Somewhere in the taiga –
15th of February 2013 –
Around -30 degrees Celsius (amazingly warm!)
’“What do we do if people get seriously ill?’ Piotr repeated my question, slightly surprised, and immediately added his answer: ’“No one gets seriously ill out here on the taiga. Maybe a cold, but that is it.’“
Piotr is Vika’s father. He has lived pretty much all his life out in the taiga, tending reindeer. A lot of it by himself. He is one of the most relaxed people I have ever come across. There´s a high degree of serenity in people who have spent all their life out in the great outdoors, living in a small tent most of time, dealing with the forces of nature, including extreme cold, hunger and wild animals. In this little temporary camp, the talk over the campfire is dominated by reindeer stories and tales about hunting success or meeting wild animals. Anything can happen. This time, last year, Piotr together with his wife Jevdokya and little Andre travelled from Arkah (which is our goal about 14 days away) to here, crossing a lake on bare ice. When suddenly a brown bear shot out of the bushes and attacked one of the reindeer. The other reindeer panicked and one of them ran away with little Andre, 5 years old at that time, whilst Piotr shot many times at the bear with a small caliber rifle, probably a .222, barely hurting him. But did get him to turn away. Another guy, Vika’s brother Kolya, got attacked the same year by another bear, who scratched and bit him. Two stories which would have made it in Readers Digest, but for the Eveny here, just another day in the taiga. Or as they say to all questions about their health or situation, no matter how bad, or good;
Yet again, there is great drama on our route. As I wrote in the last dispatch, Yura´s wife is pregnant in the 8th month and yesterday, suddenly things started to happen. Piotr and his wife tried to get through on the radio, but nobody answered their calls. So Yegor, always the man to deal with most things difficult, phoned up the responsible for Okhotsk hospital and managed to persuade them to send a helicopter, a classic MI8, which arrived today among great mountain peaks and landed a few hundred metres from this camp. One of Slava´s brothers had been their guide and was picked up in Khabarovsk, where he is studying. Anyone can see he had adapted city manners, donning hot sunglasses and clothes. The helicopter included a nurse from Okhotsk and three Russian pilots from Khabarovsk, cheery fellows. They picked up Yura´s wife Larissa, little Andrew, Jevdokenya and quite a lot of reindeer meat, not knowing our Eveny team members. They shouldn´t have to pay, according to pilot, who knows these things. The helicopter left sugar, tea and flower which was asked for by Piotr, who is now, once again, by himself in camp. We others have all left.
Yura is still with us and I admire him for staying with us even though he is obviously very worried for his wife. I really hope all goes well because there have been some discussions that our filming isn´t too good. The elder generation Eveny believe that a photo or film will shorten your lifetime.
’“I have never met a shaman’“, Piotr answered, when I asked if he had ever had any use or help from these legendary medicine men or women; ’Most of them got killed during the Soviet time and have never returned.’
’“Do you believe in a higher being or a God?’I asked whilst sitting in his very comfortable tent and he said: ’Well, we do sacrifice to the fire and believe in something higher than humankind, but if it is a God, I cannot say’“
All Piotrs answers where very full of wisdom. Even when Bolot asked him, after hearing he said all his children had preferred the life in the taiga, asked him:
’But maybe they were pressured by you?’“
’I have never pressured anyone’“, Piotr answered; ’Even the son who is studying in Khabarovsk (the one who came with the helicopter and returned with them) wants to come back to the taiga. The call of this place cannot be ignored.’“
The Eveny are definitely not the most emotional people I have met. Life just goes on with no great drama. No matter what happens they stay amazingly calm. The liveliest of them all is Slava, who is extraordinarily smart and intelligent. He solves any technical problem. He’s given us ideas how to film with a wide angle action camera called GoPro and he is always joking and laughing loudly. He wanted to continue to study medicine but as for most of our members, their parents needed their help and they all said yes to their call. I have asked all of them and their is no regrets, but Slava says, if he and Vika get children (they have lost two at child birth), he wants them to continue to study, because he says:
’“That is the only way to survive in the future.’“
As for their dreams for the future, they have all the same one, to get a more secure life, maybe even more comfortable, and become as they say, wealthy. And when they mean wealthy, they´re talking the amount of reindeer. The figure for wealth seems to be set at around 500. None of them are even close to this figure today. And since we have lost three reindeer on this trip, they have suffered badly as such. A reindeer costs around 25 000 rubles (about 800 dollars). But loosing reindeer is as they say, a very normal part of their daily life. Everything from wild animals to their constant roaming of the harshest parts of the taiga, takes its toll of reindeer.
We non-Eveny have had 3 nights of rest in camp – Godsend. The start was brutal as was the extreme cold and even if Yura the Photographer and I freeze every night and sleep little, it is still so much easier than the first week of extreme cold. The problem now is the high temperatures around -35 degrees Celsius in the night offering wind plus humidity. Yet, freezes your bones. Yura has a cold due to his crappy equipment and I due to the fact I still have not acclimatized. It has been more than 7 years since I spent any serious length of time in these low temperatures outdoors. It does take time with age. Ah, yes, I am turning 51 today.
Yegor is doing a splendid job keeping us all together, finding the right angels and people for the documentary. He sleeps with the Eveny every night, mainly because it is impossible to sleep before late midnight in our tent. Yura and I need to transfer files every day and night. At least 3 hours per day. I have to say, this is very tiring. But part of doing a major motion film! Yura is in many ways a copy of Johan Ivarsson, who I had the privilege to journey down the Kolyma river back in 2004-05. Extremely positive, hard working, fun and a great guy in every way.
Bolot has been down and out in a sore throat for a few days. He is on antibiotics however back full speed today. He is priceless as a translator, overseer of all papers needed to be signed and I am extremely impressed with how he is handling this world of expeditions. He is a gem.
It was Valentines Day yesterday and I spent ll of it thinking about my great love Pamela and my two daughters. This expedition is teaching me so many things in many ways. As always I hope to come out a better human out of it. This is always the main goal. Film wise, gee, these images, these people, best material I have ever had and seen. My wife Pamela would love it out here!
I´d like to write so much more but my fingers a freezing cold. Our tent is still to crappy and the wood stove, well, it works better in higher temperatures!
By the way, we had cooked reindeer intestines yesterday/ I really liked the diaphragm! But not the spongy….well, let us say lower parts….
Ah yes, today´s trip…as usual after a rest it takes a whole day to assemble the reindeer so we basically set off in the dark and traveled until 10 p.m to set up another Siberian camp in dark. I regret not bringing all the Tentipi gear including a wood stove and we would be running in 20 minutes. But I’m here to see how the Even deal with life…a great trip including the arrival of new reindeer. They are very jumpy initially.
Yura and I will work with transferring files until 2-3 a.m. Bolot is still awake though and Slava has come to see, as he does everyday, the Gopro films!
Map Expedition Route click here