Published: August 16th 2012August 16th 2012
Russia trekking + rafting in Altai mountains
Thursday night the Russian tourist bus left Novosibirsk to the Altai republic. It was mainly Russian tourists except Kyle me and some israelians and a British girl. The bus ride was long and cold Kyle and I slept most of the way occasionally waking up to change positions. At around 1 AM the bus stopped at a 24-hour kind of diner. Not knowing where we where or what to do eat we decided to follow the crowd including the guide a man about 40 years old but who looked very fit and hard core trekker. We realized it was a cafeteria menu and chose for what looked like chicken and rice. It was an ok meal. The bus signaled for the tourists to hop on and off we were again.
At around 8 AM we arrived to a little town. We were told to follow the guide to a little cafeteria and paid a huge amount of money for some bread and tea, luckily for us there was not any food meal and they gave us back the money. We ate some crackers and tea instead. We bought what would have been our only two bottles of water for our first hike and they turn out to be gas water yuck but they saved us! So the bus continued the journey to the trekking point.
We were dropped off at some random river in the middle of a valley and road. There the guides sorted the food and mats we organized backpacks and started the trek. The first meters were flat on grasslands then came across a small river and we had to climb up a very narrow trail with rocks lots of trees and a cliff that ended up in the river. It was a bit scary especially because I was carrying a 20 Kg backpack and had to balanced and walked quickly and step-by-step. I managed to make it through with Kyle 's help and continued the hike some more grasslands a bit uphill but easy. Then we came across a big hill. First real challenge, I took a depth breath and started to head up being almost the last one (one Russian old lady) I had to stop along the way to rest but I managed to make it to the top. We walked for another hour or so on semi flat small hills with sun shining and beautiful scenery around us. We got to a steep and narrow trail through the forest and began our last part (a very long one indeed) we were hiking up on a steep pine trees forest with occasional downhill and flat and stopping a long the way to catch our breath and wait for people behind us. We realized that the main guide had gone up really fast and had left half the tour behind and one particular Russian lady way behind had to sit down and leave her backpack to reach the other half of the crew. We were with one female Russian guide who spoke no English and kind of did not know the way because she kept yelling the other Russian guide's name Sasha or Alexander to find a hearing response (*first clue of the crazy guide more to come ... Keep reading). Kyle and I decided to go up and try to find a creek or stream together water and find the others but on our way up Kyle got sick of his tummy and I got really scared so we headed back down and saw a Russian guy, waiting for the female guide and the lady. We stayed there hoping for some of the faster trekkers to come back with water for us. The female guide Larissa* decided to go find the others and the Russian guy Vladimir followed her Leaving the old lady, Kyle and me waiting in the middle of the forest! Finally Vladimir came back with water and we followed him up hill to the camping site. The camping site was near a creek we filled all our bottles just in case you never know and headed to our camp to make the tent have dinner and relaxed for the day. We made the tent fairly easy and took a short but cold and very valuable creek shower. I used a teacup to wash my face and hair and it was so cold that when I pour water on my head it hurt a lot. It was a very long tired-some day and we went to bed right after dinner.
We woke up at around 9 AM with a sunny blue sky and the sun shining upon us. The camp consisted on two tents where the tourists slept and an orange open tent where the two guides, Alexander (Sasha) and Larissa, slept. The guides were already up and making breakfast on the fire from last night and the other group of tourists was also up. The group was a rare mix. A British girl, Gabriella about our age and who spoke Spanish because she had lived in Cuba and Spain, a Russian single guy very straightforward and strong but not too fit, two men from Israel Natan and Mihael who were good English and Russian speakers and turned out to be our guides (* read more); a Russian lady around 40 not fit at all (she decided to leave on the second day because it was very difficult for her!) and Kyle and me. For breakfast we had some sort of grain porridge with milk and jam and tea. Then we started to get ready for our hike number 2. This time we made sure to fill all of our bottles with water (we had about 9 lts.) in all and hoped that it would be enough. The main guide Sasha decided to take the Russian lady back and meet with us later at the next camp leaving us with the second guide Larissa. Well at around noon we parted for our hike. It was through the woods, marshy tall grass and shrubs and a few pine trees around. The path was of dirt and very narrowed so we all went in single file with Larissa leading the way and me on the end luckily he two israelians were good hikers and they stay behind me just in case. We hiked and trekked for about an hour until we reached a steep hill. Kyle went up ahead of me with the first group I stayed a little behind with Gabriella and the two israelians Natan and Misael. We passed several groups of people coming downhill and they all seemed friendly and said hello in Russian. It reminds me of how Venezuelans say hello whenever you pass them by jogging in a park or hiking El Avila. The hill was very steep and on one side there was a cliff. After hiking for about 1.5 hours we reached the top where were a creek and small waterfall and some campers there. The creek had a log across from it, which was the way we were supposed to go through it. The guide went by quickly without stopping and not paying attention to the rest of the group. Most of the group passed it without hesitation, but I panicked! It was my first real challenge: cross a bridge walking on a narrow log with a 20 Kg. backpack. Well Kyle took my backpack and hold one hand while one of the israelians helped me and guide me from behind. I did it wow it felt scary but at the same time exciting and cool! We rested for a bit drank cool fresh spring water while he guide went to find a path. Finally she found a "kind " of trail into the mountains with bushes, tall, mossy and marshy grasses and lots of logs and tree branches fallen. We hiked up for about an hour it was pretty steep and wet and it made it hard to walk through it without tripping. We finally