Drive to Susuman
July 11, 2012
Today is our long drive day. We are heading out of Magadan along the Road of Bones to Susuman, some 650 km north, where we will spend a couple of nights and then explore an abandoned city, Kadykchan. Luckily, we will be going this time in a couple of vans and not the huge truck. Unluckily, we will have to cover the same ground again as we head out of town, past the airport, past Akta, and on up the road. As it is just a couple of night stay and there isn’t a lot of room in the cars, we are packing in a smaller bag for the trip and storing our suitcases in the hotel again. And away we go.
We now have a short stop in Akta to run to Simon’s new found building of ruined electronics. Again, I am poking behind the group and figure we are not going to find it but he came back to show us where it was. Inside, I found a metal box that appeared to have money in it so I grabbed it in the hopes I could check it out later. When we examined it later, it appears to be a box out of a pay phone. It did have money in it, dozens of kopecks from the soviet era. Each one has CCCP on it and mostly are 2 kopek coins. Wow. What a cool thing to find. I was glad we went on this scrounging trip. I really wanted to grab a gas mask too as there were several in perfect condition in their bags but they are really, really heavy and I don’t know what is in the canister that is attached to them to clean your air. Probably charcoal and that’s what makes it so heavy. I didn’t think my airline weight limit would allow for it. Of course, now I am sorry I didn’t bring it. Oh well.
Back into the vans and on the road again. It is a very long drive. As we are going along, the river looks like crap. Most of the waterway looks like it has been dug up and spit out again. Wow, turns out that is exactly what has happened. Most of the river bed has been mined for gold and a huge machine comes along and chews up the river bank then spits it back out. Makes the whole river look like it is under construction. Not very appealing. I only notice one place where they are actually working and chewing up the river. A conveyor belt spits out dirt and sand from high over the river bed and makes piles of discard from the mining. A bulldozer is busy flattening hills.
Not a whole lot more happening on the road. There is surprisingly a lot of traffic for being out in the middle of thousands of acres of nowhere. Most of it seems to be working on the road and we have several places where we detour around a bridge or past construction. It is all very dusty. At one point we have to repair the tire on the other van. This is a road that eats tires. The last trip took longer because of tire changes. Luckily we just repair this one, several different times with plugs, and keep going.
We make a stop along the highway at a memorial to the gulags. The whole countryside is so large and vast that it seems improbably that they could fit so many people into these gulags and that the people died and disappeared. I feel tiny as I stand in the road that stretches for miles in either direction without a town or village or car or truck or other human being in sight besides my traveling companions
We reach Susuman in the late evening, close to ten p.m. but it’s still light outside. Julia has called ahead to tell the restaurant we will be arriving shortly and they are waiting for us. So we go to the restaurant first. Honestly don’t remember what we had to eat that night as it was pretty late to me and we were all pretty tired. We did get to go to some shops though that apparently stay open 24 hours a day. Not sure if that is just in the summer, I would suspect because it is light, or year round. Susuman is a gloomy Soviet era style town. Like most Russian towns, the outsides of the buildings are drab and plain and look as if a strong wind would knock them over. Things are crumbly, rusted, and dirty. There is graffiti in places but in other places, people have made an effort and there might be a flower box or a spare tire full of flowers. Mostly though, it is depressing to look down the main street and not see much of anything except apartment blocks and it is hard to tell if they are still viable or not. We can see some of abandoned Russia right here and almost in every town we have passed. There is a surprising amount of activity though but never in large amounts. A woman passes into a store while a couple of men sit on a bench in front of a memorial sign. Several women walk down the street together. There is life here. And possibly that’s what makes it all the more depressing because it looks so deserted and dead. Just not sure how these people survive.
Almost immediately after we park the cars and step out, we have attracted attention from a couple of pre-teen boys. They are whirling through the town on their bicycles and come to a screeching halt close to us and giggle to each other as they work up the courage to ask us for photographs. Several of us oblige and take their photos which delights them and they stand together, shoulder to shoulder, at attention, trying hard not to giggle, with big sloppy grins on their faces. They are delighted to look at the photo in the camera and then they are on their bikes again and away.
An old metal man is searching the streets for spare bits of junk and metal. He has a rickety four wheeled cart that sits about 2” off the street and has a rope from each corner that comes into a single rope that he can pull. He is heading down the street when we arrive. When we come out of the restaurant, he is heading back the other way and has several pieces of junk and some exhaust pipes on his cart which are barely clearing the ground as he walks along the street. He has to stop several times to rearrange his pieces of junk.
Several of us go to the stores to get water and snacks and such and then we get back into the vans to go to our guesthouse. It is off the main street and except for a tiny plaque on the door; you’d never know it was a guesthouse. All the buildings look pretty much alike. We climb up to the second floor where we are welcomed by Julia and given a key and turn in our passports for copying.
One of our Aussie friends has been bitten a few too many times so I head to his room with some Benedryl to see if it will help his itching and swollen ankles. He is sharing a room with another tour member and their room is about twice the size of our double room. We must remember to ask for twin rooms next time as we would get more room and more towels too apparently. It’s been a long time since my husband and I slept in a double bed and we don’t like it so much. At least he is a lot closer for a smack when the snoring gets out of hand.
It’s quite late now but still very light outside so out come the eye shades and we quickly nod off, mainly because we’re tired from the journey. Tomorrow is our big day of abandoned city exploration. Can’t wait.
Side note here and possibly I’ve mentioned this already because it is taking me a long time to do this blog and I’ve already gone on another trip since then but am working hard to finish. We have discovered the limit of my husband’s “off the wall exploredness” now. He is not enjoying the trip near as much as I am. Many times I have dragged him to what we jokingly call “third world h*llholes” until some of those proved to be nicer than the “fourth world h*llholes” we were starting to visit. All have been interesting to both of us and although he gives me some grief sometimes about the places we visit, he enjoys them and especially enjoys telling people about them afterwards. Possibly this trip, I think most of his enjoyment will come in the telling afterwards. So we need a new term to describe some of the places we visit that are possibly worse than “fourth world H*llholes”. Officially then, this is our first trip to “outer bumf*ckistan”. I enjoy these trips but him, maybe not so much. Still, he goes where I ask and has only himself to blame for not reading the literature quite so closely. I’m sure that won’t happen again and when I say I want to go to “inner bumf*ckistan”, he’ll pay more attention and read it more carefully.