Saturday, September 13, 2003  

Two Days in the City of Catherine

Still here and not going anywhere for the time being. Reason is that we always seem to arrive in the large cities where we need to get things done on a Friday. This means we have to lay low until Monday and everything re-opens before we can get anything done.

So is life. Gives us time to peruse the local nightlife I guess. Which is what we did last night and I think we enjoyed it.

I do know however that Ekaterineburg is a most beautiful city being the third largest in Russia so we are told. The city has a distinctive European flavor whilst still retaining it most Russian ways. A bustling hive of activity we are encountering more and more people who are speaking English - most of which want to practice on us.

We have been already approached by a local business man by the name of Dimitri - a very tall and enigmatic individual who very kindly gave us a tour of the city last night before leading the way to the afore mentioned disco-tech. He gave us a great description of the country before "The New Era" as he calls it and is very enthused about his and his countries prospects in this new time. I am sure that with people like him around Russia is far from becoming a forgotten country anytime soon.

I am having a difficult internal debate on where I should go from here - the Stans or on to Europe. The cases against is that money is too tight to mention and the visas and going to Moscow will cost a considerable amount. The weather is also showing it's haughty side and the leaves are losing their struggle with gravity. However this all is against the very attractive prospect of visiting a region in intimate detail that I have read so much about and wished for so long to visit.

I guess only time will tell - but not too much time otherwise Russia will be introduced to a New Zealand Idol contestant on their streets soon.

Well off to a street cafe where I can have that nice cappuccino .

posted by Shaun; | 5:52 PM


Chronology Updated

For easy access to all our posts view the Chronology of our Trip

posted by Shaun; | 5:19 PM

Friday, September 12, 2003  

New Position Report

New Position Report We are now in Ekaterinburg in Central Russia. We are going to 'put our feet up' for a week as we recover from another accident and try to source the parts.

I still need to renew my visa's for kazakhstan and kyrgyzstan as my previous ones have expired before I was able to use them (groan). This means flying up or taking the train up to moscow from here and getting the visa's before making my way down that way.

If this does not turn out then I will be joining Ilja and Matt down to turkey where the plans and route has been changed due to Henning returning home. Plans in sand . . .

Added a couple of articles below and will keep you all up to date on progess. oh and did I tell you all about russian girls . . . . ;-)

posted by Shaun; | 12:21 PM


New Riding Companion

Say Hello to Ilja - riding with us from Ulaan Bataar back to German his homepace. Thanks for riding with us Ilja (and especially thanks for all your ah-hem spare parts)

posted by Shaun; | 12:20 PM


Wheeling and Dealing

It took me a few days to write about this incident dispassionately, and then new adventures started to take over, so I apologize for the delay in getting this story out.

After leaving Yakutsk, Nerongeri was our next city of gold. From there, we had been told, we would be able to catch a train that could take me and my poor rear tire all the way to Ulan Bator. So we rode the some 800 km of dirt highway south to the coal mining city of Nerongeri and the start of the rail spur.

Following our usual routine upon entering a strange city, we stopped at a cafe for a bite to eat and to attract a little attention. In no time we not only had directions to the only hotel in town, but had a guide to lead us there. The hotel, as it turned out, was on the top floor of the old warehouse at the end of the railroad line. Alas the train only took cargo and would not suit our needs. However, I had a chance to say hello to the truckers who had helped me out earlier.

After a quick shower, we set off into town in search of shashlick and Shaun's favorite, roast chicken. Eventually we ended up in the center of the city at an outdoor shashlick bar/restaurant. To make a long story short, by 4 a.m. we were drinking vodka and eating Russian style tortellini with a Russian couple, Katja and Alexi, that we had just met. As the vodka flowed, Henning and Shaun allowed that if they were to meet us at noon the next day, Alexi could take a bike for a quick spin. Katja, who speaks very good English, assured them that Alexi was a good rider and that they would be there.

