25th July 2014 Yesterday we wild camped at Chechenino on the Volga river. We had read about this place on another overlanders website which mentioned the locals kindness to them. We found a spot right on the river but the mosquitoes were horrendous so after looking further decided on a more friendly site, still on the river. We had just settled in to our, out of the way spot, when an extended family arrived, at dusk, for a swim. We got to talking to them and sure enough they invited us back to their house for dinner and we would have taken them up on their offer but for our tiredness and that our dinner was ready.
A family that swims together stays together.
Today drove on to the city of Kazan, another beautiful place again with its own ancient Kremlin, churches and Macas. It is the Capital of the Tatarstan Republic which is still a part of Russia and ended up wild camped on the shore of Kuybyshev Reservoir.
We are about a thousand kilometres east of Moscow and Judy has just downloaded a book, isn’t technology wonderful?
I have been wondering whether I’ve been speaking some sort of old style Russian as the Russian that I learnt was sixty years ago (I call it Shakespearian Russian) but no, I have figured it out. Today there was a children’s show, on the radio, complete with The Dog Song. I understood it all. So the form of Russian that I speak is six year old’s.
26th July 2014 Passed the city of Ufa, capital of the republic of Bashkortostan, again a part of Russia, and again a modern and attractive city of one million or so. I wonder where these dirty industrial towns, that they keep talking about, are? Cause I haven’t seen any yet.
We had Maccas for lunch and a haircut costing AUD$4.50 but could have had a budget job for AUD$2.50.
Late this evening, looking for a place to stay we again did battle with a mud road before finding a cosy little truck stop alongside about twenty juggernauts and a junk yard.
28th July 2014 We have found our first two Russian National parks, last night Zyuratkul and tonight at Taganai but it has been raining and cold, 11c as a daily maximum. Bear in mind that this is pretty well mid summer. I have been told that this is freakish weather and that it is usually much warmer and that last winter was unusually warm i.e. snow only a foot deep as opposed to the usual one meter.
Today whilst trying to find Taganai N.P. a man insisted on showing us the way. This only took him about twenty kilometres out of his way along wet, muddy roads in his little two wheel drive car, no worries. Thank you Valdimir!
In general the Russians don’t seem to let anything faze them. In the poor weather conditions people were out and about, picnicking, bush walking and they seem to have not so much of a can do attitude as a will do attitude.
1st August 2014 We spent two days at Taganai the weather slowly getting better, regrouping and organising ourselves. One of the highlights was the Banya. This is the traditional Russian sauna where large rocks are heated by coals for two to three hours and water poured over them to produce the steam and release heat from the rocks, a mild thrashing with birch leaves producing a healthy erythema (pinkness) on the skin is followed by a dip in the very cold water of the lake which is right next to the Banya. (Done three or four times to taste) After the intense heat the cold water of the lake is easy to take though it does take your breath away and you have to be careful not to suck in a mouthful of water, as I did.
Yesterday we drove to the city of Chelybinsk where we had to check the T-belt warning light with the local Toyota dealer. This is a huge and modern dealership and we were quite a novelty to them. The General Manager came down and welcomed us and told us of the cross world sailor that they had just sponsored, followed by an interview and photo shoot with our car and the Toyota staff. They gave us a complementary Toyota Frisbee as a parting gift.
Today we dove about 650K’s with the weather really nice now. Russia is so huge and all of it seems to consist of either forest or fields of wheat. The soil throughout all of Russia is that thick black stuff, great for growing but bad for bogging.
The roadhouses offer generally average food and toilets of varying quality from very good to, literally, the pits. Worse than anything Africa threw at us, I wont go into details here. At some you could even get a good shower for a small price.
We haven’t been stopped by any police as yet, so no document inspections or bribes again as we had heard.
Haven’t seen a drunk yet and the roads are OK and whilst the driving is on the aggressive side the truck driving is very good with all sticking to their speed limits and not to many driving gymnastics.
Some myths may be put to rest.
3rd August 2014 We expected the frontier town of Novosibirsk to be a little rough around the edges, maybe fur traders. Instead we spent three hours in Ikea, identical to the one at Rhodes in Sydney back home and while this was good therapy for Judy I quietly slipped into Retail Trance. This is a condition where one can be led anywhere and made to say Yes to anything. We visited a Bunning’s style hangar, which makes our Bunningses look like corner shops and a supermarket with 76 checkouts.
Oh, we also saw the Opera House, which is meant to be even bigger than the Bolshoi in Moscow.
4th August 2014 Arrived at Tomsk about 250k’s north of Novosibirsk as we had heard it is a lively university town with interesting buildings and street life. Scouted around for a camping area where one was shown on our map. It turned out to be a disused youth camp with a dog-training workshop in progress. The Caretaker/Manager, Lena, told us that it hadn’t been used for eight years but that we were welcome to camp overnight, free of charge. Some interesting Soviet era street furniture and an old Aeroflot plane made the place worth staying at and true to form, about an hour later, Lena arrived with homemade jams and bags of berries for us.
