Archive | July, 2011


31 Jul

There may be a few of you out there who do not get especially excited at the mention of postcards. That is understandable to a degree, but get excited about our postcards. They are nothing like any postcard you have ever received –guaranteed– because as Christine put it, we decided to “get crafty in Siberia” while we were there a few weeks ago.

What have we here?

All throughout this trip we have been taking some pretty great photographs. Many of them, due to limited space, have not been posted to the blog. We have been selecting the ones we think are the very best, and making them into limited-print postcards, which you can have sent to you by going here. This post is to tell you a little more about them.


How are they made?

We figured out early on that getting professionally printed post cards was probably not going to happen easily. And besides, dropping off ‘front’ and ‘back’ images to a printing company and returning later to pick up postcards that look like anyone else’s postcards is boring. We draw the line at boring; It just cannot be tolerated. On top of that, I have never been a fan of the print quality of most postcards I’ve come across. They are typically made to be cheaply mass-produced, which is not exactly the end result for which we are trying. Both Christine and I take too great a pride in our work for that. I am going to call this three strikes against a printing company.

Christine, painting on glue

Instead, we found a nice photo print shop in Irkutsk that would making beautiful, durable photo-prints on a semi-matte paper-material that I’m not sure I’ve ever seen before. Whatever it is, I am pretty sure it will stand up even to the Russian postal service and various humans’ sticky fingers.

The problem with normal photo prints, though, is that they are one sided and thin. Not great for postcard use. So solve this issue, Christine crafted a nice looking back side to be in the same dimensions as our photos. Then we bought some glue and went to town. And by went to town, I mean we had “craft-night” in our friend Dimitriy’s kitchen and then later spent days on the train hand-making postcards.


Tree, sticking the two sides together

This involved a complex process of lamination (we painted glue on the backs, put the photo fronts on, then left them under a heavy stack of books for a few hours) and edge sealing (a bead of glue) applied with precision edge-sealer (a steady finger).

In all seriousness, though, they are turned out beautifully. We think so, anyway. Anyone who has received one already, would you care to leave comments either vouching for or debunking this claim? Let us know what you thought of yours.









We probably spend much more time debating which photograph to send to each person than we should, but trying to match a picture to a person is a challenging and fun process. Hopefully we are succeeding well enough. Also, each post card is limited in print. So far, only two of each exists and I don’t expect this to change. We have more than enough photos we want to share.


Christine, licking out those stamps


We have had some trouble in this area; We have been running out of room to write.


Russian post offices look pretty similar to those in the US except for the sale of lottery tickets, cigarettes, and children’s books. However, I have heard stories warning of reliability. If you don’t receive a postcard after a month, it may have been eaten by the Lake Baikal Monster. Send us an email and we will dispatch another!

A mailbox that looks unsettlingly like a trash can














At the Post Office {Почта}


Hand photographed, hand-glued, hand sealed, hand-written. Really cool. Tell your friends.



Searching for Inspiration

30 Jul

Kazan at sunset, looking towards our campsite from the other side of the river.

I think all journeys somehow naturally contain a difficult lull that always seems to come at a crossroad. It is that mythical moment when two travelers, dehydrated weary and worn from months of moving their feet, arrive at a dusty intersection with three signs: Backwards, Nowhere, and Nowhere. All that can be done is the setting-down of each heavy pack to gaze, but nothing in sight gives a ready indication of which ‘Nowhere’ could lead to somewhere. Maybe both eventually will, but there is no telling. The combination of low spirits and a severe lack of clear strong choices is a potent poison. In rock climbing it is called the crux: a move or section of a climb, often coming well into a route when one’s muscles are already fatigued, that is particularly difficult. Every movement is more precarious and each decision is harder to make. Sometimes the crux is only difficult because of its timing.


Kazan has been strange to us. We came here over one month ago and found our journey’s internal forces impatiently hurrying us along with nagging shoves. And so we moved. We returned here with the same purpose, and this time successfully made our way to Kamskiye Polyany (which I still have yet to write about, I know).

We left there, though we enjoyed our time and felt we could have done more work, because we did not wish to strain the generosity and over stay the welcome of so many wonderful people who opened their homes for us to eat elaborate home-made food, bathe, and lay down our heads for a moment. Russians are generous and loving people to their guests, which makes for a difficult debt for low-budget travelers with which to keep up. We must be careful not to abuse or forget it.

