Posts for April, 2013


Arrival Vladivostok - our adventure begins

Posted Thursday 4th Apr, 2013

Our Vladivostok - Istanbul adventure is underway. We arrived in VVO (the airline industry's abbreviation for Vladivostok) 3:00pm Thursday (April 4th) after our flight from Phoenix via an overnight stop in Beijing.

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Warm people, cold weather (Vladivostok, Russia)

Journal entry for Sunday 7th Apr, 2013 (day 4, miles 0)

Friday morning we phoned a few people and made arrangements for the afternoon, explored the area around our hotel, ventured into a super market and picked up a supply of groceries.

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Paper work and sightseeing (Vladivostok, Russia)

Journal entry for Monday 8th Apr, 2013 (day 5, miles 0)

We were up and at breakfast earlier this morning, not only attracted by the bright sunshine but also in anticipation of starting the process of getting the truck. At 9:00 we met with Svetlana and an insurance agent. Over the weekend Svetlana had prepared all the documents we would need for releasing the truck and the insurance agent was going to provide the last piece of the puzzle - 3 months insurance for 3000 rubbles (a bit under $100).

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Our big yellow tow truck (Vladivostok, Russia)

Journal entry for Tuesday 9th Apr, 2013 (day 5, miles 0)

The day promised to be a big occasion, we were supposed to get our truck!. Of course there was one last visit to the offices of FESCO the shipping company to get our Temporary Import Permit and then down to the port entrance to wait while Yuri (Melnikov) drove the truck out to us. Neither Nina or I were allowed into the port only suitably authorized Russian citizens may enter.

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A few firsts (Ussurisk, Russia)

Journal entry for Wednesday 10th Apr, 2013 (day 7, miles 60)

A few "firsts" today. Elena met us at the hotel this morning and offered to guide us out of the city. Assistance we were more than willing to accept as Vladivostok is not exactly a city that is easy to navigate. We stopped for a visit with Yuriy (Tatiana's father) and a breakfast of Russian crab (one "first") and a top up of our water tank before hitting the road (called the M60 or M58) north.

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Buddha and The Emerald Valley (Spassk, Russia)

Journal entry for Thursday 11th Apr, 2013 (day 8, miles 131)

This morning Sergei took us on a tour of some of the local sights in his off-road equipped Nissan Patrol. We were accompanied on this exercise by the lady teacher from last night (Ludmilla) and a man named Shasha First stop on this tour somewhat surprisingly was a large statue of a Buddha in a small village near Ussurisk. It seems that the area around the Buddha was inhabited 10,000 years ago by an ancient race and also occupied by the army of Genghis Khan. Equally interesting to us was the forest, all the trees were coated in ice condensed out of the moist air by the overnight chill (haw frost).

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Shipping

Posted Thursday 11th Apr, 2013

We had a good experience shipping our expedition truck (motor home) from the US port of Everett to the Russian port of Vladivostok. But this did not come about without a good bit of research and probably a good bit of luck.

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A little problem, first night unaided (Lushegorsk, Russia)

Journal entry for Friday 12th Apr, 2013 (day 9, miles 160)

Last night among the trucks was surprisingly quiet, we heard a few come and go in the night but we did not (like often in the US) have refrigeration trucks to assault our ears.

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A partial fix, and a night in a rest stop (M60 km 151, Russia)

Journal entry for Saturday 13th Apr, 2013 (day 10, miles 74)

This morning we felt a little conspicuous with our bright (though now dust covered) yellow truck parked among the more dower working trucks so we decided to get out onto the road a little earlier. Besides with the water system not working I cannot use the coffee maker (what a hardship). A little way down the road we came upon one of the now familiar roadside parking spots. These are peculiar facilities. They are muddy patches of ground, sometimes with remnants of pavement, and covered in abandoned litter of kinds one does not even want to imagine. But that is not the peculiar bit. They each (of them we have seen anyway) have a large ramp made from slabs of concrete. It is like a low table with an on and off ramp. Even the roadside sign that designates the parking place has a picture of a car on the ramp. When we work out what the ramp is for we will let you all know.

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A dumb mistake (Khabarovsk, Russia)

Journal entry for Sunday 14th Apr, 2013 (day 11, miles 102)

Today we discovered that we had made a really dumb mistake when we left our hotel in Vladivostok, but I will tell you about that below. We also found and fixed another apparent problem with the camper. Best of all with the aid of our digital map from the Open Street Map project we navigated our way through the city of Khabarovsk to a hotel.

