Luis Fernando Medina Salazar

Siberian Travel Tale; Nyurba – unimaginable and deserted vastness

 

NYURBA,

FAR EAST SIBERIA.

An unimaginable & deserted vastness

by

Luis Fernando Medina Salazar

Long white roads cross the Siberian Landscape. Along the way, like frozen unearthed figures, stand still white trees. For miles, all your sight can reaches in the far horizon, are white forest, covered with a thick layer of snow that make the trees bend to create a unique winter world.

 “Make yourself confortable and enjoy the ride” our driver  Vasily said.

A 10 hours ride adventure from Yakutsk to Nyurba might sound like a nightmare, specially after 6 hours fly from Moscow, but once you are on the road your eyes will not close for a single second. I think this is the first time that i have enjoyed such a long trip on a car. Owls, huge black birds, deers, and the mighty Yakutian horses observe in a curious way our vehicle as we drive through.

“Here is the Nature’s kingdom where men are rarely seen, here there is an unimaginable and deserted vastness, here is Far East Siberia” said to me with a lovely smile Vasily and continued driving.

Aren’t you cold? was the most asked question once i arrived to Nyurba. With a temperture, what for locals was a mild, beginning of the spring -40, the siberian country side has one of the most severe winters in Russia, with tempertures dropping to sometimes -70 degrees celsius. “Here in Siberia we can’t imagine how people in hot countries tolerate tempertures of +30 most of the year ” said Viktor Borisov, a local resident and administrator of the History & Natural museum in Nyurba. After that statement, the perception that i had about living in hot countries completely changed in my mind.

 Cup of tea? a question that was like music to my ears, asked Viktor’s wife Sveta once i sat down and shared the table with a Sakha family for the first time. The western idea of considering tea as national drink in England might change soon, i said to myself as Sveta poured hot water into my empty cup.

Early morning breakfast could put youself into serious troubles, specially if you are a vegetarian; Sakha people’s national food consist in Horse meat and literaly they eat it all. The Horse is for Sakha people not just a part of their everyday life meal, but also a deep part in their folk, traditions and believes. “We cant imagine our lives without 2 things: Horses & snow” said Antony, a secondary school english teacher as he took a big piece of frozen raw slice of meat into his mouth. The Yakutian horse is very strong and is one of very few animals that put up with the extreme winter tempertures that last for 9 months in fasr east Siberia.

On the shores of the Lake Vilyuy, deep in the heart of Siberia and with a population of 10.000 people, you find the town of Nyurba. Here, it is hard to imagine to find a well organize village that with the efforts of its people, a slow but contagious development takes place in many fields. White shining walls of the main hospital’s interiors and some of the most sofisticated treatments, were some of the facts that took my attention, as i put on a blue plastic cover in my shoes to enter the main room, to avoid the contamination of the area.

Rainbow colors comming from a dark room and long soft sofas to chill out, give the impresion to be in a Club’s Lounge rather than a children hospital. “Here the kids come and relax themselves with colorful shining lights” explain to me the director of the hospital aria.

Off the beaten track, the Village of Kjundjadja is located 20 minutes away by car from Nyurba. The sense of vastness increases when you look around trying to see a sign of surrounding villages in vain. Long extensions of forest and frozen rivers capture your attention. Horses walk lonely like if they were a domestic pet in a huge backyard. “This is a land of hunters, of warriors fighting back against the strongest forces of nature to make it day by day ” spoke up loud Mary, a local teacher who was my translator during my short but memorable stay in that town.

Alexander the great must have felt the same when he first saw unknown worlds and they welcomed him with the best of their food and dances. In his diary, he claimed that “Far far east, after the land of the Tatars, exist a folk with no princes and uncivilized.” Well, he was completely wrong. Ancient ceremonies were the highlights of my visit; well dressed girls and boys recalled in my mind images of lost kingdoms with royal societies; captivating dances and melodic voices were all over the place; colorful outfits made me doubt about my actual location, but what really made me wonder whether or not that was the coldest place on our planet, was the amazing warmness of its people.

