Omsk to Novosibirsk (Take two)
After the rather depressing news that the Kazakh Consulate could not change my visa for an early entry date to Kazakhstan from the 15/7 to 1/7/09 I resolved to the fact that I would have to remain and make the best of the 16 days in Russia. It is one of the side affects of travelling in parts of the world where entry and departure from any country is dictated by visas. My visa application for Kazakhstan was a genuine mistake as it was given a month later than planned and I (regrettably) did not notice the error until I was well out of UB in Mongolia.
So what does one do with two weeks in a country that has presented major language barriers, solemn attitudes towards visitors, tediously repetitive landscape in the form of birch forests and costs that are only slightly cheaper than staying home in Aus. The answer is to return to the Altai Region where there are huge mountains, fast flowing rivers and lots of great camping spots.
I decided initially to head back east to Novosibirsk to see if I could locate the partner of a friend (who lives in Aus). I managed to contact Yulia using the third Sim card I had purchased in as many weeks. Half way through my second conversation with her, my phone cut out. In Russia, mobile phones are big but local business. The trick is to always use local sim cards because they charge a lot more when the carrier has to use 'roaming'. Short story is that I got less than 5 mins out of my Omsk sim card and it expired requiring a 'top-up'.
It was a great delight to have dinner with a worldly, intelligent, attractive english speaking Russian lady who comes from Novosibirsk. Yulia works for the Austrian Raiffeisen Bank as a risk assessment specialist and has worked, studied in Austria and Australia. I had so many questions about Russia for her. But one meeting was never going to be enough to figure out what makes Russians tick. She was absolutely amazed that I had managed to spend 5 weeks in Russia without speaking Russian and not had more serious problems. To be frank I have found Russia a pretty safe place to travel with only the one incident in St Petersburg. Although the crime rate is high in Russia (according to Yulia) it is probably not centred around the touristy areas but in the low class suburbs. I have met less than a hand full of western tourists since arriving in Russia.
Today I am exploring the sights of central Novosibirsk before travelling SE to the Altai Region. It has a modern feel in the central district with lot of shiny glass-clad skyscrapers. It felt a little like Sydney on a smaller scale. I stayed in the Hotel Sibir that is the upmarket central icon. I was badly in need of some pampering to console myself to the current dilemna.
The Mule is beginning to show some signs that it will need some attention soon. The instrument binnacle has broken away leaving it moving around within the confines of the fairing. There are oil stains around one cylinder head and the push rod tube and the muffler protection shield has begun rattling because the rivets are now almost non-existent. The Mule has not had a wash or any attention for 5 weeks (5,000 kms) so it is diificult to determine how urgent the situation is at the moment. Perhaps a few days camping will give me the opportunity to give the Mule some attention. Having to park the Mule in the foyer or car park in front of an international hotel is not really the place to begin pulling the bike to pieces.
Despite having spent a day travelling through this exciting beautiful mountainous region on my return to Omsk to seek a second visa, I did not do it justice. It has the highest mountain (Mt Beluka 4500m) in Russia and sports lots of kayaking, mountaineering and white water rafting activities. If the weather improves, it could be quite relaxing camping by a river for a few days.