Posts Tagged ‘horse’

In the footsteps of the famous

4th October 2010 by Helen
our campsite with the lorries just outside Chita

our campsite with the lorries just outside Chita

Well, after our departure from Khilok we headed off to Chita, as you know.  We’ve spent about a week here, camping alongside various lorries outside a cafe just outside of town.  It shows up well on the route map if you zoom in.  We’ve been told by one of the young women working in the cafe that a few years ago Rosie Swale-Pope ( camped outside their cafe when she passed this way during her five year run around the world.  In the footsteps of the famous, eh!!  And we’ve introduced the cafe to the idea of lemon and sugar pancakes.  It took a bit of miming and they had to watch us eat them as they’d never heard of this combination before!!  Pancakes are usually filled with either savoury (meat – see also below) or a thick stodgy jam or served with mayonaise.


our campsite with the lorries just outside Chita

our campsite with the lorries just outside Chita

Sadly, we’ve had to call of our Road of Bones section.  After the delays in Kazakhstan, then Mongolia and now Siberia, our visa times have got tighter and tighter.  We have to be out of Russia by 27th October and it’s just not possible to get to Magadan and then down to Vladivostok in the time we have left available. 

Paul in particular is gutted, it was his primary reason for travelling in this part of the world.  However the incident with the horse was the final straw.  Hopefully he will have the chance to try again in a couple of years time.  Only trouble is, with the new road having been built the old road is getting more and more impassable with time and we don’t know for how long this will be achievable.

We’ve divided our time between our ‘campsite’ and the city centre, catching up on writing sponsors reports, working on our next round of sponsorship negotiations, refining our schools project to take into account what we have learned so far (and expanding to include additional schools who want to take part), taking a look at some of the sights, such as Lenin Square, and doing a bit of shopping for a second pair of warm trousers each as we head off into still colder climes.  Doesn’t solve my general misery at finding myself clumping through a fashionable city in my hefty walking boots though!!  Young Russian women have got keeping warm and stylish down to an art.  The older ones look more stereotypical though, so maybe I should just accept my age and go with the flow!!

We have been delighted to find a Coffee-Mall with free WiFi.  The food’s not particularly cheap but it is good quality and for once it is possible to order a meat dish and get something that hasn’t been chopped up and processed into something else.  Paul is also delighted to have found decent coffee as well.  Unfortunately the service is largely desultory, but, hey, you can’t have everything!!

We have had many conversations along the way about our different approaches to food: Paul enjoys good food well cooked and lovingly presented.  He is surely the darling of the true chef, fully appreciative of their art.  I enjoy this too but as Paul will point out I have a much higher tolerance to the whole Central Aisian ‘food is fuel’ approach: meat (don’t ask what sort, the answer is usually ‘meat’, they don’t know), processed into some kind of burger, possibly wrapped in pasta, often served in some kind of stew (goulash), often with assorted arteries still visible in between the gristle and fat – served with either pasta or mashed potato, and a couple of slices of cucumber and tomato.  Virtually everything comes served with mayonaise.

one of the preserved old wooden houses in Chita

one of the preserved old wooden houses in Chita

Cathedral, Chita

Cathedral, Chita

Anyway, even if the food isn’t exactly cheap the free WiFi makes up for the cost as we’d have to pay even more for the amount we’ve been using in the local Post Office provision.  At least we can use our own laptops, which is usually quicker than the ancient computers otherwise available, which makes updating blogs, sending emails, etc, etc, so much easier.

We did have a bit of excitement on Friday.  We were approached by a young man called Simon on Thursday asking us if we would be interviewed for a Russian TV programme about extreme travel.  Simon is involved in and – we could probably have done with knowing them when we were stuck

view through Lenin Square, Chita

view through Lenin Square, Chita

in the forest!!  One of the staff, Julia, at the station speaks good English and acted as an interpretor for us.

The weather varies between very cold and almost balmy.  In the city it can reach mid 20’s.  Outside the city: overnight it can drop below freezing and

feeding the pigeons in Lenin Square, Chita

feeding the pigeons in Lenin Square, Chita

sometimes we have woken up having to scrape the ice off the inside of the tent.  Reminds me of the days before central heating when my mother used to coax me out of bed to look at what ‘Jack Frost’ had painted on the inside of the window!!

We’ve been told (by Julia) that although English is the official second language, here in Siberia Chinese is much more useful for business and trade.

