A few minutes after I landed in Markova, I found out that I was going to be able to jump on an administrative commuting helicopter which was taken on a few passengers from Markova to Vayegi.
The flight cost me only 500 roubles (about 20$ for a seat) but 1600 roubles for all of my cargo !
A bargain after the previous expensive flights: 2100 roubles from the city of Anadyr, across the bay to Ugolnye Kope at the airport and 7100 roubles + 6100 roubles for cargo for the one hour airplane flight from Uholnye Kope to Markova. I even had to beg them for them to be willing to take my crucial back country skis as part of my cargo...
So, in deed, I am very greatful that I was able to make it to Vayegi so quickly and efficiently and with all of my gear.
I arrived in Vayegi 9 days after I left Seattle which is by all means a fast performance, taking into account the usual weeks/months long delays in Chukotka due to bad weather and simply overall flight cancellations.
So, since I arrived in Vayegi, I have been able to get reacquainted with my friend, the mayor Viktor Nikolaivich Bogariev as well as with "fatso", my good and loyal companion, a mighty sled from Snowled, which spent the summer months, tucked away in a warehouse, under piles of construction materials.
I definitely hope that he will be able to support me through Omsukchan this year !
Since I arrived, I spent a large portion of my time setting up all of my gear and testing everything one more time, before getting on the trail !
It has been a stable -30C in the vicinity and therefore I need to be well prepared for the elements.
Viktor Bogariev and I are currently trying to find a way for me to get back hopefully very soon to where I last stopped last year, 37 miles North West of Vayegi on the Algan river. The point I marked with my GPS and where I first met Viktor with his boat after fought the rushing rivers as hard as I could.
At this stage, I may either have to ski from Vayegi to that point and back or benefit from a snow machine ride that would drop me off there with my sled.
In any event, I will then make my way back by skis to Vayegi and pursue on down to Slautnoye.
In Vayegi, I celebrated today Thanksgiving in a very local way: indulging myself in drinking a liter of fresh milk !
Vayegi is one of the rare farming villages in Chukotka that actually have cows!
I also enjoyed a wonderful reindeer roast with potatoes served by Alicia Bogariev, the wife of the mayor. Not quite a turkey but definitely at least as tasty!
In a way, I was able to say "thank you for the giving" while having the pleasure to present at the school with the assistance of the local English teacher in front of about 60 chukchi fifth graders.
I was also able to tour the school museum where one could see some interesting artifacts:
mammoth bones, tusks and teeth found in the region, ancient chukchi items such as sleds, baby craddles, weapons, etc...
During the presentation, I had some interesting new questions such as:
Q:"Do you smoke"
A:- "Niet!, I also barely drink alcohol , or if I do, mostly beer"
Q:"How do you plan to go over the mountains while traveling South towards Slautnoye?"
A: "Well... I use my maps and GPS the best I can to define the best route through the mountains and I also ask the local brigade team of reindeer herders what route they would recommend. I also plan to follow the route taken by the potential wezdehods when it makes sense".
Q: "What do you plan to do if you run out of food"
A: I tend to take extra food so that I don't face this issue. If I ever will, I believe that I have definitely stored enough fat in my body me to last me for a while.... and I also have an emergency fishing kit."
Q: Did you bring your bicycle for the next leg?"
A: "Niet ! I have plenty enough to carry as it is. I plan to buy my bicycle in Magadan or bring it from the States upon my return in late spring."
Q:"Did you ever have any problems while crossing borders ?"
A: "Yes, while crossing the Bering Strait and arriving in Chukotka in 2006. I had the right papers to enter Russia but not the necessary propusk for Chukotka. It cost me two months to sort the matter out and fight a potential deportation out of Russia, valid for 5 years. As a result, I am now overly cautious when I cross borders to make sure that I have all the required documents.
On that note, here are some of the more original questions I was asked at the college in Anadyr earlier this week:
I plan to answer all of these questions in a FAQ that I will have on the website later this Spring...
Q: "Are you afraid of wild animals ? Which ones have you seen ? How did you respond to them ?
Q: Has the expedition changed / affected you spiritually and else ?
Q: Did you ever find something on the trail that you wanted to take but couldn't because of its size/weight ?
Q: What do you think of Chukotka and its people ?
