Friday, June 6, 2014

Continental Russia

I am going through the small city of Vanino, or Sovetskaya Gavan', pretty much wandering around with no goal. I do have a goal though and that is get to the next big city of Khabarovsk where I can take the plane and everything will be finished.
Vanino is a place with not much there, but somehow still big enough for it to have no end by walk.
The Japanese sakuras are long gone and everywhere I see the neverending green of far eastern russia. Pine and birch trees live there, merely tolerating Vanino in their midst.
Vanineans, as most Russians I met, are busy people, bored and busy with their work. They don't pay much attention to me which I welcome because I have had my share of fame.
I wonder if I helped this Kyrgyz guy enouugh, if I should have helped him more of if I got cheated.
It matters not now, I am trying to make sense of my tablet's map.
The sun is shining through the blue sky and I feel like I would stay a bit more. But I also feel like the biggest adventure, the most usual thing would be returning home, to the usual things.
I get a ride just outside of Vanino by some russian guy in an old car, eager to help.

There, there is just an empty road, with no other destination than mine. Nobody stops and I understand that most of the traffic would be trucks from the ship. Unfortunately, they must be long gone; I surely lost too much time finding solutions for my Kyrgyz friend and getting to the spot. I should have overcome my fame-phobia and found myself a transport straight from the ship.

As I stand there in approaching noon, I can already take off my warmer clothes and just wait in a T-shirt. I so like approaching summer.

A truck stops. No miracle there, the driver is from the ship, there was some hickups unloading. Aren't we in Russia?
He says he's taking me because he saw me on TV but he doesn't make much of a fuss of it. He is a truck driver returning to his family. And he has a day more ride ahead.
My hitchhiking spot in the middle of the far east vegetation
The ride isn't very eventful. He asks me the two questions anyone asks me in Russia: what's the deal with that law about gay marriage being legal in France? and What do you think about Ukraine?
I tell him that I am not gay and that I don't trust much what the media says about Ukraine so who knows who's right?
He tells me it's a conspiracy involving America.
I tell him that I am dating a Kyrgyz girl and he warns me about the dangers of getting into the muslim culture and asks if the parents agree. As far as I know, they do.
I dismiss his worries, putting them on the account of ignorance but I'll later discover that I was the one who was being ignorant. The paving on the road stops but the road is still wide and in relatively good condition. It seems that we will never fall into the tiring 5km/h driving as we did with Ilona in Kazakh trucks.
What is amazing though, is how endlessly the landscape repeats itself. Would there not be this road, I could lose myself in this land forever. The diversity of vegetation is so little that I feel like I am in a video game from the beginning of this century. Pine trees, birch trees and them some other completely similar pine trees.
The road to Khabarovsk
I wonder how the explorers who built this road managed to orientate themselves. Or maybe many of them perished before the land was mapped.
We stop at a place where lay many pieces of timber. The driver says he must make this long and boring trip worthwhile and thus, we shall steal a small portion of this wood. He takes out a chainsaw and we cut some logs.
We cut some logs
My driver owns his truck so he is free to dispose of his time and vehicle as he wishes. It is hard work but it pays and it needs a capital. It costs about 2000 dollars for the boat trip from Sakhalin and back. So he better have a full cargo.

As a hobby, he likes to take care of his garden in Khabarovsk and he tells me many things about it. For instance, he likes planting trees. And the best trees grow exactly here, in the middle of the Russian far east so we stop again and again, take out a shovel and load small or bigger trees onto the truck. After that, we eat some Korean soup. It's from Sakhalin which is still way inside east Asia. He puts an egg in it and I eat it with sticks. Oh Korea, I miss you! Korea where are you? Claim me back! I may be Korean, I may be Japanese, what am I doing going home, the most foreign of all places?

Another stop is the road builders. That is where we take on gas. Gas is expensive in the cities but the road builders get a bunch of it for very little and can sell it for very little as well. My driver fills his tanks and I get a pack of milk. Apparently, the road builders get a free pack per day to compensate for the hard work. And hard work it is! There are just two or three guys building that road, int he middle of nowhere with no phone coverage and don't even think of the internet.

The repeating landscape reminds you that there is nothing... forever. Some guys spend up to three months there at a time. One of them has a girlfriend in Khabarovsk, they must be in much more long-distance relationship than I am.

On the road again, we drive and drive. Nature repeats itself and I fall in a quiet state of sweet end of adventure. Fate is putting me down into feathers.
Sometimes, we pass a bridge. Lucky decision it was to hitchhike this few kilometers, I would have regretted not to see the legendary Siberian wooden bridges.
They are big bridges spanning widely across streams or rivers and despite their untrustworthy look, every vehicle, big or small, passes through them.

"Это хороший мост," (this is a good bridge) says my driver pointing at the wooden wreck.
I really don't share his enthusiasm. I have collected enough respect for the might of nature not to risk drowning so close to my goalless destination.
"I wouldn't drive across this bridge with a skateboard, let alone with a truck!"
"Alright french guy," says the driver with an amused look. "I'll drive and you can film me".
 I run and the driver drives. Some logs crack lightly but the truck goes trough without any trouble. I love this bridge.

We stop at a place to eat dinner. It's a beautiful sunset in the far eastern video game. Russian far east, you are boring, predictable, you are scary, wild, I love you, you are just like my girlfriend!

As soon as I have set foot in Russia, I have decided that I won't try to trick any Russians into charity, the consequences may be Putin-esques. But I get invited for the borsch soup anyway.

And we pass the Amur river. Mighty and beautiful, it eats the cold ground into thousands of little ponds. The landscape near the Gassi lake is truly breathtaking. Impenetrable except on thick winter ice because of the many swamps.
Me and the Amur river have just met, I love her already and already must we break up. This last ride is both calm and eventless and full of breakups with newly founds loves of my life.

At last, we exit the green and in the dark of the night we reach the absurd city of Khabarovsk which I don't love. Why absurd? Because it has nothing to do there. Birch trees, pine trees, and an endless single road. That is what is Russian far east. Not cities, not Khabarovsk. Birch trees, pine trees, roads. Khabarovsk, go screw yourself, you know nothing of the place you live in.

The driver greets me farewell at the airport. I empty my luggage next to a shopping outlet that sells the most useless things in the world. The lady doesn't like it because I am scaring away her customers. I buy a ticket to Novosibirsk for 400 dollars. This gesture leaves me completely lost. I am paying for transport which completely absurd. Not only is there no reason I shouldn't get a free airplane but I am paying for a distance that I could cover by foot. The world has become crazy and I with it. My unshaven, unwashed silhouette, hung with a dirty black backpack repaired with a strong Japanese fishermen's string from Hokkaido and deer horns completely illustrates how crazy the world is. The only constant in my life right now is Janela. The rest is seriously fucked up.
My bag weighs 19.6 kilograms

This is my fucking life!