19 May 2016
Vladivostok – Lesozavosk 347 kms travelled = Total 885 kms
(I took out the sea travel again – adjusted above)
Off I went this morning. Packed the bike – all fitted on and I wasn’t looking like an overloaded Ocean Steamer J. Took a 200Rubel ($A 4.00) breakfast at my hostel, so I would feel fine during the day with no real need to eat before tonight. I must have oozed a Garlic-Cloud around me; mozzies fell to their death …
Getting out of Vladivostok was no fun. It has so many one-way streets, so to cover a distance of 500mtrs, it feels as if you travel 2kms in a round-about way. I lost my way once, but soon enough found myself on the way out. Traffic was busy for the first 100 kms. I guess this is because two other larger cities are en route. first Artyom and then Ussuriysk. The road … well it was just as I had imagined a ‘Russian’ road to be: some good stretches and some rather very pot-holed ones. As a result, and to not wanting to have a dented rim one the first BIG travel day, I had to be permanently on the lookout, eyes focussed ahead onto the tarmac, trying to spot the damaged street bits. Swerving trucks in front of me gave me a hint as to where I could expect a bad spot, but all the same other cars flew past – not giving a hoot, or having super-perfect suspension (the latter I doubt). One of Vladivostok’s big business is to import used cars from Japan. By far the largest contingent is sold deep into Russia, up to Moscow. So I deduce that these made up more than ‘some’ of the cars rushing past. I did not see a single truck carrying a number of cars in transit.
The landscape looks flat. Lots of small and slim birch trees, grass in different height and all shines light green, a green I remember from Germany. The land does not appear to be worked on, like being farmed. Is it too permafrost-y or too wet? I saw a lot of swampy-landscape. I travel on about 50mtr elevation, but still the land on either side of the road is under-water or swampy. Not sheep, cattle or other animals, I spotted only one single cow. More often I passed a black-belching-smoke chimneys. What type of industry? I don’t know.
On my first tank-stop I figured-out the system: First you have to guesstimate the amount of petrol you’ll need or how much might fit it. Translate this into Rubels – then go and pay this amount at a cashier-window (women with gold-teeth) indicating what quality you desire. The woman then – remotely – sets this price on the actual bowser. Now you can tank, stopping at the pre-determined amount. Petrol quality comes in some Cyrillic stuff, perhaps diesel, 80, 92 and 95 RON. Sometimes I can see even 98 RON –I’ll take it every time it is available – cheaper as in downunder! Whilst I had a break Russian truckies come over for a talk, using hand & feet, we all smile and I see ore gold. They take pictures and ask to sit on the bike – “be my guest!”! All in the name of the Australian-Russian friendship! Here I was given a tetra-pak with a Strawberry drink. Such a nice and welcome gesture. I must have looked thirsty.
On the next tank stop I ‘talked’ to a van full of Russian soldiers. Again, lots of laughter, offering of a smoke (many smoke here). But since it wasn’t an original Pappirossi I rejected ;-). However, at this stage I was boiling despite only riding with a singlet and my wax-jacket with liner. So, to more advance my druschba project, I unzipped the liner and presented my tank-attendant with the liner. Keep in mind that it gets minus-25 regularly in winter, so I was sure he could use it.
My side of this ‘win’ was that now, if I got cold, I had to do the layer approach, hence actually using the stuff I had packed.
The next tank stop – now I liked to get petrol ‘cause I knew how – a 650 beemer zoomed along-side me. Off it hopped my next new friend: Victor or Vitaly. But first he had to un-peel himself and greeted me with an overwhelming and contagious enthusiasm! Vitaly was on his way to Khabarovsk, still about 400kms to go. Nevertheless he gestured me to have a coffee and an apple as well, We looked over each others bike and were able to have a talk as well. Vitaly tells me he is a pilot, thus his good English. He had ridden from Vladivostok today to see his son competing in a billiard competition tomorrow. He urged me to travel with him to Khabarovsk right this moment, but I needed a break, a shower and wanted to stick to this my plan overnighting in Lesozavosk.
We took off together, as it was another 70kms to my turn off. Vitally lead the way and, almost predictable show-off a little. Clearly confident on his bike, knowing the road and the behaviour of fellow travellers, he clowned around and almost raced ahead to show me how well he can ride. ‘Paul” (remember my bike) was easily capable to keep up with him, but at that first day, for my liking it was a little too fast. I pulled back and Vitaly understood. We parted ways with the promise to call him tomorrow – which I likely will do. Perhaps I may even arrive in time to see his son compete.
A left-hand turn brought me within 30kms to my destination. The one-and-only hotel I could find on all my accommodation apps in this (half-way) vicinity. Now the road deteriorated even further: maaany pot holes, bigger ones, making it necessary to ride in the opposite lane. Fortunately traffic was light.
Going about 80kmh I soon arrived in this small town very close along the Chinese border and a railway mid-point – Trans Siberian Express – between Vladivostok and Khabarovsk, the two major centres in this region. Lesozavosk looks a little like a forgotten place, very Russian Communist-style square blocks of flats, small wooden, often dilapidated Dachas here and there. I have no idea how people get sufficient work here, other than the railway.
My Zumo showed me the way, along a road not far from the end-point now, BUT a railway track with no obvious crossing made it impossible to pass!? Bugger! The road to the right soon ended up in a housing estate – so go back old man! I stopped to get my bearings and was just about to say “Bugger it!!” or similar when a moto-cross bike pulled up. Alexandr to the rescue! A young man, local to this town, understood about me being lost and knew where I needed to go. Without hesitation he offered to guide me there. Brining me not only right in front of the hotel (hard to find)], but also booking me in and getting a half-price deal 800 Rubels ($A17) for my own room with toilet and shower and stuff to become clean.
But Aelxandr didn’t stop here. He insisted to take me to his parents’ home, only a few clicks away. After a short ride, I had gotten rid of my luggage, we arrived at the outskirts of this little town and I met his mother, sister (now Facebook friends), father and 4-year old daughter – she’s a sweetie! No sooner had I sat down on the veranda food arrived: pickled gurkens, pickled tomatoes, eggs, fish (from the nearby river) and a cool drink. I had to eat and I certainly didn’t mind.
This is such a positive things when travelling alone in a strange country: people ‘arrive’ and offer help and hospitality to a complete stranger! I felt so humbled. Best I attempted to reciprocate was to present Alexandr’s young daughter with a little kangaroo key-ring. Later Alexandr safely brought me back to my Hotel, he had to hurry to attend a birthday party with his wife. I felt humbled, saved and content and believed the world is a good place!
Usual re-packing the re-packed to better pack and I guess this still will go on until I have developed a routine and a maximum-effective packing approach … to be continued, definitely the packing!