reached a valley and sat here for a while to rest and eat dried fruits and snacks. We continued our hike through the valley and grass and noticed that the sky was turning gray and thunder and lightning were in the air so we putted our rain jackets and water protectors for our backpacks and continued through the woods. The woods were full of tall pine trees, logs on the ground, marshy grass and wet bushes we had to go through many big and wet bushes and step onto plants to go through them. It started to rain really heavy with thunder and lightning and cold winds blowing so we the second group Gabriella Natan Kyle and me had to stop and rested for a bit until the rain was a little less heavy and the wind stop. We spent about three hours in the woods, shuffling around wet grass, marshy bushes and mud. Finally after a very long walk through the woods we reached a trail going uphill and we went on it. It was steep and slippery and long. After another hour we reached a valley with a forest on the end and a hill on one side. At this point the guide was very unsure of where to go and decided to go for a scout of the area while we waited in the valley. So we stayed eating candy and chatting with the others. The guide came back with no good news she had not found the path. So she decided to go up the hill by herself to explore the area. After about 30 minutes she came back and apparently had found a path so we went up a steep and slippery hill with light rain falling on us. I managed to get up the hill and it was freezing!!! Rain began to pour more heavily and the wind blew even colder and stronger. We found a little shelter between some rocks and stayed there for a while. The guide and Natan went to search for a possible camping site because it was already past 6 o clock and we were still lost without a clear idea of where to go. So while they went scouting for a camping site the rest of us stayed in our little shelter away from the cold wind and rain and annoying mosquitoes and flies and other bugs. And so Natan and the guide came back and said we had to come down because there was a good camping site. So we got our backpacks and headed down again this time the hill was even more slippery and wet and rain was falling more and more. We reached a small hill with a bunch of trees and a fire area and opted to place our tents there. Our group started to build up the tent and Larissa the guide came in a rush to do it her way (which turned out horrible because water from rain came in the tent all night!). After having he tents set up the guys made a fire and we sat by it to get warm and dry some of our clothes. Two of the guys went to search and get water and got lost coming back, with no water at all and the guide had to go and look for them. By this time it was dark and almost 10 o clock so we opted for bread and cheese and some kind of pate for dinner. We went to bed soon after that. It was a very hard and difficult day of about 10 hours of trekking without any good luck of finding the route trail to our supposed campsite of the evening.
Lost between windy cold hill and valley and hilly grasslands
Sunday arrived in the Altai Mountains. We had to wake up early 7 AM so that we could leave to find the route to the campsite. We had some tea and bread and cheese for breakfast and packed up and started our hike number 3. (We all hoped that this day we would be able to find our camp!) We went downhill through the forest and this time it was more wet, damp and full of mud because it has rain all night and it was still raining in the morning. The hike down was easier but it took about 1.5 hours to reach the valley where we stopped for rest and the guide checked the map for the trail to the camp. It was cold and rainy so many mosquitoes, flies and other bugs were surrounding us and trying to land on us to take a bite. We stood here for quite awhile to finally the guide with the help of Natan and Misael discovered that this was not the trail and that we had to go up again to windy and cold hill and valley. So with a little frustration and upsetness we grabbed our backpacks and hiked up again through the forest and wet, damp and muddy grasses and bushes. Up the hill again for another 1.5 hours up to the previous campsite. When we reached it we were told to wait in the valley until Larissa came back from scouting trails. It was raining more heavily and we went to sit under a tree to wait for the rain to pass. When Larissa came back with still no news she decided to go another way and Natan and Misael towards another way to try and find a trail. In the meantime Vladimir, Gabriella, Kyle and me were sitting down by some trees trying to avoid the cold wet rain and freezing wind. We all decided to move up to our previous camp and build a fire to warm up, chill for a bit and dry some of our shoes, socks and things. Making the fire was tricky; we had very few good pieces of wood but most of it was wet and also the wind blew cold and hard and did not let the fire get going on. Finally with the help of some matches and paper that we had (Kyle’s and mine Altay contracts) we made a very big and strong fire to keep us warm and cozy and dry for an awhile. We shared stories and laughed and joked for a bit until Natan and Misael came back with a few good news apparently they had found a trail road hat was steep and difficult but might be the right one. A few minutes later Larissa came and said she had found a trail up the windy and cold hill towards very windy valley. It was almost noontime and we were cold and hungry so Natan and Larissa went to get water from a stream to prepare soup for lunch. After a long time maybe an hour they returned and we made lunch. I have to say that hot soup on a cold day felt very good. We finished lunch and headed out again into the Altai hills, grasses and forests. The first hill windy hill was steep but easy since I had done it the previous day. Then we went through a valley and towards the horizon we could see snow covered mountain peaks. We continued walking down on a hill, which was difficult because my shoes were all broken and I had no grip and my feet kept twisting, so I was getting very frustrated. We finally reached he bottom of the hill to a dirt road and walked straight for almost 2 hours and Larisa still had no clue where to go. We finally stopped at a valley with pine forest on one side a steep green mountain on the other, grasslands on the other and the road continued straight. The israelians and the guide went different ways to find the route and returned to say we should be close and Sasha, main guide should be around. We continued through the dirt road and found a nice valley with a river and some people camping. Larissa asked for directions and they said we needed to walk a bit further to reached our camp. And so we did. On the way we saw a