Khabarovsk, Russia - July 5, 2015
So am now in Khabarovsk, having arrived yesterday afternoon. Having trouble getting a Spot out of here too, so at N48 28.300', E135 04.492'. Got the visa thing sorted out in Vladivostok, but the hotel only registered it for 7 days, which means that it needs to be registered again. Hopefully the hotel here will re-register it and I will get a re-start on that.
Didn't have any trouble getting out of V. as the GPS was right on and I'm starting to adjust my driving style to the traffic here. The driver issues are a bit more sane than in a place like Turkey, but worse in other respects. It seems to be the National Passion here to have a used Japanese car, i.e., one with right-hand drive. Well, because they drive on the right, the driver is really sitting on the wrong side of the car. That makes driving on a two-lane road more dangerous for me. At home, I'm used to staying in the left-half of my lane (the "command" position), but here that can get you schmucked pretty fast. Half a car suddenly appears in your lane from behind a truck as the driver of the car moves out so he can see if the road is clear for passing. So I have to stay more right in my lane, which then encourages cars coming up from behind me to try to sneak past me in my lane. I have to do as much looking in my mirrors as I do looking ahead it seems. It really is the cars from behind that I'm concerned with.
Today is Sunday here, and the ride up from V. on Friday was very pretty I must say, Lots of lush, open land, distant hills, and stretches of deciduous forests. No serious bugs to speak of. Stopped at a small hotel, a gastinitsa, and struggled with the Russian to get myself a room. I asked for a single, but what I could understand was that the single was taken and that her other single was being renovated - as I picked up the words for "demolished" and "doesn't work". She then offered me a triple-room and a room with two twin-beds. I understood that the twin-bed room was a two-bed dorm and that perhaps "a friend" might join me, but on retrospect, I think she was saying that the room rate would of course be less if I had a friend with me and we could split. The Russian is turning out to be quite an obstacle. Even though I tell them that I only speak a little Russian and ask them to please speak slowly, they only smile and launch into a lot of extraneous talk that loses me in an instant. If they would just let me ask a question and give me a one or two-word answer, I would understand... but of course that's not how it works. And so I get answers about renovations and this and that, and I lose the gist of whether I can say there or not.
But getting from that hotel to this one yesterday was not a pleasant experience. I woke up to blue skies, all enthusiastic about the ride. Then had a pee and brushed my teeth. In that short time, it had totally clouded over with dark clouds. So it turned out to be a rain day for several hours. The construction sites that had been sandy and silty the day before just became mudholes. I think that yesterday ranks up there with some of the toughest riding ever for me. For some reason, I can't seem to see out of my visor at all when it rains now... it's probably too frosted to shed water and so I just have to raise it and try to see through wet glasses. Then it's like getting shot in the face with buckshot. And of course the construction zones are free-for-all places where people drive everywhere to jockey for position. Anyway, it was just a nightmare. Almost dumped it a couple of times. Trying to lift that bike out of the mud with all the gear hanging off of it with cars zooming by is not something I even want to visualize. It physically make me nauseous to contemplate. The other hazard seems to be on the newly-paved sections where there are unmarked cutouts in the pavement, about a foot deep, averaging 4x4 feet, some smaller some larger. They're hard to see until you're close, the best indication is seeing a car suddenly swerve ahead of you. If I go into one of those it's "Tilt! Game Over".
So at one point, with 120 km to go to the hotel I thought I would make an adjustment to my bladder. Pulled off on a little side road, took off my helmet and suddenly was assaulted by swam of some kind of biting gnat. They were just crawling into anything they could find. Not quite like the massless gnats we have at home, these things have some heft... more like black-flies. Anyway, not wanting to expose the more "sensitive" areas for them to feast on, I just got on the bike and zoomed away, no doubt adding a ruptured bladder to the list of injuries I would incur going into one of those roadway cutouts. Gnats were in my hair, jacket, pants legs... just yuck. You know, I had seen pictures, and now in person, of these tough-ass looking Russian men with bloody faces. I always assumed it was from a life of too much Vodka and fighting. Not true. Everyone in the countryside has a bloody face... from the bugs. I'm getting that way myself. I think that's how they've been recognizing me as a tourist so quickly. No holes in my face yet.
So this morning I went for a walk along the Amur River, which just down river (north) forms the border with China. So at my next big town- Blagoveschensk - I'll be able to look across the river to China. No China for me though. You must travel with a guide there and from travelers who have done it, they pretty much universally wish they hadn't. The guides allow you to go to only the finest hotels and restaurants, where of course, you have to book them a room and buy them a meal as well.
Anyway, went to a couple of museums... the art museum was particularly nice. It's interesting that you can immediately spot the crappy art between that was done between 1918 and 1997. The same old themes over and over. Not the strong Social Realism exactly, but the same idea. People toiling in the fields, factory workers, all in sombre colors. But by 2000, a total change. People swimming, picknicing, bright landscapes... an entirely different tone. Actually, the contemporary stuff if surprisingly good.
Anyway, more stuff I wanted to get into, about the people and hazards and so on, but will wait for a slow news day. I did meet a very nice Russian biker named Sergei on my first day out of V. His rudimentary English only slightly bested my rudimentary Russian and so we had lots of laughs. Anyway, he insisted on giving me a long list of other bikers he knew who would be able to help me should I have some problems. So I have now contacts all the way to Irkutsk. I asked him is they spoke English and he didn't know. So whether they can be of much help in reality, I doubt it. But it was a nice gesture all the same.
OK... planning to leave here in the morning. Two days to Blagoveschensck. No idea where to stay in between. Maybe sitting on my bike under my mosquito netting. Unfortunately, the weave is not fine enough to keep these gnats out. Gnats. Nuts.