The next morning arose promptly, and a bit later so did we. As we loaded up the bikes, Alexi and Katja showed up to say goodbye. Alexi quickly approached Henning about the promised bike ride. By this point, however, Henning had changed his mind. I'll admit I was in a bit of a mood and just wanted to get on the road. The last thing I wanted to hear was a bunch of "you promised" -- "No I didn't" so I told Alexi to just take my bike for a ride. As soon as he got on and revved the engine though, I regretted my rashness.

He quickly took off and headed around to the back of the warehouse. A bit faster than I would of liked, but he seemed to handle the bike well. It seemed to take forever as I waited for him to return with my bike. Then I realized it was taking forever. So with a fair amount of trepidation I set off around the corner to see where he could be.

The good news was that he hadn't slipped out some back exit with the bike. The bad news was, that he had managed to ram the bike into a tall curb, crushing the front wheel. Unfortunately, he was unscathed by the accident. [In order to do this, he must have been going at a pretty good clip, hit the brakes hard to fully compress the front suspension and then smacked into the curb, otherwise the bike would have easily jumped the obstacle.]

A crowd quickly gathered and, as is typical in our travels, offers of aid were immediately forthcoming. One that I jumped on (as soon as I understood what was being offered) was a forklift to carry the bike into some garage space in the warehouse. Alexi, to his credit, took full responsibility for the incident and promised to get the wheel fixed without hesitation. I had my doubts.

Alexi, Katja, myself and some random guy from the crowd who said he knew some local Suzuki and Yamaha riders set off in a taxi in search of a wheel. We tried a couple of places o see if the rim could be refashioned with the obvious result that that was impossible. The next step was to track down Alexi's old neighbor, Konstantin Polyanski (sp?). He wasn't at home, so we set off for the local sports complex, after flagging down a car to give us a ride. [A common way of getting a ride in Russia is to stand
on the side of the street with your arm out, palm down, and wrist limp. A passing motorist will then stop and give you a ride anywhere in the city for roughly 50 rubles ($1.75), which is about what a taxi would charge] As luck would have it, we were able to get in touch with him by phone. He had just returned from Vladivostok after winning the eastern Russian motocross competition.

Polyanski agreed to look at the rim to see if he could help, so we bided our time at the Gymnasium. This is when the day got really strange. While waiting on the steps a drunk man approached. This, of course, is not unusual in Russia, in fact its fairly common. He quickly spotted me for a foreigner and asked where I was from. "America" I replied hesitantly, having met a few Russian drunks by this point. "America!, great" was the reply, accompanied by a handshake, "come have a drink". This was the response I had feared, but he was well dressed and looked normal, so I followed him into the sports complex. As we headed up the stairs to what I thought was his office (again, its not uncommon for Russians to drink at work, and we've had a few drinks in several people's offices on this trip), he stumbled spilling the bottles from his bag.

"This is my captain" he beamed, introducing the man coming down the stairs as he picked up his bottles. He didn't seem so happy to see him, I thought, still thinking he was supposed to be at work. As it turned out, the second floor of the sports complex, is a hotel for the Aeroflot crews when they are in Nerongeri. "You're not flying tonight are you?" I asked. "Yes, yes, tonight, I'm the navigator" came the horrifying reply, along with a shot of vodka.

"Oh no, we flew last night" he corrected himself. Out came more vodka, along with some food, because in Russia, you always have to have a bite of something after each shot. As Katja set about preparing a little picnic with the contents of the navigator and co-pilots fridge (including some delicious caviar), various members of the crew, also inebriated popped in. It turned out that on the flight in, they had a fire in one of the engines. With no fire suppression equipment, the pilot threw the plane into a dive. Upon landing, the crew headed, en masse, to the nearest liquor store and had been drinking ever since. The passengers were told that there was just some turbulence.

As described in the Lonely Planet guidebook, Vodka Hostage Taking is a fact of life for a traveler in Russia. So despite my protestations, and earnest attempts to stay relatively sober, the "malinka (small) vodka" turned into bolshoi (big) vodka. I was, however, able to get in touch with Shaun and Henning by phone to let them know of my whereabouts and let them know that two possible solutions had presented themselves. One, the aforementioned Polyanski and the second, a quick flight to Moscow courtesy of my new found friends.