“Put on something warmer on” i was adviced by the group of hunters before our departure to do some ice fishing. Outside, the sun shined, but just to give light. It was an orange-pinkish colour falling into the Taiga forest. Reindeer boots, militar camuflash patterns suits, and a courage greater than the Siberian wolf are needed to succeed as a Hunter in this hostile environment. Prepared with the necessary equipment, a drive through the snow was the hardest part of the excursion, strugling to get through tones of thick white powder to find the hiden white ways across the permafost, was the real challenge.

The 10 steps process before you finally fish something, has to be made as soon as possible before you end up inside an ice cube. 3 meter ice layer form a natural barrier between you and the water. “Everyone comes here to do some fishing once in their lives” said to me Mary, while she looked at my astonished face when suddently a couple of small fish jumped out of the water.

“Come to Siberia anytime you want, here averything is free” laughed out loud Dimitry, a local horse men and hunter. Outside his small but warm cottage a pile of ice blocks lie inside a wooden box. Lots of ideas crossed my mind to guess what they might need ice for, but it was invain. “You see this ice” i was asked by Dinitry, “well, you just drank water from those blocks”. The adventage to be so close to nature is giantic; fresh Taiga forest red berries, fresh meat from different animals and fresh water from the lake!! even if they have to melt it first, the idea is fantastic, isnt it?

A 3 hours way by car and a road that could easily beat up the most exciting roller coster in a western country amusement park, is what takes to reach the Village of Malykai. Horse farms, a strong Sakha identity and a very kind people is the main characteristic of the place. “Have you tried kumis already” asked my host family right after i crossed the door of their house. It is also spelled kumiss or koumiss in Englis, which is a fermented dairy product traditionally made from mare’s milk. The drink remains important to the peoples of the Central Asian Stepes. A sour taste invaded my mouth as i took the first sip, it reminded me like some European sour cheese taste. It didn’t take long for me to enjoyed it and asked for my second glass. “Now you can say you have been to Yakutsk” everybody in the table said with a non-stop laugh.

20 km away from Malykai, the small village of Chatyi, Megeschekskii nasleg, stays umtouched by the modernity. The rural atmosphere that predominate in this northerst human settlement in the Region, heals your soul and clear your thoughts. Dogs barking in front of colorful houses, kids playing in the snow, families taking a walk have changed the wheeled baby trolley by an ice slider. All this scenario takes place while the sun shines in the far horizon. “We must enjoy the sun now when its getting warmer” said Julia, member of the municipality and director of the History and Natural musuem ,where a bunch of lovely kids were waiting for me to explain with such an excitement the history and traditions of the Village.

Happy faces filled up the rooms, at the kinder garden, where i was introduced to the children. Their faces looked a bit confused with my presence; they kept looking at the camera like if they were posing for a fashion magazine. With such an spontaneous moment i realesed the camera shoter several times, i could have stay for hours there, but the time was up, the sun was hidding in the horizon, it was time to keep on with my trip.

“Put on something warmer on” i was adviced by the group of hunters before our departure to do some ice fishing. Outside, the sun shined, but just to give light. It was an orange-pinkish color falling into the Taiga forest. Reindeer boots, militar camuflash patterns suits, and a courage greater than the Siberian wolf are needed to succeed as a Hunter in this hostile environment. Prepared with the necessary equipment, a drive through the snow was the hardest part of the excursion, strugling to get through tones of snow to find the hiden white ways across the permafost, was the real challenge.

The 10 steps process before you finally fish something, has to be made as soon as possible before you end up inside an ice cube. 3 meter ice layer form a natural barrier between you and the water. “Everyone comes here to do some fishing once in their lives” said to me Mary, while she looked at my astonished face when suddently a couple of small fish jumped out of the water.

