Circumnavigating the world through Human Power while connecting different societies, civilizations and landscapes.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Finally back in Paren, ready to start today!

Paren: N62°25.04; E163°05.18
Yes, I finally arrived Saturday night in Paren, Kamchatka Koryak Okrug, where I last stop in May 2010!
This means that I am ready to start again Nexus Expeditions this afternoon!
As I had somewhat predicted, it took me 30 days to get here since I landed in Moscow, Feb 2d.
Since leaving Evensk last Sunday morning , I was able to cover the first 105 kms while travelling 12 hrs in the back of the cargo space of a kamaz truck, the next 160 kms in 50hrs in a crowded open sled being pulled by a soviet-era mighty tractor on tracks, and the last 50 kms in 4.5 hrs holding on to a sled/trailer being pulled by a soviet-era Buran snowmobile.
Since arriving in Paren friday night, I have spent part of my time catching up with my parenski friends, sharing stories, pictures and gifts!
It feels great indeed to be able to revisit
Yura, Olesia & Carina Chansev with whom I spent more than two weeks last spring in their very hospitable koryak small wooden home!
I have also spent some time as well repairing my beaten up sled and skis. Indeed, taking into consideration how complicated it would have been to ship over a new sled and new skis, I opted this winter to get spare pieces instead and ensure the best repairs I could upon landing in Paren. I have placed new runners on my sled, (which by the way, I have now wishfully renamed "The Omsukchan Express"...) and I have also fixed my dual binding system for my skis.
I also spent a good amount of time sorting & organizing my gear, food and fuel. Indeed, between what I left in storage in Paren last May and some of the new and improved gear I brought this week, I am realizing that I have more than I should be carrying, therefore, here I am trying to streamline. However, it is not easy to part with some of this reliable gear which has helped me through over the last few winters. I do not have in Paren the option to ship anything out, since the nearest post office is 210kms away and no motorized transportation is planned to go along my route.
But thankfully,I have the option to share some of this gear with my Parenski friends which I know will put it to good use! I have promised already to give my old Baffin expedition boots to Yura in Vernhiy Paren who has been eyeing them for a while, and as always, some of my ESS turbofan goggles are highly seeked by the local snowmobilers...
Sooo, yes, the motorized journey from Evensk to Paren was epic but thankfully, got me there in 5 days! I was told that it could have taken a few more weeks if we would have chosen to attempt to go by kamaz truck all the way instead of using a tractor.

Back in Evensk, after having to mop blood off the floor, as a result of a drunken russian brawl which happened very near my living quarters saturday night, needless to say that I was quite excited when a few hours later on sunday morning, I received the call that we will depart at 1pm!

My kind Evensk host Misha Maxime brought me and my gear in a small japanese van to the specified location in Evensk where we found a mighty Kamaz truck, loaded with cargo and a motley crew of 10 humans and 2 dogs, getting ready to depart for Vernhiy Paren.

The 10 humans were: A koryak woman who left us after the first 70kms having reached her home in Ghiziga, and nine vernhiy parenskis.

The white driver and also mayor of verniy paren named Sasha Nabigayev, his tractor koryak intriguing copilot Ivan, the vice mayor koryak metisse Ola, her white husband Andrei and their 8 years old son named Arthur, her brother named yura, two mostly silent koryak men named Aleg and Sergey, whom I had a hard time to tell apart, partly because of their similar bushy dark mustaches and finally a very drunk older koryak named Andrei, who took 48 hrs to sober out...

The first dog belonged to Sasha and was named Greta, a 2 years old fun german sheppard which was purchased in Magadan and to whom I sadly don't predict a very long life, judging how much she loves to "dance" and play close to the tracks of a tractor, in deep snow.

Indeed, I once saw a dog in Krasneno, Chukotka getting his paw crushed by the tracks of his master wezdehod/tank with whom he was dancing when he got caught under in deep powdery snow...
The second dog was rightfully named "Grace", a one year old and tall version of a cocker spaniel ( will find the proper breed name the day I get access again to an internet search engine!).

