Russia – Back to the Motherland

And boom just like that we are back in the Motherland although the landscape hasn’t changed much from Mongolia, the towns already look a little bit more organized and well supplied.

After finding a place to park our Hodori for the night, we rushed to the store to get some fresh veggies.
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At the border we didn’t really even properly say good-bye to Chris and his girlfriend, Claudia, I had a feeling that we will meet again. And of course, in the supermarket who do we see?

Its not that crazy of a coincidence, Kosh-Agach where we met, is the first major town after Mongolia. Everyone coming from Mongolia makes a pit stop for food, water and lodging.

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We tried a place listed by our friends overland-discovery.de and they longer accepted overlander parking only, wanted us to pay for a room. Pssshhh, what are we just REGULAR travelers? We is special. So we left and found another place and invited Chris and Claudia, they gladly accepted. At night we both oogled at each others cars, comparing pros and cons of each. The Land Cruiser 78-series is ideal for overlanding setup. You have plenty of inside space, all mechanic drives and suspension. The only downside is the under-powered diesel engine. Everyone complains about it, the travelers we meet, our friends, people on blogs and videos…we’ve heard it all before. The one thing you guys are all forgetting is GAS-MILEAGE, i get 12 mpg (20 liter for 100 km)… and you guys get double that (half for european measurement).

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In the morning we decided to stay another day and write a bit about Mongolia, while it is still fresh in our memories. And Chris and Claudia moved on to better pastures, towards Kazakhstan. I’m sure we will meet them again somewhere along the road. If not, we’ll just crash their home in Switzerland 🙂

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Rested and restless at the same time from sitting in one place for a day, we set out towards civilization, towards Barnaul and Novosibirsk.

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This is the Mountain Altai Region, the road from Kosh-Agash to Barnaul takes you through the “Chuysky Trakt (a road through the Chuy River valley). Some places compare it to the alps of Switzerland, i can’t compare myself just yet, but once we visit Chris I’ll let you know.

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What i know for a fact is that this place is absolutely beautiful, definitely one of the most picturesque places we have seen so far. Driving through the valley we were taken back to the first weeks of our travel, where everything seemed exciting and beautiful. These days only a truly outstanding place evokes the same emotions.

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But here, we were “woahing” and “wowing” for a few hours as with every turn a different and yet even more beautiful view would emerge. After two weeks of strenuous driving in Mongolia, Hyein graciously volunteered to drive for a while, and i was able to enjoy this to the fullest.

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Around Biysk you can observe this upside-down house, with a car and lawn.

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Altai region is known for its absolutely stunning honey. Its sold all along the road from Kosh-Agach to Barnaul. Stop by and the sellers will gladly let you try all the kinds of honey they currently have. The prices seem reasonable, considering the quality of the product. I’ve heard from people that the sellers can be a bit sneaky and dilute the honey. Shoot if they are this good at diluting something while keeping this aroma…i’m fine with it. As long as i’m not eating flavored, colored petroleum oil.

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Besides the honey, this region is also notorious for mosquitoes. You already know that after Chikungunya, Hyein has declared a personal vendetta, a jihad of sorts against all mosquitoes believers or not. You can’t go into a mosquito fight unprepared, you got bring offensive and defensive strategies. For a weapon, the Kim family has settled on the Chinese manufactured 2500 volt electrical racket. And for body armor, we looked around and found that Russian-made camo will be perfect.

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After a night with mosquitoes in Barnual we headed further north to meet up with our friends Ruslan and Ira. They are the family on that awesome 76-series Land Cruiser from Lake Baikal. Their kids Lera and Sergei were prominently feature in our Korandovod Video (link to youtube – Korandovod on Lake Baikal 2016)

This is their cat, called Semen – okay, i get it in English it sounds really bad, the pronunciation should be SEY-MYON.

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Okay, if you haven’t been jealous of our trip so far…you should be now. You know what this is, right?

Its chanterelles or “lisichki” in Russian, no unfortunately we did not pick them ourselves. We went to the farmer’s market and bought them for $1 a kilogram.

