In the middle of 2500 reindeers!
Wednesday March 24, 2010 - 63.22140° N; 170.09783° E
Day 15th, Saturday March 27th 2010
Brigade #6, Southwestern corner of Chukotka
Location: N 63° 22.140'; E 170° 09.783'
Total: 138kms, 122 kms since Vayegi
If some of you still wonder why I do what I do is to be able to earn days like today where I am able to connect with such fascinating, intriguing and inviting characters!
Nyurgun and I currently are staying in company of Brigade #6, 100+ kilometers from the nearest village, composed of 2500 reindeers, a few guarding dogs, 7 Chuvanyest men, 2 Chuvanka women and 2 cute little boys, Mishka and Anton, bundled in reindeer fur!
After an epic time on the trail, going over a few steep and challenging mountain passes with a heavy sled, waiting through three heavy snow storms with temperatures varying from -30c to an alarming melting peak at +2c right before one of the storm, as well as dealing with some damaged feet and a broken ski binding that needed a few repairs, I was ecstatic to find Brigade #6 on Thursday evening March 25th, one day ahead of Nyurgun with whom I had been separated as the result of a snow storm.
The last few hours while looking for the brigade felt like I was back in my days of "adventure racing" looking for a hidden checkpoint, since the brigade had moved 8+ kilometers away from the approximate location we were told it would be at, while collecting valuable information in Vayegi.
Looking for better "pastures", Brigade #6 had indeed moved into a little hidden valley, off the main Nutavaklivaam river, where they can corral their reindeers.
Although, I must say, its a whole different matter though from the AR world when you spend an afternoon looking for a brigade while pulling a heavy sled with bruised feet, where every kilometer matters!
So, here I am, after having crossed Chukotka diagonally, finally able to enjoy some valuable time with reindeer shepherds, eating more reindeer than you can fathom, sleeping in a Kukul reindeer bag, under a beautifully constructed large tent made of reindeer hides (which would put any of my friends camps to shame at Burning Man...) heated by a nice warm stove, and floored with pine tree branches and more warm reindeer fur.
The tent, tipee like, was lighten up at night by one single lamp oil and where one could hear from time to time the grizzling sound of a shortwave radio trying to catch news on Radio Russia...
This definitely felt like I had been travelling a bit in time, like let's say back in the 1950's...
Not a bad place to hang out though one extra day by any means to get my bruised feet some tine to repair partially and especially after the days spent on the trail in the storm, where I was praying that the purga/storm was not going to tear apart my sturdy 4 seasons tent ...
Being waken up in the morning by the hammering sound of deer hooves digging deep in the snow around the camp, looking for any type of vegetation they can eat is also a new experience that I quite enjoy. From time to time, I can also hear the little dogs, guarding the camp, barking and growling when the reindeers get way too close to the tents...
Talking of dogs, I have not heard or seen any of the big dogs..aka, the wolves!
But we know that they are around by the sight of their prints and scats, waiting to prey and feast on a delicious reindeer, and hopefully not an expeditionist or two...
The posse here and especially the two brothers Sergey and Sasha Kurkutski in their 50's with whom we have been staying have been so welcoming, feeding us non-stop, giving me some additional bandage for my feet and Sergey even offered to take some of our cargo with their reindeer sled to the top of the first mountain pass when we leave tomorrow morning!
And as a matter of fact, I am familiar with this sled since a few days ago, while moving across a flat windy and stormy section, I saw in front of me, coming out of the sun in the opposite direction, what appeared to be a Chukchi santa, pulled by two reindeers each sporting only one antler, sitting on a sturdy sled with his dog. He was, I might add the only human we saw between Vayegi and the brigade.
At the time, him and I, stopped, exchanged a handshake and few words, and I gave him two little bottle of Southern Comfort american whiskey for the road.
Sergey was on a 4 days round trip by reindeer sled to Vayegi to go resupply and visit his wife, employee of the main grocery store in Vayegi. His first visit in 2 years and only for 5 days... One can say, not getting much vacation time these days!
At the time, I also had enough time to notice some bad frost bites on his exposed left cheek.
Well, now that I meeting him again as a host in his beautiful comfortable abode, I am able to give him a windstopper face mask to remedy potential future facial frost bites and I also took the opportunity to go through all of my gear to see what else I could give him and to the rest of the brigade, helping them out and lightening my heavy load!
While staying in the brigade, I also had the pleasure to meet two late 20's matirik (mainland) white russians visiting the brigade on fast japanese snowmobiles bought in Alaska and shipped over to Anadyr:
Genia, the young coordinator for multiple brigades, based in Vayegi. This allowed me to witness an interesting discussion in the first night between him and the chuvanyets requesting to either get a snowmobile or a wezdehod, which would facilitate their transport and the necessary relocation of their brigade every few weeks, to new grazing "pastures" instead of just relying on reindeer sleds..
Genia:"We got no money for that"
Posse:"Ahhh! We so miss the good old Soviet times when more cash was allocated to the Chukchi reindeer brigade!"
Genia's sidekick was Timothei, a smoke jumper pilot based in Anadyr, on a vacation and trying to shoot any white fat tundra rabbits he could aim at...
On a separate note, I got myself here a new hat!
My host Sergey insisted on giving me one of his "donkey" chukchi hat made of ram, dog fur, and I believe mink and decorated with intricate beadwork..
Of course, in exchange, I passed on my traditional Alaskan Inupiyak hat from Brevig Mission, made out of spotted seal, which Sergey was eyeing on...
One more connection made and one more hat passed across the Bering Strait!
I also believe that part of the strong connection we were able to make quickly, can be attributed as in previous sections of Nexus expedition, to the fact that I arrived in this brigade by foot, which according to them, was unheard of until now..
Now, finally on to some laundry, gear repair and one more afternoon and night in the brigade and then pushing on for the next 100+ kms towards Slautnoye and the Western panhandle of Kamchatka!
From the brigade #6, paka!