Autumn in Siberia
​Dateline: September 2008

Siberia, Russia

Russian insignia in Lenin Square.

The weather was changing; winter wasn't far away with most Russians who live in Siberia reckoning that Autumn last only three weeks; we believed them!
The colours of the vegetation though were unbelievable, especially for Aussie eyes used to the unchanging colours of our vast gum tree forests. The flush of Autumn with its ever changing hues, tints and tones were a constant source of enjoyment for us as we drove across this vast landscape. 
Like the weather though `our reception and experiences with the locals had been changeable - sometimes warm and enjoyable, others cold, disheartening and at times even threatening.
In Chita we were approached by these 3 teenage girls from the local school, all of who spoke English and were happy to talk to us.
We had arrived in Chita, a city of about 400,000 people located at the confluence of the Chita and Ingoda Rivers and the administration centre for the surrounding province, in mid morning. Once again we were trying to 'register' with the passport police (something you were supposed to do at least every three days) and once again we were stymied, with the hotels disinterested in our plight (as we weren't staying there) and the normal police bored with our predicament and the special passport police, impossible to find. The only occasion we did find them, after a near full day of searching, they too, were indifferent and unmoved by our plight or travels and told us to go onto the next city to register. Geez, it was frustrating ... and it came back to bite us!
Back in the city of Chita we were standing waiting for one of our group to come back from yet another search for a passport cop when we were approached by three teenage girls - Anna, Nastya and Yulya, who were all in grade 8 at the local school. They all wanted to practice their English and while Anna done most of the talking, the others were shy and hid their shyness behind smiles and a few occasional giggled words. They were delightful and so much wanted us to say we loved their country and were enjoying our travels; which we did. We gave them some Aussie stubby holders (for their pencils, not beer or vodka) and Yulya wanted to give us her favourite pink pencil but we talked her out of it. 
A lonely road ahead.
A short time later three young boys came up to us - obviously having spoken to our newly departed friends - and after a stammering convoluted conversation in faltering English, asked us if we could do their English homework for them! We declined, but they insisted - until we were very firm with them. They laughed and left us with waves and smiles.
Two hours later, after giving up on having our passports registered and after getting lost around the big, sparsely populated Lenin Square in the centre of the city, we were having a late lunch while pulled over, just off the road.

A fantastic section of the trans-Siberian road.
A big Russian box-like car (probably a Gaz Vogla) painted white and with near black windows pulled over suddenly, swung a tight turn and pulled into our unofficial carpark, but luckily as it later turned out, not in front of us, or blocking the exit completely. Three men got out but one was very obviously, 'the Boss' and this wasn't looking good. The three  'goons', as Viv called them later, spread out, 'The boss' in front, his henchmen to the rear and to each side. They looked like bodyguards, all from the KGB. Jabbing his finger at me, 'The Boss' demanded our paperwork and photos. This is where it's handy not to know the language and we (Viv & I and Neil & Helen) had been schooled in Africa the previous year with people just as officious as these, so we knew the game we were about to play. I played dumb, smiling, shaking my head, saying, 'No understand' and 'From Australia'; he turned to Rod demanding his passport; he smiled and said while tapping his chest, 'Australian' which made 'The Boss' angrier and his henchmen even more edgy than before. Neil was next to be questioned and while 'The Boss' was up talking to him, his mobile phone rang; with that, I started the Patrol and headed for the roadway; Rod leaping into his Ford and doing the same, Neil already in his big Ford, gunned the engine and was right up our bum as we hit the road. The Boss, yelling, arms waving, with threatening not-so-friendly gestures tried to stop us while his henchman stood waiting for orders, but it seemed as if, 'The Boss', had an important phonecall and couldn't cut it off.
Our camp after our brush with 'the Goons.
The main road was often like this.
Back on the road and 30km or so later we got pulled over at a police roadblock - a very normal occurrence when overlanding through Russia. While we were being interviewed inside the police post - well, us three boys were, the girls staying in the cars, the white Gaz and the Goons showed up. They were waved through, with us thinking, 'Well, they have some pull, gotta be KGB!'
Most villages in Sibera are poor.
Just down the road we passed a roadside bar/restaurant affair where the white Gaz was parked. As we drove past we saw the goons spy us and suddenly get up from their table, heading for their car. With no time to waste and just a few kilometres further on, over the lip of a hill and the Gaz not in sight, I saw a track on the right into the forest. We shot down that and about 2km from the main road came onto a field where the crop had been recently harvested and the grass was standing in small haystacks.

We breathed a sigh of relief when the goons didn't turn up and enjoyed what turned out to be a very pleasant overnight camp  ... but it was cold. We never saw the white Gaz again, or our three goons. It was the most unsettling experience we had while crossing Russia!
Cutting hay in Siberia. We often asked how this country became a world power.
Bartering for food at a large road side stand in a village in Siberia.
Vibrantly painted house in a Siberian village.
Autumn colours a valley scene shrouded in cloud.
Autumn colour in Siberia.
The Autumn colour are brilliant - but don't last long.
Windows were the most often painted item of a house in Siberia.
  • Passing through the Ural Mountains into Asia Russia was a highlight.
  • Mountain stream through the Ural Mountains.
  • Ural mountain village.
  • Lonely road ahead.
  • On the edge of Lake Baikal - man the weather changed that night!
  • Our campfires were most welcome!
  • Another hotel ... another fruitless search for the Passport Police!
  • This young fella liked his souvineer we gave him from Australia.
  • Viv enjoys a lovely watermelon - they were on sale everywhere and they were cheap and lucious.
​Copyright Ron & Viv Moon