Day 13 - Samara to Ufa
Samara was a detour from the most direct route; it would have saved a day and 250 miles if we had gone straight from Kazan to Ufa.
We had read however that Joseph Stalin's bunker had been found in Samara and turned into a museum. It is 37 metres deep, making it more protected than any other similar instalation of its time. Never used by Stalin, it remained hidden under a public building, unknown to locals, until its rediscovery in 1990. A mystery surrounds how such a project, clearly requiring hundreds of workers to construct, remained a secret to Samarans. One theory is that prisoners were used as slave labour then later executed.
Unfortunately our (well, ok, my) planning had let us down. It turned out that the bunker and museum is only opened to large prebooked tour groups, and not to walk-ins like us. We were told this the night before by our hosts at Like Hostel, but thought we would ask at the door regardless. Sadly, the elderly doorman wouldn't budge on the issue, so in protest we got in the car and drove to Ufa in the East.
One of the photos I've attached shows a single lane highway with a Russian driver totally ignoring the arrow on the back of a highway maintenance van to undertake on the dusty hard shoulder.
Russians undertake ALL the time. As John put it, it feels like Whacky Races sometimes. You learn fairly quicky when on 3-lane roads in cities to check both mirrors a lot, and on the whole, drivers seem to be quite aware of each other.
On the long straight roads between cities however, it gets a bit more wild west. Cars will try to overtake 3 trucks who are nose to tail on a blind bend, brow of a hill or in a gap of traffic that a Ferrari couldn't beat. Other drivers however seem to take the view that they would rather slow or make room to avoid kiiling the maniacs, so the practice seems to work. Suicidal tendencies do, it seems, pay.
On our first day in Russia we passed a small grass fire by the side of the road. The weather has been hot and dry for a week, and we have seen many other plumes of smoke form other
distant fires. Close to Ufa however, we came across a huge fire again right next to the road. A large cloud of smoke had blown across the highway making visibility almost nil. As you can see from the pics, I was terrified.
We've been gaining hours as we have moved east, and by this point had crossed 5 timezones. We got to Ufa at 10pm local time. Our accommodation was a hostel in a big residential building. The area was a bit grubby, but our host, a lady in her 70s, got out of bed to let us in and bring us sheets. She wore a floral nighty and slippers, and talked nonstop in Russian, but we have no idea what about. She didn't seem to mind that we didnt understand her, or that she didn't understand us. We resorted to what most people do, and nodded and smiled a lot. She was quite sweet really.
It was too much hassle by that time to try to find any nightlife, so we settled in to a game of poker. I set the other two up nicely for when we up the stakes next time, by deliberately getting
knocked out early. The other two had no appreciation for such subtleties, and played on heads up for another hour. John won. But I now know his tell.
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