Posts Tagged ‘hitchhiking’

-40 degrees

Friday, December 5th, 2008

GerDo you know what forty degrees below freezing feels like? It means your lips freeze together when you close your mouth, your eyes and nose start watering, which again means you have ice forming in your nostrils and the corners of your eyes before you know it. In other words: you don’t go outside in -40 degrees unless you really have to!

I arrived in the ger / yurt some 70 kilometers outside of Ulan Bator the day before yesterday, a little after noon. We spent some time looking for the place, but when we found a lonely rider we asked him, and he pointed the way for us. The taxi had to leave the road, and head out onto the steppe itself for the last kilometer or so. As we were driving a rather normal Hyundai, and not an all-terrain-vehicle, that meant
taking it REAL easy, but I think the driver was used to it, so it was OK.

When we entered, the taxi driver, my friend Degi and I were seated on the three only chairs in the yurt, and served hot tea with milk before anyone introduced themselves. When we finished our tea, I gave my gifts, a bottle of vodka Gerfor the man of the house, and a big bag of caramels for the women and children, and THEN we introduced ourselves. After a glass of vodka, I could also introduce myself to the lady of the house. The yurt was the home of a couple in their early sixties, with two of their sons, a ten year old nephew, their sons’ wives, and two babies. The youngest one was only a month old, and named Amgaa after my host in Ulan Bator!

The man of the house, Pimba, kept serving me vodka. A lot of vodka. My friend Degi said that refusing a drink on the first night of a friendship would be a very bad thing, but that he would make sure I was OK. I kept as low a pace as I could. The end of that night, I cannot remember. I woke up the next morning, in my sleeping bag, crammed in among all the others on the floor. There were two beds in the yurt, in which slept the young mothers with their babies.  I felt rather bad in the early hours of the morning, to my hosts’ great amusement… They were very understanding, however, and after a couple of hours on one of the beds, I was back to my old self. The temperature however, had dropped drastically during the night, unusually cold for this time of year, apparently. I didn’t see a thermometer anywhere, but they said somewhere around forty degrees below zero…

Degi was supposed to be going back in the taxi that morning, while I was staying another day, and then hitchhiking back. The taxi wouldn’t start, however, and the driver and the men of the family were trying all day to warm it up, heat the battery, recharge with the help of a solar panel, but nothing worked. It was almost getting dark again by the time the taxi finally started. I had spent the day mostly inside, because as I described earlier, forty below is just too cold… I did however ride around a bit on the family’s horse, and took some pictures. By the end of the day, I was having trouble keeping warm, though, and with the temperature that low, getting a ride to town the next day was going to be difficult. I therefore ended up saying goodbye that night, instead of waiting till the next morning. Pimba insisted that he and his wife (whose name I can’t even vaguely pronounce, much less spell) were my new Mongolian parents, and there was a farewell with lots of hugs.

I had a great time, and only regret I had to give in to the cold. My only excuse is that there is a limited amount of clothes one can bring when travelling, and one of Pimba’s coats were bigger and heavier than all of my luggage together, made of the skins of several whole sheep…

Back here in UB, I’ve stayed the night at Degi’s, and we’re going to a death metal concert tonight. Degi is a self proclaimed satanist neo-nazi pagan death metaller who speaks very poor English. We’re still trying to get along, even though he doesn’t speak enough English to understand what I’m talking about when I try to ask him how he gets those things to fit together…

Last day in Russia

Saturday, November 29th, 2008

Ganina YamaIt’s been almost a week since I hurriedly posted an update in Ekaterinburg. The girl who came to meet me was a couchsurfer that had offered to show me her city, and we met up with two more surfers as well, and we drove around to a couple of locations outside the city. The first one was a monastery called Ganina Yama, which was founded in 2001(!) at the site where the remnants of the last tsar and his family were found. The whole family are now saints in the Russian orthodox church. Before I met up with my guides, I found the church devoted to them in the city, Church of the Blood.