Through numerous emails and phone calls Paul is currently negotiating to ship Landy out of Vladivostok, probably to either Vancouver or Seattle, possibly via Japan or not.  Our plans to ship straight to Anchorage have been foiled by no-one shipping to there at present (it varies year by year).  Either way Landy’s journey will take about six weeks and so he will arrive sometime around the beginning/middle of December.  In the meantime we will be flying (we are not allowed to travel on the boat with Landy) to Anchorage, from where we will make some kind of combination journey using public transport and the ferry down to Billingham (just north of Seattle), from where we can get to the port so we can be reunited with Landy again.

I’ve missed my proverbs so had to slip one in, just in case some of you haven’t got anything better to do than ruminate on the meaning of these things!!  Rational animals of the genus Homo who have ceased to exist also ceases to recount connected narratives.


28th September 2010 by Helen

We’ve made it to Southern Siberia and a city called Chita.  We’ve had some adventures along the way, including exploring a hunter’s lodge in the Siberian forest, getting lost in the Siberian forest, breaking down in the Siberian forest, getting going again in the Siberian forest.  Did I mention we’ve been to the Siberian forest?

Having extricated ourselves from the Siberian forest and had a fascinating stay (really) in a small coal mining town with a huge power station we were on our way again when we had a close encounter with one of a small herd of horses who played chicken between us and a Toyota.  We were absolutely fine, Landy got badly hurt and the horse is dead.  The police were fantastic (really) and we stayed a week in another small industrial town, this time in the railway industry.

Anyway, now we’re here in Chita we will be uploading a veritable cascade of blogs for those of you who want to read the details of the above incidents, including photos.

For now though, I will only be uploading some photos as the blogs are typed in Windows 7 on a USB stick and the system here in the post office cannot cope with anything more recent that Windows 3 so I have to go away and work out how to get round that one!!

(Got round the Windows 3 problem by finding an hotel with a free Wi-Fi cafe – here’s to that uploading!!)


Kindness of strangers in Siberia

21st September 2010 by Helen

Tuesday 21st September

what a contrast - beautiful sunrise when we awoke from our freezing night beside a dead horse

what a contrast - beautiful sunrise when we awoke from our freezing night beside a dead horse

Woke to a beautiful sunrise this morning.  Freezing cold.  Feet especially cold as the floor of the cab is not insulated.  Paul had kept his feet on the foot pedals all night to keep them off the floor.  I’d tucked mine up with an extra towel in the bottom of the sleeping bag and balanced them on the gear levers.  But our feet were still cold.  Still we waited.

The police turned up a little later.  This time with an interpreter (a Kazakhstan lady whose sister lives in Almaty, I say how much we liked the people of Kazakhstan).  We were pleased to get confirmation that the statement which had been written in our name last night was at least a good representation of what we had tried to say.  The police also informed us there was no such thing as a recovery truck and we would have to find our own way to get to a garage and help or repairs!!  We were astounded.  They helped Paul use our winch tied to a tree to pull out some of the damage so we could look like a Land Rover again, which also meant Paul could see into the engine bay better and assess the damage a bit more.  The police officers told us they would meet us outside the garage at the entrance to a town called Khilok in two hours when they would give us a copy of the evidence that we have reported the accident.  And left us to it.  Khilok is 70 km away. 

After some more peering into the engine bay we set off.  It’s snowing.  We quickly confirmed that the radiator is leaking water.  The fan had broken off in the accident and sheared a hole in the top of the radiator.  The power steering system had also been compromised.  We had to stop every so often to ensure the engine had the chance to cool down and top up with water.  A couple of times when we stopped with the bonnet up a lorry driver also stopped to check we were OK and give us water for the radiator.  It reminds us of the kindness we met in Kazakhstan.  The bonnet had been bent in the accident (despite the heavy duty plating on top to allow us to walk on the bonnet without denting it) and now the catch doesn’t work.  Hitting a bump meant the bonnet would suddenly shoot up.  In order not to overwork the engine Paul drove in as high a gear as he dared, all the time wrestling with the loss of power steering.

We made it to Khilok on time.  Unlike our last town stop there are virtually no large apartment blocks and no obvious industry here.  The town appears fairly large and spread out, made up mostly of single storey wooden houses.

The police turned up over an hour after we did and we got our bit of paper.  It must be said that throughout the whole episode the police have been nothing but helpful.  Others before us have told tales of police corruption and general unhelpfulness or nastiness, but this has not been our experience.

We went into the café at the edge of town for something to eat and a hot drink.  We were both still chilled from our night in the cab and driving on today, again without any heating.  Over our meal we decided our priorities were somewhere warm to sleep tonight, find a garage where Paul can work on Landy (and maybe access to local facilities and mechanic as and when necessary), and internet access to let people at home know what has happened.  At the end of the meal I asked the woman behind the counter if there was a hotel in town.  She approached a customer at another table to ask him to explain to us how to find the hotel. He spoke to the man he was sitting with who turned out to run his own security company in town and they led us to the hotel which is a 5-6 minute walk from the security company offices.

