Last week I sent you love from Russia, this week I am getting it back. What am I talking about? Well, with a groundhog day existence here in the Ural Mountains as we head towards Siberia, the locals have been the highlight of my week. Whilst I did have a joke about the Putin t-shirts, my time in Russia so far has been filled with so many nice people, all wanting to speak with me and wish me well.
It began at my first hotel after the border crossing last week and has continued without fail each morning as I pack up and load my gear onto Yogi. However, it has now also expanded into every petrol station, traffic jam and road works stop. People have been fascinated with Yogi and I, our British number plate means they attempt to communicate in whatever English they have (100% more than my Russian), and when they find out I am from Australia, that is when the real excitement begins. They are unable to fathom the idea of this lone Australian girl travelling across their huge land on her way to Mongolia. The end of the ‘conversation’ is always a request for a photo, it makes me smile and wonder what all these people in Russia do with photos of Yogi and I?!
The beginning of this week we headed out of Moscow towards a town called Nizhny Novgorod. Not knowing what to expect outside of the capital, it was a pleasant surprise to find quite a large city, more than a million people in fact. It was a relatively easy ride and I was most certainly lulled into a false sense of optimism, maybe heading east wouldn’t be so bad after-all.
Following on to Kazan, another surprising stop, for two nights this time to allow for some sight-seeing in this beautiful city. With a mix of modern and beautifully preserved architecture surrounding a lake, it was not at all what I was expecting. It reminded me of a fusion of Europe and oddly, colonial America, but with its own unique look and feel at the same time. I realise that probably doesn’t make sense, but I don’t know how else to describe it! For one day the sun came out and it was glorious to be able to walk around, warm and dry!
Of course, that was short-lived with the remainder of the week being spent riding in the rain and a lot of the time, huge thunderstorms with bolts of lightning feeling way too close for comfort. The juggle between staying dry versus being comfortable out of my wet weather gear has at least been a source of entertainment as the road conditions have worsened over the past three days. It has been incredibly slow going, taking up to two hours to ride 100km, sometimes longer. There appears to be extensive road work underway which will make for a wonderful journey when complete, but for now, it is the source of many extended stops and ques of traffic, sometimes stretching on for 10km.
The roads themselves are no worse, actually probably better, than those I have travelled in Nepal or Asia, so I don’t feel concerned about that, yet. However, the frustration of continuously not having space to allow for safe stopping or to even see the road surface immediately in front of me, is testing my patience. With only a single lane ‘highway’ stretching for thousands of kilometres across Russia, you can imagine the strong desire to over-take and gain even a few meters runs rampant. Any attempt to leave a gap in front will very quickly be filled with an over-taking car or truck.
Mid-week we stopped in an industrial city, Cheylabinsk for the night. Another long day coupled with a loss of an hour due to changing time zones meant it was a late end to the day. Tired and not wanting to venture out, I went to the hotel restaurant for dinner. With my room costing less than $40 for the night I figured it would be fine to wear my only remaining clean clothes, jeans and a t-shirt. Wrong! I was met by the waitress and taken into a dining room that could have been in any upscale Parisian hotel, silver service and fantastic food. Savouring the contrast from my wet, dirty day on the road, it was a very much appreciated treat. Thankfully the gorgeous ladies serving me looked right past the fact that I was not appropriately dressed and went to great lengths to talk to me in English. To cap it all off, the bill was ridiculously cheap, big win for me!
Without doubt Russia has been the friendliest place on my journey thus far. I can say that with no hesitation as even with the biggest language barrier I have faced in any of my travels, I feel so genuinely welcomed by everyone I have had the pleasure of engaging with.
I do feel saddened that the people who are able to speak to me in English feel so relieved to hear my feedback of having such a positive experience. Not because they would expect otherwise, but because they know all too well the pre-conceived negative ideas that the rest of the world has of their country and people. It is most certainly not accurate. I wouldn’t imagine that trekking across the vast plains of countryside on slow bumpy roads would be for everyone, but if you had the opportunity to visit this country and experience the culture and hospitality, I would say to take it.
Yogs and I have finished off the week with our biggest ride yet, 670km today, taking us 11 hours to reach the city of Omsk. I started the day questioning if I should ride or take a break, I decided I should make some miles whilst the sun was shining and that turned out to be the right choice. With a couple of patches of badly rutted road being our only real issue it was a wonderful day. The sun beamed down all day, the fields of flowers that line the road were a welcome contrast to the grey of the week and we finally met some bikers!
Stopping after the 100km detour to avoid crossing into Kazakhstan, there was a couple also getting fuel for their heavily loaded BMW. Although they didn`t speak much english, we made do with google translate and amongst the chatting and selfie taking with each other, they so generously offered me some of their home-made lunch. How lovely is that! They were on their way to the black sea to camp, it seems to be a very popular destination for summer holidays here.
The only road work stop for the day also bought another meeting with some friendly bikers. Two burly MC club men who were on their way back to very far east Russia after 20 days touring through Georgia and Crimea. We rode the last 250km together, after a long day it was a great distraction to have some fellow riders to follow and keep up with.
Surprised once again tonight as we rode into Omsk, a very vibrant and youthful city with our hotel just out of reach as the main street had been blocked off for a festival! After finding a way through the square (I wasn’t very popular), I ventured out for dinner and a walk. It is a really lovely city with a very modern vibe and lots of carefully manicured shops and squares to wander through. A great way to finish off a big week.
I have been really happy with myself for staying in good spirits. I knew this would be a mental and physical challenge, which it is. The extreme amount of concentration needed every minute out on the road is incredibly tiring, as are the long hours in the saddle. I am tired and each morning I wish I could stay in bed for a few more hours, but I have also developed a sense of comfort in spending so many hours with Yogi each day. As he plods along, taking each new challenge in his stride, I feel more confident that we will make it to Mongolia together.
Having reduced visibility from torrential down pours, speeding cars with dangerous over-taking habits and never-ending road construction, this week has taught me a very good lesson. Head out each morning, with no expectations. Even hoping to stay dry or that the kms will pass more quickly leads to frustration and sometimes anxiety. Your mind so often feels justly annoyed at what ‘should’ be, but often, isn’t. Letting go of my expectations for the day has allowed me to relax and find some enjoyment out there. Someone please remind me of this lesson should I, more likely when I, forget it!
It feels like we haven’t made much progress because it has been so slow, but we have covered almost 3,000km since last Sunday. Which, just out of interest, is the same as driving Melbourne to Cairns!
Another week of riding across Russia to come, I look forward to what it brings.
Kylie and Yogi x