Last time we left our heroes they had set up camp, lit a fire and had generally relaxed by the side of the fast-flowing, muddy-brown Irkut River. The walls of the river valley on the one side were bouncing the likes of Madonna et al from the local children’s camp disco. In the meantime while I was busy swatting the quickly multiplying population of rabid mosquitoes, word of the “foreigner” had apparently spread throughout the area.
This of course led to two 19 year-old girls showing up at our camp, both camp leaders accompanied by a 16 year-old boy so that they could practice their English with me. Having said the five or so lines they knew (“What is your name?”, “How old are you?”…) they disappeared into the dance-music-filled night. After supper and with my arms sore from swatting, I retired to the tent. Late in the night, I decided that being foreigner can have its drawbacks in popularity. At 2am or so three youths showed up on a motorcycle and tried to wake me up to practice English. I almost taught them a whole new vocabulary. Luckily Anton decided to let them know our thoughts in a much more understandable Russian. Off I slipped into a death-like coma.
The next words I heard had me scrambling like a mad man.
“Dups, DUPS! I think you had better wake up and get out here and move the tent. DUPS!”
Groggily snapping out of my death-like sleep, I awoke to see that our tent was almost floating away. Anton was standing outside in knee-deep water. In short, we had been flooded.
Swelling with rains on the mountains feeding the Irkut River, the river had flooded its banks overnight and us with it. Had we put the tent anywhere else or parked the van anywhere else we would have been doomed. We quickly packed and managed to move ourselves and the van, which thankfully managed to start despite the now near constant beeping. As we drove away I looked back to see our camp spot succumb completely to the hungry river.
You would think that would be enough excitement for the day. Oh no, this is “Travels with Dups”; if trouble can happen, you know it was going to happen to me. Near the aluminium producing town of Shelekov is a gigantic hammer and sickle left over from Soviet times and I had told Anton I wanted a photo. When we stopped, the van wouldn’t start again. I guess the folks at Toyota hadn’t created the beeping for no reason. Luckily we had stopped in front of a garage.
The alternator belt had been broken and had finally discharged the battery. The garage helped us get the battery charged again and Anton steadfastly headed for a garage. Needless to say by noon we had a new alternator belt and a van with 100% less beeping.
The afternoon and evening was much more sedate. Anton was kind enough to offer me the hospitality of his apartment to get cleaned up, repack and generally finish my trek in Russia. He drove me to get some odds and ends and then a lovely supper of Omul fish one last time on the banks of the Angara river.
I have one story to add as a bookend to my Russia trip. Anton gave me a brief history lesson on Mt. Elbrus. The Caucasus were a major flashpoint during World War II between the Russians and the Germans. Mt. Elbrus being the highest point in Europe was a symbolic prize for the Nazis. As such the elite Edelweiss Mountain Corp. was sent to secure it. There were pitched battles on the saddle area. The Germans would plant their standards on the western peak only to have Russian guerilla units come in the night and take them down and replace them with Russian flags. Priyut 11, which now stood burnt next to Diesel Hut at 4000m was the Nazi base on the mountain.
So with a farewell to Anton I boarded my train out of Russia. Having switched compartments with a German couple so that they could be together, I am now bunking with three lovely Israeli ladies: Debbie and Estel who are family therapists and Ya-el, a zoologist. I was initially supposed to be with two backpackers from near Manchester, Rose and James. There is also a family from Australia, Christoff from Switzerland, Yannis from Brighton who is travelling for at least 24 months and Stefan, a freelance web designer from Paris travelling with his wife. As usual, lots of characters. I have a couple of bottles of vodka to keep me company in case of trouble.
We are within an hour from the arriving at the infamous Russia-Mongolia border crossing and I have my fears. Let’s hope it all goes well!