Wednesday, July 2, 2014
The rain wakes you up. You hoped to avoid it for your last day on the road but things looked difficult. Internet that works very episodic allows you to retrieve the weather file of the region: intermittent rain for at least a week. There is no reason to stay.
You take a good breakfast and fold your luggage. A policeman picks you as scheduled at 8 am. You ask him if you have to pay something. No, their help was free. Patrick thinks they have some sort of quota of tourists to help, but they do not even ask you your passport. You think they helped us by kindness.
While you load your bikes front of the building, ladies waiting vehicles that will take them to work. But where do they work? You do not see any factory, or farm … There are quite a few government offices, but they could get there on foot. Probably there are among them some secretaries who work in construction sites of the road, but what the others do remains a mystery.
Again, you’re intrigued by the dress care of all these ladies. All compete in elegance in a world abandoned. Contrasts of Siberia.
You leave the city in the rain after refueling. A mere 3 km away, Patrick stops. His rear tire is flat. He offers you to continue without him. He knows that you are worried about the state of the road you should take to Seymchan. You ask him if he has ever repaired a puncture: never, but he changed his tires once in Australia, following the instructions on the internet. It is better that you stay to help, just in case.
No problem for the repair. So Patrick has just to repack his luggage when two Norwegians bikers stop. You discuss about your journeys. They went fast and passed after the rain, the mud. They are impressed by your project. A beautiful project, but far from being completed. They leave after taking the addresses of your blogs. They might find Patrick tonight or tomorrow in Magadan.
Rain gradually ceases, and the state of the road improves as you progress to. You expected much worth. You find again the Norwegians at a restaurant close to the branch that you must take. After a quick meal, you say goodbye to Patrick and take the road to Seymchan. People told you a lot of contradictory things about this road, but it is finally as good as the main road. No worries.
Shortly before Seymchan two or three ancient cranes along the river. You come inside the ‘port’ which is nothing like a port. Rather a farm with lots of manure. You inquired at a farmer, and he shows you a building. You go there, looking for an office. A man comes to meet you. You try to ask him if there would be a boat Zyrianka. You’re not sure he understood, but the answer is tomorrow or after tomorrow, or after tomorrow after … In any case, this is encouraging. You heard that it could be a boat about every ten days, so in two days … this sounds like good news.
The man leads you to an office with a lady. You follow her into another small building to a bedroom! You thought you should go to Seymchan to find a gotsinitsa, but if there is one here it’s perfect. You put your stuff and go back to see the lady. You want to know if there is drinking water on the boat, and for how many days you have to buy food. Your questions are probably not clear, so the explanations are not clear, but she then takes you to a store that is in the same small building as the gotsinitsa, but at the opposite side. It seems there is everything in these two small buildings.
The place is strange. Close to a ghost town, 5 km before Seymchan. It seems that the dairy farm, the “port” activity and the store belong to a single small company. Can also be a road transport activity because there are 5 or 6 trucks and two mechanics who repair.
Once installed you go to Seymchan to do some additional shopping. The city looks like those you’ve last visited. Old buildings, some of which have been abandoned. A coal power plant in the center. Also a surprizing brand new brick church.
You stop to refuel. You know that gasoline will still be more expensive later. For the first time, you take octane 80. You had started the 98 in the Moscow region, then from 95 to Yakutsk. Then it was just 92, and you know that now you will not find but the 80.
You gave up the idea to go down the river on your boat if you find a houseboat who accepts you. Beginning with a 550km stage does not seem very reasonable. You are especially concerned by the pieces of wood floating on the river surface. You did not have time to build a protection for the belt, and you know it can quickly be destroyed if it gets solid objects when running.
You cheat? Certainly. You want to limit the risks. This trip is first a recognition. Recognition in a real environment. If you do not reach Alaska, you would have at least learn how to reach it.
You share your room with Igor who is also going to Zyrianka. Everything seems to work for the best. Igor speaks a few words of English. A boat should leave around 4am. One of his friends will come with a small boat. Small, but big enough to take you and the bike. From Zyrianka, you could then take a barge to Aniusk. The advantage of the small boat of his friend is that it is much faster: about 18 hours to reach Zyrianka instead of three days for the barge. Why not…
At 4 p.m., no boat. Can be 7 p.m. .. At 7 p.m. Igor thinks it will be late morning. At 1 p.m., he finally gets a call from his friend who is already gone. He had not managed to reach him. The phone operates intermittently. Igor is disappointed because he must be before tomorrow in Zyrianka. He thinks now take an even smaller boat. So it will be without you. On your side you should wait for the next scheduled ship may be at the end of the day. You learn patience. You try to get information with the lady of the office: she confirms that it should be between 7 p.m. and 8 p.m.. You follow the events, you know that there is nothing else to do but wait.