Back in Kazan we have run into a few problems. We don’t know where to go, and we don’t know where to stay. 1) We now have less than three weeks before we hurdle ourselves back across the Atlantic and onto our native soil, and the pressure to return with a beautiful documentary. 2) As of yet, we have not heard back from our busy friends in Baikalsk about a private factory tour. 3) Christine still needs to leave the country for one week in order to meet her visa requirements upon our departure. 4) We have one more specific town of interest to visit, but it is back on the other side of Moscow making it best left to be done once we are already in that area. Logistically, we also can’t spent two weeks there. 5) Here and now is a saturated travel time in Kazan, and we cannot find consistently reliable accommodations within our budget. Finding a bed to sleep in has become so difficult and time consuming that before we’ve realized, an entire day has been spent finding a place for just one night. The next day, this cycle repeats and we’ve had little chance to plan our next move.

Further, I have my own illogical and distracting reason for wishing to stay here in Kazan for two more days, however unrealistic and impractical doing so may be.


Backed into this strange corner of simultaneously having not enough and far too much time, we have taken up living in a tent. It was cheaper than spending a night in a hotel and promises future use, though it does mean getting rid of more personal items and gifts to make room in our backpacks. We found a little paradisiacal and secluded spot of beach with a beautiful view of the Kazan Kremlin and Mosque, where the sand is soft and the shade is cool. It should be a good place to think and write.


Our stable roof {Крыша!} and fortress against the incredible might of Russian mosquitoes , with the Kazan Kremlin behind it.


Our options, as we have recently discussed them, amount to this:

-We hitchhike down to a city in the Samara region south of us called Smyshlyaevka [Смышляевка] which is sort of a monogorod of 7,300 and contains a very large aircraft graveyard. The settlement is based around a large airport that, through various years, was used for passenger airline access to nearby Samara and later military activities. I can’t seem to find what it is used for now other than the graveyard and an aircraft club. From there I could head to Ufa and visit my friends while Christine clears her visa in Ukraine, then we would head to Moscow and Pikalevo, and home;

-We stay here, trapped forever in limbo;

-We start making our way to the Black Sea and attempt to pass through as many monogorod as possible along the way, spending only a few hours in each to take some pictures and video for a montage sequence. Christine’s visa requirements are taken care of by being in Ukraine. I think this option has been removed due to impracticality and time limits;

-We head west of Moscow and up north to the Murmansk region, and do a montage there. Christine could clear her visa in Finland, then we could visit Pikalevo on the way back to Moscow.


For whatever reason, none of these options rings a bell of confidence. Backwards, Nowhere, and Nowhere. Soon the moment will come, though, when we must re-don our packs and head towards that mysterious, unknown somewhere. Perhaps all we need do is catch up on writing a few postcards, and then take that proverbial first step for the great winds of life to carry us away and give us direction again.

To Kazan For Free, Please

27 Jul

Our signs "To Kazan for free, please"


Just in case you were curious, this is sometimes how we travel and how we got to Kazan from Kamskiye Polyany yesterday.

Standing in center of town, we made signs and waited for someone who was willing to give us a free ride back to Kazan.  We got many honks and waves from people we had met as well as new humored friends.  We even had someone pull over with a trunk full of half horse heads and say if he didn’t have to go feed some lions he would help us.  After about thirty minutes, we had a nice man pull over in his Lada and offer us a ride, as he was going to Kazan himself.   He drove for a while, telling us about the various rivers we passed and trucks that he worked with, when the heat of the car and the blueness of the rivers became unbearable.  Pulling off the road he found a sandy bank and drove up, stripping down to his underwear and heading towards the water and ordering us to follow suit.  Sometimes we are lucky, other times we are really lucky, but more often than not, you just really need to pull over and go for a quick swim.

Kamskiye Polyany [Камские Поляны]: A place of beautiful fields and people that was very nearly a city

26 Jul

For the last three days, Christine and I have been adventuring around Kamskiye Polyany with our dear new friend, the beautiful Yanina. She is a journalist from Novosibirsk, recently working and living in Kazan. The collision of our paths at a friendly gathering in Kazan was yet another inexpressibly fortunate event following our change in plans mentioned early. I keep thinking that one day all this consistent luck must eventually run out, but it hasn’t yet and we are making the very best of it that we can.


