Our last adventure in the Siberian countryside left us feeling like it might be a good idea to stick to the highway for at least a few days. Though off-roading in our LRC is exciting, we want to be sure we'll actually make it to our final Russian destination in one piece. Nevermind for the moment that we have absolutely no idea where that might be.
Ready for a trance-inducingly easy day of freeway driving, we leave Omsk heading east on the M51 towards Novosibirsk.
After less than two hours of rolling on smooth pavement, our good-roads-only resolution is already lacking in appeal. Our view is monotonous to say the least:
Looking at our map for a way out, we notice a marker which Evgeniy's friend Danil told us about: the huge and "mystical" Lake Chany. We're not sure what is so magical about it, but we agree that it sounds promising enough to leave the security of the highway.
Putting a mass of smoggy vehicles behind us, we take a right turn on to a quiet country road. As per usual, it disintegrates with haste. Soon we are subjecting ourselves and our car to a systematic death-by-shaking as we head into the countryside once more.
As we jumble along the washboard of dirt, mud and gravel that passes for a secondary road in Russia, Tara tries to read to me about Lake Chany. But, she can't make out a single word on our laptop, thanks to all the jangling about.
So, we pull over, hop online (the novelty of being on the internet in the middle of Siberia with no effort has not yet worn off. Thank you Evgeniy!) and read some surprising articles. Lake Chany supposedly has its own Loch Ness monster!
There have been nineteen deaths on the lake in the last three years. Many of the bodies have not been recovered, and some of those which have washed ashore reportedly did so with large bite marks and gaping wounds! A local man even claims to have witnessed his best friend being sucked into lake while fishing, never to be seen again. Intense.
When Tara is done reading, we pull back on to the road as I teasingly suggest that we go swimming. She responds with a harsh, "NYET!", informing me that we may as well just star in our own horror film. Then, as she often does, she shares with me an elaborate tangent she's just imagined. It is about the corny movie which would follow our mysterious deaths in the wilds of Siberia.
When I was writing this, I was having a hard time capturing the absurdity of the moment: us flailing around the car like a pair of rag dolls in a rock tumbler, driving through the wilds of Siberia while she acts out some elaborate idea with gusto. She was more than happy to recount it for me, complete with voices and sound effects:
Tara's Horror Story:
Two naïve tourists. One haunted lake. Will a dare from the village locals cost them their life?! We join the pair as they are sitting on the shore, watching the sun set.
Derek Hey baby, how about a moonlit swim?
Kimberly (in lilting little girl voice) No way, you know this lake is haunted!
Derek Naw, that's just a stupid legend! You're not afraid are you?
Kimberly play punches Derek in his rippling muscle, with a pout.
Kimberly No, I'm not afraid!
Derek Well, let's go then.
They stand up, holding hands, and slowly walk into the murky water. Soon, they are swimming, bobbing around. They start to make out, when Derek, ever the douchebag, reaches down and grabs Kimberly's ankle with a jerk. She screams as she goes underwater, then resurfaces, swishes her wet, blond hair out of her face in indignation, and slaps Derek.
Derek forcefully wraps her in his huge arms, as if this is somehow an apology. They start to make out, even though the water is too deep for this, and in reality they'd be busy treading water to stay afloat. After some time, they unglue their faces.
Derek I'm gonna go grab a beer, I'll be right back.
Kimberly pouts, but he goes anyway, creating waves with his massive biceps as he swims. Derek is on shore, bent over a styrofoam cooler, cracking open a beer. Cut to Kimberly in the water. She's paddling around nervously, when suddenly, something grabs her. She disappears instantly. A few bubbles float up, and all is silent. Derek turns back towards the lake.
Derek Hey baby, do you want me to bring you…
Derek (realizing she's not there) Kimberly? Kimberleeyyyy!?
An owl hoots in the distance and crickets chirp as Derek chucks his beer to the ground. In slow motion, he runs towards the lake (zoom in on feet pounding the sand). Derek swims out, looking left and right, determined.
Derek Kimberly? Quit messing around! KIMBERLYYYYY!?
Derek dives underneath the dark water to search. He comes up for air, unsuccessful, then goes again. He resurfaces once more, looks around frantically, and then something grabs him too. He is sucked under with a scream. Cut to underwater battle, chaos, waves, some sort of snakey monster tentacle, wrapping and strangling, and sharp teeth hacking off limbs. Chopped up body parts float to the surface….
