Our first camp in Siberia was in a wet spot with clouds of particularly vicious mosquitos
. Contrary to what I was told by health professional at the travel clinic I went to before leaving home, some of the guidebooks say this region of Siberia is particularly dangerous for ticks and mosquitoes that both carry strains of encephalitis, so I cover up carefully and try to hide in my tent while much of the group parties late into the night celebrating Charlie's 39th birthday and our successful border crossing. It turned out to be a very long camp night as I was kept awake first by rain, then by a lovers' quarrel reight outside my tent, then by Sasha's drumming on the tables from the continuing party in the truck, and finally a strong thunderstorm and then gale force winds for the rest of the night. By morning the howling winds and cold made it hard to take down the tents but at least all the mosquitoes were blown all the way to the next oblast. Welcome to Siberia!
Our first full day in Siberia was a cold, windy one as we passed through an almost empty landscape of cultivated fields and pastureland, skirting a fairly large city named Barnaul and stopping briefly in a smaller one named Biysk for a few supplies. We were compensated for a long dull day in the truck with a sunny evening and a beautiful campsite along the Katun River at the edge of the Altai Republic.
Thanks to all of Charlie's hard work in obtaining additional permits for the truck and contacting the right people on the Russian side while we were in Kazakhstan, Tonka's and our border crossing went relatively quickly and smoothly. A short distance from the border we stopped for marketing in a small city named Rubtsovsk, a real frontier post with muddy streets, massive pools of standing water and the usual Russian eyesores of above-ground piping and painfully ugly concrete apartment blocks. The women peddlers in the muddy market square looked especially bored between their nips of vodka. I'm not sure why it would be that in Kazakhstan there were few obviously drunk people around, but as soon as we crossed back into Russia there were drunk people everywhere again; vodka and beer are certainly as cheap and readily available in Kazakhstan as in Russia.