Monday, July 14, 2014
The Ministry of Sports and Tourism of Chukotka, with whom you are in contact asked you to register you to the authorities when arriving at Chukotka. You have chosen not to do in the city Aniusk because it seemed too small, little concerned with arrivals of foreign people. Anyway, you would have found the offices empty on a Sunday evening.
So you go to the police station on the other side of the town. If in Russia people speak only a few words of English, in Siberia, they do not speak at all. To avoid misunderstandings, you repeat at any sentence “Ya nie panemaïo pa Ruski” (I don’t understand Russian). After a few tries of discussion, they finally guide you to the Office of Migration. Surprise: this office is on the ground floor of the building next door to your hotel. Probably its only employee had already spotted your bike. You show him your passport and your permissions for the Chukotka. It seems upset. Problem? No, the documents are complete, everything is good, but he asks you several times when you leave Bilibino. You do not know, you’re stuck. You finally realize that you are allowed to stay only a week in the cities steps of your journey. Then you’d illegally if you stayed longer. You would have done better to wait before you go to this office. You try to ask him how to find information on the state of the road, but he ignores it. Nobody is going to Egvekinot since Bilibino by road. At least in summer. You leave him, telling you that you have a few days to get ready.
You need an internet connection. You go to a store to buy a second SIM card from another operator. With your current operator MTS, the phone works fine in Bilibino, but no internet. Last night, the receptionist advised you to take a SIM card from Megafon … You buy also a low cost phone for staying in touch by Nicolai. Return to the hotel, still no internet. You go back to the store. The lady explains that it is normal that the Internet does not work. There are times when it works, and other … where nothing works. It’s like roads, Siberia has its own definition of normality. Again, you ask the hotel reception if Internet works for them. Of course it works, but the receptionist of the day has a third operator. You walk into town. You get into the municipal library, the post office: no internet. Internet? “Nieto”. And still nothing on your phone. You decide to return to the store and take a third SIM card. On the phone of the saleswoman, Internet is available but not on yours. She spent several hours trying to understand. She tried several SIM cards, multiple phones … Your phone? You start to think that the unlocking of your phone done at Vladimir is the cause of the problem. Finally, do you decide to buy a second Smartphone. Finally Internet works… You’ll be able to retrieve your mail, take the weather, and update your sites. But you spent a day for that.
You spend the evening on the internet. You leave the television on to watch the news. Always a lot of pictures and comments on Ukraine. Often propaganda bottom floor: a Ukrainian politician is interviewed and the sequence is interrupted by images showing a chameleon, or a caricature where we added a crown on his head. You’re surprised by the baseness of the process. Otherwise, the images turn loop with “experts” to comment. Barack Obama seems to be the target of their remarks.
Tuesday, July 15, 2014
3am. You can not sleep because you think about the different solutions to continue. If you have to give up the road, you should you find a way to reach Anadyr to make trials in sea, and may be going further from there.
4 am. The phone rings: Bob from Irkutsk. You’re not really surprised by the hour. He asks you where you are, if you need help. Sure, you could make use of its qualities translators if needed. He also told you that he is drunk for three days, he drinks too much. A common issue in Russia. Your project impresses and makes him want to have itself projects out of alcohol. You should be happy if he stops. And proud if your project triggers this decision.
Since you’re in Russia you become aware gradually of the ravages of alcoholism. It is even more common here in Chukotka. The phenomenon exists in France, but here it is a hundred times worse, a hundred times more developed. A drama. People do not drink in the evening, but continuously.
You need to prepare your day … Some shopping, refueling, some tools in case of puncture, and you will leave in recognition of the Egvekinot road. You want to make the first two hundred kilometers to reach the first big river. To understand the track and to understand these rivers … Then you get back and will decide. This will allow you to also assess your fuel consumption. You do not know the impact of the transition to “80”. Your bike is made to ride in “95”.
10am. Your bag is ready. You go to the bank to withdraw cash before going to refuel. Your neighbor in the queue for the cash machine tells you “motorcycle” seeing your boots. “Da. KTM? Da.“. The town is small and your bike has been seen. He tells you he is also biker, he has a KLR 600. You had crossed a bike that had not stopped. It can be … You tell him your concerns about the road. He thinks that the road should open within a few weeks. It asks the question to another person in the queue, then returns to you: “Today.“. Trucks begin to make the journey Bilibino-Pevek today! He’ll explain that there are five deep rivers to the junction. That apart from rivers, the track is not particularly bad. For crossing rivers, wait before a truck arrives and put the bike on… This seems to be the normal procedure.
You go together to your bike. Vladik think you’re soon-to-end travel and offers you to buy it. You show him the video to explain to him that you would be only half … He understands your project. He asks you a copy of the video on a USB stick. You want to know if you could make an arrangement with a truck to bring you the essence. He has to leave but he will call you within an hour.
You go back in the room to write those words. In ten minutes a lot of things have changed. You do not know the details yet, but that’s very good news. Your guardian angel had a great idea to send you to the bank.
An hour later, Vladik calls you. He is at the entrance of the hotel building with a cyclist. You understand that the cyclist, Pavel, is a driver of a Kamaz who will go to Egvekinot. You do not understand much … Pavel call someone with your phone. Colleague? Five minutes pass and arrives Costa, who speaks very good English. Costa plays the role of interpreter. Pavel will go on Friday to Egvekinot and his truck can carry your luggage. He may even put the bike in his truck.
Pavel leaves you and you stay with Costa and Vladik. Costa explains he is travelling with his wife, a friend and a couple from Moscow. You go all together to meet them. They are housed in an apartment for travelers. A place that is now managed by some residents of Bilibino. You can join them but you just renew your room for two extra nights.