Igor turned on the television in the room. They talk a lot about Ukraine. The official position of Russia is strictly followed by the media. You constantly hear the word “Fascist” about the Ukrainian government. If you find the Russian position legitimate on the principle, the form appears to you biased and often heavy. But as soon as a country approaches a conflict situation, all the world’s media lose their objectivity. You remember how were treated Gulf wars in France.
TV also speaks a lot about France. Today’s indictment of the former President Nicolas Sarkozy. Last week they spoke of the hospital of Grenoble and piracy of medical records of Michael Schumacher, or the transport strikes. You are surprised that such a small country could focus the attention of other countries.
When there is no news, there are often war movies. You continuously hear gunshots, machine guns. You don’t appreciate this aggressive background noise.
You try this morning to access the Internet, but the network is definitely too slow. At least could you read your mails once and send two. But do not expect to update your blog and you wonder if you can do as you will be in Siberia. Can be Bilibino? Otherwise it would be Alaska if you succeed crossing. In any case, your blog will probably be not updated before long.
Igor is preparing to leave. Their boat is very small, but equipped with a 40 hp outboard engine. Longer than your own boat yard. You are happy to know that they often travel such distances on the Kolyma. They will have today 8 hours of navigation, will stop in a hunting cabin to sleep a few hours, and depart for the same term to Zyrianka. Your idea down the Kolyma on a small boat has nothing unrealistic, quite the contrary, it”s classic.
You stay however worried by the branches and trees brought down by the river. To make your system reliable, you should improve the protection of the belt. Even if you have two spare belts, prevention is much better than cure. You are now sure that the current mechanism is not adapted to such a river. You will also observe that their propeller is damaged. And branches also remain a concern for the inflatable frame. It would be much better to be two in this kind of adventure.
As you ask them how many liters of fuel they carry, the answer leaves you dreamer: 200 liters. Their steel boat is certainly heavier, less optimized their engine … but the shell is better profile and you should have gone with only 100 liters. Would you underestimated consumption? Or maybe they consider the way back as Igor told you that gasoline was much more expensive in Zyrianka.
In the late afternoon, a man knocks at your door. It looks like he is also going to Aniusk. His name is Nikolai and he leaves you on that. A good point anyway.
You await for the boat with impatience. At 7 p.m., it is not one but two boats arrived. One pushes a dredging barge with a huge crane. When crews down, you try to find out if any of them could take you. You do not understand their answers. You repeat your question to the guy who had welcomed you this morning at the port. He knows nothing. You understand that these are not good boats. Will there be others? He doesn’t know. The only thing you understand “I don”t know.” In any case, you understand that these boats will not take you. And that nothing will happen tonight. Frustration. An hour later, two other boats arrive. They cast anchor in the middle of the river. Hope is back.
You remove your bag from the motorcycle and you return to the room you thought definitely leave tonight. You fall asleep disappointed with your day. Someone wakes you up at midnight by hitting firmly at your door. The captain of the dredge platform, a balding guy. He asks you to follow him. His name: Anatole. You dressed again and you quickly executed. Once outside he asks you to give him a hug. He did not smelt particularly alcohol, but now you realize that he has been drinking. You let him hold you in his arms, and you go to his platform.
You go down into the hold. Under the platform, a corridor that serves pretty cabins. You find Nicolai with a young crew in the dining room. They want you to drink vodka and you’re determined not to follow. You’re not worried as a sweet old lady smile is also present. she serves food. Is she Anatole’s wife ? No, the cook. His wife is in Ukraine. Anatole makes you visit the barge, shows you a bedroom, a shower. You begin to understand: Nicolai knew you thought leaving tonight, and he probably told Anatole that you were not hosted on a boat. But even if gotsinitsas are very expensive, you prefer to go back. You thank everyone and go back to sleep quickly.
Friday, July 4, 2014
When the first barge docks to unload its coal, you go to meet his captain who talks with the port director. He quickly understands what you are asking for and accepts your request to take you to Aniusk. One good thing done.
While you come back to the gotsinitsa, you meet a young man. He offers you to come have breakfast with them. You accept, and find Anatole and the entire crew of the platform dredging. Anatole is Ukrainian. His wife is Russian. Their family lives in eastern Ukraine and you quickly understand that he is torn by television images. Ukraine is at 10,000 km from where we are, but it a central subject for the discussions you attend. You feel that most Russians have links with Ukraine.
