Pig's Ear Park and Other Adventures

Last stop

A two hour flight from Yakutz to Khabarovsk, drop off the K. It is somewhere above Vladivostock  and a different province to Yakutia where we spent most of our time in Siberia. Also noticeable was it got dark at night, became accustomed to going to sleep while it was light and waking up to the same. 

Must comment on the Russian method of boarding planes, happened everytime. Planes are all lined up neatly a considerable distance from the terminal, you pile onto a bus then mill around the bottom of the stairs whilst a guard allows a certain number up the stairs, no crowding on the stairway here. Landing is also controlled, passengers stay meekly in their seats and only get up when directed unlike us who leap up as soon as the wheels touch the ground- well almost. Food, euphemistically called a snack is usually a hulking great dry sandwich, I ate the filling. equally dry chicken.

Nice hotel, lots of vodka drunk at the farewell dinner. Next morning out early for a rushed look at Khabarovsk, a very neat and tidy city perched on the River Amur. Been around since the 16C . Variously in Chinese and Russian hands, been Russian now for a couple of hundred years.

Three large squares all with a Russian Orthodox Church, all rebuilt in the last twenty years. Lots of flower gardens and trees. The climate is not quite as extreme as yakutia, -40degrees occurs but is not  a common temperature. There are some nasty nasty apartment blocks but nowhere near as many or as common as in Yakutz. Also no old wooden buildings, none really , maybe all been destroyed. In Irkutz there was a row of crosses, asked and found it they were for the wooden houses that had been destroyed- clever. 

Lots of redbrick buildings, quite Edwardian in style. Someone asked our guide what she thought of Stalin, great man was her response, our jaws dropped, Gorbachev- sold us out her reply, Yeltsin, a drunk, Putin- well he got two thumbs up! Surprising, gave us something to think about. However when you reflect on Russian history, the revered ones, Peter the Great and Catherine the Great, both did their share of murder and mayhem.

Nice place to end our tour, would have been better to spend two nights here. In the inevitable bus to the plane for Narita an American asked one of our group what we thought of Khaborovsk, great was the reply, he was surprised, Di said you should have been to some of the places  we have been…

Narita a nightmare, two hours to get off the plane and to the terminal we were leaving from. Trip home, fine but the yellowfin dinner I had is still causing havoc three  days later.

Auckland airport seemed so quiet and polite.

Glad I went, glad I am home.

view of the Amur River

sideways church

red brick building

ww2 memorial to 400,000 people from this province




Sitting on a seat on the wharf at Yakutz waiting for a bus to take us to the hotel. Was supposed to be here at 9 am but is now expected at 9.30 – or thereabouts!!! Only 11 c  so not really hanging around weather!!!At least the poxy sandflies are still in there beds!!

Bus finally arrived and we went off to the mammoth Museum. Oh joy, collections of labelled bones and some cobbled together skeletons with many fake parts. A good video though on the discovery in 2002 of a complete mammoth , with viscous blood! From that they are trying to clone a mammoth with an Indian elephant.Much excitement in the palentological world and a lot of money has come to the Yakutz University mainly from South Korea.

Next excitement was a visit to the permafrost cave open to the public. Named the Kingdom of Frost was on the outskirts of town . You have to rug up to go in, still  chilly so we only needed to put big capes over our coats plus helmets!!!Not sure why the helmets.

The permafrost goes down 300m in Yakutz, 1.5 k up north where we have just been and where Ms Mammoth was found. There are caves dug out of the snow and all sorts of ice carvings, many based on mythological Yakutian creatures. Quite odd but quite  lovely.

We bounced back to town and now know why the roads are so bad, the permafrost moves!!!Plus six months of snow does not help!!! Same hotel, all good.Most of the passengers from the boat where there as well.

Lunch was in a lovely traditional restaurant, all painted furniture and some woven hangings that were tempting but not luckily for sale.

Lunch itself- well, the salad was  OK but the meat soup was vile, great hunks of beef so tough could not cut them, lumps of taties and carrotts, not much was eaten- served in nice bowls! Next was dumplings, usual boring dumplings, then a whipped cream thing with jam on top. Could have done with a Patricks pie but the sald sustained me till dinner at the hotel. That meal was palatable and I weakened and had dessert!!

Weather improved as the day went on and had a pleasant walk back thru strolling Sunday Yakutians. A few drunks around but harmless. The province is called Yakutia and they refer to that or Russia not Siberia. 

The last two days on the river were very smokey and we heard that there are big peat fires in the north. Our guide darkly said they are often deliberately lit by the Chinese so they can access the wood. Apparently just over the border in China there are endless mills which receive truckload after truckload of wood, some singed! How true it is who knows but suspect it may be.