The same word in Russian is used to describe both hotels and guesthouses.  It is therefore not easy to judge what to expect.  In

front door to our hotel in Khilok

front door to our hotel in Khilok

 England we have become used to a certain type of style of hotel, usually modern styling even at the low cost end.  Here in Russia many of the buildings in which hotels are found are relics of the old Soviet past.  The buildings, furnishings and services (water, electricity) seem to our eyes to be old fashioned and even run down.  Sometimes the hotel is in only one part of the building, the rest being used for other purposes.  Yet, in all our experiences we have found that the staff who work in these hotels are doing the very best they can with the facilities they have available to them.  This one in Khilok is no exception.

We would never have found the hotel under our own steam.  We were led through masses of streets, past some amazingly old railway engines (still in use), including an old steam engine (not in use), past shops and garages, and through residential areas until we ended up in what appeared to be another residential area.  We pulled up outside what looked like a two storey apartment block, with communal washing lines outside.  The was no sign to indicate this was a hotel, just the number 26a on the outside. 

The wall of the building leading to a door appears to be disintegrating.  The door itself is a large metal security door I’ve only previously seen on some dubious South London housing estates, and a bit battered in places (but actually like many front doors I’ve seen since being in Russia).  A bowl catches the drips from the guttering on the front porch.  From the outside it looks like a run-down apartment block.  Inside the front door is a smart three piece suite where guests can sit and ‘lounge’.  Sometimes at night the member of staff on duty sleeps on the settee.  Behind the settee is a window to the office where we pay.  There is no heating in our room which was initially quite cold (although after a few days the heating came on and it became much warmer).  The beds have comfortable mattresses.  However the acrylic blanket and empty duvet cover (common since we entered Kazakhstan) wouldn’t keep a mouse warm.  I’m glad I had the foresight to suggest we take our sleeping bags in with our kit bags this first night.

The furnishings and décor make me think of an old hotel in the 1950’s.  The lino doesn’t quite meet at the join and is held down with furniture tacks.  The curtains are held on with an old fashioned system like bulldog clips.  Big print wallpaper.  Early Magnet cum MFI style plain brown wood effect furniture.  The bedrooms are not en-suite but we are next to the toilet and shower room.  There is hot water in the communal unisex showers, although the water pressure is not very strong and only one shower appears to actually work at a time.  There is a kitchen where we can keep and cook our own food although the cupboard doors don’t quite meet or stay shut.  Many of the lights ‘spark’ when you turn them on and the one in the toilet has a mind of its own, working best when it feels like it.  Guests provide their own toilet paper.  This actually reminds me of when I used to live in bedsits in the 1970’s.  It costs 1200 Roubles per nights – that’s £30.  (The last place only cost us 700 Roubles per night, was warm from the start, had en-suite facilities, an extra coverlet on the bed, and although there was no hot water in the bathroom there was a kettle in our room for heating water.  By comparison I would have thought this place should have been about the same price but it’s possible we’ve been charged ‘foreigner rates’ which is still quite common.) 

None of the staff speak English but they communicate with us the best they can and we do the same in return.  They work hard to take care of the accommodation and everything is kept clean.  There are flowering and leaf pot plants on all the windowsills to make the place as homely as possible.  Everyone is friendly, including the other guests.

But our story of the day doesn’t end there.  Dzhenya, the man with the security company has allowed us to park Landy in one of his garages and given us the key to the garage.  Paul can go there any time he likes to work on Landy.  He also indicated he can introduce us to a mechanic if we need one.  Not only that, but he called Lucy, a relative of his, and a primary school teacher who speaks quite good English, who helped by interpreting for us (we later learned her daughter is married to his cousin).  She kindly went home and came back with a bag of vegetables and a jar of pickled tomatoes for us!!  Once again we have met with unbelievable help and kindness.

Having settled in our room we went out to check out the lay of the land, so to speak.  We found somewhere to buy what looked like lumps of minced meat that would cook up a bit like burgers (wrong we ended up with a mince effect and we think there was some rice mixed in with the meat), bought some bananas (and were given a pear free of charge) and some bread.  We discovered the local post office does not have any public internet facilities and there is no internet café of any description anywhere, although the lads in the shop where we bought our phone top-up kindly allowed us to use their internet facility for ten minutes so we could send an email to Natalie.

We will be here for as long as we need to be but due to visa limitations and such like will need to move on again as soon as Landy is back on the road again.

Campsite – hotel in Khilok

Distance travelled – 85