little wooden cabin with lots of cows grazing around and a small stream crossing it. We realized that it was a Russian store and they sold water, bread, candy, beer and vodka. So we stopped to get beer and candy and the rest of the Russians got a bottle of vodka (for the cold, they said!) we continued walking and stopped at a valley full of camp sites and cows as well as cow shit with lots of flies it really smelled bad there. It was almost 7 PM and we decided to stop there and camp for the night. From the distance running came Sasha the main guide asking where were us and that we were supposed to be at the Karakabak lake and river 15 kms away from where we where. So for the evening we settled in our camp, put up the tent and build a fire. It was pouring rain and very cold and he wind kept blowing hard and freezing. I had to wear Kyle's clothes because my own clothes was all wet from hiking in the rain and damp wet forest and valley and also my bag got pretty wet from the rain and the wind blew the rain cover and water went in it so me the South American girl who gets cold easily was very wet. We ate some pasta and drank tea and that was pretty much it. I was tired and exhausted and cold and very sleepy so I went to bed early and slept pretty good.
Karakabak river hike
We slept until around 8 o clock and had breakfast, same porridge with jam and milk and some tea. Sasha was in a rush for us to leave because we had lost 2 days and needed to be on schedule to see the different sites and meet up with he other group for rafting. We were all ready but I realized my right shoe was broken wore than before so I had to do a little mending of its sole with duck tape and a rope before leaving for the hike. So finally by 10:30 AM we were all set up for our 15 KM hiked number 4 to Karakabak river and lake, Larissa was going on first with the israelians and Kyle following and then Gabriella, Vladimir and me with Sasha ending the line. It was a sunny blue sky clear morning, we were all happy and glad the rain was over for a day and were looking forward to being dry and maybe a little suntan after a hiking day, the path was mostly a dirt road probably made by 4x4 trucks and jeeps so it was an easy hike. Most of the way was flat with areas of small and long hills. I was actually feeling better and was catching up the pace of the group. We walk for about 1 KM and my shoe mending broke so we had to stop for a bit to remend it, we continued walking happily enjoying the warmth of the sun and the blue sky along by the grasslands and small hills with occasional shrubs and tall plants growing on the side and on the distance we could watch the tall and majestic Altai mountains. We reached the end of a small hill and stopped for a rest break. I noticed my shoe mending had fallen so I opted for a different strategy, one that was originally Kyle's idea. I wore my shoes on top of Kyle 's sandals and strap the sandals to the show to keep the shoe from moving. It was kind of a cool idea and we all hoped it would work. So after fixing my shoes we continue our hike. We walked a few more meters on the dirt road and eventually came to a grassy, marshy and tall grass area, we stayed on this trail for about 2 or 3 hours until around 12 noon when we stopped for lunch near a wooden house owned by some man Sasha knew or had a connection with. We had bread, cheese and salami, tea and for dessert chocolate. We waited about half an hour walking around the area, laying down sitting, enjoying nature. It was a little wood cabin with a stable for a couple of horses, cows and goats and sheep. We started to walk through an open valley lots of tall grass, marshy and muddy ground with Sasha leading the way and Larissa ending it with Kyle and me. I was going at a faster pace trying to catch up with the group but because I had just ate my tummy was grumbling and I started to get sick with nausea and low breathing as the path became steeper and higher. When we finally got to the top of the hill after passing a small forest I managed to drink water and catch my breath and rest for a few minutes and enjoy the amazing breathtaking view of the Altai region. We walked for a few meters and got to the downhill section of the hike. I was between Kyle and he guide thing not to trip over logs, tall grass and rocks and being careful with my shoes were strapped to Kyle's sandals and I had a whole centimeter between my toes and the front of the shoe. Slowly and carefully I managed to go all the way down to the bottom of the hill and eat fresh wild strawberries. After the hill we walk for about an hour on a dirt trail along the forest. We passed several signs of a bano which in Russian means sauna and a couple of camping sites until we reach a small stream win two logs over them which we had to cross. To cross over the logs Kyle took my backpack and I crossed it and I crossed over being very careful and slow as I was walking on a high tight rope. We continued the walk through a trail along another camping site and came to a bigger creek with a much longer, but narrower and higher log over it. The guide Sasha came back and carried my backpack and Kyle cross the log with me holding my hand. We walked about 5 minutes through a narrow trail with the river on the left until we reached a nice open flat valley to camp. The place was full of tall pine trees with rocks growing liken and small and grassy shrubs and plants and a river flowing down. The water was very cold and the river had a very rapid flow he you could hear from the distance. We washed some clothes and took a short cold river shower and headed to our tent however Sasha wanted to show us a spring of natural mineral water just as I was finishing getting warm so I followed the crowd through the river and climbing some big boulders. It was a hard climbing area and as soon as I put my feet on he boulders rain began to pour, the big holders were easier to climb but the smaller and medium ones were slippery and very unstable even though I managed to get to the spring of water to see it and drink some really fresh mineral water. As I was heading back rain was heavier and I could not see very well. Kyle was at the other end signaling me where to go. Night was getting dark and very rainy and cold I started to panic when I saw myself alone on he boulders until I saw a little head pop out of the tall bushes and I knew Kyle was there waiting. By the time I reach the camp I was completely soaked wet and very cold. I changed into my not so wet clothes and left the other to dry hoping the rain would stop at night and the sun would shine the next morning. We ate pasta and some meat for dinner and chat for awhile but I was too cold and tired to stay up so I went in the tent and read wrote on my blog and fell deeply asleep only to hear Kyle come in and give me a big night kiss.
