Saturday afternoon, it’s warm. Hot. It hasn’t been raining for quite a while – at least not where I was. A quick glance at the headlines online: floodings in Siberia. Oh, that’s where I am. Well… Siberia is huge and it’s sizzling hot so I don’t even take the time to look up the mentioned towns and settlements – I continue my ride. Since a few days I’m heading east on the Transsiberian Highway; I’m hoping to reach Irkutsk in a few days.
About 15 minutes back on the road, and there’s water. A lot of water. An unusual, whole lot of water! Just like some others I stop to take a look, when I sense this is not normal. Only then the article in the news comes back to mind … can’t be here, right? It’s bloody hot and has been like that for as long as I can remember (that is: at least a few days). So I continue.
More water. More people. More going on. The situation turns hectic. Rubber boats are being loaded with water and cat food; then I see the flooded houses right in front of me in the distance. No way … It is here. People tell me the road is closed, but there’s traffic coming from the other direction so I decide to drive a few kilometers further to investigate and make a plan. Tayshet, a mid-size town has a guest house recommended by other overland travelers. Igor welcomes me in front of the gate; there’s a Dutch man but he’s leaving soon to hop back on the Transsiberian train. Maps on the table – where’s the affected area? Turns out that we’re in the middle of it. The road to Irkutst closed; about 5 deaths and thousands affected; more flooding to be expected. I’m glad to have found a safe and comfortable haven to wait and see how the situation develops; I can even enjoy a wonderful Banya (Russian sauna) in the backyard to relax from the previous heavy days.
Only the next morning, when the seriousness of the situation becomes clear with online updates and live videos, I realize how lucky I have been. I’ve been camping, as usual, wherever I decided it was enough for the day … just somewhere in the woods, in a high-grass field, behind a hill … as long as I wasn’t seen by others. What if I had continued according to plan the day before, and not had stopped like I did? I would have been exactly here, where the water level raised approximately 4 meters overnight, sweeping away entire villages… I would have been taken by surprise and ended of in who-knows-what situation. Lucky me. Once again. Yet another confirmation not to push it any further if, for whatever reason, I feel like I shouldn’t.
Igor communicates through the day with other people being stuck where the road is blocked; his wife Lena spoils me with great homemade Siberian food. I use the opportunity to sort out some logistics for the stretches ahead: organizing maintenance and replacement parts for Harry and calling in to my CRF-lifeline-support Peter Scheltens – world traveler and owner of Bartang – asking his advice about a small issue on my bike. And of course, to finally update the website again, which was too long ago.
I couldn’t have wished for a better place to sit out this disaster – not for me, but for the tens of thousands of people affected by it. My trip is just a trip and will continue sooner or later; their properties and in some cases their lives have been destroyed. It’s been a while since I was in disaster areas, and I didn’t expect it to come back to me this way. Luckily I know a little bit about what happens next – about the risks that are luring around the corner after emergencies like this – so I’ll take my precautions. Plenty of water, food, fuel to get through, if it seems reasonable in the first place. If not, there’s probably another plan for me!
My next ‘Wild Camping’ talk will surely carry another warning message Lesson learnt, blessings counted!
Thank you Igor and Lena, for providing a homely getaway these days!