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A departure summary, of sorts

18 Aug

As I am finally sitting down to write this post, the sun is setting on my final day here in this massive country; A country I once knew only by the name Russia. Now I cannot say what it is that I really know about Russia other than the individual faces along the way. And how well do I really know them? Learning more always has that perpetually disorienting result of realizing how little is actually known. For some time now, I have been suffering from a case of the cliché. I think that maybe writers block is less often caused by having no words as it is by having far too many, and simply not knowing where to begin. The latter has been my plague, thoroughly mixed with the fear that putting this end to words would add to its inevitability. The result of all this mixing and confusion congealed to a hard wall sealing off any outlet to my streaming thoughts.

A little moment in Bashkortostan

Today, my undeniable recognition has come. Tomorrow I leave. Writing out this conclusion will not change anything, and there are no more hours left to procrastinate. So what have I been up to? That is the simplest question with which to start, and the most complex to finish.

 

A view of the last morning on my spot of beach

Christine left Kazan for Norway. That story and all the extra worries that were contemporary to it have been told. I stayed in Kazan, walking its streets and sleeping on its beach.

 

One morning, I was wandering restless from the night before. I felt the need to walk, but my weight-aching shoulders got the best of me and I decided it was time to hitchhike back to my spot of beach and take a nap. There were no cars in sight, but I held out my hand hopefully and continued to walk. A few minutes later I met Nurbek when he stopped to offer a ride. He is a dancer who specializes in traditional Tatar ballet. By the time he dropped me off, we had agreed to meet again and take some photos. A summer sunrise this far north happens somewhere not long after 3:45am, but happens a bit more slowly. To take advantage of the light, we ventured to the Kremlin at 4:30am.

 

Nurbek

 

Nurbek outside the Kremlin wall

It was a good time, but I was haunted with the already ignored knowledge that it was also time to move on. I had stayed in Kazan with a purpose, and that purpose had long departed. The advantage to living from backpack that is always worn is that one can leave without much forethought. Or possibly in more correct terms, when the subconscious reaches the point of impulse. Nurbek again gave me ride, but this time to the bus station. There I met a man behind the station with an extra seat on his unscheduled bus and ended up filling the space to Ufa.

 

The Mountain, Shuhkan - Шухан

The hard way up

 

I stayed with my friend from last year’s visit, Jhenya. We collected a crew of his friends and ventured off to what might be one of the only mountain-like hills in Bashkortostan to climb.

 

Ancient Life

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It was minute compared to the Wasatch range always towering over my roof in Utah, but we took a ‘wrong’ turn towards a ‘wrong’ way up and the climb became an adventure just the same. I even got a bit of free rock-climbing in and found some fossils along the way.

 

 

The Victorious Summit

 

A Post climb summer treat

From there, I hopped over to Moscow and met Christine. Here we have been keeping busy, though as per usual not in the ways we would have originally predicted. We enrolled in Russian language classes to help solidify the bits we had been picking up along the way, and made plans to visit Pikalevo. Due to some frustrating combinations of train schedules, bus schedules, and money limiting the practical choices within these, we figured that getting there and back in time to catch our flight would only give us 24 hours there and cost far too much to be justified by the minimal time. Instead, we combed the streets of Moscow in search of additions to our soundtrack. We found many gracious musicians willing to be recorded and used in our film in exchange for the clips we filmed of them.

 

Classy Musicians

This particular trio was brilliant. Their drummer is 84 years old, by the way, and all of them held their own as both classy and classic performers. I would like to thank them for “one more happy song,” as they put it.

 

Some strange workers housing in downtown Moscow. Not sure how this works, exactly.

As this is the final piece of piece of writing that I will be posting from atop the native soil and among the very people inspiring this work, I felt a heavy pressure to pour out collecting words of inspiration that would somehow tie together the messy loose ends of this broad adventure. In this, I am afraid to admit that I find myself wholly inadequate for the moment.

 

However, the nature of a journey is not limited to confines of distance from the familiar. This particular journey, for instance, began long before I ever set foot in Moscow or even booked the flight from New York City. In just the same way, I think this journey will continue long after my return. Perhaps it will continue until some time after much sifting and sorting and reflecting has slowed and a conclusion emerges.

 

As for now, all I can do is objectively speculate of the future that tomorrow I will be back in the United States. Walking on American ground. Breathing American air.

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.