Karakabak river and Mashei lake
As every day we were told that we would wake up at 7 AM but when morning came they would let us sleep in until 9 AM which was cool considering that we had long hiking tiresome days and needed the sleep to recover, but also it was not good when we had to go at a very fast pace to see the sites and return before night time to camp. We finally woke up at the sound of Larissa's voice yelling breakfast in Russian (every morning she would yell the same phrase so we got used to it!). We had some corn flour porridge, which was surprisingly good, and remind me of my Venezuelan cachapas. We then packed a small bag with water, sunblock, mosquito repellent, some candies and a torch just in case o darkness and our rain coats and headed out on our day hike an almost 12 hour hike to and from camp to Mashei lake and waterfall. First we cross the little creek by our camp, which was very easy and then got to the first boulder section towards the natural spring. It was a sunny day not too warm with the perfect temperature for an outdoorsy kind of day hiking in the Altai republic. The boulder section to the spring was not too hard since most of he boulders were flat and smooth and big which made it easier to go from boulder to boulder. I passed the first challenge now off towards the grassy bushes and marshy muddy lands. As my shoes were broken I decided to wear my sandals with socks (for the cold water of streams and creeks we would pass and also because they had better grip for climbing). I was walking at a fast pace catching up with the rest of the group but also being careful not to trip and to avoid marshy and wet areas however we came to a flat area with many wet bushes and grasses and it was hard not to get my feet wet so I tried to but eventually they got wet and after that I just did not care if they were wet I would just avoid getting them muddy. To me it was a good plan. We reached a flat area where we stopped to rest by the river just before big steep hill through the forest. The path was narrow with trees along both sides and bushes of grass on either sides or a couple of logs across. At the end of the hill there was a small grassy valley and along it a few meters by a second group of big boulders to climb. Some of the boulders were flat, others pointy and others round. It was easier to climb the big ones than the small ones, which were slippery. We climbed the boulders for about 2 KM. until we reached a cliff where we could see what used to be the Mashei lake but now it was all mud, silt, gravel and sand with some mountain of boulders and a kind of forest trail along it. I was feeling pretty confident and fit to continue the hike but always at my slow pace. Kyle was also doing well but when we reached the cliff his right leg started to ache when he bend it or walked up or down hill so he was going slow too and Gabriella had fallen a couple of times as well so we three were left with Larissa the second guide to explore he area at our slow pace while Sasha and the rest went faster ahead of us. We climbed downhill a mountain of small pebbles and rocks very slippery which caused me to fall and slide a few times before reaching the bottom of the hill. We reached the bottom and walked through a dirt trail for a few minutes and then reached a new boulder hill. I stumbled and trip a few times but nothing major. Actually the guide said I was doing fine and both Kyle and I were troopers! We were all exhausted and tired, Gabriella hurt her knee twice, Kyle’s leg was in pain and I had a be sting me and a knee scratch. We stopped for lunch at an area full of rocks and where the river was low. Ate some bread and cheese and chocolate rested for a bit and continued our hike. After a few hours we reached a creek and hilly area where we could see the lake and glacier. The view was breathtaking and beautiful! At that point we met the other group and decided to head back to camp since it was 4 PM and it would take us about 5 or 6 hours to reach camp. We went back through most of the same path ending the line with Larissa the guide. We went through the boulder valley but this time it was through a different and harder area. Finally after a few hours we reached the trail and headed down a very steep downhill. We crossed a first log successfully and then the second creek with a little more difficulty but I did it. We continued the path slowly because I had knee aches and Kyle’s leg was in pain. Finally we were he'd the camp at 8:30 PM and went directly to our tent we chatted for a bit but we passed out and went to bed early and slept most of the night. We were exhausted!
