Discovering the world on $20 per day ......................

Post 90: Amur Highway

After pitching camp just off the highway and safely hidden from passing traffic, …. we met Alexander. Miles from any village, … deep in the heart of Siberia, .. Alexander appears silently on foot and stands at a safe distance from our small camp, …. awaiting our response. Dressed in military fatigues, he stands at the end of our ‘slip road’ carrying an old army rucksack and a walking stick fashioned from an old chrome umbrella. As with all travellers that we meet, .. Alexander is invited to share our fire, our coffee and what little food we have. He asked if we knew of the old border crossing towards China where there was a small Chapel, .. a place where he intended to spend the night. We show him photographs that I’d taken of the Church whilst Alan had been inside, …. It was some 10Km west along the road, … Alexander nodded, … this was his destination for the evening. He mentioned that this particular church had a special significance to travellers along the Amur, …. but he chose not to explain why, … he simply looked towards Alan and smiled.

Alexander is a ‘Cossack’ and very proud of his heritage. He talks in excellent English, .. his words are few and well chosen with long pauses for thought and reflection. We ask few questions and are content to simply hear this old man’s stories. Alan’s mood is visibly lifted as he sits at Alexander’s feet and listens intently to his every word. He talks of exploring the area north of Vladivostok by bicycle, of encounters with bears and tigers, .. he tells of his time in the Atlas Mountains and of his days on pilgrimage to Jerusalem.

For the past ten years Alexander has been wandering the world in search of something , .. but he knew not what he was looking for until recently. Born in what is now a part of Kazakhstan, Alexander is walking from Vladivostok to St Petersburg where for the princely sum of 60,000RR (£1,500) he will receive a Russian passport and a small plot of land on which he will build his house and grow vegetables. Although he was born ‘Russian’, …. as a citizen of Kazakhstan he now needs a visa to visit what he considers to be his own country, .. a country for which he has fought in many conflicts, .. a country that he now feels has let him down.

We ask Alexander about the legality of purchasing his Russian passport, … he just shrugs and returns to his steaming coffee. He asks if we have encountered any bears and advises that we hang our socks on nearby trees before retiring to our tents, …. it will mark our territory and bears will fear to trespass, ….. or perhaps Alexander has simply smelt our socks.

As darkness begins to descend Alexander rises and starts heading towards the church at the old border crossing. I offer to take him there on the bike but he refuses, …. I think he senses that Alan and I have much to discuss and he is gone, …. disappearing into the trees as mysteriously as he had arrived.

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