The Hitchhiking Trip to Siberia – 2009
On the road from Ulan-Ude to Moscow
An hour later, when I went back to the road, I found out there were no cars passing. Maybe the drivers stopped for lunch? I didn’t know what was the reason, so I slowly walked along the road in silence. While hitchhiking from Moscow to Irkutsk, I was in hurry and would often lose patience waiting for a ride. But now I was different. And I didn’t care much about being stuck in the middle of nowhere. Cold snowy day, no mechanical sounds, just me, the Road and the forests around. Solitude. Above me were the grey heavy clouds, under my boots were the road and the snow. It was one of the greatest experiences I had during that Siberian Trip.
But as nothing is permanent, the harmony of the moment soon was disturbed by a dump truck mounted with a snowplow. To my surprise, the driver stopped and offered me a ride until the border of the Irkutsk Oblast and Krasnoyarsk Krai. We didn’t speak much, because it was too loud in the cabin and we barely could hear each other. From the border between two regions of Russia an old man picked me up and drove me for 25 minutes until Nizhnyaya Poyma. He dropped me off at 12.50 PM, I walked through the village and stood under the falling snow to drink hot tea. There was a cemetery across the road. “Here I am, alive. And they are already dead, perhaps even for some long long time. And between us is the road. One snowy road between our two worlds,” I was thinking to myself, drinking the tea, when a funny looking driver with big white mustache stopped his Nissan and invited me in.
“Can you give me a ride towards Krasnoyarsk?” I asked?
“Where are you going?”
“To Tomsk,” I answered.
“You are lucky today, because I am going to Tomsk,” said he and laughed.
“Oh really? How cool!” I jumped in, buckled up. And we drove away.
“Yes, yes! Well, but where else can I go? You are the third one on this trip. I’m driving all the way from Vladivostok. It’s my business, y’know, we buy cars from Japan, ship them to Vladivostok, drive them to Tomsk and then sell,” he continued.
“But isn’t it dangerous? There are many criminals on the road, no?”
“Well, but I have my rifle with me, see? I was in Amur region once, some cars tried to block my way to steal the car, but upon seeing the rifle they all drove away from me,” he said and laughed again. Then we introduced ourselves to each other. His name was Anatoly.
“About a month ago a driver was killed,” then said the driver. “He was transferring the car to Krasnodar. 200 km before Ulan-Ude he parked the car to sleep. In the middle of his dreams he was awaken by a noise. The window was broken and the robbers were trying to get into the car. He was a brave one, y’know, tried to fight and protect the car, but what could he do all alone against them. They beat him badly, took his clothes and drove away in the car. He later regained consciousness, barely reached the first house crawling in the snow. An old lady and her son took care of him, called for ambulance, contacted the policemen. They tried to put him on his feet, but his hands and feet were frozen and he lost a lot of blood. On the fourth day he died. But he was able to describe the bandits, and few days later they were all in police. But the guy was dead, anyway. Pity, he was only 32 years old.”
I didn’t know what to say as I was shocked to hear the story. Anatoly also kept silence. Only the radio was on, broadcasting a song, in which the singer was blaming the cops for jailing a young guy who killed someone.
It was about 4.00 PM by now. I noticed a sharp curve ahead and a speed limit sign. 50 km/h. I looked at the speedometer and found out that our speed was 160 km/h. And right when I was to ask Anatoly to reduce the speed, the car skidded, he lost the control over the car, and we found ourselves stuck in a ditch. A guy on a tractor, who happened to pass by, pulled us out, we thanked him and got in the car. Anatoly was shaking. He asked me to hold the bottle of water so that he can drink it, since he wasn’t able to hold it.
As we passed the city of Krasnoyarsk, the weather got worse, and because of the hard snowfall there were many accidents on the road. We were now driving slowly. It was dark when we made a stop for supper. Anatoly offered me three mugs of delicious milk that he bought from a villager in Buryatia. During the supper I got to know the driver better. Turned out he was a classic rock fan and played guitar and piano. “I was a photographer before, I had an old Soviet ‘Zenit’ film photo camera’ and used to take a lot of photos. Now I am transferring cars,” he said.
By midnight we passed Mariinsk. Instead of taking the main road that goes to Kemerovo, driver took the shortcut. We had 190 km to drive and with the weather conditions of the night it took us four hours to get to Tomsk. The city was all in snow. Anatoly drove the street where my friends lived. I thanked him a lot, we shook hands. And then he left. I stood on the sidewalk alone, enjoying the white beauty all around me and waiting for my friend.