Off to Khabarovsk in South East Russia, still Siberia but not Yakutia. 

The group is splintering, the blondes are muttering darkly, the waifs and strays just drink vodka, and the teetotallers flutter around the edges. 

Dahlias for Joss

War memorial bronzes

War Memorial

Ghastly apartment blocks

Painted restaurant

To the Arctic Circle and Back

  1. So ten days since  email contact…. my sim wasnot that successful maybe another provider may have been better. Who knows..

The Lena just goes on forever, sometimes over 3 k wide sometimes a few furious hundred metres wide. 

We missed a number of stops due to damaged sort of wharves and wild river  and we were stuck on a sand bank for 36 hours!!! It was  quite a pleasant place, just one family- related of course to our guide!!! lots of big fish were caught by our crew and passengers, pike and sturgeon, BIG fish!!!! No pikkies as I never took my phone ashore for the party where we drank more vodka and had fish soup whilst waiting to be pulled off the  sandbank. Eventually two tugs appeared and did the deed in the middle of the night.

Tiksi the furthermost landing point in the Arctic Circle was  not able to be breached as the wharf was damaged- wharf being a euphemistic term for rusted old barges. The day before we landed  at Kyusur . A ghastly place, with rotting buildings, high unemployment  and no obvious way of supporting the population of mainly begging children and drunken women. About 2000 people subsist there, these places have just been left to rot as the Soviet era ended and nothing has taken its place. Tiksi looked just as bad.

A sobering experience which took many vodkas onboard to alleviate. 

Loads of sandflies,, my bitepatches have been great. Little buggers bite thru clothing. Temps have plummeted since Yakutz but now even there has nosedived, just about to land back there tomorrow  and has been 11, today.

Now anchored off  Sottinsky , pouring with rain, so not going ashore to the faux rusticated fort. Similar to Tilsi seen days ago!!!

Food on board has been fine, vodka cheap and NZ co mainly OK. Group of Swedes very bullish and Germans as you would expect.

Wildlife very sparse, someone saw a wolf, someone saw a reindeer herd? Few birds  and msny many birch forests before we got to the tundra where there was not much of anything!!! 

Come again-no!!! Mongolia possibly!!!!

Cat was sighted at the fishing village

upside down Margaret at the same place

Gangway constantly caused problems

Place where we spent 36 hours

Winter accommodation in Khysur

Guns casually leaning against the back wall



Social Studies Outing

Today we stopped at the mouth of the Poutama River , hopped ashore, walked for two kilometres over former Soviet Potato Paddocks, now a mass of wild flowers to see some Bison. 

Originally here in the time of the mammoths then died out- eaten to extinction? 90 were imported from Canada in the 1990’s , now 200 of the hairy brutes!  

Would make lovely mats. They are not roaming free and had to be bribed with a salt mix to come and hsve their pictures taken. 100 ha has been given to them- no idea who is in charge and where the funding comes from.

We walked back to the ship, flowers were still there as were the sandflies. 11 am activity over for the day.

Still warm, about 25c with no wind.

The Lena Pillars

The Lena Pillars are’a natural rock formation along the banks pf the Lena River.’

We went South and there they were  80 kms of Cambrian Limestone  PIllars filled with  fossils. It si now a UNESCO site and the National Park covers 4850 km2.

Lots of forest, larch, beech and alders. Wildflowers everywhere. Obligatory white shaman who made everyone dance in a circle- a few holdout kiwis… then have their foreheads daubed with charcoal.

Most people then walked up into the bush along a

well maintained track/boardwalk up to the top of one of the pillars. I went as far as the steps and gave it a miss. Lovely and peaceful walking back thru the bush but the warning signs for bears were a bit daunting.

Very dramatic landscape.

There is a big group of Swedes on the boat- they are huge people, have been nicknamed the Vikings.

Getting on board yesterday was painless, my cabin is fine, dreary decor but whole ship is  shades if brown.

Food is Ok but will seem monotonous after far plenty of vegies. We stopped at a supermarket on the way to the ship and everyone who drinks stocked up with nibbles and vodka. We may need kore supplies the way we are going!

Sprayed myself liberally with anti bug this am and had a huge allergic reaction, sniffled sneezed  etc still at it hours later, Bison tomorrow!!!Have turned around and heading north again.200 passengers on board.




On the Trail of…

A Russian sim card. Well I have one installed but it is proving strangely reluctant to work.

