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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Madcap Drivers Make Travel A Risky Business

My company accountant occasionally raises his eyebrows at the large sums of money I allocate each month on my expense accounts to drivers. But my experience with drivers in this country is that they do far more than turn a steering wheel. Caught up in the excitement of the adventure - or simply anxious to show their country in the best light to a foreign journalist - they have shown admirable, sometimes foolhardy, courage for pitiful wages.


o On Lake Baikal, a driver offered to drive across unsafe ice to reach the snowbound village of Bolshaya Kota. "Is there a chance the ice would break? " I asked. "Certainly", he replied.


o In Bratsk, a driver took his 7-year-old Zhiguli across 50 kilometers of frozen logging roads, our heads hitting the ceiling. Exhausted and beaten at the end of the day, he refused to take my money. I refused to get out of the car until he accepted it.


o In Ulan-Ude, a driver was willing to risk arrest by chasing a Yeltsin motorcade from the airport. A Yeltsin bodyguard had already informed me that if he saw either me or my driver again we would be arrested immediately. To my driver's chagrin, I gambled that the president would choose the city square to make his trademark plunge into the crowd. I was right.


o In Nazran, Ingushetia, an Ingushetian driver agreed to drive me across the front into the Ossetian-controlled Prigorodny District. Before we crossed the checkpoint - manned by Russian troops - he turned to me and said "from now on I'm a Chechen". We played along with his charade and got out without a problem.


At the very least, if he had been caught by the Ossetians he would have been forced to give up his car. Other possibilities included being arrested and used as a body in the hostage trading that was going on at the time.


o In Chechnya, a driver wanted to show me what he claimed was an unexploded bomb dropped from a Russian plane and now lying in a farmer's field. Because the roads were too muddy to pass, he instructed other drivers to follow so that when we got stuck (and we did) there would be people available to push us free. Later, when he wanted to give me his telephone number, he took out a 1, 000-ruble note and wrote on it.


o In Tajikistan, a driver agreed to carry me and a fellow journalist to the Russian base in Kurgan-Tyube - without any of us realizing this meant crossing the war front. Only after my traveling companion, noticing the machine-gun posts set up along the street, started screaming to pull over did we learn the extent of our driver's resolve to carry through on his agreement.


I've learned to be careful about what I ask a driver to do.