Yeah, Soviet, $1 a kilo. Last time i looked they were $20 a pound in Whole Foods in La Jolla. Honestly, if you were here we would totally go a pick mushrooms everyday…just have to watch out for ticks and their diseases.

Porcini or “belij grib” go for about the same price.

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I promised to myself, Hyein and especially Hodori that when we get to Novosibirsk we will do a full inspection and replace anything that has been worn out.

These guys spent about an hour and a half methodically going through all of the suspension parts, checking every part like our life depended on it. The cool thing is that they can even replace it here so, they are honestly telling the things that need to be done, without the possibility of gain for them.

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They also did our oil and filter change, fuel and air filter. Pretty much all the filters needed to be changed by this time in our trip. The Mongolian dust and sand have completely destroyed out filter, the fuel filter had so much stuff in there I’m not even sure how the car was feeding itself. I can’t blame the dirty fuel filter on Mongolia, we haven’t replaced that since the states.

The verdict – need to replace the other 3 ball bearings on the front control arms. It looks like the rubber boots have broken somewhere along the way and going through muddy rivers introduced sand into the joint. Definitely a thing to replace ASAP.

The rear short and long control arm bushings were torn to shreds, maybe because of age or heavier load. Either way, the labor in Russia is affordable enough that we can do it here.

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In the evening all the members of Korandovod meeting that were from Novosibirsk got together and invited us out to a couple of beers.

You should be able to see some familiar faces from Baikal.

Olya, on the right in the white shirt works in this establishment.

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We have been looking forward to some R&R with friends. I dont know if you can tell, but apparently i lost some weight in Mongolia. This might have been due to a few reasons, but i think it was mostly due to constant tension. I wasn’t really stressed out, just more alert and hypersensetive to all the surroundings. Remember if we would have got stuck or broken down somewhere out in the steppe…it would have been a bit iffy. Add on top of that knowing that you could have prevented such an accident by properly taking care of your car and careful driving. You get it.

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Now we drink and relax, after we had a few little mugs of this delicious craft beer, Olya being the manager decided that we should do a little tour and learn about the process of beer making.

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I gladly pretended that i have never attended such tours before and didn’t even know that they existed 🙂

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I’ve learned that all the breweries follow the same steps with almost the same ingredients, shit i was supposed to have never been to any other tours.

Okay, from what i READ, every brewery manages to do something a bit different. It could be the way the heat or cool their beer or the way the barley is prepared. The kind of water used…all the little details can either make an amazing brew or ruin it.

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This is the interesting part of every tour, or so I heard, where you get to actually try the witches brew the masters have been cooking up in the last month.

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Since because I read about these tours before, I came with my own mug from the bar and was gently nursing it through the whole tour.

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And when the time came for everyone to try some beer, mugs were passed around and somehow one extra one appeared…you gotta think ahead people.

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Ruslan and Ira our friends that decided to host us in Novosibirsk. Their kids are with the grandparents and they graciously gave us a full room to hang out in. Now we got a room, wifi, shower AND a toilet all under one roof? And you say the kids are coming back at the end of August…you might have made a mistake, we might stay a bit 🙂

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While Olya was distracted by Hyein, Ruslan and Ira, the boys decided to find out if any of the other taps would produce any liquids worth drinking.

Turns out Olya is a step ahead, as all the taps are operated by a key…that only she has 🙁

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The photo are getting a bit blurrier, no the camera is focusing right…its the user that is a bit wobbly. Thank you so much for a wonderful evening…we had a blast!

And an official plug for PivoFactory in Novosibirsk. If you are traveler and have been missing great food and great beer in your travels, stop by and get your fill. I hail from the land of IPA’s and I have been pleasantly surprised by the quality of their beers. This is a giant leap in the right direction for Russian brewers.

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Doing a city tour while sober? What are we, plebs?

Drunk city tours are the way to go. The honesty and exaggerations come out in full force, making for a very funny narrative of whatever story the guide is trying to show.