Grace is a Magadan city high maintenance bitch who was migrating with her master Ola to the small and cold village of vernyi paren, obviously not knowing how her life was about to change radically!
On a sidenote, it never stops to surprise me to see cats and quite a few fair-weather dogs condemned to have either shivering lives or sheltered "apartment" lives in Far Eastern frigid Russia, a land definitely made for mighty husky "winter" dogs and alike...

So, I climbed deep in the back of the dark cargo space of the kamaz, crawling in the limited space available between the cargo boxes of parenski groceries/supplies and the ceiling, finding a relatively comfortable spot to niche myself and proceeded to sleep, with shivering Grace by my side, despite the chain smoking loud talking koryaks, the growls of the kamaz trying to negotiate a path in the deep snow, and the once in while hard bumps sending me to the roof!

160 kms, 50 hrs, -30c

I got woken up after a few hours quite abruptly when I felt a seasick Grace throwing up on my leg! This quickly gave the opportunity for the truck to stop allowing for one of those few required communal pissbreaks for the whole crew!
Along the way in our crowded cargo space, my koryak friends and I managed to share their cans of sardines, bread, warm tea which I reciprocated with a few oranges...
After 12 hours of kamaz travelling which usually only take 6 hours when the trail is in good condition, we landed 105kms away in Chaibura after having stopped briefly in Ghiziga (300 inhabitants, mostly koryaks).

Chaibura, now mostly a classic-case Far Eastern Russia ghost town with a mere population of 80 inhabitants used to have 2000 inhabitants during its prime soviet time. It had (a now closed) strategic regional cold-war airport, a kolkhoz center for the (now greatly diminished) surrounding reindeer brigades, a fishing fleet and a geological center for mining research.
I had the opportunity to spend a few hours walking around town and witnessed an incredible amount of massive equipment and scrap metal that was left behind after pereistroika.
This strinkingly reminded me whas I saw last Spring in Korf, Kamchatka, yet another soviet-era coastal ghost town which was finally put to rest after it was hit a few years ago by a tsuname resulting from a major earthquake off the coast.
Some day, hopefully, I can visualize Chinese ships coming to grab/recycle all of this massive soviet scrap metal & machinery, when the price will be right!
In chaibura, taking into consideration the post-purga bad shape of the trail, mayor/driver/navigator Sasha decided to switch us and cargo from the kamaz to a soviet tractor on tracks pulling a sled.
Consequently,we had to repair/build the wooden frame of the large heavy sled (with a heavy metal base) which could carry:
-six large gas drums (200 liters each),
-piled up with the cargo which we transfered from the kamaz
-and 8 of us +2 dogs layed on top in open air.
All this in layers in similar fashion to a lasagna dish or napoleon french pastry...
Sasha and his co-pilot ivan were able to fit snuggly in their tractor cargo space, as they are accustomed to navigate.

At around 3pm on tuesday, the motley crew and I departed Chaibura and embarked on this 160 kms, 50 hrs cold open-air tractor sled pulling arduous and intriguing journey...
We stopped twice along the way long enough to tighten the tractor axis, build a campfire, make some tea, eat some ramen noodles, and kielbasa, sala/lard and cheese that I had brought along...
The first of the two stops was at a "container on sled" type cabin usually called "Tira", where we were able to shelter ourselves from the strong winds and falling snow. I definitely took the gps location of this sled since it is going to be the only shelter coming my way on the 160 kms section between vernhyi paren and chaibura!
To fight the cold wind, snow falling and lower temperatures, my koryak travelling partners were using heavy duty coats, hats, pants, boots, gloves and blankets made of a mismatch of dog wool, reindeer furs, and synthetic materials.
These necessary items of course crowded our small living space high on top of the cargo, forcing us to sleep sideways, not helping my back by any means...
We also had to contain at times our two jittering dogs, especially the german sheppard Greta who loved to chase her tail, making fast spinning circles while standing on top of our layed bodies...
I suggested that a bit of sedatives, if available... could come quite handy for Greta's next journey aboard a similar sled!