“Come to Siberia anytime you want, here averything is free” laughed out loud Dimitry, a local horse men and hunter. Outside his small but warm cottage a pile of ice blocks lie inside a wooden box. Lots of ideas crossed my mind to guess what they might need ice for. “You see this ice” i was asked by Dinitry, “well, you just drank water from those blocks”. The adventage to be so close to nature is giantic; fresh Taiga forest red berries, fresh meat from different animals and fresh water from the lake!! even if they have to melt it first, the idea is fantastic, isnt it?

My last stop was the charming village of Nyurbatschaan, located 19km away from Nyurba. I visited a school to withness the unique Sakha way and secrets to keep themselves fit and fight back the hostile winter. “This kind of jump is called kuobach, or the rabbit in English language, explained to me the fitness director of the school. Long jumps by the school children that could be compared with those made by the gold medal olimpic winner in gymnastic, give the name to this sport; a great flexibility made them look like if they were made of rubber, and a great sense of coordination is the main characteristic developed by this kind of training.

A Sakha version of the western Chess game got my attention. With special carved wooden figures of animals and knights taken from one of the many Sakha fairy tales, “Sonor” is the most traditional table game. Agility and coordination games replace the Nintendo videos, which are now a days found in most houses of a modern society. “This is a game of concentration and coordination and belongs to the Sakha traditions and culture.” said Antoni, a secondary school teacher.

“It is party time. Get ready for 3 hours road adventure”, laughed Viktor. The memmories of the ups and downs that we have already experienced was about to begin again when we were ready to get in our russian truck and get back to Nyurba. This time however, didn’t feel that wild, maybe because either we were exhausted or because our thoughts and souls were still enjoying the time we had in the Siberian country side.

An spontaneous stop in the middle of the road woke me up, when 3 men jumped at the rear part of our car, took a bottle of Yakutian Vodka and started to celebrate like if we were in the National day. “Are you really from Mexico” asked one of them; what do you think about Yakutia? asked another; will you ever come back? the third man asked and gave me a shot of vodka. After 10 minutes of questions and laughs i asked Viktor to translate a question for me to them ” Why are you here, is your truck broken? Viktor couldn’t hold his smile and replied to me” They stopped, bacause they wanted to see you and talk to you, thats the reason”. I could never imagine that my visit to those villages had been broadcasted through all the long reach radios, and by the time i was leaving, every single house in the area knew about my visit. “You are the first foreign ever in this Region” said Viktor with a voice that made eco for the rest of my trip. ” We see you again, the world is round” with those words the 3 men left our truck and continue their trip back home.  If i could describe the Sakha heart and soul the first words comming at the top of my mind would be “warm and kind” i mentioned to Viktor, who was also surprised by the nature of our short encounter with the 3 unknown hunters.

Once Lao Tzu, a mystic philosopher of ancient China said “The further one goes, the less one knows.”  Well, Siberia is just an example of how much we need to learn about our planet and its different ways of life in order to appreciate them. Siberia could have one of the outdoors coldest tempertures on earth, but inside every home you will be conforted with the most amazing warmness you have ever felt.

Luis Fernando Medina Salazar is a Mexican freelance Photographer and Traveler living in Lucerne, Switzerland.

With a deep individual Vision he tries with his project “PASSENGER DIARIES” to describe the World and interpret its people; events and festivals; issues and personalities; reflecting all aspects of life throughout the Planet Earth with imagination and brilliance in a great collection of documentary photography. He gives a SENSE OF THE PLACE as far as it can be caught by the lens.

The main purpose is to inspire people through the images collected in all my years living abroad and having the privilege to travel the world for over 20 years, counting so far 20 countries in different continents, to explore magical and unknown places. Joining my 2 passions in life as a freelance photographer and adventurous traveler I share ideas, thoughts, a shared human quality, a curiosity and respects about what is going on in the World and finally to express it visually. I took my first picture at the age of 15, in a trip to Patagonia, Argentina with my family, where my interest woke up and my passion to capture beautiful and unique moments of life was developed.

Read more at www.passengerdiaries.com

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