Anatole is still warm. And at breakfast, he takes Vodka and Ukrainian alcohol. The young person who invited you is his son. Anton. He shows you the photos he has taken in recent weeks. Beautiful pictures. There are ten days, he photographed floods in Zyrianka. You did not even know that the city was flooded. You had often seen stories about Sarkozy, but never image of flooding. Zyrianka is forgotten by the Russian medias. Here are some pictures from Anton:
You quickly approaches your bike from the dock. But the captain tells you that there is no fire. Half a day to unload coal from the barge and then to load the containers, and then finish with your bike. So you attend unloading and loading … You are invited to get into the crane of the dock. With Anatole you will also visit the dredging platform. You have become good friends and he offers you a smoked sausage of elk and a Russian flag. These presents make you happy.
The coal is unloaded for the small power plant located in the center of Seymchan. Winter is harsh, and the plant is also used for heating. When the barges come back down the river, they will carry containers for the shops of the towns along the river. In winter, things are simpler because the river becomes a road on which trucks can circulate freely.
By mid afternoon, you find Nicolai near your bike. For a joke, you hand him the keys. Do you agree for him to do a short ride? Why not. He goes. You removed the boat and the panniers, and the bike is now easy to drive for someone tall enough. Nicolai happy returns. Zaïbiss … what you translate by enjoyable.
The bike is then loaded by crane. You had prepared some straps, and everything happens quickly. The barge is away from the dock to make room for the second barge… The same routine that will last late into the night. Youra, the crane operator, and his colleagues have worked in the port
from 9a.m. to 11p.m..
Both barges will leave tomorrow morning together with you and your motorcycle.
Saturday, July 5, 2014
You have a cabin, a bed, access to the shower … Great comfort. The crew of the barge is composed of 6 persons: the captain, the engineer, the cook, and three young people who attend them. The boat is not very big, but you never see all together. They must each spend most of their time in their jobs or in their cabin.
You are two passengers: Alek and you. Alek is trader in Zyrianka and he brings a container of goods. Before (understanding at the time of the USSR) there was a rapid passenger boat linking Seymchan to Zyrianka. Today there are barges that replace accepting one or two passengers.
Otherwise, there is an airline from Yakutsk.
You collect information on the river. You now know that the navigation would be possible for your motorcycle boat from early June to mid September. The velocity of the stream is between 5 and 10 km / h depending on location. There is a little traffic: today we saw a small outboard and
a barge on their way to Seymchan.
Follow the river is not easy. The Kolyma is much narrower than the Lena. Much shallower too. A permanent slalom between the sandbanks. In some areas, there are dozens of islands between which one must pass. Sometimes a single narrow channel that barges must follow precisely. Sometimes, the channel is now only ten meters from the shore. You do not expect it, but signaling help: large white signs often indicate the direction to follow, changes in direction. But you do not always see them.
The water is always muddy, opaque. Is it a due to the incessant rain? Very often stuck in the soil branches protrude from the surface. Definitely, the wood would have been your first concern if you went down on your inflatable boat. You know now that it is essential to better protect the belt from the water.
The ship is old: early 80s. A pure product of the Soviet era.. The engines come from East Germany. GPS Marine was added to guide, but it no longer works. Captain turns the pages of an old map of the river, although he seems to know it very well. Barely an hour after the start, a stop was
necessary to repair a water pump. A routine repair as there must have on every trip.
You spend most of your time in the cockpit. The view is beautiful, and there is sometimes some action. Sometimes music, mostly American, background music. Otherwise Captain sings Russian songs. It seems you recognize some tunes. At the end of the day, you recognize perfectly one music: the Marseillaise. While you smile and applaud, the mechanic tells “Marseillaise.” You are surprised by their knowledge of the French culture. They have quoted you in the day several French singers and actors, and that they even know the name of our national anthem. On your side, you do not know any name of Russian singer or actor, and have no idea what may be the Russian national anthem. Why France does so interested other European countries, and why the French have so little knowledge of the other European countries? A mystery or the Voltaire’s fault ?
The boat stops at 10pm for the night. Captain invites you to look at his photos. Most were recorded with the date in the corner. You see the seasons. The freeze by to 10 October, the winter road on the river, then the debacle by May 20th and the first ascent of the river at the end of May.
He also shows you some more personal pictures of some parties of hunting and fishing. Both fishes out of the ice and animal are enormous.
Sunday, July 6, 2014
You are awakened by the noise of the engine. We stopped at 10pm at night, and start again at 6am. Permanently Captain at the helm. Yesterday, he came down to have lunch during the repair of the water pump. Long days, but also dense and stressful because the steering requires a lot of attention. The season lasts 6 months. Six months working with the only breaks unloading and loading of goods on the docks.
