an end has a start

Yuznho-Sakhlinsk Travel Blog

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Just so you know in case I need an alibi, I’m presently out in Sakhalin, Russia. It’s east, really, really east, and I’m yet again required to Not Do Things. Actually, that’s not particularly true �" they have done sweet f.a. up until now, and then me and the other operator show up and they want me to leave tomorrow, and I have to waste all of today doing a safety induction thing. I’m going to take a book for the boring bits, but apparently we do get lesson in what to if you’re attacked by a bear.

Shoot it, is the answer that comes to mind. Anyone who thinks this is cruel and heartless is more than welcome to come out here and act all tasty at a reasonable distance. Other than that, I guess you could always smother yourself in marmite �" it’s a 50/50 chance, at least.

There has been an AUT supervisor here for 7 weeks now, and his role was to set up the trucks and the scanner systems so that we two operators could take our teams and our trucks and head out to different parts of the island. They’ve made some big pipelines running north-south and we are just required to check the areas where the lines cross the geological faults in the region. Presumably so they can sue the planet?

Did I mention I have a truck? I’ve got a truck! It’s really quite big �" check it out!

Anyway, bugger-all has been done (a bit suspicious of the supervisor, who waited for me to get there to calibrate the scanner), and it seems to mainly be through the Russian client’s vogon beaurocracy and general unwillingness to accept responsibility (something required under Russian law, and it has to be a national who does this) for all the kit we’ve got.

Yuzog-Sakhalin, the main town on the island is pretty boring, I guess. It’s funny, the architecture here looks exactly the same as it does, thousands of miles away in the former bloc countries I’ve been to. OK, so Bulgaria does have some ‘traditional’ homes too which are lovely, but all I’ve seen here in YzS is some simply devine grey concrete boxes.

Unfortunately this is the downside of travelling for work �" you see the more functional (supposedly) side of a society and get a little jaded when it comes to the beauty that is expressed in so many ways around the world. The worst bit about here is the mountains behind the town, which look all misty and inviting in the morning and definitely far more fun than anything I’m supposed to be doing.

It used to be Japanese, until they got their toys taken off them, and a lot of the folks here have a Korean or Japanese heritage. It’s hard to imagine a country this big. I am still trying to get my head around an internal flight that lasted something like 10 hours.

You know when you hear or see on the news �" ‘Moscow confirms it lost contact with a civilian airliner over Siberia, and is now conducting a search’ �" and you just kind of switch off and think: “those crazy ruskies, they were probably drunk or the string holding the wings on snapped or something. Oh, bless ‘em!”..?

That’s exactly the kind of flight we took from Moscow. OK, there was no string holding the wings on �" the aircraft looked fine actually (that some of the ‘civvy’ jets we saw waiting on the tarmac looked to have bomb-aimer’s windows in the nose is none of my concern), but it was deceptively massive. It’s weird, it was like a big, aluminium bumble-bee; the engines were huge; the intakes being about 14 ft across, and inside was massive too �" you had about 9ft of headroom, it was like being a child again.

It was furnished like some kind of Blofeld wet-dream, too, with these big coffee-brown seats that would recline but not go back up (smooth, smith), and hostesses who seemed to make a habit of putting their make-up on during take-off and looked like Rosa Klebb. I spent most of the flight in suspended animation anyway, I believe I slept through an entire night, though with my huge jet-lag/no sleep thing going on one can never be too sure.

This may be my last email for a while. I am going to try and sort some kind of phone service out here. My wonderfully fancy global sim card has given up the ghost for some reason, so I am effectively cut off for now.

It looks like I am heading north tomorrow, into the wilderness and all sort of trouble, no doubt, though I feel wonderfully under-prepared for this as I still don’t have most of the essential kit I need to do my job - comfy chair, coffee maker and big-ass stereo are still nowhere to be seen. Looks like I’m going shopping.

Please do write and say hi, and tell me about all your decadent western ways and your rock and roll music. I don’t know when I’ll be checking in with the internet again, but you can pretty much guarantee that I’ll be bored and in need of someone to prattle at.

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