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Us and a Russian news crew (Khabarovsk, Russia)

Journal entry for Monday 15th Apr, 2013 (day 12, miles 0)

Believe it or not we spent much of this morning with a Russian TV News crew. The reporter in the team (Irina) is a friend of Sergey's and she along with a camera man (Roman) and a driver arrived about 10:30 to capture us for the Khabarovsk News section of the Russian National TV News. All in all we spent about 3 hours with the team while they filmed the truck and us from many angles, and interviewed both Nina and I (with Sergey acting as translator). They asked some of the obvious questions such as "what are you doing", and "why", "how are people different here than in the US", how do Russian roads compare to the US and Canada". We hope we did not embarrass ourselves, nor offend our hosts. All of this took place in below freezing temperatures and with light snow falling.

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A few excursions (Khabarovsk, Russia)

Journal entry for Tuesday 16th Apr, 2013 (day 12, miles 0)

Sergie joined us just before lunch and we piled into the truck for a short drive north to a facility that Nina and I would call a zoo (its name is Blagodarim - Благодарим). We spent a hour or more photographing the range of creatures on display. The highlights were Siberian Tigers, Russian bears (including a couple of cubs), a very rare Leopard from the region (only 30 left), Lynx, wolves and a polar bear from Canada. Sergie told us that the place ran on a very tight budget but even so the animals and their pens are in good condition. The paths for the human visitors were in a slightly poorer state of repair partly because there has been little repair from the damage of winter.

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Guardian angels (Khabarovsk, Russia)

Journal entry for Wednesday 17th Apr, 2013 (day 12, miles 0)

This morning our guardian angels Elena (in Vladivostok) and Irina (in Khabarovsk) succeeded in getting that document from the hotel into our hot little hands. The back story to the document's delivery is interesting. Last night around 9:00pm a train called the Ocean departed from Vladivostok headed for Khabarovsk. Aboard the train was Irina's doctor (friend or family doctor we never did work out). Elena gave him the document and he carried it for the overnight train journey. Irina met the train, took delivery of the document and then dropped by our hotel to give it to us.

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Moving on (Birobidzhan, Russia)

Journal entry for Thursday 18th Apr, 2013 (day 15, miles 150)

It seemed to take forever to get on the move today. What with making the last use of our hotel room, catching up on emails, talking (Skype) to family it was midday before we started moving; and then only to a local super market to top up our larder.

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Contrasts (Near Novobureyskiy, Russia)

Journal entry for Friday 19th Apr, 2013 (day 16, miles 203)

Today was a day of (mild) contrasts. We started the day with a light covering of snow and once under way we traveled through a fairyland of snow and frost covered forests with a light fog. It was really beautiful. As the day progressed the fog lifted and the sun occasionally appeared, For the remainder of the day we were treated to periods of snow and sunshine; sometimes both at the same time.

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Good news (Blagoveshchensk, Russia)

Journal entry for Saturday 20th Apr, 2013 (day 17, miles 165)

The town (city?) of Blagoveshchensk (Бпаговешенск) was our destination today. The towns name means "good news" and was named for the peace agreement signed in 1858 between the Chinese and Russians that set the Amur River as the border between the two countries in this region. Blagoveshchensk sits on the river bank only a "stones throw" from China.

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BBQ Russin style (Svobodni, Russia)

Journal entry for Sunday 21st Apr, 2013 (day 18, miles 96)

After breakfast our hosts from last night called by to continue guiding us. First off was some shopping at a local mall; and a very up market affair it was too. It also demonstrated the universal appeal of modern electronics. In a single story mall with maybe 10 shops there were 3 cell phone stores and one computer store. For us of more interest was the well stocked supermarket.

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Broadband chip and nice road (Ushumun, Russia)

Journal entry for Monday 22nd Apr, 2013 (day 19, miles 147)

At 8:30 Alexander knocked on the camper door to get us up and moving. I accepted his offer of coffee and we spent an interesting period consuming the coffee, looking at off road pictures on his computer, and talking to each other via Google Translate. One of the pictures he showed me was of an off road event in China and two H1 Hummers with Chinese plates. He also offered to give me one of his USB-Wireless Broadband chips and to help us buy a month-by-month data plan for it. So Alexander, two sons (one teenage and one pre school) piled into the truck and we made the short drive into the center of town.