The dog seminar has turned out quite funny as we are now surrounded by them and they all seem to be barking, being walked, panting and all of those other doggy things that they do. A girl came over and showed us all the tricks her dog (a kind of miniature Shitszu) had learnt. It must be a very clever dog as there were many of them and she was so proud. All most unexpected at 9pm.
5TH August 2014 Being tourists today and seeing the sights of Tomsk such as the Oppression Museum which shows, among other things, how many punishment camps (Gulags) there were, many many. Tomsk has a good feel about it with old wooden buildings mixed with golden spired churches, historic buildings and gardens.
On the way into town we stopped at a tyre repair place, flat tyre number eight, and had it repaired. The repairer did not want payment and I had to insist of even a small payment.
Judy noticed that she had run out of her tablets and we thought we would spend all day, chasing around finding, a doctor to write a script and then getting them but first I thought I would just ask at a chemist shop. No worries, no script necessary as they could tell from the old box what was needed, and pick them up next day. No RED tape here.
Returned to our camp late to find the guard dog seminar still in progress with lots of growling and barking and later spoke the the head trainer in his full body padding. This guy had been all around Russia and he really recommended that we visit Lake Baikol, he is about the fourth person to say this, so I think, if we have time, we will.
6th August 2014 Judy made pancakes for breakfast and we just took it easy, used our solar shower and went into town to get the tablets, which were waiting for us. Had a trendy meal, rang the girls did a bit of WIFI. This is our third night here at the camp and Lena has just arrived with some Blinnies, a Russian pancake.
7th August 2014 Just as we left Tomsk I was pulled over by the police for crossing an unbroken road line. At first the officer was a bit stern and did check our documents but as we spoke he warmed up and any misdemeanour was soon forgotten. He did ask if I had any Australian money and I thought it was the start of a bribe, but no, he just wanted some coins for his collection. We parted the best of friends. On we travelled via Kemerovo, the capital of the region to almost Novokuznetsk along first class motorways, through large landscapes of fields and big towns. So much for the wild Siberian frontier.
8th August 2014 Finally found the real Siberia just 400 k’s shy of Mongolia. We are in the Altai region, which is mildly mountainous, very pretty, and with a dirt road, although this only lasted for about 50 K’s. Now wild camped on Biya river by Lake Teletskoye, near the village of Artybash, which is a bit of a tourist trap Siberian style i.e. a few souvenir stalls and people standing on the side of the road advertising that their house is available for rent. There are actually some camping grounds here but the toilets are really bad and no showers so we have preferred to just find a nice spot, easy enough, and go al fresco.
Warm enough but looks like the rain has set in. No mozzies or ticks.
9th August 2014 Gorno-Altaysk is the regional capital of the Altai Republic and we may or may not have some daunting visa/registration type of chores to do here. The blogs we have read give conflicting information and things have changed here in very recent years so armed with the information given to us on entry to Russia we think we may just try to wing it and drive to the Mongolian border. The countryside is getting prettier by the kilometre. Last night we wild camped by a river and same again tonight except that tonight we face a small birch island and a full moon. Could be one of those paintings that are too good to be true.
It gets to -40c here in winter.
11th August 2014 Wild camped again last night alongside a crystal clear stream having driven through some beautiful and spectacular country. At the idyllic campsite some very inquisitive cows welcomed us by generally hanging around and occasionally poking heir heads into the back of the car, and they are here now as I write. We are hoping for bears, as this is bear country or a moose or even a squirrel.
After a couple of hours three young blokes approached us saying that we had to pay a camping fee of three hundred roubles ($9.00). I asked for ID, which they produced but I could not read and so I paid, asking for a receipt, which they produced but I could not read. So I don’t know if I’d been had or not.
(think I did) In any case no trouble.
Didn’t get going till 2pm through a changing landscape from coniferous to semi arid with snow-capped mountains in the close distance, starting to feel like Mongolia now. Pulled in to get some last supplies at the second last outpost but people here would not look out of place on the streets of Moscow, tank tops with board shorts or platinum blondes on high heels. No traditional garb yet.
The driving has been ideal with very good roads, no trucks and light traffic.
Now wild camped at Lake Chenbekkel about 8k north of Aktash.
12th August 2014 Driving though drier and drier country as we approach Mongolia but still very spectacular and we have lunched by a raging torrent of snow melted water surrounded by mountains with many recent landslides visible. At the last Russian outpost, Kosh-Agach, a real frontier town, we did our last fuel and veg top up and checked with the local police whether we needed any more approvals or permissions. No was their answer.
The border crossing was more complicated than expected, as we had to go through numerous checkpoints. The last stumbling block presented an unexpected problem. We had been given the wrong information at the Russian entry point. We were told that we only needed to register our visa if we stayed at a location for more than seven days but in fact we had to register it every seven days. Result, a fine of 2000 roubles each was mandatory (total AUD$120.00), however the nice officer only imposed one fine of $60.00 because of our age. It actually turned out to be cheaper than had we gone through the correct registration process.