Now it’s time for me to tell you about the ‘living quarters’ – the most important part of any expedition through the great outdoors.
Along the Upper Yenisei, there are lots of campsites – they are dry, comfortable, some have excellent river views, and sometimes they are ideal for fishing. There wasn’t a single campsite that our team didn’t like.
In the uppermost reaches (the Balyktyg-Khem River), the grayling jump out of the water to take the bait. After the confluence with the Kyzyl-Khem River (downstream of the Shyoki rapids) the fishing isn’t so good.
Just look at this wonderful bird nest. It’s even equipped with steps for more convenient access.
At times, the sky puts on a beautiful show. Never before have I seen cloud formations this bright and this striking.
This is also a first for me – seeing a contrail from the ground. I see them every now and then from aboard a plane, but this is the first time from the ground. The white strip is the plane’s condensation trail, and the dark strip next to it is its shadow on the clouds.
Now for the icing on the cake – a real halo!
I really must tell you about the other habitation too, or, to be more precise, about the villages, and to be even more precise, the villages of the Old Believers.
In these mountains, the Old Believers’ villages start on the Balyktyg Khem. Along the Little Yenisei, we saw several Old Believers’ villages and settlements every day.
In the lower reaches of the river, the villages can be reached by road. They are probably reachable the whole year round, except when the ice is forming in autumn or melting in spring – at these times, the ice isn’t thick enough to drive on, and the ferry service is also unable to operate.
There are no roads leading to the villages further upstream. In winter they can be reached by driving over the ice, and in the summer they can be reached by boat.
To be perfectly honest, I had quite a different idea of what the Old Believers’ villages and lifestyles were like. I wasn’t surprised by the decent houses, the hard-working bearded men and the large families with lots of children. However, I was surprised to see the electric power generators, solar panels, satellite dishes and other hi-tech devices. I’m ashamed to admit that I used to think Old Believers lived apart from civilization. But, no. Apparently, they have no problem using hi-tech stuff in their everyday lives, within the bounds of possibility, of course.
This is the village of Katazy – it was the first village we encountered on our route. There are no roads to this village; it is reachable by hovercraft. Due to the rapids I don’t know if it is reachable in winter by driving over the ice.
Note that there are two satellite dishes on the house on the right, and there’s a solar panel on the house to the left.
There are also quad bikes in the village. And why not?
These are the local motor boats. They are covered with sheet iron on the bottom – sometimes they have to scratch their way over the rocks on the riverbed.
Tourist houses – you can rent them out and live for a while next to the Old Believers. The site can be reached by hovercraft from the villages downstream, or by helicopter (God forbid!) – I think there is even a helipad next to the village.
A total of nine families live here, each with 6-8 children. They even have a school. Also, here (yes, right here in the village) they have a diesel-driven power generator which they turn on twice a day – in the morning and in the evening. Last but not least, they have satellite dishes and an Internet service. Yes, they have access to the Internet here – in the morning and in the evening. They don’t need it for longer, because you should be sleeping at night and working during the day.
Further down the river, we saw more villages, which had similarly decent houses (one could even call them luxurious given the remote location). They have fantastic fishing and hunting, their herds are grazing in the valleys. The kids run around, keeping to the same proportion of 6+ per family. The women offer all types of food and drinks for sale: milk, sour cream, cucumbers, tomatoes, fresh bread, cedar nuts, mead, homebrew beer and other stuff – I forget what exactly. Every family came to us separately. They were also interested in meeting and talking to us – it’s not every day that tourists stop by. Typically, the older boys would say: “I’ll go and serve in the army and then come back here. I have my home and the taiga here – what’s not to like?” Interestingly, they speak a very precise, clear Russian here, with no discernable accent.
This is the village of Erzhei. It is pretty much civilized: they have electricity here, as well as cell phone service (only one operator though) and even a shop!
This is the shop:
It is closed during the day though, because all potential customers are busy working in the field or housekeeping. However, the local kids saw us, said they would go and tell the shopkeeper, and ran off. Several minutes later a stern-looking woman arrived on a motorbike and opened the coveted premises…
This is where the whitewater sports rafting finished…
…and a sort of cruise feast began. In any case, we had already passed the last section of rapids just before we arrived at this village, so we could relax a bit.