No picnic # 1
Nikolaevsk-na-Amure Travel Blog› entry 53 of 125 › view all entries
It`s the journey that counts, not the destination. And that`s a very good thing, for the destination turned out to be a rather dismal place, despite the guidebooks` praise.
Komsomolsk, my first stop on the majestic Amur river, isn`t completely devoid of a certain charm, but not exactly a must-see either. One thing that grabbed my attention was the agressiveness of the statues: the builders of the first builders memorial looks as if they are going to beat something (or someone) up rather than build it; there`s a guy on skis with a torch, perhaps an image of Olympic spirit, but it looks more like he`s about to burn someone`s house down; and even Lenin, usually portrayed as a nice chap, looks very severe. A sign of the times perhaps (Komsomolsk was built in 1932), or just an angry sculptor?
I got to Nikolaevsk after a 12 hour boat ride, offering spectacular views and uncomfortable seats. My map shows a minor road (probably a dirt track) for half the way, but beyond that the villages can only be reached by boat in summer, and sometimes by car if the ice is thick enough to drive on in winter. Between them there is nothing but hills and seemingly untouched forests (though at the archeology museum I learned the area has been inhabited for a long time). It was raining heavily when we set ashore, and for once I`d not packed my raincoat on top. The only hotel in town was full. I have been hauling around a tent exactly for that event, but because of the rain and the aproaching dusk, I asked if there was perhaps another hotel? No, but there was a dorm building just down the street, I should try there. There they told me I could stay for 1 night (which cost about 3 Euro), and then in the morning I should try the hotel again. An ancient chain-smoking woman with more wrinkles than I have ever seen on someone in my life, brought me to a small, messy, obviously inhabited room, made my bed on the couch, and offered me tea and bread (instead of speading out the margarine, she layed it on in slices as if it were cheese). I assumed this was her sitting-room and she was going to leave me soon, but then she spread out a matress on the floor for herself. I guess if I were a better person I would`ve offered here the couch. But hey, I did pay 117 rubles, and it`s not as if that included any other comfort - the cockroach-infested kitchen was also the bathroom. The next morning (my birthday) the hotel still had no room for me. It still rained. I decided to take a boat to Khabarovsk that evening (it would leave just before midnight). Of course there was no left-luggage office, so I had to carry around my big bag all day. According to Lonely Planet "... a quaint air hangs over Nikolaevsk today, with its tree-lined streets squeezing between many wooden houses" but that turned out to be a load of crap! I would call it sad rather than quaint and the wooden houses (of which I`ve seen many far finer examples in Ulan Ude, Gremyachinsk and Kyakhta) are outnumbered by ugly appartment blocks. I was bored, wet and miserable, and felt utterly sorry for myself.
Still, one day I looked at the world map which hamgs in the corridor at home, pointed at this city and said to myself I would go there - and I did, and isn`t that something to be proud of? And who said backpacking should be a picnic?