Return to Magadan and Vladivostok
July 13 and 14
Today we leave our cozy guesthouse in the apartment blocks of Susuman and return via our 650 km road to Magadan. It is a very long drive and we have seen parts of this road a lot as it is the road to the airport, the road to gulag and the Road of Bones but also now the lifeline between many of these small towns and villages that continue to survive in the vast backlands of Far East Russia. It is a journey that a good many of us probably slept through, rousing for the rest stops and not much else.
Back in Magadan we are free for the evening. My husband and I struggle up to a new room and find out that it hasn’t been cleaned yet. We get a second room but it is on the street side and we’ve heard from other tour members that boy racers like to drag race their cars up and down the street at night. Not looking forward to being kept awake all night by muscle cars and loud engines, we ask for a room on the backside of the hotel and get our third room. We will need to pack tonight and weigh our bags to see what we can take back with us of the various items we have brought from Akta and Kadykchan. But before we do that, we decide to walk to the Lenin statue in the town.
We ask directions and are told we can’t miss it which is almost always a sure sign that we will. We head out of the hotel and follow the directions until I feel we have walked far enough. Nothing is in sight of where we thought it should be so I stop people who are passing and ask for Lenin. The first two people we stopped had no idea what we were talking about and they did speak English. We stopped a couple and they decided they knew where the statue was so the lady says to come with her and she turns around to walk back the way she had come and to escort us to the statue. I love it when people are kind enough to do this. She walks us a couple of blocks further down the street and we can see the statue so we thank her profusely and go take photos of Lenin with bird droppings all over his head and shoulders.
The statue is in the square right next to the former KGB building and we had read that you aren’t supposed to take photos of that building. There was a young girl in the square who had a large bag of bird seed and was busy pouring it on the ground in various places so that the pigeons would fly to her and get the seed. We just positioned ourselves on the opposite side of her and snapped away. Why some buildings are photographable and others are not is rather odd but then I don’t know espionage and maybe there is a secret code written in the building’s stone.
We are also busy checking the internet to see if we will be able to take my moose antler home with us. There is nothing in Russia regulations that would seem to forbid it. So I think we can take the antler. We look up British regulations since that is where the antler would live with us for a while. Again, nothing that would preclude our bringing it home with us. BUT, when we leave Vladivostok, we are heading to Guam which is the U.S. and there the regulations got us. They wanted proof of a hunting license or proof of purchase from a reputable dealer or hunter or something that was going to be impossible for me to obtain or to prove. Think the customs agent would let me in when I explained I happened to find it in an abandoned Russia city? So with a heavy heart, we decided that I would have to abandon my moose antler. But wait! We know an ivory carver and I’ll bet he could use a nice moose antler. We have seen some nice carvings in the stores from moose antlers. So tomorrow morning, we will take it to the ivory carver and give it to him and maybe he’ll even be so grateful for getting a free moose antler that he might give me a small ivory carving or at least sell me one at a cheaper cost.
We are able to pack up everything else and get it under the weight limit of 20 kg that Vladivostok Air seems to love. We do have to put a few extra things in our backpacks which make them rather heavy but we are packed and ready to go.
Next morning, July 14th, we are heading out to drop off our moose antler. I am pretty sure I can find the ivory carver again and so is my husband so between the two of us, we should be fine. But as luck would have it, we ran into Simon who is still trying to find his girlfriend a gold ankle bracelet so he’s on his way to a different gold shop. We tag along and set my antler down by the door so I can look at jewelry. Really, honey, it just happened that we ended up in a gold shop, quite an accident. Of course I found some lovely earrings. As my husband ended up getting the ivory carving for his collection of small animals that he has for good luck, I thought it only fair that I get a pair of earrings. Well, I always think it is fair that I get a piece of jewelry of some sort or another. Having a piece of jewelry from almost everywhere we visit is a nice goal to have. We also visited the souvenir shop with Simon where he bought a t shirt, I think. We were just hanging out then but did find a magnet. Magnets are also a good thing to collect.