Q: Have you tried any of our native food ? If yes, what and did you like it ?
Q: What do you think has the strongest (will) power ? Mother nature or the human race ?
Q: What is harder for you to deal with: hot weather in the Sahara desert or cold weather in Chukotka?
Q: What do you and the Americans in general think of the Russians ?
Q: Is their thinking of Russia currently changing ?
Q: Is the current economic crisis impacting your expedition ?
Q: What do you think of president elect Barack Obama ? Do you support him ?
Q: What are you doing tonight ? - To which the whole class bursted in laughs... ;-)
Thanks to progress, I am now able to use the internet at the school in Vayegi which I could not have done back in June... and this is why I am able to easily post this update !
Let me take the opportunity to share here a few thoughts on my hectic week last week in Anadyr...
1. "Drujba, Obama, Moloko!"
A lot of Russians seem to be quite keen on the fact that America has chosen Barack Obama as its next president.
Chukchis especially seems to love him !
Stepen, a chukchi teacher, father of 8 children and living in a small village up North near Pevek was quite excited when I gave him an "Obama 08" badge and immediately returned the favor by offering me a glass milk and yelling: "Friendship, Obama, Milk!"
Now, that's a slogan !
I was sharing my room with this man, as well as with Slav, a baptist priest from Pevek on his way to a conference in Anadyr and Nikolai, the veterinarian from Omsk I mentioned in my last post.
One could also make a joke out of a priest, teacher, a veterinarian and a traveller sharing a room... I have a few weeks on the trail to think of one...
At a separate time, a 1/2 white 1/2 chukchi woman was also very excited when she saw my Obama Tshirt and asked me where she could buy it...
I mentioned to her that maybe some day Russia will have a 1/2 chukchi 1/2 white president to which she responded: "maybe in 40 years but definitely not now..."
2. Safety and border matters
I have been told that I was on a tight leash while travelling through Chukotka.
I have been asked to sign a contract agreeing that I was required to call or email via satellite phone every night a responsible party.
If I fail to do so, the local emergency team and/or border guards will be entitled to dispatch an helicopter to attempt to rescue me while travelling through the tundra. Of course, I have also agreed in writing that I would have to cover the cost for this rescue which could be equivalent to the price of a medium size car...
This contract only applies while I am travelling through Chukotka territory.
Afterwards, I will no longer be required to call on a daily basis which can be quite challenging in -30C with a limited amount of satellite batteries.
I am predicting that in about 2 weeks I should be out of the Chukotkan territory and entering the state of Kamchatka where regulations will be much more relax.
Needless to say that I want to avoid at all cost to have to dispatch (and accordingly pay for it!) an helicopter rescue . I am currently re-checking all of my satellite phone batteries, hoping that none of them will fail me !
One of the reasons for the authorities to be quite concerned is the fact that about a month ago, the owner of a small overcraft in Markova got lost while getting in the wrong river and broke his engine. He finally appeared in Anadyr three weeks later, having survived the odyssey the best way he could...
The fact that he was without a GPS and potentially drunk may have impacted the ordeal slightly, as you can all imagine...
3. Vodka ? Niet, spassiba !
Last Sunday, I had the pleasure to join friends at the Banya where one get to see everyone in town.... One thing led to another in a very typical Russian fashion and the next thing I know I was leaving the Banya to attend a drinking and eating gathering with journalists and officials.
No matter how small the glasses are, they do add up, round after round and ,frankly, my body is really not used to this type of abuse...
So, I have decided that going forward, I will try my hardest to turn down any vodka offering in motherland Russia. Let's see how strong is my power of persuasion in the weeks to come !
Piva, da, niet problem...
4. Life can be taken away so easily...
I had a strong reminder on Wednesday on how fragile and valuable life can be.
The Bering Air flight from Nome to Anadyr on which one was being shipped some of the technical gear I was missing, had been delayed.
This was because a 60 years old employee from Kupol died of a heart attack as he was boarding the plane.
My prayers and thoughts go to his family for such a sudden departure.
On this departing note, I need to stop abusing from the kindness of the school in Vayegi offering me this internet access and need to go back to my final preparation.
Once again, wherever you are , enjoy Thanksgiving if it is part of your tradition /culture.