A warm welcome to Russia: Vladivostok to Khabarovsk

A warm welcome to Russia: Vladivostok to Khabarovsk

It was a long and expensive wait to get my Russian visa, so to be finally arriving in Vladivostok, the famous Russian city of the east, was a little surreal. I was admitedly nervous though about passing through immigration. I hadn’t solid proof of exit as I was on bicycle and I was on a business visa; I was obviously not a business man. That said, no questions were asked and I even received a sly smile from the middle aged immigration officer. I was in!

When arriving in a new country by bicycle the few minutes are always a bit nervous. New side of road, new drivers, a new philosophy. First thing I noticed was how little space there was for cyclists, how busy and hilly the roads were. Google maps weren’t working so I had to rely on my wits to find the hostel I had researched. After 30 minutes I was very lost… Then, as luck would have it Anya, a fellow cyclist appeared to see where I was heading. She was a local so knew the area and offered to show me the way. We cycled for 30 minutes before finally arriving in the neighborhood. In true ‘Soviet’ the Hostel had no sign whatsoever and was just a simple apartment. It was cheap and would suffice. I needed to get my visa registered; another further annoying requisite a foreigner had to do. They couldn’t do it; so the following day I checked into an actual ‘Hotel’. It was the first time since I left Dalian that I had a room to myself. I took advantage of this and stayed inside for a day, relaxed and caught up on some ‘work’.

The following day Egor, my soon to be warmshowers host came to pick me up outside the Hotel. He cycled 40 minutes to come and get me. For the next 5 nights I stayed with his family. They were so kind, welcoming and friendly I could write a whole article on them. Egor took me on a tour of the city, gave Stella a good proper service, and helped me find some essentials for the trip ahead. I also was a guest at the school where his wife Alina worked. The students were very smart and engaging; though seemingly more interested in my tattoos than anything else! I had a long way to go, and only a 3 months visa so had to get moving again. I arrived a stranger, but I can say we certainly left good friends. Sometimes it’s a pity the road leads to so many real friends, but very quickly leads to goodbyes.

Egor cycled 20kms or so with me before I continued on my own. The traffic was quite busy most of the way before I arrived in the town of Ussuriysk, where I had arranged another stay with a Warmshower’s host. Anton greeted me on the highway with 3 of his friends. We cycled the 10kms to his house. After a wash we had dinner before heading out to have a look at the town. We spent some time at the local café and by the time we got back it was past midnight. I was exhausted. It had been a long day!

Anton had to leave early which meant I was up at 7am. Anatoly, one of Anton’s friends would cycle with me for part of the day. Both were very kind to give me a few items for any possible danger I might face. A flare, a kind of shooting device for wild animals and a few fire crackers. All would be useful for any foe I might face. I thanked them, but hoped I wouldn’t need to use any of them! After 60kms Anatoly headed back. He was a nice guy. A retired Policeman and very interested in my trip. As he left I felt a slight apprehension for a few minutes. I was now on my own.

The terrain was lot more hilly than I expected, though after Japan nothing too exerting. I could now easily cycle up any hill and a good speed and not get out of breath. It felt great for the first time to be so fit!

Camping proved to be a little more difficult as most of the terrain was high grass; something which I had every intention of avoiding as it’s where Tick’s like to live, and  being that I didn’t get the vaccination for Japanese Encephalitis, which Tick’s here carry. A deadly disease which I had to be very wary of. Nevertheless, every day after 100kms or so I would find a suitable place. A few nights in I was getting a little worried about not being able to find a place when I came across a lovely camp near a river. There was a middle aged who had also set up camp. After I ate my dinner (and they had downed some Vodka) they called me over. I done my best to avoid the continuous Vodka offerings, but Alek and Lena were very kind and we had a fun night. They could speak enough English for us to communicate, and when they couldn’t Lena was very good at making some very dramatic gestures to get across her point!

Russia is often critisised by cyclists for being too boring as the terrain is always the same. That is true, but the roads were (mostly) good and it was easy to get 100kms under your belt for the day. And along the way I had met many friendly kind people. Special mention goes to a man from Uzbekistan; who offered me a Watermelon. I tried my best to tie it to Stella, however upon setting off, after 100 meters it fell off and smashed to pieces. He called me back. Cracked open a new one, gave me some slices and then gave me another, even bigger Melon. I made sure it was tied down properly this time! Many more times locals gave me fruit or vegetables without accepting a penny.

By the following Monday I was approaching Khabarovsk; the biggest city beyond Vladivostok. I had arranged a semi-CouchSurf with Anastasia. She couldn’t host me but her Mum owned a Motel and was kind enough to let me stay free of charge. As seems to be the case with CouchSurfing, meeting, especially when arriving on bike, seems to be a hassle. Today was no different. The city was bigger than I thought and estimating an arrival time is difficult when you don’t know the city yourself! I eventually made it and found the place and upon putting all my stuff the cozy room headed out with Anastasia for some dinner. I ate a whole Pizza and felt like I hadn’t eaten anything. Certainly got an appetite these days! After a couple of hours I headed back to get some rest.

 

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