War and Peace. Love and hate
Curiosities and experiences on the first stage of the trip through Russia
July 13, 2010. 2:06 am, in a hotel in Yekaterinburg, Russia.
Today has been a tough but quite interesting day. We left at 9:00 am from a small town called Sim (located between Ufa and Yekaterinburg). Yesterday we had to stop in that village because there was a fire on the road and there was a big traffic jam. While we were walking around the village with the motorcycle looking for a place to sleep, people were looking at us as if we were real aliens. We have encountered everything, people who greet us and try to make conversation, others who turn around when they see the helmet camera, and some girls who run out in fear in search of their mother. In general, I have been surprised to see that people are very cautious and usually do not dare to get too close until they see us smile and wave at them. But to go unnoticed as in Europe is impossible.
The fact is that we meet two guys (in a 4×4, one of those that they give away...) and they tell us to follow them to the hotel in the village. When we arrived at the hotel, we put on the typical show of every day, babbling in Russian, drawings on paper and onomatopoeias of all kinds and colors to make them understand the type of room we were looking for. In the end, we got the room for 800 rubles plus 40 rubles for parking (about 22 €). We entered the room (which had a considerable stench) and saw that there was no shower. We are told that we have to wash in a kind of sauna with basins and ladles. We have no photos (it was raining and I was too lazy to take out the camera) but I can assure you that the place was very picturesque. The sauna was a ramshackle hut surrounded by goats and rusty things everywhere.
The next day we woke up with the pleasure of having slept knowing that Spain was the world champion, a vision that vanished as soon as we heard the incipient horn of a 40-ton trailer coming down a mountain pass without brakes. The townspeople came out to watch the spectacle and to await the happy outcome or catastrophe. In the end, it managed to dodge about 30 cars and there were no fatalities or collisions with big explosions. After a brief moment of excitement, we started to load the luggage and start the journey to the Ural Mountains.
The Urals are not a panacea, but we appreciated it. So many straight roads and plains are a bit tiresome. The mountains are always more fun, the curves force you to move a little on the bike and raise the adrenaline. If you add to that the fact that today I was listening to one of my favorite bands "Radiohead" and that it was raining at times, the result is extremely pleasant. Another grace and misfortune of traveling by motorcycle are that we can smell the places we pass through, although being able to smell the Urals in the rain is another great thing.
At lunchtime, we stopped in a village called Miass and then we continued to Karabash, a place that caught my attention because of its inhospitable aspect. Mountains of black sand, old abandoned excavators, very high chimneys, smoking holes. An irresistible color combination for any photographer. I could have stayed the whole day taking pictures of rusty and abandoned things. It reminded me of one of those Russian movies portraying dystopian societies, specifically S.T.A.L.K.E.R.
Roads and Kamikazes
We have been traveling for about 10,000 km, of which at least 3,000 km we have traveled in Russia. The difference between traveling in Europe to traveling in Russia is abysmal. The roads have been one of the biggest surprises we have had. We knew they were bad but not as bad as we found them. In general, there are no highways or expressways. They are all conventional roads with one or two lanes in each direction of travel. They are not fenced, so sometimes you can find people crossing, dogs barking at you, horses, cows and sheep... The state of the asphalt is amazing. As thousands of trucks pass by every day, inside a lane there are two steps of about 10 or 15 cm. high that correspond to the treads of the trucks. It is a nuisance because to move with the bike inside the lane you have to be careful going up and down these steps. There are a lot of holes, scratched pavements that make the front wheel slide, and train tracks that stick out a lot. In addition, there is very heavy traffic, they don't respect the clearance margins and overtake you everywhere. It is very hard to drive and the average speed we are driving is between 60 and 70 Kph.
A couple of days ago we were caught by a policeman while we were overtaking at 134 Kph on an 80 Kph road. They have it well set up, they hide behind trees (old man style) and from a distance, they point the gun at you. Then they stop you and show you how fast you were going. We had to do the show again and smear the policeman with 500 rubles, although I think you can go even lower, at least up to 200 rubles. You have to be careful because if they get angry they might take your papers and make you lose a day or two.
That same day Vicente and I got lost. While I was stopped on the shoulder, Vicente was overtaking a truck and I didn't see him pass me. In the end, thanks to the walkies sponsored by Midland, we were able to find each other again. The worst thing is that in my haste I couldn't stop in a good place and my bike fell to the ground. Still, I was lucky it didn't fall down the hillside...
Some curious things
I was surprised that on the menus of the restaurants (here they call them cafés) they always specify the grams of the dishes. It's very practical! Alcohol is also measured in grams. A normal shot of vodka is 50 g. and a double shot is 100 g.
In general, the Russians we have met are nice people. They have helped us find places to sleep and have been very friendly. There is everything, as everywhere. Some drier ones give us a bad face when they see that we do not speak Russian, although perhaps they do it because they are defensive. After all, they cannot express themselves in English.
We have not seen a single foreign vehicle in all that we have been traveling in Russia. Only some bikers like us. It will be because of the complicated formalities.
The general appearance of the towns and cities is quite depressing. There are many rusty, crumbling and old things. The buildings are simple, not very cheerful, I imagine that they are a legacy of the communist era. Regarding design and urban aesthetics, there are many deficiencies, however, people dress quite well, and they like to dress up. It's a very obvious contrast, especially now in summer. I imagine that in winter the scenario will be different.