Continuing on from my last blog….
So there we were stranded in the middle of the Kamchatkan nowhereland and according to Peter our guide we were also hopelessly lost. The sleet was coming at us sideways blown by a bitterly cold wind and I was beginning to worry that we’d never get out this in one piece. The burden of our heavy rucksacks was getting greater by the minute and my sister, Smelly (as we both call each other) was on the verge of an exhausted collapse. Seeing her about to topple over backwards I very gallantly swapped rucksacks with her because unlike Smelly’s mine was minus the “kitchen sink” and considerably lighter.
It was now about lunchtime, we’d been walking somewhat aimlessly for hours across a trackless, vast empty landscape of low heather and nothing to aim for on the horizon. It felt like we’d achieved no distance at all. I’ve got a reasonable sense of direction and thoughts were running through my mind that we were steering the wrong course to get to the road and that someone had to take control of the situation. I said to my weary and freezing companions, “right we can’t go on like this, my sense of direction tells me we’ve got to go this way to reach the road.” Everyone, including Peter didn’t hesitate to follow me and within half an hour we reached the road and even some shelter in the form of a huge concrete drainpipe.
We took turns to keep an eye out for any passing vehicles whilst the others huddled together inside the drainpipe. I can’t remember how long we waited but eventually managed to flag down the only passing vehicle we’d seen which must have been the largest dumper truck in Russia. The driver looked a bit bemused as he clearly wasn’t expecting to pick up hitch hikers that afternoon and especially not in the form of two blonde English dollies, our three Russian comrades and their dog. Smelly and I didn’t need an invitation to climb up the ladder into the cozy warm cab. There was no room in the cab for the rest of the party so they were forced to clamber into the cavernous muddy bucket on the back of the truck and sat down on their rucksacks. We eventually began to thaw out in the fuggy fog of the cab trying hard to breathe through the driver’s cigarette smoke but gosh we were so grateful to have been rescued from what could have been a bit of a situation.
Our Russian adventures didn’t end there…. We were settling back in the Boiled Cabbage Hotel in Petropavlovsk when the telephone beside my lumpy bed rang. “Hello, is that you?” Through the crackling line I could just distinguish that the caller was my Recruitment Consultant in London (now one of my bestie’s). Somehow she had tracked me down to this God forsaken hole to tell me that the job interview I attended a few days before I left England had been a success and I’d got the job! I was delighted with the news and Smelly and I celebrated our rescue and my new job with a glass of hideous wine with our meal of, yup, you’ve guessed, boiled cabbage.
Next day we booked flights for that afternoon to take us to Smelly’s home of Vladivostok. We spent the morning wandering around the grey and dreary shopping district looking hard for something to buy, but the depressingly empty shelves gave us no inspiration. In the largest department store trestle tables were laid out across the shop floor with items sporadically placed on the table tops. Plastic toys were next to fluffy slippers and cooking pots next to ladies underwear, the spirit of Glasnost had not yet reached this remote Soviet enclave.
When we arrived at the Aeroflot check-in desk the stoney faced, grey uniformed, desk clerk took a cursory glance at our tickets and said “Nyet”. Smelly protested that our flight had been confirmed but all we got was another “Nyet”. We argued, begged and pleaded with the clerk but it was still a “Nyet”. She eventually admitted the plane was overbooked. Hopelessly I gazed out of the sliding glass doors across the tarmac at our waiting plane. We despairingly watched the lucky passengers climbing the steps to board their shiny white escape plane. I could bear it no longer and seeing that there were no guards at the doors and none on the tarmac either, I grabbed my rucksack and yelled at Smelly “right come on we’re getting on that plane”. With no boarding passes, we sprinted hell for leather across the hall, through the sliding glass doors and onto the tarmac. We could hear the desk clerk shouting behind us but nothing was going to stop the two blondes now. We raced up the steps and found two empty seats and sat down panting whilst trying not to draw too much attention to ourselves. As we buckled our seat belts we peered out of the window to see if there were any passengers on the tarmac looking as if they’d had their seats nicked. Unsurprisingly there were none. The doors closed and we breathed a huge sigh of relief.