Hike to Chuya riverbank
We woke up at around 9 AM feeling a little bit rested and relaxed. Kyle's leg was better and I simply had muscular pains due to the hikes. We stayed in the tent for some time getting ready before heading out to have breakfast. The menu was rice with veggies, which was the previous night’s meal, and a lot of the group was so exhausted that did not eat it. We packed up our camp filled bottles with water and by noon we were going on our last hike to the Chuya riverbank. The day was sunny and a bit warmer then the day before. We walked back the same trail to the Karabak river through the first log which I crossed with my backpack and just holding one of the guide’s hand and the second log I crossed it all by myself. We continued to walk first downhill through a trail then a few meters flat and then up a steep and short hill. I was keeping the pace but also going with Kyle who had a bad leg pain. We kept on walking along the narrow steep trail for about half an hour and reached the end of it and the start of a hilly grassy valley where we passed some Altai men riding horses in a very rough manner. We walk along this trail for another hour or so and eventually reached a valley were we stopped to rest and some of the people in the group ate fresh berries and black currant. We walk a few more hours until we reached a rocky trail and a steep hill. After this we walked downhill for quite a bit and ended up in a sightseeing valley next to some rocky path that we had to crossed and walked downhill to reach our camp. After maybe half an hour of walking along this rocky dirt trail we reached a valley along the Chuya river. It was a very nice camping site with a place for a fire and a long wood table. We walked along the area to check the place for a bit, too some photos, played cards and wrote on our blogs. The sun was still shining at 4 o clocks so we decided to wash all of our clothes for one last time before going rafting. We were enjoying an afternoon sitting on the grass talking playing cards when two Russian men who seemed drunk came on horses and tried to scared us by turning their horses right upon us on purpose. As soon as our guides saw this they went to explore who were these men. It turned out that thy worked for the owner of the house where we ate on our way to Karakabak and knew Sasha. They were celebrating something and drinking vodka since all day and had decided to cross the river tied to a rope and pulling themselves. We ended up seeing one crossing he river and he was tied with a rope around his belly to the rope that cross the river and with his feet up and hands on the rope he lulled himself all the way. It looked scary! We then played some more cards and had veggie soup with bread for dinner and sat by the fire chitchatting with Gabriella and Vladimir and Sasha playing a traditional Altai region instrument that was played by blowing into it and made some kind of electronic sound. It was a cool evening of chit chat first abbot politics and world affairs and eventually it lighten up to simple things. I went to the tent and soon after Kyle did too. We spent a nice evening chatting before going to bed.
Chuya river cross and Russian jeep ride to rafting camp site
We woke up Thursday morning at around 9 AM and with lots of calmness and tranquility we ate breakfast and packed up. Today we were to cross a river tied to a rope and a man on the other end would pull us. After seeing the "show" of the night before of how the drunken Russian men crossed the river it seemed a little scary. It was a partly sunny day with some gray clouds in the sky and a chilly wind in the air so Sasha our main guide wanted to get the ball rolling and cross the bridge quickly before rain poured. With the help of a man from the Altai region and the 300 rubles amount of money we were ready to cross the river. First be Altai man tied a kind of pulley around the rope crossing the bridge and then to the pulley he tied a swing made from wood and with a triangular shaped wire that would be tied to the pulley main rope. Then he sat himself on he swing and Sasha tied the rope around his waist and he pulled himself across the river. As we watched I became a little anxious and nervous, but at the same time it looked cool and amazing and actually pretty safe. It took about 10 minutes to cross the river and to se d back the swing to our end. Our backpacks were next, we tied the hiking poles to the straps of the backpacks and tied together both backpacks to the swing and send them off to the other side. Then Misael crossed the river next to help the man pulled the rest of us. He was a little edgy and swung a little while he was being pulled across the river, but he managed to make it safely. Then went another set of bags and after that was Larissa the guide who had her hair loose with just a bandana and use her hands to pull herself, which taught me to not use my hands and let he man pull me and to tie my hair really well so that it would not get tangled on the rope. Then a few other bags made it across the river and then it was Kyle's turn. He as in other cases was confident and secure and looked that way and he transmitted it to me and to the rest if the group. He literally flew by crossing the river and did it smoothly and happily. Then came my turn. I climbed up the little tower and followed Sasha's instructions on how and where to sit on the swing and simply assured him to tie me tightly. I was ready to cross the river and I did it with no hesitation! It was a little scary but at the same time fun. It all happened so quickly that I really had no time to be afraid, actually when I got to the other end I wanted to do it again! Then a few others crossed the river and last but not least was Sasha. After we were all at the other side Sasha paid the man and he pulled himself to the other side and left on his