In Ganina Yama I tried to make another short piece of film, featuring two of my guides talking about the monastery, but it had already gotten a bit dark, so I don’t know if it’s of any use. When I was transfering the shots from St.Petersburg to the computer, I made a mistake, so I lost the files. Having time to come up with good ideas for these little pieces, and then filming it, is turning out to be rather more difficult than I had anticipated. Hopefully it’ll be better when I leave Russia, and have more time. I have really felt the time pressure of my visa these last few days!

EurAsian borderAnyway, back to Ekaterinburg: After Ganina Yama we grabbed something to eat, and then drove some kilometers west of the city, where there is a monument marking the official border between Europe and Asia. It’s not just a random line on the map, it is the actual area where the continental plates meet, the climate changes, and the water divide, where the european rivers run west, and the asian rivers run east. One foot on each continent, that’s not something you do every day! 😉

That night I got on the train to Irkutsk. It was my longest train ride so far, two and a half days! That does not mean I was bored, however. I’ve only travelled on the cheapest tickets so far, and it really feels safe. The train car is open, but with sort of coupés with no doors or curtains between. In each are three double bunks, two on each wall of the “coupé” and one on the wall along the “corridor.” The landscape is beautiful, with picturesque Russian villages, and long stretches of forest, but you can’t look at trees for 60 hours, so luckily people are very sociable! On the train from Ekat to Irkutks were a bunch of soldiers on their way home to their families and friends, after two years serving in Moscow. Needless to say, they were in a good mood, and anxious to meet everyone back home again. None of them spoke any English, but one knew a little German, and I know a little German, so he acted as translator. Before long the beer was passed around, and toasts made to meeting new friends, and to seeing old friends and family again soon!

I also met a couple of students on their way home from Moscow, and they spoke a bit of English. After talking for a couple of minutes, the guy says “wait here”, goes back to his place in the car, and returns with a Russian military hat, schapka, and says “Here, take it to remember Russia!” Shortly after that a guy in the next coupé leans over, and asks in Russian where I’m from. My heavily accented “Ya iz Norvegie” immediately caused him to produce a bottle of vodka from his bag, proudly pointing at the name on the bottle, saying it is the pride of his home town of Krasnoyarsk, and hand it over. When I make to open it and pour us a little, he shakes his finger at me and has me put the bottle in my bag, produces another bottle of the same kind from his bag, and pours two shots… Luckily I’ve found out that by proclaiming “Ya svisjenjik”, “I’m a reverend” I can get exempted from the Russian custom that you have to keep drinking with your host until the bottle is empty… 😉
The other student who spoke a little English, Anastasia, was from Irkutsk, and we exchanged phone numbers, so she could help me around the city if needed, and in return she’d get an opportunity to practice her limited English skills.

I arrived in Irkutsk three days ago. I was picked up on the train station, immediately bought a ticket for Ulan Baator, and I’ve stayed in the suburbs, in a flat of rather low standards, where my host actually lives for free! She also works in a hostel downtown, so that’s where I’ve been getting online. My host has been working a lot, so I’ve been spending the most time with another traveller, Leonid, and with Anastasia from the train. NastiyaLeonid is a hitchhiker from western Russia, who got here a month ago. Now he’s working at a tecnical museum to save money for a Chinese visa, and then he’ll hitchhike to China. His goal for now is Bali…
Last night I went to the first CS meeting in Irkutsk EVER, which was kinda cool! With the night spent at bar Liverpool and then a pizzeria, it got too late to go out to the suburb where I’ve stayed, so I got a mattress on the floor at Anastasia’s. This morning I got up early, and I’m taking a bus out to Lake Baikal with two Dutch guys I met at the CS meeting last night. 🙂 Gotta run to meet them at the bus station! (Pictures later…)

PS: Thanks for the comments, it’s good to know someone’s actually reading this! 🙂 Keep those comments coming!