It wasn’t until we were safely up in the air we took a look around us at our fellow passengers. We were the only women on board and were completely surrounded by huge, hairy very whiffy Russians all dressed in hunting camouflage and some of them had rifles balanced on their knees. They were all looking at us. We gulped and smiled weakly only to be eyed up again by an enormous Alsatian dog which was wandering up and down the aisle. We were totally intimidated by the darkly staring men and didn’t dare move a muscle. The trolley dollies were conspicuous by their absence, maybe they were just as scared as we were. I fleetingly thought that I’d almost rather be out in the relative safety of the Kamchatkan wilderness we’d just escaped from than be cooped up in a confined space with what we later discovered were bear hunters. No wonder we didn’t see any bears!
Thankfully, we landed unscathed three and a half hours later and fell into the welcoming arms of my brother-in-law who was waiting for us in the arrivals hall. Well, it wasn’t really an airport at all, Vladivostok international airport arrivals hall was a drafty tin shed with a single lightbulb hanging forlornly over a conveyor belt which spat out everyone’s luggage out onto the dirt floor. We didn’t care we were back in relative civilisation and the safety of my sister’s home looking out over the sea.
The above video is of Stormy Daniels working like a pro at only 18 months old
My final Russian adventure involved the Russian Mafia. Needing more Rubles to satisfy my craving for some retail therapy Smelly advised me not to cash the US dollars I had with me at the State bank as I would be ripped off blind. She said the best deal was to be had with a “private” money changer. We stood on the pavement outside an anonymous office block which didn’t seem to have any doors except for some steps down to a basement. Standing at the top of the steps was a thin man wearing dark glasses dressed all in black. I noticed a bulge in his leather jacket under his left armpit, Smelly whispered to me confirming my suspicions that the bulge was probably a gun. I felt I’d stepped into a scene from a Soviet version of the Godfather. Mr Leather Jacket indicated for us to follow him down the steps, but when we both followed him he angrily turned and said in Russian “only one at a time”. I had to go with him on my own. Gulp, was this really a good idea? At the bottom of the stairs I was led into a dark room with a bank-like counter and behind the bars was the “teller”. I handed over $100 greenbacks and the teller started counting out my Rubles. And the pile of money got larger and larger and larger, the teller was giving me very low dominations and lots of it. Once my handbag was full I stuffed the banknotes into every pocket I could find. I’d never seen so much money. When we got home we laid all the lolly out on my bed, and in a brief moment of glamour I had my photo taken lying on top of all my Russian wonger.
More latterly in Australia we have enjoyed a visit from London friends. We hadn’t seen them since we left England three and a half years ago and it felt surreal watching them walk across the pub car park where we had arranged to meet them. A very jolly weekend was spent catching up on London gossip with only one mishap…
We took our guests and the Golden Girls to see the sea at Port Fairy. Entrusted to clear the junk out back of the ute out to make room for the girls, I didn’t bother removing the two heavy bags of easy-mix cement…. The Golden Girls were banished to the back of the ute as their usual spot on the rear seat was occupied by our guests. We arrived at the beach and unlocked the ute’s backdoors to be confronted by three sets of very guilty eyes. Our once beautiful Golden Girls were now completely covered in grey cement and on further inspection we found the whole of the back of the ute was also plastered in a thick layer of cement dust. The Kiwi had a total sense of humour failure of meltdown proportions. Not to be deterred we carried on as planned with a rather blowy walk on the beach and girls had lots of fun sploshing in the waves and rolling in the sand. Getting back to the car park we realised that our soaking wet, sandy dogs were now bearing the missing ingredients for a batch of ready mixed cement and if they travelled in the back of the ute by the time we got home they would be set solid in doggy made concrete.
Female guest and I both thought it terribly funny. The only solution was for the dogs to travel in the cab with female guest and me and the boys in the dusty back of the ute sitting on the half empty bags of cement. Forty five minutes later we arrived home with boys so stiff and numb-bummed from their uncomfortable ride home they could hardly move.
Our little flock of sheep has increased again and all six of our ewes have produced healthy lambs including a set of twins. Added to which on a dark, cold rainy night the Kiwi rang me on his way home from work, “I’ve got a poddy (orphan) lamb for you, you’d better mix up some milk for her”. Named after our London guest, little Cordelia Lamb has made her presence felt in so many ways. She bleats every time she sees me and follows me down the drive and even broke out of her paddock to join me and the Golden Girls on one of our early morning walks.
Other than that life continues and we’ve been spending most weekends planting and landscaping our front garden. The weather has remained wet and wintery and we’re rapidly running out of firewood. I’ve started a health drive and gone on a diet and joined a Pilates class, the later far more enjoyable than the former!