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We walked around the center for a bit, found the worker and the farmer statue, the WW2 memorial and the concert hall.

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Interesting thing about Novosibirsk, its considered one of the fastest cities to have reached a million inhabitants mark. We dont know about the statistics in China, because there town populations change by million just when everyone decided to go to the beach for the weekend.

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But there is a subway, with whole 2 lines of it. Btw, forgot to introduce you guys: on the left is Danone (aka Dima) and behind is Petrovich (aka Peter), Hyein, Ira and Ruslan.

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Its small, clean, peaceful. This would be perfect for Ulaanbaatar if they ever get around to it.

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For the weekend we decided that we would go camping on a nearby lake. But before we leave on Friday we have to go and meet a train.

That is one of the most Russian things you will ever hear. Ruslan and Ira’s kids, Sergei and Lera, were in Kazan with Ira’s parents. To get back to Krasnoyarsk, where they live permanently they were taking a 2 day train that goes through Novosibirsk.

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Ira and Ruslan, who havent seen their kids in almost a month couldn’t miss a chance to go and see them, even if it was only for half an hour.

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Lera, after spending all her time at the beaches of River Volga, got a little bit tan.

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The 3 generations, thats Ira’s mom on the right. She is also a English teacher and spoke perfect English with Hyein and I.

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Sergei got a bit tan as well. Anyway, since Novosibirsk is a large city the train stops here for almost an hour to refill water tanks and some consumables, unload and give the passengers a chance at some fresh air.

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Hyein and, I’m assuming, most of you have never been inside a Russian train sleeping car. Lera and Sergei were cool enough to give us a little tour.

4 bunk beds to a room that has a window, a little table and a door. Most of the time people try to either buy out the whole room, otherwise you have random people with you.

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The little hall with windows on one side and sliding doors to the rooms on the left. There is another version of the sleeping car, a bit cheaper than this, where there are no doors, the hallway is smaller, and bunk beds running along the right side of the car. I’ve traveled in these car as well, no privacy but you still get where you need to go.

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The parents are spending their last moment with their kids, they will not see them until they get back for school in late August.

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We drove back to their home, packed up our cars and drove off into the night to the lake. We would never have driven so late at night, but everyone else knew where they were going and we were not alone.

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We drove out super late, set up a bit of camp. All the girls went to sleep while the boys proclaimed that it was a bit early…just 1 am and stayed up shooting the shit and vodka.

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In the morning the girls obviously looked and felt rested, while those of the guys that went to sleep at 4 am were feeling just okay.

Someone…i’m not going to point any fingers, went to sleep at 8 am. Just so that you understand, at 3 am its already bright and at 4 am the sun is already out. So these guys had a bit of a long day…or night?

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To say our thank you to everyone who came out, Hyein and I made our specialty in the morning – eggs and coffee. I hope everyone liked it.

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We have been saving this until the moment the whole Doshirak team is reunited.

Doshirak team which consisted of Hyein, Danone and Petrovich crushed the competition in the race of pushing a Korando.

During the closing ceremony to the ovation of the crowd we took the champion’s prizes and promised to deliver them to the Doshirak members that have already left.

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We also decided to recreate the magical photo from that day. Here Illona, Petrovich’s wife is directing everyone to match the pose.

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Top photo is from lake Baikal and bottom is our new copy. The geometry is still there, but the moment is different. There is magic on Lake Baikal…you can see it for yourself, same people different place, different energy – ergo Baikal is awesome.

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So this is not the kind of camping with a lot of exercising, carrying backpacks and all that stuff that requires moving around.

This is just people who wanted to come out to the lake to bbq, drink beer, share stories and hang out together.

Russian bbq is called “shashlik”, its marinated beef, pork or lamb that is slowly cooked over coals….never over open flame.

Here is a cool trick i learned from Petrovich, if there is a flame under the meat, then just poor some salt on it. This will put out the flame, will not smoke up or bring ash on the meat. Just make sure to pick up the skewer and not pour the salt right on the meat.

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After a food and a few beers we decided it was time to take a dip.

