Friday, July 04, 2003
Lords of the mosquitoes
Quickly enough we have only come about 600 kilometers (all distances will be in km from now due to that is what we are traveling in) and so much has happened that putting it all down this fast will be a struggle to say the least. We all hope to expand on the following when we arrive in Yakutsk.
We are in Cocymon (sic) now taking a breather and enjoying the fine hospitality of many Russians. A couple in particular being the ex-soldier that used to be stationed in East Germany who is putting us up in his house. Another is a young police officer who is showing me around town and to the internet. He let me drive his police car last night which was interesting to say the least.
Going back a couple of days - three to be exact: We left Magadan a bit later than expected due to getting bike 'passports' at the Russian version of the automobile association. Whilst waiting for this we were lucky enough to be introduced to Adward (ed) who is a local magadanian who next week is making a trip similar to ours out to Germany. He took us paragliding, gave us presents and showed us around the town. Great guy with a very interesting past - Submarines, Search and rescue, traveling etc. Very nice guy. More on him in a people on the road piece to come.
We finally got our bike passports and left to collect our bikes which meant more paperwork and endless hours of waiting. Patience told all and we received our bikes albeit a little scratched from the transport but otherwise in conditional conditions. Note to all who do the same again - wrap the bikes in blankets!
It took about 3 hours to put the bikes back together and fuel them up etc then we were like a bat out of hell hitting the road at last!
The first night was a only 200km on and we camped down beside a good river which was also kind to provide us with drinking water (matt refused to drink do to paranoia about uranium mining) as well as an extremely frigid bath (VERY cold).
The next morning we hit the road again early enough but came to a snag about 30 km down the road when matt hit something on the road and blew out his tire. No problem we thought as we all settled down to fix it with a less that experience hand. Two hours later the wheel was back on the bike with three smilie fools proudly admiring our handiwork. 1km later the patches blew. Oomph. Taking a closer look the tire had a big gouge in it with was pinching the tube causing the problems. So we had to patch the tire as well. To cut a long story short we patched and blew the tire about 4 times before we made it to the next town where a mechanic at the local mine plugged the tire and we retired to the top of a mountain the locals had pointed us to.
They must hate us.
mosquito's every friggin where. You have never seen so many in your life. I surely haven't. If you breathed in you sucked in about three of them. They truly made the sky dark. This was not a good experience since I was having stomach problems and needed to relieve myself. I must truly say that this was one of the most harrowing experiences in my life. Dropping the jeans resulting in my behind being punctured like Swiss cheese. I could feel them hit me like rain on a hot tin roof. The screams could be heard in Moscow.
Anyway, after the previous wasted day we were eager to make up for lost time and tenderly hit the road again wary of the plug in matt's tire, but it held out to not only our fears but also the sometimes very bad road.
Highlights of the day were being interviewed by the regional television station who eagerly took down the details of our trip and also took us to the local museum where they filmed us looking at artifacts ranging from mammoth bones to pictures of the gulags. Shame we will never see the broadcast.
Last night left us in this town where we took a much need rest devouring some pork and a couple of beers. It seems to be the norm now where we get swamped by the locals all eager to look at the bikes and try to find out through our broken Russian (which matt is becoming a god at) and sign language. Girls seem to giggle at the strange westerners while guys want to discuss specifics of the engine sizes and top speeds. Speaking of which - Russian girls are cute ;-)
Today, the local police want to take us fishing and what appears to be the local Mafia want to show us the town, however we are all eager to continue on as we have many long days ahead of us before we even get to Yakutsk which in itself is only half way to Mongolia if that.
A not on personal hygiene. There is none. Or as much as we can make it with what we have. We are washing our clothes in the rivers but the roads are covered in layers of dust which then covers us. This dust of course turns to mud when it eventually rains which again turns to cached dirt when this dries. Cleanliness is next to godliness which it seems is far from looking over us at the moment!
More in Yakutsk also with details with our run in with the Russian Mafia in Magadan shortly be fore we left.
posted by Shaun; |
Thursday, July 03, 2003
Susuman and hitting a dog
After repairing the tire we made it to Susuman the next evening. What started out as a quick stop for dinner turned into a two night stay. I would like to thank Vashi (who served in the Russian army in East Germany at the same time that I was in the U.S. Army) for his help in garaging the motorcycles and letting us sleep in his home. He also took us for a jeep tour around the city and was overall an excellent host. Our stay there has been described elsewhere, so I'll leave it at that.
After leaving Susuman we headed west following the strip map that had been prepared for us by Vashi's coworkers as well as an old USSR atlas loaned by Alexi. We had been told to ask around for Xandiga road. We missed it the first time and on the way back I passed a Nissan Terrano on the side of the road.
Suddenly a large German Shepard bolted out from behind the car and ran straight at me. I didn't have time to slow down and accelerate away and struck the poor dog with the gas can attached to my pannier. I heard him yelp and saw him run back to the jeep as I regained control of the bike.
Later that day as we got on the road to Xandiga we saw the same vehicle. They had very kindly shown us the wrong way to ford the first river obstacle. Thankfully the dog was okay, though now thoroughly frightened of motorcycles and motorcyclists. We offered to help them with their drowned vehicle but there was nothing we could do except watch a passing Kamaz pull them out. We left them to dry out and proceeded down to the right where some kids on a Ural had told me we could safely ford.
When we got to Xandiga we were surprised to see them again. We had beaten them there, but only by half a day. They had to wait three days to get their car started again and had to do a lot of winching and being towed to slog through the road. The dog was a little less skittish at that point, but still wouldn't let us pet him. We followed them on to the ferry and they offered us tea. A very pleasant couple from Kiev. They had apparently seen us in Magadan before they started out on their cross-country trek. I wish them the best and I'm very glad the dog wasn't too badly hurt. Discuss this post
posted by matt; |
Sunday, June 29, 2003
Magadan - Lasting Impressions
The city of Magadan, while still dour, lights up on sunny days. As with many foggy and rainy cities, everyone takes advantage of the scarce sunshine to roam the parks and avenues. The large park in the center of town can be quite pleasant. Strangely the park is deeply forested with small clearings, the opposite of what we're used to. Another telling aspect was that we could never tell for sure whether a building was being demolished or restored.
However, the aspect of Magadan that I will always remember is the helpful people. It was a rare conversation that didn't end with a telephone number and a sincere offer of aid. This started at the customs office and continued right through to the last day with Edward, a friend of the head of the custom's office who happened to also be a biker.
We met many interesting and helpful people in Magadan. Zhenya and Anya from Bar No. 1, who went out of their way to look out for us. Alexander from the customs office was also a great help. Some were even dragooned into helping us, for example Igor, who was told that if he wanted his shipment of cyanide to clear customs quickly, he would have to come down to translate for us.
However, the entire region is slowly dying. On our way to Magadan, we encountered many abandoned and dying cities. This was a little disconcerting as we had been told that we could get gas and food at some of them. We learned that
much of the decline was due to the declining price of gold and increased mechanization in the industry, but suspect that it was largely due to the lack of an economic purpose to the towns. Some of the towns we passed through, for example, were just designed to support the gulag system and then kept in place only through the efforts of the central government.
Overall though, I look back fondly on our time in Magadan, though mainly for the people we met. The city is, and feels, very isolated and one can clearly sense that you are at the edge of an empire that has lost its former strength. Discuss this post
posted by matt; |