivers
Russian despatches day two: The longest drive