horse. We kind of chilled for a bit and walked around while we waited for car to pick us up to transfer us to bill bing a small town nearby where we would start the rafting. It started to rain and to get chilly so Sasha built a fire and we all stayed around it others took a little walk and others chilled and hang out by the river. The car came and it was an old Russian jeep with no lock on the trunk and a couple of windows missing as well as only bench kind of seats on each side and one little stool in the middle. So we put our backpacks in and sat on he benches all squeezed in very tight. We started to head up but the jeep would not move so we had to get off and some of the men the group pushed the jeep. The jeep made it to the top of the hill and we all got in how we could fit very squeezed. We started the ride up a dirt road very bumpy and along a cliff on the left side through which we could see the Karakabak river flowing down. We all commented how scary it looked and thought of asking the driver to let us get off the jeep and walk along the road. At one point Sasha told us to lean to the right side and we all jumped to he middle and stayed on the right side for quite awhile until we were told hat the road was wider and we could go back to our seats. The view was really impressive with tall mountains and cliff surrounding us and large green fields with wild flowers and tall grasses and bushes as well as a couple of pine trees and in the distance we could see a forest of pine trees then tall mountain cliffs. The order of Sasha to move to the right happened two or three times and I decided to stay on the right side by Kyle all snuggled up under his legs. We continued along this dirt road for a few hours until we reached a valley where the road became wider and along it we saw several herds of cows and goats and sheep. After this road we reached a paved road that took us to a small town near where we would raft. The driver stopped at a gas station with a small convenient store and we all jumped out of the jeep to stretched our kegs and buy some kind of soda drink and junk food. Kyle and I bought chips, chocolate and mount drew. We got on the jeep and I immediately fell asleep and did not wake up until we reached the camp after about 2 hours. The camp was in the same town where we stopped for drinks and food on our way to the trekking point. It had a small restaurant with shop and the camp had a couple of high standard log cabins and a few wood made gers traditional Altai homes at the Chuya riverbank. We set our things in the wood ger and walked for a bit. I went to the bana with the other women to supposedly have a sauna and shower and when I got there it was an open shower with hot and cold-water bucket. It was a very Russian experience! Then I went to the restaurant with the other women and ate some food that seemed like steamed dumplings, they were yummy! We then stayed in the ger playing cards and ate dinner and went to bed.
Friday morning came early and we woke up at around 9 AM. We had not slept good because we had to share a "bed" (wooden board with mats and a comforter to create a soft mattress) because there were only 6 beds and I was left without one :-( We had breakfast and were told that the other rafting group would be at the camp at noon. So we talked, played cards and ate lunch and they still had not arrived. So by 1 o clock we were very bored and so were the rest so we decided to head out for a hike to see some caves. So we walked towards the river and mountain and stated our hike, crossed a little creek and started to climbed up. It was medium steep and narrowed with lots of tall grass and small pebbles and rocks along the way. We got to the top of the first mountain and we kept on walking on a semi steep hill full of tell bushes and grasses until we reached a small forest with a big rock on one side. Larissa, Natan and Vladimir went to find the trail to he caves while Misael, Gabriella, Kyle and me waited. We were tired of waiting and bugs were starting to annoy us and we decided to go down. We headed down the same path and Kyle (very clever) decided to head back faster to check on the rafting bus and luckily it had arrived so he turned around to come get the rest and me. We got back to camp and got changed into the hydro suits and boots got our raincoats and headed out on the bus to do the first day of rafting. The weather was really crappy. It was cloudy and chilly all day and it had started to rain just as we reached the rafting site. We moved the rafts to the river edge and there the captain a Russian guy started to give instructions, luckily the company had brought a translator (a young Russian girl be sister of the captain) and we could understand all the commands. So with our hydro suits and boots on, raincoats, helmets, live vests and paddles we hopped on the raft and started a rafting session. Our raft was the biggest one and there were 10 people plus the captain. Kyle was sitting on the middle and I on the back (for strength reasons). The view along the river was nice mountains surrounded it along with valleys where people camped and cows grazed grass. The river was not has difficult as we were told with only two medium rapids in which two of the people in our raft fell and everyone got jammed in the middle. The raft ended in a calmed area of the river a few Kilometers away from the camp and were the bus picked us up. It was a VERY SHORT raft and Kyle and me were very disappointed. We got in the bus and took of the hydro suits and stayed in our shorts and T-shirts and we reached the camp after a 30-minute bus ride. We ate dinner and tried to put our wet clothes to dry but the other rafting had taken over our ger and we were all jammed in and very crowded. We played some card games but we were tired and a little annoyed to stay up late so we opted for an early bedtime.