Continue the discussion. You learn a lot from that Vladik. He is gold prospector and biker. He knows the region very well. Costa also traveled a lot in Chukotka. He used to live in Pevek. For the road, there are a long series of rivers to cross before and after the junction, some deep. Bears? There are many along this road. Are they aggressive? No, except when they are injured, or they could be to defend a young. Costa, who was often in contact with the authorities of Chukotka think you will not succeed in negotiating a nearer departure to the strait than Provideniya. Lot of information.
Finally, Costa explains you that you have probably caused some misunderstandings: Costa is waiting for a French biker with the same KTM you as you… A guy from Brittany, named Philippe. He had mechanical problems during the trip and took several weeks late. You are therefore two bikers, almost twins, to get to Egvekinot this summer. Costa asked Pavel his support for the Egvekinot road. He also warned the shipping company of Kolyma, and he thinks you could have taken the place of Philippe who was expected when you arrived.
Philippe should bitching because he presents his project as the first ride motorcycle from France to Chukotka: “from Far West to Far East”. You hope to meet him, if you have not already left Egvekinot upon his arrival. For the moment, you call him to present yourself, and to inform him about the next steps of his trip.
Danila, Costa’s friend, explains you that several people had told them about the French biker who was on several places at the same time. Some knew your blog, and Danila had come to understand that you were two. Two following each other on the same road, each unaware of the existence of the other. Finally, you’re a little markdowns by the fact that you would like to go further with your boat. But it is still far from won.
Vladik has proposed you to make a presentation of your journey to children in school. Or rather to the children of the “summer camp” because classes are over, but the school always welcomes children by offering various activities.
So you find yourself face to fifty children and some teachers. Costa provides translations. At the end of the presentation, a sequence of questions. Virtually all children up his arm to ask questions, often very timely. You are surprised by their vivacity and by the quality, variety and also the freedom of their questions. Maybe it’s because it’s off the school context, but these kids seem to you particularly open.
You are then subjected to a test that you did not expect: autographs … Maybe the memory images of the World Cup football, but after signing an autograph first, there is a rush: all children want your signature. And some girls want their picture next to you. You have become all of a sudden a star in Bilibino.
You then go to the Museum. Only two rooms, but a variety of topics, mainly around paleontology and ethnology. Also a presentation of the local wildlife, and a series of objects and minerals associated with mineral exploration. Mainly gold. All museum staff welcomes you. The tour lasts long. It ends with the two sculptors workshop Chukchi. It’s not everyday that they see a tourist Bilibino.
An eventful day. Finally, Vladik offers you as well as Danila to go see his amphibious vehicles. They are old armored military transport newly acquired. The first works and the second is being repaired. You’re surprised that a young man has acquired such devices. But Vladik won the lottery: he found a nugget about 1.5 kg of gold. Something to help to launch a more industrial activity.
You remain surprised by the turn of the day. Instead 400km of bad roads, you have done meetings, learned a lot and found the solution to continue.
Wednesday, July 16, 2014
You visit Costa, Danila and friends in the early afternoon. They must attend the meeting of an association of indigenous peoples and invite you to come with them. The room is in the neighboring building. Jeima, Costa’s wife is herself native from a tribe in Sakhalin. They want to share their respective experiences and customs.
Bilibino is a new city created to serve as a basis for gold research. 90% of the population is European. Gold mines attracted many people, and the city became a center of life with its schools, shops, government, and even its nuclear power plant. It is known as being the most expensive city in Russia. Administration officers have a special bonus to compensate for the cost of living. Therefore, aborigines are a small minority in the city.
The area is at the intersection of two settlements: the Evenses at West and Chukchi at East. But there are more Chukchi. Chukchi tribes are themselves divided into two groups: fishermen whales, seals and walruses on the coast, and reindeer herders in the land. They are nomads and their lifestyle somewhat resembles that of the Mongols. But the different communities were in regular contact and exchange their products.
The Stalinist period was very hard for Aboriginal peoples: settlement and deportation. Traditional ways of life were abandoned, shamanism was condemned, and alcoholism often became the main occupation. You’ve seen before from a film Frederic Tonolli on the subject and also read books written by the Chukchi Yuri Rytkhèou.
Persons participating in the meeting are of various origins. A couple from a region located along the Kolyma where there are Yakut tribes, Evenses and also Chukchi. So this couple speaks several languages in addition to Russian. As a teacher for the Chukchi language, and another teacher who works with nomadic tribes in a nomadic school itself.
Jeima reads poems she wrote. A lady in turn reads Chukchi poems. Costa shows films showing the life of the tribe of Jeima, as well as older movies about Sakhalin.
Sakhalin is only forty kilometers Hokkaido, and little distinguished the people of these two islands. Similarly, little would distinguish the peoples of Sakhalin and those in the region of Amour, the Amour river that is close to the Kolyma, which is close to Chukotka, which is itself near the Alaska … All these indigenous peoples were neighbors. Chukotka has long been interested in any empire, borders did not exist and America was then connected humanly Eurasia. Chukchi could then freely cross the Bering Strait, without any passport.
A lady teaches you a few words of Chukchi. You have already a lot to do with the Russian and you do not abide with. It also tells you that the principle of Aboriginal associations was launched there only twenty years by a French, Charles Weinstein. He is the linguist who has also worked on a Chukchi-French-English dictionary.
At the end of the meeting, you receive the gift of a DVD on the Chukotka. Yesterday, you already received a gift from the teachers at the school. A spoiled child.