Monday, July 23, 2007

Day 358: California, Here We Come

Home is a week away. An extremely busy week, but only a week. Bizarre.

Tomorrow will begin my next completely ridiculous plane-hopping journey. Although most of the time my traveling agenda meets some semblance of rational thought, this time it does not. I am within a few short hours of Alaska and the western US, but Russian-American relations being what they are, the only way for me to get home is going west, instead of east, literally taking me around the entire world. Well, technically I lie. It is possible to charter a private plane for a few bazillion dollars to get to Alaska. Or I could go through China or Japan for another extraordinary amount of money.

Here’s what I’ll be doing instead: Cherskii, helicopter to Srednekolymsk, sketchy plane to Yakutsk. Yakutsk to Moscow (I did manage to find a direct flight this time), Moscow to London, then to St. John’s (Canada), then to Halifax, then to Toronto, then to Los Angeles. Admittedly, the Halifax bit isn’t 100% necessary, but to stop in Canada for a few days costs exactly the same as to fly only slightly more directly to LA from Moscow. Another 8-stop airplane jaunt, all told! I think 8 is like, my average. If I ever need to do something as simple as fly back and forth across the US it’s going to feel like the easiest thing ever. And that would have things like, signs in English.

Random photo of Cherskii ruins:

At least this time I don’t have to stop at the St. Petersburg airport. I don’t think I told this story when I came in. When I landed in St. Petersburg, I assumed I would see some English, as you do in most major international cities. I got off the plane, was heavily scowled at through customs, collected my luggage, and ended up in a tiny lobby. I found a sign that I vaguely understood to be an information stand for passengers with connecting flights, and the little lady inside spoke enough English to tell me that I should wait and someone would come get me to drive me to the airport, which made me wonder where in the world I was if not already at the airport.

A few minutes later, a stewardess came and asked if I had another flight, then quickly turned and had me follow her outside. There was a dirty old white van, into which I shoved my luggage with a few other people, and was given the honour of front seat (walking with a cane has its advantages). We took off. A few minutes later, I realized I was sitting in a dirty old van with 5 Russian men jabbering on their cell phones and nothing whatsoever to reassure me that we were going to the “airport”, particularly as we started to drive through a field.

Luckily we did end up at the airport, another terminal which was oddly a 10 minute drive away. There I found no one at all who spoke any English, and no signs in English, and no gate numbers, so the whole experience was decently nerve-wracking. I’ve found vigorously pointing at my ticket and looking confused at least makes people nod if I’m in the right place.

Moscow airport felt like heaven after that, so I have higher hopes for the return trip.

Here's a photo of me in front of Sergei's satellite:

Last Wednesday was Sergei Z’s birthday. To celebrate his birthday and his son and new grandkid coming, they had a little party. I was invited over as I was cooking my pathetic dinner. So I went over to where Sergei Z and an unknown guy were outside cooking some meat. After some pleasantries, including trying to teach me “happy birthday” in Russian (don’t ask, it has a lot of n’s and y’s and z’s, I think) Sergei quickly shooed me away: “This is mens gathering. The womens are inside.”

Inside we packed 11 people around their little kitchen and I listened to a lot of Russian. Eventually Sergei Z, who I had been sitting next to, moved to the corner to smoke, and called Marat over to sit next to me: “Marat should talk to you. He needs to practice English and also to talk to girls.” Wow, way to scare the BEJEESUS out of this poor guy, who rather does need practice in both of those things.

A few days ago I walked to town at midnight to get some photos. As I was kneeling down to get a photo of an oil tank in the trees, an ENORMOUS dog jumped out and started running towards me. I love the dogs here – all you have to do is act like you’re happy to see them, and they’re your best friend. He followed me all around town and even barked at other dogs that tried to get near me.

I eventually got to the old military base – you can’t see too much of it from the road, beyond two huge radio arrays, guarded by some howling dogs. (The photo below can actually be clicked to make it bigger, so you can see the dog better).

An American taking photos of Russian military equipment at midnight: because that’s not suspicious, or anything.

The next day I came back during the day, and to my astonishment the dishes were not abandoned, as I had assumed, but spinning around reading my thoughts or whatever they do.

Across the street is another piece of machinery, which I believe had something to do with tar, considering the dump behind it:

Burnt accounts:

I’m afraid I don’t have too much else to write about. After trying so hard to get into Siberia, its hard to believe I’m leaving already. I never got to see the reindeer herders, which I’m disappointed about, but from talking to the Sergei’s, they rarely see them anyway. I can’t afford to hire a helicopter to take me out over the tundra to find their camp, which is essentially the only way to find them. As a nomadic people, they don’t use boats, so even searching along the rivers might not get you anywhere close. All the same, Cherskii has certainly been a fascinating area.

I still have a few posts left in me before I get home – I’m sure I’ll have something to say about my flying adventures, and Canada, and my thoughts on going home, and maybe get some more photos out here. But all in all, I think I’m ready. I’m trying not to think too hard about “the end”, which inspires a sort of panic, and there’s plenty to look forward to.

I am so, so sick of canned beans and dirty water.

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