We woke up at 9 AM to a sunny and blue-sky chilly morning. Kyle woke up first and got ready and then I did. The translator was now part of the tour staff and had taken over the cooking job from Larissa the assistant guide. We ate breakfast at a big wood table by the river. Today the menu was porridge with condensed milk or jam and tea (very predictable). We were told that at 10 AM we would be leaving to start rafting, but we kind of knew that we would be late (since every time they told us a time we would be an hour or two late. So we started to get ready slowly and without rush. Ten o clock came and of course we were not leaving. Finally at 10:30 we were getting on the bus to leave. We dropped off at some rapids the two captains who were going to scout the route of rafting. We reached the place where the rafts and Sasha were 20 minutes later and it started to rain again! The captains arrived and told us the rapids were too high so we had to disinflate the rafts and take them on the bus to the next rapid. It took another twenty minutes and off we were on the bus to see the rapids we could not passed. We then headed on the bus to the place where we would raft. First we had to inflate the rafts, all the men mainly did this and it took quite awhile. Next we walked down a trail to the riverbank with rafts, paddles and helmets. The captain gave some orders and commands and we started our rafting for the day (which turned out to be the last day of rafting even though we paid for three whole days and so far we only did 2.5 hours bummer and TIFR!) the rafting was just like the one the day before very long calmed river sections and only one big rapid and two medium ones. We raft all the way to our campsite and it took us only about 1:45 hours. The first rapid was fairly easy and we just got splashed water, but the second one was a more difficult one. Our raft got trapped between a big rock and the riverbank full of rocks and the front guy and translator had to go down to push the raft and then could no get back on. We had to raft to another section of the bank and they had to walk to the raft. After this it was pretty calm with occasional quick rapids and big waves. We reached the camp at 3:00. Kyle and I were pretty disappointed and our faces were very expressive but we could not hide it; it really sucked! We ate lunch, which was a very typical, and famous meal in Russia called Bouche and consisted in a veggie broth with lots of tomatoes and some beef. It was ok and had some flavor but still some people put garlic, pepper and chili powder. We then had some tea and went to he shop to buy some snacks and went to read and write by a small creek. It was very relaxing area away from the big loud Russian crowd and the sun had started to shine slightly again so we both felt the need to be someplace quiet and relaxing. Kyle wrote on his blog and I started to write too, but fell asleep by some pebbles and it felt great! I was asleep for about an hour and when I woke up Kyle had already finished his blog and had saved a little moth from drowning in the lagoon. We started to walk back and Kyle saw a way to create a small creek so that the lagoon would have some water flow and so he made not one but three small creeks and by the end of the night the three of them had grown bigger and was flowing really fast! We played some cards and chitchat with people and found out that this was the last raft and we were so pissed! We talked to some other people in our trip and they were annoyed too. We tried and talked to our main guide about at least rafting half a say tomorrow but it was impossible. We ate dinner some potato broth and bread and went to get some beer and played cards but that was it for our day and trip in Russia! We were disappointed, mad, sad, annoyed and frustrated that the whole trip was a big rip off. We went to bed at 11'PM and felt like we were done with Russia! End period!!!
August 5 Bus ride back to Novosibirsk
August 6 A day in Novosibirsk
We arrived to Novosibirsk at 6 Am on Monday August 6th and went straight to the Altay tour office to get our passports and other bag of stuff. After a abotu half an hour we got into a cab and went to our hotel which was centrally located and allowed us to check in early. We got a private room with twin beds each on the sides, a small tv and fridge and a sink for about 40$ the only downside was the shared bathrooms and showers but it was only for a night and so it was ok. We went in the very small and old elevator up to the 5th floor and into our room. After settling in the room we turned on tv and watch olympics for a few minutes but we were so tired that we both passed out for abotu an hour and half. When we woke up it was almost noon and so we decided to take a shower and head out to explore Novosibirisk, find a post office, internet cafe, souvernies and eat.
The internet cafe and post office were easy to find. They were behind and across from the hotel. We booked our ticket Beijing to Dalian, checked emails and headed to the post office to mail psot cards. Mailing post cards in Russia was far more of a challenge than in Mongolia. First, we had to find stamps, then buy them and ask how much where they and find the mailbox. It took us about 15 minutes to get this done, luckily the lady selling the stamps even though old she was quite friendly and helpful. So those to errands done we went out to look for a place to eat and get some souveniers.
We walked around the PLaza Lenina and main street and noticed all buiidings were block style which is a very communist efficient way of building. Altough some modern buildings were also around but in a very unique kind of way. Also there were many catholic churches around the downtown, including a small chapel in the middle of the main street. We went through a small park and noticed an American pizza place and opted for pizza, we were btoh craving some good western food. We ordered the pizza and drinks by pointing to pictures and paid by showing the bills and counting with our fingers, due to the lack fo English from the staff of the restaurant and obviously our lack of Russian.
With stomachs filled we continued our walk trying to find a souenier shop. All we saw was upscale malls and department stores selling clothes, shoes and others bbut no sign of souveniers.We then decided to head back to our hotel and do some internet research since the hotel had wifi. Back in the hotel we chilled and watch the olympics. Some track and field, gymnastics, volleyball and other sports. At around 10 PM we decided to head out for dinner again lookinf for something western. We walked through different main streets and there seemed nothing that we liked until we reached a small irish pub and went in. Again we ordered by looking and pointing to the menu pictures and words and luckily for us it had some English. We were drinking a beer for about an hour when suddenly the waiter comes and says (well points to the food section of the menu) no food just drinks. Well we had been waiting for an hour for our food in vain just to be told no food at that time. So we paid and walked out heading to our hotel for the night.
August 7 Last day in Novosibirisk, flight to Beijing China
Our last day in Russia has arrived. We woke up late being very tired from the previous week trakking, hiking, and not sleeping well we decided to sleep in. We woke up at 10 or so in the morning and chilled int he room watch olympics, check emails and organized our stuff. At around 11:00 we had one alst shower and headed out the hotel room to check out and spend our last day in Novosibirisk wandering around the streets, seeing soem of the sights and trying to find a souvenier shop.
