WHERE I LEFT OFF LAST YEAR
Trip Start Jan 31, 2007
53Trip End Feb 25, 2008
Firstly, there's some things you should know. 1. It's a lo-o-ong ways. 2. Everything about Russian guys is scary. They drive low, sharp-edged cars, many with tinted windows, and many with two or three guys inside. Many Russian have shaven heads. 3. The roads are in poor condition and slow. 4. There are a lot of ticks this year, and they can give you a potentially fatal disease. 5. It's hot. 6. I don't know if anyone picks up hitchhikers in this wild country. Would you? 7. You're crazy.
But, there are some good points. 1. A main road connects Siberia to European Russia, so the possibility of getting a long ride is great. 2. Although everyone complains about the roads, they're well-engineered to avoid all cities, so you just keep hitchhiking. This also means you're always in a good place to camp. 3. While I don't have sands with which to combat the hot afternoons, my black sneakers and white socks have enough holes to let the wind in.
From Staryy Oskol, I first got picked up by twenty-nine-year-old Yevgenyy. He was going from his current home in the city to his parents' place in the countryside. He told that life in the countryside is better because you're always busy working, whereas in the city you have free time so you drink and fight. He sometimes smiled with me, and three of his teeth were oddly golden. Something in him seemed as dark as the deep forest.
I didn't plan on getting in cars with two or more men in them.
Middle-aged Yura drove me to and through the city of Voronez. Like everyone else after Yevgenyy (until now), he was tame. He told that the Germans, in World War II, had penetrated up to the (now dirty) Voronez River straddled by the big gray city. But, they couldn't get past it.
An apparently rich family from Murmansk drove me last. We passed the spot where, in last year's attempt to hitchhike to Siberia, I'd almost gotten killed by two guys in whose cabin I slept. Fond memories ... well, not really fond.
I made it four-hundred kilometers, after a late, afternoon start and a long-ish first wait. Yana had given me "Kapitanskaya Dochka" (The Captain's Daughter), a classic by Aleksander S. Pushkin; I began reading it in the night in my tent in a row of birch trees separating fields.
If only pop music wasn't destroying the world! Traveling is so great when you hear good local music. A family of three played an old-times singer. Olla Peguchovna had a young, confident and lecturing and creatively wandering voice. In one song, she knowingly kept repeating, "Raz, dva, tri-chetire-pyat." (One, two, three-four-five.)
However, the mother of the family, who thought I should be married, also thought I should chip in a lot for gas. I explained I'd been hitchhiking. I gladly left their un-warm car.
300 km more on Day 2,
and Day 3 began with a ride from Nikolai. Early-sixties Nikolai was already old for a Russian man, who commonly dies in his fifties (perhaps as a result of drinking and smoking so much). He said he "zavidit" (envies) me for my youth. He explained there's white "zavist" (envy) and black. His was white, and he's glad for me.
He'd served his army duty in Novaya Zemlaya, Russia's long island in the Arctic. American planes used to fly up there sometimes, and the Russian pilots would fly with them to keep an eye on them. Now, only polar bears lived there (on the island, not in the planes).
He also said, with intelligence, that Lenin and Stalin "yeli lyudov" (were people-eaters).
And then, a second Yevgenyy, this one in a semi-truck, stopped for me. We immediately began joking together. Mid-thirties Yevgenyy had the explosive speech of an Italian.
And the self-pricking laugh of Joe Pesci. He also complained like Joe Pesci. He drove to make money. He was the best driver I've ever seen, practically flying in a truck on a bumpy, two-lane highway.
(I guess Joe Pesci is Italian.)
Once, he had to wait a half-second for a truck to pass. He tilted his head and made vulture-wide eyes and complained, "Nesmotrit; idete, B'ISTRE!" (Don't watch; go, QUICKLY!)
We had a lot of laughs at the expense of "Kamaz's", slow Russian-made trucks. They were his pet peeve. He laughed that their drivers had to hunch over in their square, army-brown cabs. When we reached the foothills of the Urals, I joked that it wasn't gonna be good for the poor Kamaz's. Once, he said, "Na eto, Kamaz xoroshiy." (That's something the Kamaz is good for.) I looked and saw a Kamaz driving five miles an hour in a field, beside a farming machine that filled up its back with grass or crops.
He was macho. He had two sons. "Neumeyu delat dochki." (I don't know how to make daughters.) When he spoke about women, he usually included a lude thrusting motion that incorporated his arms and pelvis.
We agreed to meet up the following day, after he stopped by his home, when he would continue in my direction.
But, I waited three hours, and he didn't come. I went on alone. I witnessed an accident between a Hummer and a semi-truck. I might've felt more sympathy for the (uninjured) victims if they hadn't been driving a Hummer. My heart thumped.
And then, there was Yevgenyy!!! again stopping for me in his Maz (a well-built Belorussian truck).
We screamed happily to each other. He had a new Tony Danza haircut courtesy of his wife; a clean, white, un-buttoned shirt with oasis patterns on it; shorts; and his tan body posed athletically at the wheel.
He swore more in glooby Russian, which sounded like he was speaking noodles instead of words. He bought us a roadside, five-course meal that included hardy borscht. We slept in his truck, and he cooked breakfast. He said without "sala" (pig fat, loved by Russians) and vodka, the Russians wouldn't have beaten the Germans in World War II.
We said good-bye. We hoped to see each other again and keep in touch.
Two thousand kilometers. I crossed flat European Russia, and survived. I saw green fields, towns of wooden homes, and colonies of summer cottages with private gardens. Nothing too exciting.
Now, I'm beside famous Lake Trugoyak in the Ural Mountains, in Asia. It's a big, round, clear lake, very cold, and very perfect for swimming. It's surrounded by rolling, dark-pine hills. (The Urals aren't very big.) Some call it Lake Baikal's sister. But, various tourist spots and a dirt road around the lake destroy its natural-ness.
I met an alternative-thinking, English-speaking, giggling, touching girl two days ago. She thinks water has "information" in it. She cited a Japanese scientist. He wrote "war" on jars of water, and the molecules went all screwy; he wrote "love" on jars of water, and the molecules were better. (question: is "screwy" a scientific term?) She thinks Americans might be heavy because our farmers give vegetables chemicals to "be bigger," and this information gets inside us. "Be big!"
Denis's family also randomly invited me into their room one night. Denis's wife spoke very Russianly, with a wacky, ridiculous, high-pitched sound.
Shaven-headed Denis worked in the prison, where he said he beats prisoners. In Russia's mandatory military, he and other soldiers had often been hungry enough to faint. He warned that Russia's not a safe place ...
... and I've already picked three ticks off me!
I feel pretty comfortable here now. At my request, Denis played a song by the rough-voiced rock band, D.D.T., whose complicated rhythms blend together harmoniously. This new D.D.T. song was a slow, soft tribute to Aleksander Pushkin, entitled, "Posledniy Osen" (Final Autumn).
Tomorrow, I resume hitchhiking: 1600 more kilometers to go! Good thing for the holes in my shoes!
- peace, Modern Oddyseus
Thanks to Yevgenyy; Yura; Aleksei; Sasha, Ira, & Yaroslav; Oleg; Sasha; Sasha; the family that would've liked gas money; a guy talking on his phone; Nikolia; Yevgenyy; Dima; Yura & a woman; Yevgenyy again; Sasha; and Bogdan for rides!
Much thanks to Denis, Irina, & Bogdan; and the Zoya Kozmozhenka camp for places to sleep!