I have to admit that my first few encounters with Russian people on the west side of Russia (ESPECIALLY the border customs officers and police) did not give me a good opinion of Russians at all. I found most of them to be quite unfriendly (I must say not all but most), unhelpful and some just rude. I had heard great reports on the people in Russia so found this strange and a little sad. After crossing into Russia on the east side and finding the border officials pleasant things just got better. Russians on the east side of Russia are so different to those on the west it’s amazing they are really friendly and helpful. I think the people in Siberia should be called Siberians and not Russians so everyone knows they are different. One of the most pleasant and interesting experiences we had on the trip was the Russian hospitality experienced in Kaunda. This was so unexpected and so generous I find it hard to believe there are any people anywhere as generous as the families we met in Kaunda.
So how this all started is with the rail guard I mentioned before who would not let us cross the rail bridge. So back in Kaunda we spent the day in the train station while Jeff tried to arrange a train platform to take the bikes and 4×4 across the river to the next town. Quite a difficult task when none of us speak Russian. Anyway we were told to come back tomorrow and it would be sorted and we could leave at 12. So we settle in resigned to spending the night in the train station. Since it mine and Khairuls tern to cook we head outside and make the evening meal. This lady turns up and tried to explain by means of hand signals that we can stay in her place. Maybe an hour alter and with help from some other locals who speak broken English we figure out that this lady is offering us her new house – they will move in there in a few weeks, it is empty but DRY 🙂
We cannot believe our luck a ROOF over our heads for the night WOW to us this was like finding the Ritz in the middle of the Amazon. It’s amazing how little things like this just makes ones day when you are wet and miserable. Lida and Dimi (Lidas husband Demitri) turn out to the nicest kindest friendliest people you can imagine. They refused to take a single rouble in payment for offering us their house. Gave us some duvets etc to try and make us more comfortable on their floor kept on apologising for the lack of mattresses… JEEZ if only they knew how amazing having a room for the night was.
They offered us tea and dried fish a Russian snack it’s like fish biltong (jerky) very oily but actually very nice. They did accept a gift of tea and chocolate from us but that was all and took us to their house to show us their place, dog, bike (Dimi rides a big check off-road 500) , tank SERIOULYH he has a tank that he uses in winter and to go over the mountain to go finishing in. He is a jeweller and works from home so showed us his little work shop. It was great and really interesting to see their place and how they live and where they dry the fish (a tad on the smell y side) the time spent in Kaunda was just priceless.
We met an English speaking teacher Tanya who helped us a lot on that day before she left for her holiday. Then the next door neighbours son who also spoke some broken English turned out to be an angle when he helped Jeff on the second day go back to the train station to sort out the platform. The worst part of Russia is the beurocracy. The platform which is there at the station and would cost us 27000 roubles could not be paid for at the station but the money had to be deposited directly into the railway account but ONLY from another Russian federation bank account. SO we were stuck but to cut a long story short Leda came to the rescue again and used her account to transfer the money. What a burocratic saga.
Needless to say this meant we had to spend another day in Leda and Dimis house in Kuanda. We had no complains as we were dry but really itching to get back on the BAM and continue our trip.
The second night we stayed the next door neighbour Tatiana who is the local Dr and her sister who owns a little tea house in the village (there are only 200 people living in Kuanda) arranged a surprise dinner for us at the tea house. They laid on a spread brought out the best china and fed us true homemade Russian borsch (meat soup) YUM it was yet another show of just how hospitable the Russians can be. Before we left Tatiana gave me a traditional Russian doll which I wrapped up very safely and will post home as soon as I can so that it does not get broken. I was speechless what a lovely things to do for a total stranger. Tatiana and I did have some fun trying to communicate by way of dictionary and a good laugh when she warned me to tell Cesar not to drink the milk he was offered by a couple of Russians in the tea house as it would give him diarrhoea. The dictionary does not have this word in it so by way of gestures and fluid chair (the best words Tatiana could find to make me understand) we had a good laugh. This is one of those travel experiences that I will never forget.