Our days here in Kamskiye Polyany have been long, beautiful, and rich. Now it is growing late (after 1am) on our last night here, and we have some traveling to do tomorrow so I will keep this short and suspenseful. You will just have to come back for more, because the whole story is one you won’t want to miss. I will, however, let it slip that this story involves abandoned casinos, an unfinished nuclear reactor, secret swimming spots, and all the great people we can’t wait to tell you about.


Here are a few teaser pictures.


Nikolai, 'our' neighbor



Dacha party



Also, if you haven’t watched our promo video on kickstarter, get on it. And if you haven’t made all of your friends watch it, get on that too. Remember that telling all of your friends is a wonderful form of supporting us. Thanks again to all of the people who have been supporting us in every way possible.

Metallurgist Day (День Металлурга)

23 Jul

If I could craft the ideal scene in our film it would involve everybody who we have filmed throughout our time here, all cooking and enjoying a meal. It would be the scene in which everybody and everything comes together. Where they just all sit back and enjoy one anothers company and for those few hours, everything is perfect. Realistically, this could never happen. These handfuls of people live in different parts of the country, few knowing one another, and it would just never happen. If there was a moment, though, where it got close, it was Metallurgy Day in Krasnouralsk.

Crowd members cheering for the musicians on the park stage the night before Metallurgy Day.



Coming in on an afternoon bus and meeting our lovely translator of the weekend, Svetlana, we began to walk to find some food. As we walked through the seemingly new streets of Krasnouralsk, we noticed not only the new fountain (turned on just days before the big holiday) and the newly painted curbs, but also live music coming from a park. In between two buildings there was a small performance. Walking up, we noticed that it was a band we had filmed our previous time in Kranouralsk). As we stood back up to watch, Vasiliy came up to greet us and the band noticed, then called us towards the humble park stage to announce the arrival of their American friends. From there, looking to the crowd, we saw handfuls of familiar faces singing and dancing along to the local music. It was about as close to my ideal scene as I could ever hope for, and Metallurgy Day hadn’t even begun.


We began the holiday early the next morning with Vasiliy taking us mushroom hunting: A Russian goal realized as we tromped through the forest looking for the most delicious, non-poisonous mushrooms we could find. To my surprise, it is a lot more hardcore than I had imagined. You need a knife, an extreme amount of bug spray and protective clothing to fend off mosquitoes. Needless to say, this is a new favorite pastime of mine although I’ve yet to do it since.  I could easily write a whole blog post on just this event, but I feel like that would just be too much excitement, as [ending spoiler!] there are fireworks eventually involved.  So to try to not get you too worked up with excitement, I’ll just post a few pictures and let you imagine how great this was.


Tree and Vasiliy picking out the best, non-poisonous mushrooms.


Our hardcore National Geographic pictures of us with cameras and knives in the forest. So we were only hunting mushrooms, but it was still a hunt and we still got to carry knives.

Upon our arrival back to Krasnouralsk, the Metallurgy celebrations had truly began.  Brief history lesson: Metallurgy Day started as a Soviet celebration of the metal and rock industry that supports the entire Ural region.  It is a celebration of the work they do, and the biggest holiday of the year.  This year was extra special, as it was simultaneously the 80th anniversary of Krasnouralsk being a town.  Howevver, we are under the impression that every year is this big.

The beginning of the parade, bands and marchers going through the newly painted and washed center of Krasnouralsk. Photo by Tree Gore.

The events kicked off with a parade. Between the bands and people marching in the parade, every person in this town of 30,000 was either involved or spectating. Or the city imported people to participate as the streets were full of people. The parade ended at the stadium, along the way passing the rows of shashleek, cotton candy, and carnival games. The evening progressed into concerts of local bands, pop singers from Moscow, dancers, and ended with, nothing less spectacular fireworks and a laser show. It was the biggest celebration I had ever witnessed and a new favorite. Perhaps it is my new favorite because of how fantastic it was, but I am pretty sure it is more because of the sense of community you could just feel as everybody greeted on another with “Happy Holiday”, “С Праздником.”



A little girl, dressed up and with a wig to celebrate the holiday.


A boy selling balloons among smoke from grills and people waiting in line for carnival games, enjoying one another in the meantime.


A handful of old and new friends at the stadium waiting for the evening performances to start.


Tree, deciding that it would be great to see how many people we could get to dance with us in front of the camera. This may have lasted a couple of hours.