But being a "last minute" guest, I would have been the last one to complain, thankfully enough to get a ride and trying to minimize the amount of space I was taking!
Watching the tractor progressing slowly but surely, negotiating curves, alternatively using a hitch, a short and/or long cable depending of the complexity and inclination of the terrain ahead reminded me of my own progress while pulling my sled. A few times, the tractor would unhitch itself to check the terrain ahead and go ahead to somewhat prepare a trail in the deep soft snow, come back, rehitch its sled and move forward.... In similar fashion to what I had to do countless times in the padt while facing steep inclines.
At times, watching this "steampunk like" vessel travel trough the white open tundra reminded me some of the most intriguing art cars I have seen over the years parading around the playa at burning man.. Although it was definitely missing some of its Nevada heat!
We fought over the last few harduous kilometers, steeper hills and the sharp/steep edges of the Paren river where we passed the remnants of a summer fishing camp where koryaks spent time drying their traditional and tasty yukalas/salmon skins.
Above all, we finally had to find a spot where the ice was sick enough for us to cross the river, and sustain the weight of our massive tractor and sled in tow, avoiding any potential disatrous accident.
We finally arrived in vernhyi paren at 5pm on thursday night being greeted at first by the vernhyi Paren children on the edge of town when we were negotiating our last steep incline.
Upon arriving in "Centralniya" street, in downtown Vernhyi Paren, we were greeted by a good portion of its 80 inhabitants. I was indeed able to witness happy reunions watching some of the wives who had not seen their men for months, while away in Evensk, working and earning some badly needed cash!
After having helped to unload the sled of its cargo (cooking oil, sausages, chicken, rice, toilet paper, candles, etc...) and the six 200 liters gas drums, I was welcomed by mayor sasha's koryak wife named chura and their 3rd child, an 8 months old son named locha. Their teenager older daughters now live far away in Magadan with their grandmother where Sasha wants to ensure for them the best education they can get...
Chura kindly welcomed me indeed in their warm abode where I was fed a nice bowl of soup, and a great reindeer stew!
Vernhiy paren main electric generator burned down last december leaving its inhabitants without electricity during these harder winter months. A few "wealthier" inhabitants have gas driven generators that they use a few hours a night but they are truly the exception.
Thankfully all the homes use wooden firestoves for heating and cooking purposes.
I spent friday catching up on needed sleep, washing myself and my clothes in sasha's great banya, visiting the villagers, and watching visiting reindeer herders from the neighboring brigades cut the horns of their reindeers to avoid having them poke each other in the eyes!
I was also trying in vain to call yura chansev 60 kms away in paren who had mentioned he wanted to get me with his snowmobile. Paren sole and only phone, called "taxophone" had indeed not been responding for a few days.
Well, by saturday morning, concerned that I might never be able to reach him by phone, I started to look at my alternative options to get transported from vernhyi paren to paren:
-dog mushing
-or even reindeer sled.
Indeed, the local drunk offered me to take me with a reindeer sled in exchange for 2 bottles of vodka...
Taking into consideration that I have visa time restrictions coming up in less than 2 months, I accepted sasha's kind and most reliable offer to take me with his buran russian snowmobile!
We covered the 50 kms in 4.5 hours, facing wet falling snow, wind and white-outs.
Upon landing in paren, sasha and I went to meet slav pakulit and his wife tatiana who offered us yet another a reindeer stew!
Soon thereafter, afraid that the weather may worsen, sasha nabigayev got back on his snowmobile, ready to turn around and go back home, 50 kms away.
I am very thankfull for the kind help he demonstrated towards me providing me with transport, shelter and food, far beyond my most wishful expectations!
I was then finally able to meet the Chansev after 8 months of absence! Olesia was back from work and yura coming back from the coast on his snowmobile with his trailer loaded with large pieces of drift wood, good enough for 4 days of badly needed firewood...
We spent a great evening in their warm hospitable small wooden home in company of their 5 years old daughter carina, olesia's parents rima & viktor visiting from vernhiy paren for a month.
I was also glad to see once again their amusing dogs and cat! Indeed, I was also able to see a beautiful small puppy, surely the result of all that canine passion I had been able to witness back in may between Lala and Chiornish!
And finally I sadly learned that Amour had been shot and killed by a visiting reindeer herder from vernhiy paren for having biten one of his cherished reindeer!
Well, I shouls stop on this note and go and pull a sled...
Paka! Paka!

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