Day 2: We went for breakfast at a local restaurant then visited the museum. They had Stone Age implements and relics and a skeleton from a similar epoch. There was a reconstruction of a typical Altaian Ďaileí home somewhat like a yurt, which had different areas for the women, the men and the children. We saw stuffed animals from the region we were visiting and hoped to see some live and in the wild. We saw some space junk, pieces of space rockets and satellites that had been guided to fall to Earth in this sparsely populated area. There were pictures of the locals with some of it, clearly very proud!
The Gornoaltaysk Museum on 26/08/04
We were struck by how different everything was. We were aware that we were entering a region very different from our European home.
Russia is a country of two halves. The European half is not so different from the rest of Europe. Since the onset of perestroika in 1992, Western companies have made huge progress in penetrating the Russian markets. McDonnalds, Coca Cola, Pepsi and Phillips appear on neon signs everywhere you look. So many words are recognisable that one cannot help but wonder what the Russians themselves think of it. When we posed this question there was a split, those that were old enough to know the Soviet regime felt a little uncomfortable about the changes, those who were in their teens or younger when it happened were far more accepting of them and welcomed the arrival of western culture and pop songs.
The other half of Russia is Asian and we were about to get up close and personal with it.
Outside the Gornoaltaysk Museum on 26/08/04
We got back into our ex military Ambulance. These vehicles were all over the place. They were mechanically simple and robust. They ran on poor quality petrol. We use 95 octane fuel in the UK, these things ran on 80 octane.
We began our drive of another 400km on to Ustí-Koksa village, where the office of the Katunsky Nature Reserve is located.
The road passes through all the major landscapes of Altai (except for the alpine zone). We all managed to sleep like babies for large periods of time.
The scenery gradually changed as it opened out and the road surface got gradually worse.
We stopped for fuel on the way to stretch our legs. We met a camel and watched the river for a while.
We crossed three mountain passes and enjoyed wonderful panoramas. We passed a number of Altaian villages where it was still possible to see traditional hexagonal yurts covered with bark. The road got progressively worse until we left the tarmac behind and made full use of the four wheel drive as we bounced through giant ruts across the broken muddy remains of the road that was being completely rebuilt. We arrived in Ustí-Koksa quite late and went for a meal in a local restaurant before going to the hotel. There were some women drinking and dancing. They were on a hen night as far as we could tell. The indications were that it was something to avoid.
The restaurant had no milk for the Girls to drink. In fact, there were a lot of things they didnít have. Tatiana couldnít decide whether we would have breakfast there or in the hotel in the morning. In the end, we had some nice food and decided not to come back for breakfast. We got back in the van and went to find the hotel where we had our first banya, which was a sort of steam bath in a hut at the bottom of the garden. There was a sort of changing room with birch twigs, a hot room and a very hot room. Christina said the birch twigs were to beat ourselves with. We thought she was joking. We later found out that you dip them in the buckets of cold water and splash yourself with them to bring your temperature down when you canít stick the heat any more. There was a water tank connected to the stove to provide hot water.