And, of course, it is not a celebration without fireworks.


Unfortunatly, we will not be visiting Krasnouralsk anymore on this journey. It has been one of our favorites, with us never grudging to visit it once more. As our project begins to see its end within the next month, we feel like we’re only beginning to see the real Russia. With each person we meet, we begin to realize that we are not having typical Russian tourist experiences, or even adventures many who have lived here their whole lives get to have. Yet we feel too like we are just starting to understand life here, of course as we are forced to plan our departure in the next few weeks. Looks like if we want to understand even more, we’ll just have to move here one day.

A few more words on Baikalsk, after the fact [Байкальск]

21 Jul

Baikalsk at night

Oh Baikalsk. Where do I even begin to write about you? Some adventures are not within the scope of my writing abilities to share, nor should they be on this blog if I were able. Such is the case with our misadventures in Baikalsk. For anyone interested in those stories, we will regale you in person and to whatever scale is appropriate in the film. The bland summary is available in the post about our teaser video on Kickstarter.

Despite the positive outcome, I will say that our experiences there left us in a slump. I noticed in the following days that we were slower to reach for our cameras, slower to look through the lens, and slower to release the shutter. All experiences have their lessons, but I am not sure exactly what this one is. I only have speculations. Whatever the case it is a fortunate plot that our arrival in Yekaterinburg was already planned to dump us directly into Krasnouralsk, our familiar cove, for Metallurgy Day. I am getting ahead of myself, or rather blog.

Our train ride back from Irkutsk to Yekaterinburg was a quiet one, and I am grateful for that. I watched in reversal the transformation of landscape and tried to keep my mouth closed and my mind active. We accomplished a good amount in Baikalsk that shouldn’t be overshadowed. So, back to that beginning:



Not 10 minutes after stepping out of the brutal marshruta-bus that brought us to Baikalsk, our trio met a friendly former-journalist named Tatiyana while purchasing a late lunch. She was now working as an administrator at the local community college in addition to a tourism management position. I don’t think anyone in Baikalsk supports themselves with a single job.


Interview with Tatiyanna. Photo by Christine Armbruster.

Besides giving us a detailed and fantastic history-to-present synopsis of the city, she gave us her number and offered to arrange a meeting with her artist friends in the symbiotic town of Utulik (Oo-too-leek).


In terms of history, Utulik is significantly the elder settlement. Baikalsk was only recently formed in the 1960’s around the ground-breaking of the paper mill, whereas Utulik has been a village about as long as anyone has lived on the south end of Lake Baikal, we were told. Those living there explained to us that adjoining areas have come to depend on each other; Utulik provides the culture, heritage, and artistic liveliness that keeps moral up by holding festivals and decorating the city, and Baikalsk provides the tangible work, wages, college education, and industrial core.


Christine and Valeriy on a bench that he carved

The chainsaw used with delicate precision. Photo by Christine Armbruster.

Valeriy spent his career in Baikalsk working as a firefighter, and is now a pensioner who decorates the city with his chainsaw sculptures. He lives in Utulik and spends his time roaming the nearby forests, collecting massive tree trunks and pretty bits of wood which he then carves primarily with a chain saw. He was gracious enough to give us a live demonstration of his art after we were taken to a few of the many locations where his work is situated.


He too explained to us the near worthlessness of most people’s pensions. For those who already spent most of their lives barely keeping their financial heads above water, a retiree is fortunate to get even close to a monthly US$200. Luckily, he said, no one has any illusions about their pensions in Russia and it teaches people to be self-reliant.


Anatoli, electrician turned painter. Photo by Christine Armbruster.

Lake Tahoe, Russia. Photo by Christine Armbruster.

Anatoli, another Utulik resident, worked as an electrician at the paper mill, where his wife still works as a shift manager. Since retirement he took up painting, landscaping his yard, and collecting animals for his many aquariums. In his yard he has a pond-replica of nearby Lake Baikal as well as another replica of Lake Tahoe.




Anatoli's house

Both Valeriy and Anatoli spent their lives building the houses they live in.


Valeriy in front of his hand-built home. Photo by Christine Armbruster.












Back in Baikalsk-proper the following day, Christine Dimitriy and I were walking around trying to find the motivation to strike up conversations and fend off the slump caused the night before. A few times we walked by a long, wooden street market area, empty save for one lady and her daughter selling fish. Stopping to talk to her was one of our better project decisions. Her name was also Tatiyana, and she worked at the paper mill.


