I am looking on the map of Russia, as I am writing this. And even though I have already rode 2600 km (1615 miles) in Russia, it looks like I have done nothing of my total route to the East.
This is the first thing that hits a traveler like me when visiting this country: the sheer magnitude of the land! When I manage to come to a higher point on the road, the horizons stretch so far, even the sky seems to bend to be able to encompass this size.
I left Moscow riding eastwards, still sore from my encounter with an angry Russian truck driver that ran me off-road and crashed by the wayside. The road to Nizhniy Novgorod was busy, full of trucks and cars and not in very good shape. The asphalt is patched so many times that the result is a pitiful mix of tarmac and extremely uneven bumps that rattle your brains out. I felt sad to leave Moscow, because it is there that I made my first friend in Russia – a fellow rider named Alex, who shepherded me to safety after my accident. Once again I felt lonely on the road to the unknown East.
As I approached Nizhniy, I was trying to guess my way to the coordinates of the Fabrika hotel. My “amazing” Garmin GPS can only show me where the destination is, but not how to get there, so I was riding up and down the hills in Nizhniy to get closer to the flag on the GPS’ screen. Somehow, after a while, I managed to arrive right in front of the hotel. As I pulled in, a few young people that were outside the hotel got very excited and surrounded me, looking at my bike. I am not the prettiest sight in the world, especially with my muddy, torn apart gear, full of dust and smoke, but these young people didn’t seem to care. They helped park the bike behind the hostel and then assisted me with the bags into the room.
Over the next two days, I got to know these young people well and we became good friends. The night before my departure, they organized a party with Shashlik (meat skewers) and drinks. They took photos with my bike and we had a good time. I got to understand a little better how brilliant these Russian youth are and the amazing dreams they have. Some are artists, others engineers, all very educated and pleasant. Again, I was heading out of a new town in Russia leaving new friends behind.
My next stop was Kazan, in the Republic of Tatarstan (one of 22 semi-autonomous republics that along with 46 oblasts and other various governing regions are the federal subjects that comprise Russian Federation – Editor’s Note). This was Alex’s place, and he had already arranged for a friend of his to meet me outside of Kazan and guide me to my accommodation.
This would become a habit for Alex, to arrange things for me in advance. He is still the reason I met so many friendly people here.
As I approached Kazan, I saw a police stop at the bridge before the city. I slowed down to pass it and suddenly a policeman came in front of me indicating to me to pull over. I remembered what Alex told me in Moscow: “Never stop for police in Russia, because they will keep you there for hours and they will find a reason to get your money from you.” Therefore, I decided to keep riding and I swerved to avoid him and accelerated. He started to blow his whistle and other officers started running after me. My heart was pumping fast and I kept thinking how crazy I must be to run away from Russian police! I kept looking in the mirror to see if they would follow me, but I soon realized that they didn’t even have a vehicle with them, so I calmed down a little bit. It felt exhilarating to do a crazy thing like this in a country like Russia, but I don’t think I would do it again or advise anyone to do the same.
I arrived in Kazan and waited at a gas station for Vasya, who arrived on a Yamaha, shaking his head while admiring my bike. He then guided me to my hotel in Kazan and I went to rest. I was getting chronically fatigued and stressed by the Russian roads. And I was still weak from my accident in Moscow. My elbow was healing nicely, but my hip was still swelled up and my whole body ached (probably due to the impact when I hit the road and all the vibration after).
The next morning I awoke refreshed and headed for a town walk at seven in the morning. It was cool, the sky was clear and I was alone. I walked all the way to the Kazan mosque, Kremlin and cathedral, without any tourists or other people. Kazan is a spectacular city, on the banks of Volga, amazingly designed and very clean. In the evening Vasya and his wife took me out for a stroll in town and we spent some time getting to know each other.
On the way to Ufa, in the neighboring Republic of Bashkortostan, my GPS lead me to a completely deserted road in the middle of a forest, showing me a very large highway in front, where there was nothing but trees. I turned around and got lost again, until I managed to find a policeman that showed me how to get onto the road to Ufa. I wasted three hours in the process, so I rode for 12 hours that day, instead of nine. When I arrived in Ufa I stopped in town next to a McDonald’s and called Alex (once again). Before I could tell him where I was, he said: “I found a friend of a friend in Ufa to guide you to accommodation and take you around. He used to live in Canada.”
A few minutes later, a car pulled in and two guys came out: Dennis and Tim. Tim spoke perfect English, he lived and studied in Hamilton, Ontario for few years. I couldn’t believe that I met someone in Ufa with such close connections to my Canadian home. They found me a hotel, helped with the bags and we decided to meet the next day. I was so dusty and weird looking that I believe they thought me a crazy man.
The next day, Tim and his wife, Polina, took me to see a great airshow and re-enactment of a 1942 battle between Germany and Russia. There were soldiers dressed in the uniforms of the day, old motorbikes (my favorite), planes, parachutes and lots of people.
We ended up the day having a splendid time at a ski resort on top of the mountain. I am truly shocked by the developed status of these Russian cities, the education of the young people, their view of life and their friendliness. It has nothing to do with the image the world has about most of Russians: mega rich (even though some of them are), loud and uneducated. Their hospitality and friendship showed me the real spirit of Russia.
Nomad’s World Ride: Moscow
Nomad’s World Ride: Zambia
Nomad’s World Ride: Tanzania & Kenya
Nomad’s World Ride: Morocco
Nomad’s World Ride: Norway
Nomad’s World Ride: Baltics & Russia
Nomad’s World Ride: Moscow
Nomad’s World Ride: Moscow to Ufa
Nomad’s World Ride: Ufa to Krasnoyarsk
Nomad’s World Ride: Ufa to Krasnoyarsk