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M56 - our first taste (Yakutsk Rd KM24, Russia)

Journal entry for Tuesday 23rd Apr, 2013 (day 20, miles 169)

Late this afternoon we did our first kms on the famous M56 (or Lena Highway), the road from Невер (Never) to Якутск (Yakutsk). I have been reading about this road (and its extension to Magadan) for years and we have been getting hints and warnings about the road from various Russian hosts over the past 2 weeks. While planning this adventure we saw this road as one of the highlights of the Russian section of the trip and also perhaps one of the most challenging sections of road on the entire journey. The next 3 to 4 days will let us experience the reality of this infamous road.

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First full day on the Lena Hwy (Near Chul'man, Russia)

Journal entry for Wednesday 24th Apr, 2013 (day 21, miles 251)

All the mud was frozen solid this morning; the truck showed an outside temperature of 25°F (-3°C). We got under way with some trepidation this morning as we have a long way to go to Yakutsk and everything we have heard suggests this will be a rough road. After driving only a short way we got it officially 1075 km to go.

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Russian spring !! (Nth of Aldan, M56, Russia)

Journal entry for Thursday 25th Apr, 2013 (day 22, miles 200)

This morning, from the comfort of our warm bed and camper we looked outside to bright sunshine and frozen puddles; so we guessed it was cold. But we were still a little surprised when the truck's outside temperature display registered 16°F (-8°C). I thought this was supposed to be spring!

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Houston we have a problem! (Cafe on M56, Russia)

Journal entry for Friday 26th Apr, 2013 (day 23, miles 189)

Had we known at the start of the day what events were ahead of us we may have simply stayed in bed; but that's not how life works. So we set off this morning thinking (even planning) on being in the village of Haptagay (Хаптагай) about 30 km south of, and across the Lena river from, Yakutsk) by evening.

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A quick update (Yakutsk, Russia)

Journal entry for Saturday 27th Apr, 2013 (day 24, miles 51)

There has been no internet along the M56 to Yakutsk so I am some days behind in my regular journal posts. So I decided to do a quick update to let friends and family know where we are and what is happening and I will come back and fill in with a more complete record over the next few days. We are in Yakutsk, we are safe and sound but we have a significant mechanical issue with the vehicle and for the moment we are unable to travel. Over the next few days we will assess the options available to us for fixing the vehicle and do some sightseeing things as well.

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April 27th Part 2 - The Permafrost Institute

Posted Saturday 27th Apr, 2013

After an interesting and amazing journey across the Lena River by hovercraft we were met by a friend of Alexander's in a UAZ pickup (this is a small modern pickup truck built by the UAZ company) and taken to look at an apartment that Alexander had organized for us to rent (what we would have done with out Alexander I have no idea). After some paper work and payment we were left for a couple of hours to rest and cleanup, then it was off to do some sightseeing.

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Repair plans and sightseeing (Yakutsk, Russia)

Journal entry for Sunday 28th Apr, 2013 (day 25, miles 0)

To say that we had a restless night would be an understatement. Here we are 1200 kms up a rough road with a broken truck, cannot speak the language and cannot even get the truck into the city where we may just have been able to find decent repair facilities. But our mood has been somewhat lightened by the folks at GXV who have given us an undertaking to essentially "do what ever it takes" to get us moving again, also by Alexander who has both helped us get organized and has taken it upon himself to guide us to the local sights of interest.

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Lena River Pillars and off-roading Yakutia style (Yakutsk, Russia)

Journal entry for Monday 29th Apr, 2013 (day 25, miles 0)

Today Alexander, Maria and Inna (todays designated interpreter) took us for a drive in the countryside to look at a local geological phenomena called the Lena Pillars. These are eroded stone outcroppings on the banks of the Lena River somewhat south of the city of Yakutsk. The Lonely Planet spends some time describing how to see these pillars from a boat cruise on the Lena River. However at this time of year there are no boat cruises as the river is still full of ice. The first hint that the day would be more adventurous than the above mild description might imply was the start time; 7:00 am. When asked why such an early start we were told that the planned drive was a 500km round trip. In our truck that is at least 2 days. What we did not know at the start of the day was that this would be a fascinating day of off-roading in the mud, driving on the rapidly thawing Lena River, some breathtaking views of the river, its escarpments and forests, and a very enjoyable picnic lunch in (relatively) warm sunshine.

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