May 25, 2007 - Russia
Although my stay in Vladivostok was a bit longer than anticipated, I managed to find plenty of interesting activities to pass the time. First up was a fishing trip with the Primorsky Travel Club (a travel agency). It turns out that the director of the club, Kliment Kim, is an avid fisherman and he insisted that I join him on a outing. I dragged myself out of bed at 5:30 and met them in the parking lot. The first order of business was to find a vendor of worms. Of course, Kliment wouldn’t settle for just any worms and we criss-crossed the country-side in search of some fresh, lively worms. Once that business was taken care of we made our way to the spot. A few cars were already lined up right on the side of the river. Apparently, Russians don’t want to venture too far from their vehicles while fishing. I watched a bit perplexed as a couple fisherman hauled in tiny flounder with 20 foot rods. As most of my freshwater gear was still in the trailer, which at the time was still sitting at the port, I was ill-prepared for this manner of fishing. Never-the-less, I threw some of my heavier bonefish flies without success. Figuring I was being a bit antisocial as well as unsuccessful, I decided to try out Kliment’s extra rod. I did catch 3 flounder, which were promptly cleaned and thrown into a soup before I even knew they were off the hook. We also snacked on cognac, bread, sausage and chilled lard. Yes……lard. It is quite the delicacy in Russia. Later we took part in a traditional sit-down feast with some of the other club employees. Overall, it was a good introduction to the culture.
During my stay in Vlady I was assisted tremendously by our Primorsky Travel Club interpreter, Darya. She wore many hats; tour guide, cultural translator, food assistant, agenda planner and problem-solver. If it weren’t for her, I’d STILL be trying to get my vehicle through customs (a very long, frustrating story). I owe a huge debt of gratitude to her.
In addition to Darya, I met a great group of new friends. Through a motorcycle club web forum, I met Alex and his girlfriend Kristin. They, in turn, introduced me to their close group of friends, Grandy and Julia, Igor, Fredrick and a few more we met only briefly. Luckily, they took me under their wing and made sure I was entertained, laughing and usually drinking. I discovered that Russians actually drink copious amounts of beer in the Summer (vodka is a Winter drink). Naturally, this suited me just fine.
I finally departed Vlady and made my way to Khabarovsk. Although only 700 kms apart, Khabarovsk is diametrically opposed to Vladivostok. There I found the streets were clean, the city was beautiful, and most notably, the citizens were smiling! In Vlady, it was difficult to tell if buildings were being built or razed. In Khabarovsk, the buildings were painted and clean. It was so lovely; I decided to stay an extra day to bask in the pleasantness. Fortunately, another motorcycle enthusiast invited me into his home to partake in a Russian BBQ. Eugene, his wife Lena, his 13 year old daughter Kate (who served as interpreter) and their newborn Sophia made me feel right at home. The next morning, they even woke up early to lead me out of town. Many thanks to Eugene and his family for their wonderful hospitality!
The Trans-Siberian Highway
President Vladimir Putin officially opened the highway in 2002. This is interesting because, as far as I could tell, there still isn’t much of a road connecting Khabarovsk and Chita, some 2,200 kms to the West. I think it would be most accurate to say that it is a 2,200 km long construction zone. There isn’t really anything that I can say that is constructive about the road, other than the fact that we made it. At its best, it resembles the Alaska-Canada highway circa 1990. At its worst, it resembles the Al-Can before it was constructed. If the Oregon Trail looked like the trans-Siberian highway, there still wouldn’t be anyone living West of the Mississippi River. On a positive note, I’m sure it’ll improve.
I am now in Ulan-Ude for 4-5 days. It lies in a pleasant river valley and is a wonderful respite from the constant bumpy travel. Early next week I plan on departing for Mongolia to begin a 2 month stay. I am very excited about this next leg of my trip.
I would like to thank everyone who contributed to my journey through the Russian Far East. All of my Vladivostok and Khabarovsk friends, the Primorsky Travel Club, Pablo in Chita and Sergey and Svetlana from Baikal-Naran Tours all provided invaluable assistance and encouragement. Despite being confronted by unusual hardships and downright awful weather, they all maintain unbelievably positive attitudes. The Russian people are just like us; trying to make the best of their circumstances and enjoy life with friends and loved ones. I have been truly impressed.
Dan and Kliment discussing fly strategy
Darya, interpreter and super problem-solver
The picturesque Orthodox church in Khabarvosk
Eugene and his Dad cooking classic Russian BBQ
Following the “ants” through the trans-Siberian slop
The LandCruiser went from pristine to this in 48 hours
A typical section of the trans-Siberian “highway”
Entering a quaint Russian village
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