And so we decided to go have western breakfast at a small cafe called BLISS recommended by the Lonely Planet. We arrived there following a not so good map, but with Kyle´s good sense of direction and me trying to spot the place we made it just in time for brunch. The place looked very nice, maybe a little pricey but it had very good recommendations. It had an outdoor terrace and some small tables inside and soem couch kind of tables on the upstairs floor. We chose to sit upstairs because it was really hot and also they had wifi and we could check our emails and other internet errands with our ipods. So we ordered a strawberry frappe and a mocha caramel frappe to drink. Both were good, but were very coffee flavored and we were expecting something mroe sweet and fruity. Then Kyle ordered a savory crepe with beed and some veggies and I ordered a sweet berries pancake. When the food arrived we placed both plates in the middle and shared, Kyle´s was really good and mine was ok a bit blend. We spent most of the morning and early afternoon eating and drinking tea and coffee and using the wifi. We finally left at around 3 o clock to search for a souvenier store and see some sights. We navigated through the streets and arrived at a small catholic church very European and Bizantine style. There was a mass going on so we could only see the outside and some of the inside throught the doors. After this must sigtseeig stop, we headed to the train station to catch a bus to the airport. We stop a few times at some stores in the underground passages and they were sellign the famouse Matrushkas but nothing else. So very dissappointed and with no souveniers we headed to the train station. I was quite a walk and on the way we bought some apples, oranges, water, juice and some snacks for the airplane ride.We reached the train station and very easily found the bus stop and the bus to the airport. We wandered for a bit and decided to eat some kind of shawarma at a local vendor. It was a busy day and many people were around the plaza going to the bus or train or buying food and drinks. While I was ordering and paying, Kyle noticed to young Russian guys eyeing and checking his height, size and our backpacks. He immediately became alert and gave them a look that meant i knwo you are watching me and i know how you proceed and so they left. We sat down at the plaza to eat the shawarmas, which were actually pretty good. After about half an hour the bus arrived and we went to get in early because it was packed. We had to sit separately, Kyle was in the front freezing and wet because the AC worked there and it also leaked while I was steaming and stuffy and hot in the back seat. We got to the airport and quickly found the international terminal, which was smaller and less busy than the national one and we sat down to eat snacks, play cards and wait for the plane. We bought some matrushkas and some dolls at the airport store, at least we got something and headed in the check in and boarding area.
The flight left Novosibirisk on time and it was pretty uneventful, we slept most of the time and arrive at Beijing at 7:00 AM just in time to take a quick trip to the Pearl market for last set of souveneirs.
August 8 Beijing Pearl Market and flight to Dalian
We arrived to Beijing on time just for a quick triip to the Pearl market. We found the storage luggage area and paid like $10 each to leave our backpacks and went to find the airport express train for 26RMB (4.5 $) to downtown. The airprot express train was really well mantained, clean, with AC and with English all around. We got to the subway after an hour and managed to buy a ticket to Tiantanamen where the Pearl Market is quickly and got in the first train we saw, we were lucky it was very crowded. We got to the Pearl Market area , but our first stop was a Chinese bakery we knew from tne previous beijing trip so we went in and got some bread, pastries and good iced tea for breakfast. We got into the Pearl Markt and started to browse where we waned to go . First stop electronics for a quick look. Then some silk scarves for Kyle´s mom, my sister and mom.Then a silk Chinese tie for Kyleñs dad and my grandpa. And then we went through some stalls to get gifts for our nieces and nephews, sisters and others.
It was a quick and good morning for shopping and we got quite good prices after bargaining.
After an hour and a half we decided it was time to head back to the airport and so we took the subway and then the airport express train to the airport. We reached the airport on time, colelcted our backpacks, checked in and even had time for a quick end of our trip nice lunch of Peking duck!. It was a kind of fnacy express fast food Chinese restaurant and they had Peking duck on the menu in whole and half. We chose the half portion, some veggies and a beers and ate our last meal.
After literally gobbling up the duck, which was quite good we headed to the security and gate check in and boarded the flight to Dalian right on time.
The flight was an hour long and we slept most of the way, We were the only two people on our whole row so we lifted the arm rester and slept very comfortable. We reached Dalian on tiem, surprisingly as all Dalian flights are delayed and got our backpacks and headed out to get a cab to tne train station to train hiome to Jinshitan.
The train ride was crowded with shoveling, pushing, yelling and we could tell we were back home! halfway through our ride we decided to stop at Kaifaqu to get some small groceries at Delli harbor and also get a well deserved massage. We stopped at Kaifaqu and headed out Five Color City where we usually get massages. Kyle got a back and body massage I got a head, feet massage. It felt great! We then went to Delli Harbor and bought soem food for two days and also for Kyle to have when he gets back from Canada. Finally at around 5 or 6 we reached the Kuai Guai Station in Jinshitan and took our last cab ride of the day to Kyle´s apartment.
We were home and all we wanted was a comfortable bed, a warm shower, clean clothes and Western food!
What an adventure!!! Summer 2012 Mongolia and Russia!!!!