Prior to 2009, management of the mill began to warn employees of the looming possibility that the operation would shut down. Many people did not believe, but she, her husband, and her daughter packed up and moved to Novosibirsk to take advantages of better wages and more stability. The new life did not last long, however. Their grandmother became dangerously ill, and not long after leaving the family returned to their old town and jobs to take care of their own. It was then that long standing fears came true, and the paper mill closed its doors.


There were no jobs, and no one had any means to leave. They sold their car, family heirlooms, furniture, and anything of else of value just to put food on the table. Tatiyana told us that the city worked to provide menial jobs and pay, but there were just too many people without employment and without the mill the city didn’t have money either.


One year later, operations at the mill started again. Most former employees were able to return to work, but the city is still very much recovering and the future is anything but certain. Could the mill close again? Yes. What will people do? No one can even think about it. The first time, they had items to sell. Now, everything has already been sold.


Even with her and her husband both working again, the wages are not enough. And so she sells fish, and works half a dozen other side jobs to bring in whatever extra money they can. Her daughter will be old enough to enroll in a university soon. Their only focus now is to make enough money to send her through a good program where she can become a pilot or train-engineer and land a stable, well paying job.

A sobering reality.


A mixed and muddy departure. Photo by Christine Armbruster


And so we left Baikalsk, with hopes of a future return. But not without enjoying the Banya with Dimitriy!


All bloated and pink from the Banya, with cool hats. Hot!



What we have been doing

20 Jul

OK. So we have gotten feedback that people are curious about more than just the towns we are visiting. You have been asking us questions surrounding where we are staying, how we are getting around, how we are meeting people, and where we are on a daily basis. All that stuff. So, we are going to start divulging that information as frequently as possible. As our final month here is rapidly and rudely invading our personal space of comfort and throwing us down a rapid slope towards our departure, we are keeping very busy but will try our best to be frequent.


I am now sitting on the floor of a friend’s flat in Kazan. We arrived in this city for the second time yesterday afternoon on a train from Yekaterinburg. Our plan was to catch up on the boring office-work side of our project, and head to Kamskiye Polyany this weekend with our friend Maria, whose flat we are staying at. However, she just learned today that the architecture firm where she is employed has entered some new competitions and they will be working overtime for a while. This means she will be unable to join us and we need to find some new adventure partners. But, finding someone who is willing to abandon their life for up to a week to travel and translate on short notice and for no pay is not always easy…


This is a perfect time to explain how we have been doing this all along. As neither Christine nor I speak fluent enough Russian to be able to engage in heavy conversations about life history, fluctuating economies, and a persons dreams, we have been finding volunteer adventures who speak fluent Russian and English. We offer to cover travel expenses and a chance at some adventure in return for the help. But how do we find people?


There is a wonderful web-network of traveling adventurers and intellects called Couch Surfing. For those who have not heard of it, Couch Surfing is, in its simplest form, a network of people who allow people like us to travel cheaply by offering their couches as a place to sleep. More correctly though, it is a powerful network of open-minded people who have made their lives open and available by offering friendship to fellow couch-surfers.

To get involved, a person simply needs to sign up and go through a verification of identity and location process (to ensure safety).  You then have the chance to offer any spare bed, couch, floor space, or even simply time to those passing through your area. In return, you have access to millions of people all over the world offering the same to you should you end up traveling yourself. Many people can’t offer a place to stay, but offer to meet up for coffee and a stroll around town. Instant friends, all over the world. It is also a much better way to connect with a culture than staying in a hotel.

Not only has couch-surfing been invaluable to us in finding a place to unload our heavy, camera filled backpacks and sleep for a night, but it has provided a strong starting point for meeting people to join us in our investigation of life. We search for couch-surfers with strong language skills in cities nearby the smaller ones we wish to visit and tell them what we are up to. Many are busy with jobs or university and so can’t travel, but they all have friends and acquaintances. Eventually, we find ourselves an improvised travel partner willing to head off into the unknown for a few days.

All of our couch-surfer friends are representations of the best that humanity has to office in completely unique and memorable personalities, and this project would never have left the big cities without them. Many of those we have met grew up themselves in precisely the types of small single-industry cities we are trying to reach. They understand the struggles and joys of small city life, and therefore understand the goal of the project.