The lady at the gold shop thought that my antler should be better protected so she pulls out this huge plastic bag. The bag looked like one that might come around a mattress. It was pretty thick and about as big as a baby mattress size of plastic covering. She puts my antler in it and tapes it down and hands it back to me. Well, we don’t have far to go to the ivory carver but it was a very nice gesture on her part.
Simon is still walking with us and he definitely knows where the ivory carver has his shop but happily, my husband and I would have been correct in finding it. Unfortunately, we enter the building and he is not there. In fact, his workshop, which is downstairs below the entry level, is barricaded with a metal bar door. I’m very disappointed because I am not going to get my free ivory piece or discounted price in gratitude. Oh well. I think I can slide the moose antler under the door so I try and it clatters down the stairs as it slides to the bottom of the steps and stops right in front of his door. Perfect. Now I hope he doesn’t come to his shop and think I have dropped off a bomb or something.
We have a treat for our last day in Magadan. One of the tour company ladies has talked her mother into cooking a traditional meal for the group. They did this for the first tour group that came here with Simon and it was quite successful. Simon says she is an excellent cook. We meet at the hotel and then walk up the hill to her apartment block. Her block looks the same on the outside as they all do but with a clock tower on it so a bit nicer. Of course she lives on the top floor so I trudge up the steps and arrive last at the door. I still am let into her apartment which is very, very nice but completely full in every nook and cranny.
Everyone removes their shoes and we go into the kitchen/dining room and gaze in awe at the table and how it is so laden and just groaning with the amount of food that is sitting on it for us to eat. Vika’s mother doesn’t speak English but she knows some German and several of the tour members speak German so they can communicate and ask questions and the tour agency ladies translate a lot for us. Mama is quite happy to have us here and offers us beer and her homemade cranberry liquor first. The cranberry liquor is quite good and I bet I could drink a lot before I would realize I was getting drunk.
Our first course is going to be soup and we get a choice of a noodle soup or borscht. I never liked beets growing up and there are many sad tales of beet meals gone awry in our family but I love borscht. Somehow it never tastes like my hated childhood beets so I asked for borscht. On the table for our enjoyment and to help ourselves are the following dishes and I have probably forgotten a few: dried reindeer tongue (like beef jerky and absolutely delicious – I ate a lot of it), a crab salad with rice, fresh cut vegetables, mushrooms with cheese melted on them, big pickles, an eggplant something, smoked salmon, a fish cake of some sort, another type of smoked or raw fish (didn’t try either of those, not a big fish fan like that), nice fresh bread both white and brown, and that’s all I can remember of this part. When we had eaten a great deal of these dishes, she brought over two huge cooked crabs! OMG. By now I am stuffed but my hubby just LOVES crab so he digs in along with some other men and they put that crab to waste. I get a few bits from him but while I like crab too, it’s too messy and hard to work at it so I just steal his.
This was definitely the best meal of the tour and I do wish I could have brought home that entire reindeer with me and some of the other stuff as well but too soon it is time to leave. Our Bear Guy, Volodkya is there so we get to say goodbye to him, and also to the tour agency owners who have been fantastic in putting together this trip. Turns out their agency specializes in some of the hunting and fishing type trips that you wouldn’t be able to find elsewhere. So we pack it in and trudge back to the hotel for our bags which are once again locked in the closet and then out to the van to ride back to the airport and leave Magadan.
Nothing special about the flight but we have to stop in Khabarovsk again for a bit and then into Vladivostok and our time changes again but only by an hour. Back to Vladivostok hotel where we pick up our diving gear. The only sad thing here is Vladivostok Air allows 23kg on the flights return to Vladivostok where I know they were only letting 20 kg on the flight to Magadan. I could have brought my antler as far as weight goes! But the U.S. regulations were still probably going to make it impossible to keep. Well , we asked the tour agency ladies to please call the ivory carver and explain where his unexpected gift of a moose antler had come from. Hope he was able to use it.