Explorer Mikael Strandberg

20 years since Expedition Siberia: We made it to Zyryanka

Tuesday, 12th of October, we’ve arrived in Zyryanka, a settlement located at 65 degrees North and 43,57.4 and East 150 degrees 54.00.9, temperature is -15 degrees below zero Celsius. We paddled over 60 km:s the last day, which in total means that we’ve paddled over 1400 km:s since our start at the Kulu bridge. Zyryanka is the end of the paddling part of the Expedition.

One thing is for sure, we made it to Zyryanka just in time!

We had to use our rubber Alley canoe as an icebreaker the last 100 yards before reaching mainland Zyryanka. A work the canoe was not constructed to handle, therefore we nervously navigated our way through an labyrinth of fast floating ice, evening darkness and the local dogs barking at us aggressively. We froze worse than we ever did during the expedition, whilst waiting for our friends Sergey and Sergey to arrive and help us. I checked my Alba thermometer, noticed the temperature was -15 degrees Celsius and thought:
”We’ll never survive the upcoming winter!”

At that stage, I had forgotten that we’ve actually paddled a record 60 km:s during 8 hours of hard paddling. During the paddling, it is just the upper part of the body which is activated, but the lower part is frozen stiff. At that stage, I had also forgotten the Siberian warmth.

Zyryanka is exactly the image of that small Siberian settlement, that I had made up for myself back home before leaving Sweden. Black industrial smoke from brick chimneys, the smell of coalmine, icing cold, fur clad Siberians hobbling along frozen, muddy dirt roads, surrounded by ramshackle houses, rubbish, old cars, motorbikes and lorries spewing out bad smelling diesel fumes, lots of stray dogs and young kids with no future, smoking and looking tough and a distinct feeling of depression and no hope. But, as usual, all this was the outer shell of an entirely different reality dominated by Siberian joy and warmth!

We met Sergey and Sergey a week ago, on their yearly hunting tour. They gave us a few kilos of fresh moose meat. Extraordinary enough, it turned out that Sergey Zerbinov also was that contact in Zyryanka, that Dmitry Shparo had set up to help us out when arriving. Sergey differed from most Siberians we’d met up till than. He had traveled the world, mainly as a driver on different Expeditions. He speaks a bit of English, has a worthily manner, but is still very much the typical Siberian. Incredibly generous, kind, helpful beyond belief, where nothing is impossible, takes the day as it comes and is generally someone it is easy being with. The same applies to the other Sergey. When arriving, it turns out Sergey Z had set us up in a 3 roomed apartment in one of these typically bad smelling, ramshackle 2 storied apartment blocks which is typical Kolyma style. Once inside, we had everything needed. Lukewarm water, stove, kitchen, chairs, a table, electricity, a doorbell, a telephone for local calls and a heating far to hot! And, I’d like to point out, having a shower after 35 days, it is quite an experience!

Unfortunately, the joy of washing far outlasted the capacity of the tubing in the apartment. Suddenly the bathroom pipe exploded and water poured out fast. We panicked, of course. We took everything we could find in the way of towels, rugs and much more to stop the leak and the water, at the same time as we ran downstairs with buckets of water, quickly up again on squeaking stairs…well, suddenly the neighbor from the apartment below, a fat brusque lorry driver named….yes, Sergey…turned up yelling at us, that the water was showering him below! 10 minutes later, Sergey Z turns up with one of many friends, a plumber, a bag of cement and then took the only clean sheet we had in the apartment and quickly fixed the leak. Sergey, the driver, thought this was hilarious! And he got his revenge during the night. His snoring from below kept me awake.

We had an informal press conference at the local administration house today. The friendly, jovial local chief greeted us and said that he and many others had heard good things about our Expedition and that we differed very much from other groups of foreigners or Expeditions which had visited Zyryanka. The rumor said that we where more interested in how the local people lived, than avoiding them like the others. Whether this is true or not, I do not know, but we said that we would honor the rumor. For this reason, it seems like people will open their doors to their lives. Tonight, for example, we’ve been invited to the local nursery school to participate in a local fiesta.

Therefore, count on in depth reporting from Zyryanka some time ahead! About peoples life’s and thoughts. And maybe an answer how they can handle this upcoming freezing cold winter!

We’ve also realized that we will stay in Zyryanka at least a month. Our departure depends on when we consider the ice safe enough to ski on. The positive aspect of this, is that this gives us a proper chance to get to know the local Siberians and observe and learn how they live and see the funny ways of life. The negative aspect is that we than will end up skiing during the coldest and darkest time of the year…..average temperature is around -55 degrees Celsius….

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