And so today, we are reaching out to the adventurous souls of Kazan, hoping to find someone who is interested and able to spend 4 hours in a hot, bouncing bus to Kamskiye Polyany to walk around and talk to strangers for a few days. Wish us luck!

Our Teaser Video Kickstarter!

16 Jul

Life is full of many adventures if you are willing to seek them out. Here, in Russia we have been trying to investigate life, unfiltered and genuine in all its ugliness and beauty. In Siberia we spent some time in Baikalsk. Our time there ended in a rather educational misadventure: Christine, Dimitry and I were arrested while trying to obtain some needed footage of the paper mill there. It was our mistake: UNESCO was to arrive the next day to investigate pollution of Lake Baikal by the mill, and everyone was on a heightened watch for ‘eco terrorists and eco terrorist journalists.’ Woops. Given the 40 year history of environmental protests to close the mill, it is no surprise that everyone was on edge. Before you ask, don’t worry. We are fine! We had to give up all our footage, but despite the worrisome start the experience ended on a positive note. We made friends in the local police department and in the factory management. There is even hope that we will be able to return for an inside tour.

For today, Christine and I are back in Krasnouralsk to visit Vasiliy again with our friend Sveta to help us out. Today is Metallurgy Day, one of the biggest holidays in the Ural region because of the dependence on metal related industries. It is commonly celebrated by all mining and smelting towns around here and is quite a big deal. Parades, bands, parties, and games. Oh, and don’t worry, we also went mushroom hunting this morning. More on all of this later.

At this moment I would like to announce that we have launched our Kickstarter campaign and released the first of a few teaser videos. Please read the information on the kickstarter page for the what and why.

Links to our teaser video on Kickstarter

Christine and I really can’t express enough gratitude to everyone who has helped us with the project up to this point. With all that has already been given to help tell this story, it would be a shame to let it go to waste. So please, tell everyone you know about what we are doing! Every word passed on to new ears helps. Also, look forward to some posts elaborating on the killer items we will be making for you! It is borderline immature how excited we are about them. Maybe that just means we are crazy, but it could also mean they are as great as we think they are!

Lake Baikal

13 Jul

As a child, a revered adult once told me that what I was seeing across the San Francisco Bay was China. I believed it for many years and even have memories of defending my firm belief that had been so sure in my mind to all my well oriented friends. Their claim was that it was San Francisco, mine was China. Currently, while writing this and looking across Lake Baikal, I am the closest to China that I have ever been. The distanced mountains are still not China, but maybe this time China would not be too much of a stretch.


Tree and our translator/guide/friend from Irkutsk walking towards Lake Baikal.


We made it out to Baikalsk, unfortunately for this trip, what has become our furthest point east..  132 km from Irkutsk and 785 from China. I had anticipated this town to be the worst off of the ones we have visited.  The only stories I had heard of the town were of pollution and a factory that had closed and reopened multiple times within the last twenty years.  But that is just from the one sided, and unfortunately most publicized point of view.


There is an on-going battle here in Baikalsk. The paper mill is the main industry, argued to be a major pollutant of the lake and surrounding environment. The battle has been between the factory and environmentalists for more than 40 years. On one side a protection of the lake is demanded, and on the other jobs to support families are demanded. Some scientists say that the lake, being the biggest (and oldest) in the world, can clean up the pollution itself and is not damaged by the factory at all. However, others are saying that the jobs at the factory are the worst paying and most dangerous in the area.  Only those who do not know any better or do not have any other option work there. However, those are jobs for an entire community.  As a supplemental industry, tourism is currently in the process of being developed.  Ski resorts have opened and promotions of the lake are made to help bring in some extra money.  Nearly everyone we met tried to help us with accommodation or various other aspects of tourism.  One of which ended up being on of the most important and dearest friends we have made this trip.  

Our first night in Baikalsk, we went on a little adventure to see the lake.  We ran into a group of children playing a game involving a cart, a giant mud puddle, and some bottles.  The task was to fill the bottles, make it across the imagined lake, and then pour water from the muddy pit to create a waterfall and fill a hole about 15 meters away.  We played with them for a bit, photographing them as they completed their mission.


The big crossing. Kids near the lake trying to get across a much smaller and muddier lake on a cart.


Rough waters. Sometimes it is hard to get across a big mud pit, especially when you have precious, water-filled containers.