"I could keep going, you want me to keep going?" Tara asks playfully. I am shaking my head, laughing and wondering what in the heck it would be like to live in her brain.
Back in real life, our bumpy road disintegrates even further, ending in an impassable mud slick. We're about to turn around when a small car passes us, driving through the weeds on our left, joining a hidden dirt track running parallel to the road. They seem to be making it through without any trouble, so we follow suit.
The detour eventually turns away from the road, leading us by a small farmhouse. In front of it, there is a flock of gabbing geese:
I get out to take photos and they greet me with a wave of worried, frazzled honking, as if to say, "OH MY GOD, WHO IS THAT, WHAT IS HE DOING HERE, OH MY GOD, OH MY GOD, HE'S COMING CLOSER, AHH DON'T TOUCH ME, GET AWAY GET AWAY GET AWAYYY!!"
Eventually they become slightly acclimated to my presence. I can't stop taking photos of their dorky antics. I am totally enamored with them.
I am generally the primary photo-deleter, but not today. I had to stay Tara's hand several times for these guys. In an uncharacteristic fit of photo-protectiveness, I couldn't pick any favorites. I like them all! Here are even more of these dweebs:
While I am surrounded by geese, Tara waits in the car and watches as a person from the house across the dirt road gets in their vehicle and drives away. When they return a half an hour later, I am still among the fowl, and Tara has joined me.
The man climbs down out of his Russian van and walks over to us with a smile, his worn work boots squishing a path into the mud. He seems pleased that we like his geese and beckons us to follow him before we even have a chance to introduce ourselves.
Across the muddy yard he leads us, smiling with an endearingly innocent excitement, until we reach his flock of turkeys. Then, he makes a loud, impressively turkey-like "gblblblbllblblblbl" noise to rile the creatures up, presenting them to us proudly with a grand sweep of his arm. He then points to our camera, indicating that we should take pictures of them as well!
It is thus, through mutual amusement in feathered fowl, that we meet Safar, a kind Siberian man of Kazakh origin. After Tara briefly introduces us, his handsomely weathered face breaks into a playful grin, and he welcomes us to his farm, excited to give an impromptu tour.
The first stop is a nearby outbuilding where he keeps a flock of pheasants. There, we meet Safar's wife, Chalema, who wears a colorful kerchief and greets us with a gold-toothed smile. We also meet their young son, Dalien, who seems to enjoy doing his part to take care of the birds.
Chalema shows us the one-month-old pheasants (we think?):
…and then Dalien leads us on a trek through head-high weeds in a larger pheasant pen, searching for an elusive one-year-old bird:
When we are through, we all tromp back towards the car, talking and miming as we go.
There, we show the kind family our route, and do our best to explain what our trip is all about.
Before we can go, Chalema invites us over for tea! Tomorrow, after we've seen Lake Chagny and are on our way back towards the main road, she tells us to come by their house again. All we have to do is knock on the door, and she'll be waiting for us.
Thrilled, we all shake hands and part ways, excited about the coming day. Safar draws us a quick map to Lake Chany in the dirt using a stone, and we thank him for doing so. It is impossible to explain, however, that meeting his kind family has caused this monster-filled lake lose some of its appeal.
Nevertheless, we drive onwards, waving goodbye, following an increasingly muddy road towards the huge, haunted lake.
Up and down, over more dips, ridges, potholes and bumps than one could ever possibly count, we drive. "It feels like we're a fork in the garbage disposal!", Tara exclaims as she holds onto her seat. I agree wholeheartedly, saying, "It sounds like it too."
At length we arrive in a small village, and we can see the lake in the distance. Sadly, the path leading to it proves to be too marshy for our little red car. So, we do an about-face and content ourselves with a very distant view.
So, the lake is left unexplored, but we feel full and happy from our encounter today, and even more excited about tomorrow. We find a place to camp, and set up while swatting at some truly gargantuan mosquitoes. Having survived much worse in Norway, we scoff at their attacks. As quickly as possible, dinner is made, and we zip up our tent, removing our bug nets and settling in for the night.
Many hours after Tara has fallen asleep, I am still up, programming for my clients. We slipped out of range for our Megafon cellular internet access tonight, so I hauled out our rarely-used BGAN satellite internet receiver to send up the latest round of updates.
3AM, looks like it is time to go to sle…ZZZzzzzzzzzz