Trip Start Jan 31, 2007
53Trip End Feb 25, 2008
Forty-year-old Yevgenyy had a short and round face. He looked, to me, Chinese, but his cute face showed signs of Western stress. He spoke Russian in a hard-to-understand Chinese way, with curt words that left only thin holes for the vowel sounds. I don't know why, but I find Chinese people very funny. And Yevgenyy found life funny. It was a jolly ride.
"Pagoda ploxaya," said wife Olga. (The weather's bad.) And I said, "Da," and laughed easily, ripe with joy. It was a relief to be in their car and not in my tent, mopping up the piles of water with my towel and wringing it out under the pine trees, writing all day and reading Ivan Turgenyev's "Pervaya Lyubov" (First Love).
"O, krotkie chuvstva, myagkie zvuki, dobrota i utixanie tronutoi dushi, tayushaya radost pervix umilenyy lyubvi - gde vy, gde vy?" (Oh, short feelings, soft sounds, kindness and calming touches of the soul, melting happiness of the first tender love - where are you, where have you gone?) - Turgenyev
Yevgenyy and Olga were coming from a wedding. They'd danced, drank a lot. Yevgenyy was already ready for a drink this day. He advised, with pointed finger, "Nerekomenduyu pit s Ruskami" (I don't recommend you to drink with Russians), which was cute, because most drinkers advise otherwise.
Some Altaians share "Shamanist" beliefs. We came to a breakfast cafe. Little statues of a chubby Altaian man and woman sat cross-legged at the entrance. I asked Yevgenyy who they were of. He laughed, "Eto ya, i eta Olga." (That's me, and that's Olga.) He would later say he's an Atheist, that "god" is everywhere, and he pointed to the mountains and their breath-less rocks and the mist clouds moving through the grassy openings.
I asked Yevgenyy what he did. "Ya Russofil. Znaesh chto eto? Eto kto lyubit Ruskie." (I'm a Russophile. Do you know what that is? That's who loves Russians.) "I Russofob - et kto nelyubit." (And a Russophobe - that's who doesn't like them.) He laughed.
(Many Altaians dislike Russians.)
I was occasionally wary and worrisome while around Altaians. They made up about 40% of the population in the region, Respublika Altai, which shares borders with Kazakhstan, China, and Mongolia. Other than Yevgenyy, none looked Chinese to me. Many resembled light-skinned African-Americans, except with more radioactively bright skin. Others had darker, mud-colored skin, with heads whose top halves seemed swollen and round. Many people claim, or believe, that Altaians are closely related to American Indians.
They had low, wooden homes/shacks. They also had "yurts". Their yurts were small, wooden circular buildings with cone tops. Two buttery-Asiatic-skinned, wide-eyed, bright women once filled up my water bottle from their well. I saw inside a yurt of theirs, which was clean with a soft bed in the corner and a full library on the wall.
The buildings of one Altaian community huddled together beside a ridge of hills. The arrangement reminded of a warring Native American tribe discussing strategy over a fire.
I had some bad experiences with Altaians, many of whom were alcoholic. One drunk man started as if he was going to attack me, but he apparently thought better of it. He said, "Na xuy!" (Go to the di*k!) and left.
So, I walked further along the road, and I came to an even drunker, surly man on horse-back, pulling along a second horse behind him. He also nicely told me, "Na xuy!" Then, he steered his poor stumbling horse into the road, where it caused a vehicle to honk.
Another time, a man rudely asked - upon hearing I was American - how many Native Americans I, personally, killed. Then, his friend asked me for money.
Not far from these guys, in their big wooden village, was a Soviet-era mural. What looked like an astronaut, a female scientist, and a worker were painted on the side of a building. It read: The Soviets' power is the power of the people.
Elsewhere, a cool Soviet propaganda poster read, "Imperalizm S.SH.A. Zleishyy vrag mira i progressa." (The U.S.A.'s imperialism. The worst enemy of peace and progress.) An American quarter showed, "In God We Trust," and the eagle on it held missiles and dripped blood from its claws.
I also saw, for the first time, a photograph of Stalin hanging from someone's wall. The rural Respublika Altai has been lazy, or apathetic, about getting rid of its communism reminders.
And the remaining, Russian part of the region's 250,000 people could also be interesting. I camped beside First Multinskyy Lake, spacious and high in the rolling mountains, and met young locals.
One twenty-three-year-old boy woke at dawn every morning to fish. He'd worked as an "oxotnik" (hunter). In the winter, when it's forty degrees below zero, he and the hunters stayed out and climbed in the mountains all day. They got 70 rubles for each squirrel, 1000 rubles for a (I think) weasel, and they rarely got bears. This boy had so much energy for life, and he wanted to stay up in the cold, August 1st night and talk.
When I was alone, I skinny-dipped in the clear blue depths of First Multinskyy Lake and the light-green depths of Second Multinskyy Lake. Snow sat on the heavy mountain above.
The Altaians have a nice place. Elsewhere, the Koksa and Katung Rivers met, forming a sand-bar, and filling the air with the most wonderful sound of trinkling water. Thinking was almost impossible, and undesirable. It would've made a great place to meditate or kiss. The fun girls who were showing me around their town, Ust-Koksa, didn't go for it, though.
peace, Modern Oddyseus
Thanks to Yevgenyy & Olga; van of ranch workers; Sergei; Valyerii Reptikov; Pavel & Igor; Aleksei Borovikov, Misha, Olga, & Andrei; and Michael & Tanya for rides!
Much thanks to Valyerii Reptikov for the place to stay!