Victory. A boy shortly after accomplishing the task of dumping water into a pit for another victory in their neighborhood game.


After playing for a while, the kids packed up to go home, this boy in particular kept showing off how he could skid on his bike. Photo by Tree Gore.

Later in the evening we ran into another group of kids.  We were at a kiosk looking for a map of the small town, to the amusement of the giggly woman working.  The kids approached us, having seen foreigners with cameras.  They insisted on photographs being made and teaching us how to play hand games such as rock/paper/scissors.  The great thing about small towns is, well, how small they are.  Meeting these kids on the street, we became friends with them not just for the 10 minutes we talked to them, but each time we ran into them for the rest of trip.  Many times they would stop us to say hello or shout our names and wave from bicycles across the street.  That is one reason why I think small towns are quite wonderful.  It is easy to get to know everyone there, and once you do make friend with them, you actually see them again.  It makes maintaining friendships a lot easier.


Neighborhood friends hanging out around a kiosk one evening in Baikalsk. We ended up being good friends with the one on the left, as we seemed to see him everywhere while there. Photo by Tree Gore.


Trying to show us how to play various hand games such as a version of rock/paper/scissors. Photo by Tree Gore.


Later on, one of us will write something of a bit more substance regarding the handful of interviews and events that took place in Baikalsk.  In the meantime, I’m going to end here, leaving you to think that all we did in Baikalsk was play with kids in the streets.



Deep into Siberia

7 Jul

Christine and I spent the last 56 hours rumbling across the vastness of Siberia. We hopped on a train in Yekaterinburg and watched as the rocky, uneven foothills of the Ural Mountains smoothed into the ironed flatlands passing Omsk, and later Novosibirsk. Beyond that and on towards Krasnoyarsk, the flatlands rippled again into hills, this time covered in lavender-pink flowers and Aspen trees. Last night we peered from a dirty train window as the sun set into a short, modest veil of night behind which the landscape continued to change.


Most of the night was spent with our darling, travel-collision friend, Charlotte, discussing life, love, traveling, and music. Having left her home in London, she is braving the road to Mongolia on her own to realize, among many goals, the dream of spending her 25th birthday in a yurt. The night before, the three of us went on a high-speed photo adventure around the Novosibirsk station during our brief stop their. Here are some of our finds.

Novosibirsk train station along the famed Trans-Siberian Railroad. 1am perhaps.


Novosibirsk - I couldn't help but love this train conductor, standing in the cabin reading a book. It may have been a manual or checklist of some sort, but he was reading for a quite a while, waiting. I like to think it was a novel.


Novosibirsk- I was meandering back to my car when I spotted this girl in the train car window. She looked so lonesome, pensive, and longing. At first I was afraid to lift my camera, thinking that she would see me and move. But I did, and she stayed deeply buried in her own thoughts.



The night’s conversation left me restless and unable to sleep. And so I stayed perched by a window waiting for sunrise. It was a good decision. My first Siberian sunrise was a spectacular experience, incapable of being neatly trapped within the constraints of a photo despite my best efforts. During the night, the lavender-pink flowers mostly faded away into denser Aspens and pines, and deeper green grasses that crowded out the villages into more sparsely occurring grey and blue wooden clusters. A quiet gentleman named Ivan, whom I had almost-wordlessly met and befriended earlier the day before over some photographs, woke and joined me for a while. He was the only other stirring soul in the wagon. Through the noise of the open window, he spoke slow,  soft Russian. “You didn’t sleep.” Not really a question. “No. I couldn’t.”  I didn’t try to explain why, but he looked at me and seemed to understand. “This is a big country,” he said a few moments later, in his slow, pensive way that made me think he knew everything and meant more. A few more spaced words were exchanged as we both gazed at the fluid, painting scenery before he disappeared again. We both gazed with different eyes. Mine from an extended night, his from an early morning. Mine with excitement and naivety, wrapped in the unknown. His with experience and the familiarity. Sometimes good company is very simple.

Maybe 3 hours West of Irkutsk. One attempt at capturing the uncapturable.


A train with a different opinion, heading West.

Pictures. Words. Memories. All have their limitations.


The two days before leaving Yekaterinburg were spent again in Krasnouralsk with our dear new friend Vasiliy. It was a good weekend to be elaborated on later.

Until next time, dear friends!