I possess a strange affinity for taking unassuming vehicles to places where they might not belong. For reasons I can't really articulate, I was ecstatic about driving off-road in our trusty little econobox this morning. Maybe it is an adrenaline-thrill of possible disaster? I'm not sure, but the urge definitely warrants some reflection.
In any case, I spent the first hour of our winding drive grinning widely while exclaiming things like, "This is it, this is exactly what I wanted to do in Russia!"
I was excited to be in the countryside too, trundling along through a field, but bouncing over each rut made me cringe just a little. I often found myself squeezing the padded apholstery of my seat, arms tense. "This is our only car", I muttered occasionally, eyes wide, jabbing Tyler in the ribs with my elbow, saying: "Vigilance!!" (to which he would respond, "I am being vigilant!")
Eventually we made it to a paved road and began our trek towards Kungur. Evgeniy's friend Danil had told us not to miss the famous ice caves located in the town. Unsurprisingly, we made it nowhere near them today, as we were often waylaid, distracted by interesting goings-on in the villages we passed.
During one of our many breaks, we stopped to pick up supplies a small produkti (grocery shop). The blue-aproned shopkeeper within took her job very. seriously. She marched around the behind the counter with purpose, retrieving each item we pointed to with militant haste. If we tried to browse, she would hover with an expectant look, waiting to serve. Then, when we were through, she punched the total of our purchases on a giant calculator with an equally emphatic fervor.
Outside the shop, there was a sleepy cat hiding in the shade on the steps. When I knelt down to pet her, she started right in with a deep, throaty purring.
On our way to the car we spotted a bride and groom as they swept out of a traditional Russian home, and walked across the street into the store. I wonder what they were getting? Some celebratory ice cream for the ride to the church?
The wedding party who were waiting outside all hopped into an eggplant-colored Lada and drove off, leaving the couple to their shopping. This woman, presumably the grandmother, was left behind as well, fly-swatter in hand.
We had only driven a few kilometers past the store when we started passing all kinds of cars, parked like crooked teeth along the roadsides. A lot of them! Craning my head around in all directions, I spotted a few people with baskets in hand, heading towards what looked like a small fairground behind a mechanic's shop. It was market day! Of course we stopped to walk around.
There were stalls of all sorts, from women's clothing to bicycle parts to canning jars to school supplies. There were fruit and vegetable sellers, as well as a whole area reeking of briney fish. I spent most of my time hanging out at the stall specializing in cheap jewelry from China.
I recently lost two of my favorite pairs of earings (crappy plastic ones, only sentimentally valuable). So, I was in need of replacements – place-holders more than anyhing, so my holes wouldn't close up. I chose a cheap pair of pale blue pearls for the equivalent one dollar.
While perusing the jewelry, I bravely Russian phrase of the day (we're trying to learn at least one a day): "Minya zavoot Tara, kahk va zavoot?" She responded with a smile, "My… name, iz Natasha!" With a lot of miming, and a little German, I found out that she has a relative in Kansas City, of all places!
Once I'd bought my earrings, we picked up a cheap wallet to replace the one that got stolen. A final purchase of juicy nectarines, a tomato, and an onion, and we were on our way again.
Our stop-and-go driving continued for several lallygagging hours. We barely beat a cyclists pace for the better part of an afternoon. There is always something to stop and see out here!
It wasn't until evening started to loom that we realized the extent of our slowness. We'd covered less than one hundred kilometers in 5 hours. So, we hopped on the nearest highway and decided to pick up the pace a bit, hoping to get within easy reach of Kungur before nightfall. It is really convenient, being able to travel at a both a bicycle and car's pace depending on your mood!
An hour or two later, we stopped on the outskirts of Perm at a lovely field and forest free-camp.
It seems crazy that just a few days ago, we were bemoaning our hot and sticky state of being. Somehow, over the past two days, a distinct feeling of fall has crept into the air. I'm not sure if its a fluke, if it's fall approaching (how is it almost September again?!), or perhaps that we're heading closer to Siberia. In any case, it feels envigorating and ever so slightly chilly.
It looks like the ice caves of Kungur (I love that name—The ICE CAVES OF KUNGUR—cue jungle drums and yeti calls) will have to wait one more day.