We had free time yesterday afternoon until we went off to a local Indian? /Eskimo tribe for a traditional welcome. The Mammoth Museum was closed. So before the time to go to the welcome I scuttled off to a phone shop. $12 for a month. Internet should be accessible at the odd place on the river. If you do not hear from me I have wasted $12.

Welcome was long and full of chanting and waving burning feathers in our faces. Ended with more chanting and the placing of a furry beaded pendant around our necks. Very hot with 18 of is jammed in and the need for a fire for part of the ceremony.

I declined dinner  and came home in stately splendour alone in the bus. Later this morning we  transfer to the boat for lunch then back ashore to do a shopping a round, diamonds and supermarket for more vodka!!!

It is cooler here morning and night but hot during the day, biteys are out, so head net on foe the first time yesterday. Bitten on the bum by a horsefly!! 

Irkutz and Yakutz

Last day in Irkutz was spent rather pointlessly belting along in a hydrofoil for six hours plus three hours ashore . We spent an hour going down the river from Irkutz then out into Lake Baikal to look at some tunnels which had been built in the late 1800’s for the Trans Siberian Railway. Does not come around this part of the lake anymore but is used by excursion trains both steam and diesel. 

Hovercraft was old and jam packed with holidaying locals , kiwis, us and a few Chinese. One of the places we stopped was v pretty and one was nasty and steep, I did the donkey trick and refused to budge. Next stop was lunch at a homestay place. Trudged thru the forest for a mediocre home made lunch. Had a pretty flower garden, even had delphiniums. Now do not get me wrong I am not grumpy but it is a bit same old same old. 

The meals we have had in Russia both then and at hotels are served quite strangely. Salad and sometimes dessert will already be on the table, soup is delivered pdq and last night at the hotel the main- basic was delivered before some had finished their salad. Makes for a lot of dishes on the table.

So about 9 am we all trudged off to bed to be woken up at 12.30 for a 1 am departure for the airport, flight leaving at 3.30 am…..sigh.

Slept a bit before leaving then again on the plane. Getting on and off was interesting, no pushing and shoving, only a few allowed on at a time same getting off  and no gates, bussed on and off and quite reasonable sized airports. New guides met us, one with us now till we leave and one just for here. Hope they are better than the last one, she was pretty arrogant, been a maths teacher. No tip for her.

Hotel Polar Star is comfy , good bed hot water, food and vodka what more could you need.We had breakfast and were sent to bed until lunch at 1.30pm.!!!!  Definitely a drinking group and a non drinking group, more in the former!!!

This pm off to the Mammoth Museum!!! There is an old  town nearby, walking distance. Some of the saggiest old wooden houses I have ever seen on the way from the airport. Basically seems to be Soviet style apartments and office blocks and very dusty .

Has a wild west feel about it, pop must be about2-300k.

We leave tomorrow pm  and not back here and the internet until Aug4th so if I am needed contact Pukekohe Travel. The ‘tour leaders’ mother died last week  and he elected not to go back. Funeral would have been over before he got there!!!



Having to write this in the lobby as fir some strange reason my phone will not connect in my room. Had a pleasant day in Irkutz yesterday, quite hot, about 32c. Feel a bit sorry for the guide as we were all a bit unresponsive, still a bit stunned by the last five days.

Irkutz has a population of 500,000 and seems very quiet and well behaved trafficwise after UB correspondingly the people are a bit dour. Did the Russian Orthodox church round in the am, three of them, all beautifully restored after having been used as bakeries and various other uses, storehouses, whorehouses(?) during the communist regime. Went to a monastery with a lovely garden full of our old fashioned flowers, golden rod, etc etc. We terroised a poor monk  with our cameras as he was trying to do a contemplative walk, nasty tourists. Quite a few tourists around, Japanese and Koreans in the majority. Good lunch, beef stroganoff on mashed potatoes with truffle crumbs. Plus borscht and weirdly a croissant for dessert.

Quick trip to a diamond outlet where I found at a good price a replacement for the earring I lost in UB, searched high and low for it but no joy, new one not quite as nice. Then out to the House of one of the ‘Decemberists’ a group who tried to revolt against Alexander2 (?) in 1825. Army officers who wanted philosophy and art to dominate rather than fighting and drinking. This was during the Romantic era in Europe. Banished for twenty years to Siberia to work in the mines, 9 if the wives came too… These women had a profound effect on Irkutz society and the prison camp. They stayed initially in Irkutz then went and stayed  with their husbands in the prison camp. The house belinged to…. full of beautiful antiques including delicate embrodiered garments.

we were treated to a musical soiree representative of the time, Chopin et al. Two fabulous sopranos plus a pianist followed by champagne. Soiree held in the ballroom, big house where  x and x lived after his release. They lived to a ripe old age. 

