Sunday, September 25, 2011

Pictures from Siberia

Last night I invited some friends over to see a selection of pictures from Siberia and elsewhere in Russia, of which the above shot of a Bactrian camel near Listvianka was one.( Only two or three people fell asleep.) Unfortunately I knew nothing about this camel, but since he appeared to be tethered in fields surrounding a wooden architecture museum I suspected he might be a tourist attraction.

I was impressed, since he was the first camel of his type I had ever seen outside a zoo. I was also interested in some of the questions people asked about the trip, such as whether we got to wander around on our own very much. I had to admit we did not, surveillance was almost as tight as it had been in Soviet days. I don't know whether this is a feature of Friendship Force tours generally, or simply of such tours in Russia. Russia does still restrict travel by foreigners, by forcing them to say where they will be staying during the period of their visas, and then having their visas registered in each city they visit. However, within cities travelling around on your own is no longer a problem.

In case of the particular circumstances of my visit to Siberia, the ability to wander around alone would not have been a big benefit. I was staying in a very comfortable house in a suburb of Irkutsk that was itself within a gated community. I did wander around some, but the only place to go was into fields or, if you wanted a very long hike, past a great number of other comfortable houses down to the gate house near the highway.

Distances in Russia and especially in Siberia are very great, so wandering around alone is not something many people would be comfortable doing, I suspect. And while very good travel experiences can come from such excursions, in travel as in life there are always trade-offs. The chance to get to know some Russians and to be a guest in their homes seemed to justify the small price of a certain arount of restriction.

I am often surprised by the misconceptions people, including myself, have of certain regions and countries. That is one of the great joys of travel, the ability to peel back at least one or two layers of the onion that constitutes other countries and cultures. On this trip I was very pleasantly surprised by Siberia, and also astounded by the extent of the icy mountain ranges I could see from the window of the plane as we flew over Greenland en route from Moscow to Washington DC.

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