After a quick breakfast we made our way to the airport. The driving was quite slow as Moscow traffic can be, and was, quite heavy. Check in and security was no problem with the help of our Moscow logistics guy, Nikoli. There is no English anywhere so without speaking the language you really need someone to help you. In most countries I have traveled to you can almost always find someone who speaks English, but this is not the case in Russia. Their reason for speaking English would be to converse with tourists and tourism is still relatively new in Russia.
Our plane left at 10:00am for a 2.5 hour flight to Mineralyne Vody. Our plane was an ancient Russian jet (I’m guessing early 1970’s or older). I felt like I was in an Indiana Jones movie. The head liner of the plane was cloth and there were old fluorescent lights along the isle. The overhead luggage storage was just a shelf like on a bus and there was no air conditioning (or perhaps it just did not work). The seats were worn thread bare and the arm rests were chipped and broken. A seam of duct tape sealed the emergency door. The heat in the plane was just like the hotel. The thermometer on my watch read 96 degrees, but it did cool down once we got up into the cooler air at our cruising altitude.
They don’t seem to have the same electronics rules here because the guy behind me talked on his cell phone almost all the way to cruising altitude. However, I did get a lecture in Russian from one of the flight attendants when I took a photo. I still don’t know what she said to me or why I could not take photos on the plane.
After take off I put in my ear plugs and drifted off to sleep. I woke about 10 minutes before we landed. That was a great way to fly and catching up on lost sleep was a bonus.
We got off the plane, grabbed our gear and met our local guide, Oxana, who will be with us for the rest of the trip, and our driver Mario Andretti. At least that is who he was trying to emulate as he drove.
Just like many developing countries a two lane road is used like a three or four lane road. We drove a breakneck speed and only slowed when passing was blocked by a big truck or the radar detector fixed to the window signaled of an upcoming police car. Eventually Ryan asked Oxana to tell the driver to slow down, that we were not in a hurry. I’m sure how he was driving was pretty normal, but it was a little scary and we had and saw several very close calls with other vehicles.
Driving through the Russian country side in this part of the country reminds me of Nepal, Tanzania, Mexico and Peru. Although Russia is not considered a developing country or a third world country, since the fall of communism in some places it is. The area we drove through appeared to be very poor. The housing was quite basic and many people lived in large concrete apartment buildings left over from the communist government housing era. They have not been kept up and are in really rough shape. Hundreds of buildings appear to have been partly built (homes, stores, factories, offices, and apartment buildings) and then just abandoned. Just as many buildings that were once in use are now empty, abandoned and falling apart. I’m not sure if the fall of communism led to this or just if business dried up in this region.
This area is quite mountainous. The lower areas are farms of endless sunflowers. As we got higher in elevation we saw corn and then cabbage and then just livestock. Cows, goats, and chickens were everywhere. It kind of felt like driving through Nepal. We had to stop several times to avoid a head of cattle standing in the middle of the road. I’m not sure how they can tend to their animals or even know where they are this way.
As we got closer to the village of Chugat (village is generous) we entered a beautiful pine forest surrounded by tall snow capped mountains. Our hotel is the Prvorot www.povorot.ru and is I think the nicest in town and is the only one with wireless internet.
Paul and Todd and I share a two floor mini-condo type room. We have a small sitting room with a couple of comfy leather chairs, a couch (also a pull out bed) and a fireplace. We have a fridge, a TV and an armoire by the door. Upstairs there is a double bed and a single bed as well as a balcony and a dresser with TV. I have not turned on the TV so I do not know if we get any channels. The bathroom is on the top floor and is complete with a bidet and a rain shower with body massagers. I’ll let you know how it works after I have tried it.
There is a small spa area here with a small indoor pool and sauna as well as a bar and a pool table. It is really quite a nice place and the owner and main staff speak English quite well.
We walked into the village and looked around the market and the various stores and restaurants. It is pretty rough, but nice at the same time. There is an outdoor gear and clothing shop that is pretty complete and lots of rental gear. There are many climbers around and I have heard the conditions on the mountain are great.
Dinner was tomato and cucumber salad, followed by chicken soup and beef and potatoes for the main course. Whitney Houston serenaded us, a little too loudly, throughout dinner. All in all it was a good day and it is nice to be in the mountains. The temperature here is much nicer and I hope to make up for some lost sleep.
Tomorrow we will take a 5-6 hour acclimatization hike to gain about 1000m. I am anxious to see how my acclimatization training pays off.
That is all I can think about to write about for today. I’m going to call it a night. More tomorrow.