A journey not only into the wilderness, but into the mind
"It was a moment that brought us down-to-earth after a few days of travel during which we discovered the mystique of Russian culture.
Out in the wilderness, this mystique was replaced by the beautiful yet deceiving façade of nature, which beneath it had a brutality and an unforgiveness about it that could very well be fatal." Read part 1 here
But let me introduce you to our ‘team’. For under two weeks, 4 Russians, 1 Swiss, 2 Belgians and 1 Dutch would co-habit a few tents with nothing but each other for company. What could possibly go wrong?
I thought about this as we were unpacking and assembling our gear shortly after the helicopter dropped us off. How crazy it is that 4 nationalities could be assembled, thousands of kilometres from home, in this barren corner of the globe? And for what, of all things – the pursuit of fish?
Yeah, quite crazy, I told myself as we started inflating one of the two rafts that would float us down the river over the coming days.
"If the unfurling of a perfect cast onto the water, with no splash, no noise, just the ripple of the fly hitting the surface, isn’t what paradise feels like - what is?"
I was quickly interrupted from my dream-like state though by the ‘gulping’ sound of deep, sticky mud beneath my wading boots. I had to move, quickly, or risk losing a boot in this dastardly mud that was threatening to suck up my boots. And I only had one pair with me... bummer. After some exertion, I extricated myself from this literally ‘sticky’ situation and headed to the nearby bank. This was when I spotted the tracks. Bear tracks.
Twice the size of my hand, they lay there in the mud like an ominous ‘beware’ sign. A stark reminder of the perpetual danger we were in. This was once again a moment of brutal realization that shook me back to earth, and dispelled any of my previous therapeutic thoughts.
I stood there for a few seconds too long obviously, staring blankly at the message that was so clearly left for me right there, in the earth. The ‘Gulp’, ‘gulp’ of the mud sucking at my boots reminded me that I should head back to the rest of the tribe, where the rafts were now ready for our first cruise down the Ozernaja river of Russia’s Kamchatka Peninsula.
"Twice the size of my hand, they lay there in the mud like an ominous ‘beware’ sign. A stark reminder of the perpetual danger we were in."
On that very first evening we set up our tents on a bushy bank of the river. Here, our friends the mosquitoes were determined to make our life a living hell. So, I left the tent-erecting to pay the members of the tribe an immense favour. Smoke, it turns out, is the mosquito’s version of a ‘living hell’. I rumbled around collecting as much wood as I could and tried hard to light what resembled a fire. When all the timber around you is wet, it is much harder than it seems to light a fire. So instead of paying the tribe an immense favour, I dejectedly went to Igor with a favour of my own. In true, no-nonsense Russian style he doused my twigs with fire-starting alcohol and a veritable mini-bonfire was soon burning away.
Lighting a fire was the least of our concerns that night though. That whole afternoon we had caught nothing. We had seen plenty of fish, and similarly tried plenty of flies, but the fish would alas not give themselves up to us.
A silent, secret acknowledgement rested over us that evening; that towards the end of the journey a day without fish would mean a day without food. Our provisions of bread and other basic foods would, alone, not last us till the end of the expedition. We needed to catch fish, and fast.
To be continued