Polyanski arrived and after looking at the rim agreed to replace it with one of his. By this time I had also told the Navigator that Shaun was a pilot, and he insisted on meeting him. So back to the hotel to police up Shaun and Henning. By this point I was feeling a little better about the day's events.

By the time we returned to the sports complex, with a still somewhat confused Shaun and Henning as well as a few more bottles of vodka and some additional food, the Navigator was asleep. In typical Russian fashion, Katja opened his door without knocking and started to set up the bottles. He awoke without surprise and the party started up again. Fresh apricots were brought in (to chase the vodka), and Katja and some of the stewardesses retreated to the kitchenette in the captain's quarters to make a salad. This continued for several hours, and I grew to despise Alexi less and less, especially after his third trip to the store to get more vodka. And, as I had thought might happen, the captain offered to let Shaun fly the plane if we needed to go to Moscow.

After some hours we all piled into a couple of cabs, taking care to exclude the random guy from the crowd who had said he knew some Suzuki and Yamaha riders, and headed off to the Shashlick place. (You may have forgotten him, he had been tagging along the whole time, though he had been thrown out of the sports complex during the first round of vodkas and again after we returned with Shaun and Henning for the next round). Shaun could tell you how that night ended, but he'll only mumble something about being lost in the woods.

The next day, after some confusion about where and when, I met up with Alexi, Katja and Polyanski. Unfortunately, none of his wheels would fit directly so we went to his training yard to swap rims. It took him a good hour to remove the hubs and rims and then true up my hub to one of his rims. Afterwards he gave a little impromptu exhibition of wheelies and jumps. And, to prove his bravery, he even allowed Alexi to ride one of his bikes, which he very nearly crashed into a rock pile.

We managed to make a short night of it, and the next morning were able to finally get out of town and head to what we surely thought would be the city of our salvation.

posted by matt; | 12:11 PM


The Russian Fisherman

Kicking up our feet on the serene shores of Lake Baikal in central Russia we had an opportunity to meet a man of the earth and his family.

After taking a left turn from the road, we weaved our way up a path towards the lake where we were all keen to spend the night within view of one of the largest fresh water lakes in the world. Finally the lake came into view and looked perfect for everything we needed.

The only problem per se, is that there were also a number of houses nestled down by the lake edge - something that is not the

Ideal situation due to security as well as respect for the locals. However we were all tired and decided to make a go of it. Respectfully before setting up our tents we walked over to what appeared to be a group of fishermen untangling a net after harvesting the late evenings catch. They eyed us suspiciously but after learning that we were foreigners the demeanor quickly changed and we were all invited into the closest house by one particularly boisterous and gregarious individual.

Never actually learning his name, The Fisherman, as I will call him, was like most Russians, once in the army and based in Kazakhstan. Never once letting the conversation die to a lull, he introduced us to his surprised family and quickly produced a feast of fresh blueberries. raspberries, delicious smoked fish and tea which we all consumed with relish and the continual prodding from our host to have more.

His home had the very basics with an unkempt yard and a house that barely looked as if it could keep itself together. Obviously a home of a family that was of meager means. Curling round our feet were small kittens, outside the bark of dogs mixed in with the clucks of the hens that provided the morning eggs. Goats ambled through the yard and not far from the house cows provided the milk which was used in many of the dishes they consumed each day.

Regardless of these obvious hardships it mattered not and we were all treated to as much hospitality as he could afford and that much more. After we set up our tents besides the shore, Ilja joined him out on the row boat to once more collect some fish where he was taken aback by Ilja's mastery of the oars.

The following morning we were again invited in for breakfast and as is usual in russia we had to insist on leaving when it was time to go.

I am continually amazed by how the people we are meeting are so warm, generous and hospitable and they take it upon themselves to invite us into their lives no matter how meager an existence it may be. It always leads me to think how in the west we have so much more in material wealth but seem so poor in this type of generosity. Why is it so that those with the least seem to give the most?

And to think he never told us his name . . . .Discuss this post

More People on the Road

- Shaun

posted by Shaun; | 12:07 PM








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