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A bit of fooling around when getting out.

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No one really swam for too long, everyone just got in to take a camping shower.

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Thats me.

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Ruslan, our host.

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This is a civilized hanging out…that means we drink beer.

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But once we get properly sauced we start playing chess. This is my favorite photo – Petrovich is grilling the meat, Ruslan is in a towel, Illona and I are setting up chess pieces that we have been lugging around since California without opening them once.

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Im not sure how much time the chess match took, i was concentrating so hard that the concept of time itself disappeared.

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Sergei was gracious enough to take the photos of our camp spot, if you haven’t noticed these were shot with a different lens that what we have.

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This is getting serious, after all we are playing for 10 rubles. In the end friendship won…and we also are now 10 rubles richer 🙂

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Since Barnaul the mosquitoes have been annoying as hell, in my whole life i’ve never had to use two hands while peeing. But here one is for direction and the other is for protection. I’ve never been this happy to be a man. Just imagine what the girls have to go through.

In Novosibirsk, in the actual city, its not that bad but go to the lake and it gets pretty itchy.

Here is the reason – still water and unusually warm temperatures. Its not the droughts caused by global warming that will be the demise of man, its the mosquitoes that will drive everyone insane.

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We have been lucky so far with a bit of wind, just strong enough to keep the bugs away. As soon as it died down there was instant talk of starting a bit of fire…just to keep the bugs away.

We walked around the forest and found some “unwanted” piece of wood that some one just left there…they probably don’t need them…so we took them 🙂

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Got out the axe that we have also been carrying around since California…i think we did use it during our rescue in Chile.

Everyone had a go at chopping wood, even Hyein tried it.

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Sunday early morning we packed up camp and headed back to Ruslan’s house. Danone’s friend invited us to a soft-opening of a new dolphinarium in the Novosibirk’s Zoo.

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A rare chance when we are all clean and not driving – first thing is to take a selfie. But i can’t be too serious for too long, i only lasted one photo.

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The famous Novosibirsk Zoo, entrance.
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We are not supposed to take photos inside and specifically forbidden from sharing them on any social media sites. Well, this isn’t facebook, myspace or instagram…this is NomadicYear.

Anyway, the show was great they had dolphins, a walrus, 2 sea lions and 2 beluga whales. Its funny, some of the animals were still getting used to the training and did not complete all the tasks required. I’m sure they will work it out in the future, i thought it was even funnier this way.

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Walked around the zoo equally taking pictures of the animals inside and outside the cages.

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The main attraction are polar bear family. While the cub is growing, the dad has been put in a separate area, just for the safety of the cub.

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It quite rare for a polar bear female to get pregnant while in captivity but this is already the second cub born in Novosibirsk’s zoo. The first one was sold to Japan, i’m assuming to a zoo, and not for culinary purposes. Ruslan and Ira told us when the decision to sell the cub became public people of Novosibirsk protested and called for the cute animal to remain home. But he probably speaks Japanese now, eats sushi everyday and thinks Russia was just a dream.

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I dont think we have passed a single vendor on our whole trip without tasting it. I get it…because here it might taste different and more delicious, I’m the same with beer in every country.

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Hyein approved of the taste and especially of the size of the cotton candy in Russia. See jagi, everything IS big in Russia.

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This little Mandrill slowly plotting his escape and digging a whole under the wall.

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Only stopped his work to show all these people who is the boss.

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Ira and Hyein.

We walked around the zoo for about 2 hours, stopping maybe at half the cages you can easily spend a whole day walking around. I especially like the large collection of various cat species, from the smallest cats that look like house cats to the great lions.

I personally dont know how i feel about the concept of a zoo, we have the Wild Animal Park in San Diego, where the roles are reversed. The humans walk or drive around in small path behind barriers while the animals roam free in large patches of land. I know they are still captives, but maybe thats a better way to go?

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For now good-bye.

1 Comment

  1. Борис says: Reply

    Молодцы! Завидуем вашей встрече в Новосибирске. Ждём у себя в Миассе!

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