This morning an oil pump which concentrates efforts of Constantine, the mechanic. But a stop was not necessary for repair. By contrast, a bank of fog driving bar over the entire width of the river. Both barges dropped anchor again after having turned around to be facing the current. You will leave as soon as the sun has cleared the wall, but a quarter of an hour later, a new break is needed again for the same reason. It is nature that orders.
The sun made appearances. A beautiful light that plays with fog. You take some pictures. You have not done a lot of pictures during this trip. From the beginning, you have not often had the spirit to the photos. Too many things to think about, anticipate … When you’ll pass in boat mode, it will probably be worse.
In the afternoon we see a small port with two houses and an important fuel depot. Port access to gold mines.
Captain announced you that first Sunday of July is a bank holiday. The annual event for the crews. You understand that the end of the Gulag is commemorated. The Kolyma was the place where the Gulags were concentrated.
The two barges are stopped at 6p.m. Shorter day due to holiday. The two barges are placed side by side and you discover the crew of the second boat. You also have the impression that some young guys did not know each other. The twin barges spend the summer together, but their crews often do not have the opportunity to meet, if not this feast day.
Organizing a barbecue, a large table on the deck of the other boat. The two cooks have prepared an impressive number of dishes. And liquor bottles parade. You accept the first two or three glasses, and then you try to refuse. You’re sitting next to the cook who fills your plate. Since you are on the boat, you eat twice as much as usual.
You are close to the shore and mosquitoes are also there. You’re now used to their presence. The Russian mosquito repellant is effective, and you are not bothered anymore.
While you progress the last few days, your level of Russian is still too low to have real conversations. Especially when people telling jokes. You still have much to learn.
Monday, July 7, 2014
As yesterday, the engines are started at 6am. Everyone is at his post. Everyone is concerned about your headache, but you’re fine. You stopped to drink at the right time.
Yesterday you learned that the program two barges had changed: they do not go to Aniusk, but will return to Seymchan after the break Zyrianka. Too bad: you appreciate this crew. But this is an opportunity to meet another one.
You take advantage of free time to prepare your future routes, on both track and sea. Yesterday, Alek told you that the road between Bilibino and Pevek was brand new. There are probably two or three hundred kilometers in common with the track to Egvekinot, which is not really a road. Two or
three hundred easy miles during which you could then overload the bike with gasoline without taking too many risks.
You reach Zyrianka as expected in the late morning. Captain found you a boat to Aniusk before arrival. It should leave tomorrow.
You expected a new semi-ghost town, but Zyrianka is alive. Many old buildings but also modern buildings that you had not seen in a small town for a long time. The port is therefore much larger than Seymchan. A dozen boats are either docks or placed on the bank, or for larger anchored in the river. Your arrival is not the event of the week as for Seymchan.
Just arrived, the captain present you a man in uniform who asks you to follow him. You think first of all that you do some paperwork, but not … Nicolai is a former USSR champion for motorcycle on ice and remains passionate by everything regarding motorcycles. It makes you visited his office, shows you old photos and medals that recall this period. You also visits offices, the gyms and rest places for the employees of the port and the river company. The atmosphere is still very Soviet.
You return to the boat to attend the landing of containers and your motorcycle. The barge then leaves the dock to be placed a little further down some free bank. Time seems spent a lot slower here that in Seymchan. Crane made a lunch break. People appear less effective, less stressed than in Seymchan. The “boss” of the Seymchan port was always present and constantly controlling the workflow. Here everything looks quieter.
You have dinner in the evening on the boat with the captain, his wife and a friend of his wife. You ask questions about their life. The year is still divided into two parts: winter four hundred kilometers south of Moscow, and summer here in Zyrianka for her and for him on the boat.
Captain asks you about your salary, gives you his. The subject is not rude in Russia and you get often the question. There must be at least a factor of 5 between a French and a Russian wage salary. Russians often think only a millionaire could travel as you do. If your income is above the average, you have also met with French travelers whose salaries were below this average. Anyway, a Russian Captain does not earn fortunes and doesn’t get the French average wage..
By late evening, Nicolai, the former champion of motorcycle on ice, pick you up for a tour of the city. You seem to be on an island. To get there only by plane or boat. You are surprised by the number of monuments. You stop in front of several of them to make the photo.
You’re going back to the boat. Youra and Alexis are in the cockpit. Youra asks you to show him some pictures of your past trip.
You will leave them tomorrow with regret.