There are still quite a few old wooden houses beautifully decorated, it was not till St Petersburg was finished  that stonemasons were allowed to work anywhere else, the churches were stone.

Dinner a bit ho hum then back to the hotel and bed. Good day. 


Takhi or PrezewalskiHorses

Another post! Too tired last night to write about the above. It was thought all bands of wild horses had died out all over the world. These are the ones with the head different to todays domesticated horses , think cave painting horses, but the Polish guy above  discovered a few in the Central Gobi region  in the 1890s. A few were shipped back to  Hanover and ? .

Sometime in the 60’s, check google for accuracy a decision wasmade to bring some back from there to whence they came. This area of thousands of hectares became Khustai National Park. There were only  28 brought back and nowadays there are 500 in the park looked after by16 rangers. There is an information centre, 35 gers, a reasonable restaurant , all 250 ks from UB over secondary roads and many dirt ones so you need to be keen. They were the nicest gers we stayed in.

There are also breeding kennels for the bankhar dogs in the park, curses C as I never reread the article till I was on the train.

We all piled in to two Russian 4 wheel drives about 7 pm and headed out over a windy narrow dirt road driven by a Stirling Moss Ranger to find the horses. Saw hinds, 12 stags on a ridge, and marnots, big rabbity things(saw dear wee jerbils a few days before) and a few horses. All an identical creamy colour with darker manes, small gene pool.

After about an hour and only a few  horses in the distance , we turned back and lo and behold just on dusk there was a harem, as it is called, two stallions and about 12 horses, drinking at a huge puddle on the road. We took zillions of photos and returned to the camp feeling very David Attenboroughish.

The park is run by a NGO and we had an interesting   lecture on the horses  by a staff member before we went out.

Also saw loads of wild flowers, alliums, pink comvolulous, white astilbes, wild thyme and loads of chamomile. Pasture was much lusher in the park as no herds os goats etc. The farmers in the group said it is noticeable that there is overgrazing in many places, due to the increased goat herds, oh dear better return my cashmere. 

Birth rate in Mongolia is static since abortion was made legal. Mothers of four children receive a Mothers Medal, each child thereafter they receive a higher grade of recognition . Plus there is a family pension paid. Saw some old crones with several medals on their chests but never managed to get a pikkie.





An Adventure!

I will start with the worst moment of the trip so far!!

You all know about my dodgy radiated innards , well this one is the worst experience yet but it definitely has its funny side. There I am on the Trans Mongolian Express, 24 hours from UB  to  Irkutz. Sharing a cabin , one toilet between 20 . Decided about 7 am must go, really really must go, trotted down to the loo, locked!!! Approaching a station so the Brunhildes lock the loos. What to do??? Only one thing for it back to my shared cabin, Heather still asleep, root around and find my TipTop container , try to shut the door, no way would not budge, damn hot so all slept with doors open. Luckily yesterday in UB before boarding the train I bought a floaty dress and was wearing it.

Mission accomplished, just had to wait for the loo door to be unlocked before getting rid of the  evidence!!!  Thank heaven for Tip Top Light Vanilla.

So back to the real highlights of the last five days, driving across endless rolling plains  with misty mountains in the distance, large groups of horses happily grazing, watching a stallion being chased by irritated herders as it refused to be penned up with the mares during a mare milking session  and on and on. Large herds of goats, now far outnumber sheep because of the price of cashmere, 50$ a kilo versus 60 cents for sheep wool. Cattle are a bit scrawny, sheep a bit scraggy and goats goaty. The horses won my heart with the camels and their twitching humps a close second.

Roads are often atrocious, we drove 15 ks on a dirt track and it took us 45 mins to negotiate it. The Mongolians drive their vehicles the same way they ride horses, very fast. One day we all had to get out and walk a k as it was too steep and rough to risk us in the bus. This was in the way toUgii Lake, a bleak place  but the godwits land there!!! Plus locals camp and poop along its edge. The gers are OK but they smell of sheep wool which is to be expected as that is what they are made of.

So four nights in gers(enough) and one on a train, now in a nice hotel in Irkutz.

Oh yes, the monastery at Karakorum  was lovely, but only three of hundreds of temples left the Communists destroyed them in the thirties. 

K was Ghenghis Khans capital in the 11c. I think if I took up a collection for an assasin I would get enough, the man mentioned earlier is getting close to being roundly abused and not necessarily by me.

And good news the boy who fell of his horse while in the lead at the horse races came in third, I have never seen such a burst of speed. 


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