The city that’s completely white – morning, day and night.

The last stretch of the Kolyma Highway – from Khandyga to Yakutsk – on day seven of our Magadan-to-Moscow road trip was as beautiful as most other days – at least, most of it was: as we were approaching Yakutsk itself (at night) a suspiciously thick fog (suspicious because it looked more like smoke!) descended and brought visibility down to a few meters. And if you get caught behind an old diesel bus… visibility – almost zero!

And talking of diesel… Turns out it could be the reason for the pea-souper. Some of my fellow travelers told me how it could be unspent diesel oil: below minus-fifty, in old and fairly worn-out vehicle engines, diesel has trouble doing what it’s meant to – ignite fully. The result: see the below pics.

The whole city has a thick, icy (natural) fog complemented by a thick diesel fog. And you can’t see the end of the car hood for it! Amazingly, as mentioned, modern digital cameras do a much better job of seeing through such haze than does the naked human eye:

Read on…

No child, woman or man – in the abandoned mining town of Kadykchan.

En route from sunny Magadan to Yakutsk, about an hour-and-a-half after Susuman (as I mentioned in yesterday’s post) we passed the ghost town of Kadykchan.

Kadykchan was once a monotown, with its mono single industry being coalmining. Founded during WWII, its population grew to over 5000 at its peak (in the mid-80s). It was already in decline after the fall of the Soviet Union (in 1991), but an explosion in 1996 sealed its fate once and for all: the coalmine was shut down and the inhabitants started leaving – helped by government subsidies to relocate. Extraordinarily, 10 years after the mine had closed (in 2007) there were still 200 folks living there!

But three years later – in 2010 – the population had fallen to zero (imagine the story (and emotions) of the very last inhabitant – walking out through the front door to his/her apartment for good and not needing to lock or even close it!). Today the place still ‘exists’, in that there are buildings and roads left and you can still look the place up on the map, but it’s an afterlife really – completely abandoned and deserted; there’s also now no electricity, no running water, no heating, no schools, no shops, no cinema (as there once was).

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Kolyma dreaming.

Though we weren’t to quick getting from one end of the Kolyma Highway (in Magadan) to the other (in Yakutsk) – a mere seven days! – we didn’t see all that much. Still, what we did see, I haven’t told you about or shown you yet. That changes here…

Eighty kilometers from Magadan there’s a village with the unusual name of Palatka, which means ‘tent’ in English. You might think the name comes from the early days of the settlement – in the early 1930s – when it was indeed merely a collection of tents put up before buildings were built during the construction of the highway. However, it seems that’s just a coincidence: the name actually appears to date back a lot earlier than the 20th century – from two ancient Evenk words, palja and atken, meaning ‘stony river’!

Read on…

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Wham, bam, thank-you Magadan.

Magadan. Maybe you’ve heard of it; maybe not. If you have, but haven’t been, how do you imagine it?

I think words like ‘remote’, ‘a long way away’, ‘cold’, ‘I know the name, but I’m still not sure quite where it is!’ might be chosen. My descriptive words were ‘middle of nowhere’, ‘freezing cold’ and ‘over there in the corner of a world map almost as far as Alaska’. But that was before I’d been. Now I’ve visited the city, here’s how things really are…

First, of course, you need to get there. From Moscow it’s seven hours on a plane – eight time zones away! Yes, Russia is enormous; but you knew that ).

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Eats, fuel, and places to stay – on the Kolyma Highway.

Before the next report on the next stretch of long, frozen road… a digression, albeit one central to the whole Magadan-to-Moscow-road-trip experience, or, to be more precise – to the first segment thereof – on the Kolyma Highway. And that digression is about the daily routine and practicalities of life-on-the-road and the mundanities it comprises: eating, sleeping, refueling, etc…

We start from the reindeer at the city limits of Magadan and will get to… well, let’s just see how far we get before the quantity of photos becomes excessive for a single post…

The Kolyma Highway is 2032 kilometers long, and ends (for us – started) in Magadan. In the city locals call it the ‘longest street in the world’, since it starts out as the city’s central street, Lenin Prospect, which ends (starts) at a roundabout with a TV tower in the middle of it.

Read on…

A visit to the icy household – of the Yakut Custodian of Cold.

On the way back to the Kolyma Highway after our overnight stay in Oymyakon, the next port of call on our Magadan-to-Moscow road trip was the village of Tomtor. Being just 40km from Oymyakon it was no warmer; however, at least the place we stayed at was more comfortable, plus there was… a banya (Russian sauna)!

Though tiny (1250 inhabitants at the last official count, but that was back in 2002) and as remote as it gets, the village is home to an airport, built for the Alaska-Siberian air road receiving Lend-Lease aircraft from the U.S. during World War II. Alas, it was abandoned long ago; also alas – we didn’t visit it (no time left).

What we did visit was the ‘Ice Residence of Chyskhaan – the Yakut Custodian of Cold’, a museum in an old mine shaft inside a mountain! However, we soon found out that inside the tunnel it was just -10°C – a full 40 degrees warmer than outside it!

Read on…

The one and only Oymyakon: the situation on the (frozen) ground.

Picking up again where we last left off – we finally made it to the a legendary Pole of Cold of the northern hemisphere – Oymyakon. I’d heard about it many times down the years as the world’s coldest settlement, and now – finally – I was to get myself there. Hurray! And now, after having been there, since I liked it so much – I want to go back already!…

Oymyakon. So, what gives. Remote? Check. Tiny? Check. Forgotten in the sands snows of time, run-down, and down-at-the-heel? No! The place is very much ‘alive’, with around 400–500 folks living there; the log cabins they live in are really rather decent; there’s centralized heating (as in – piped water arrives at each cabin already piping hot; not as in heated individually per cottage); there’s a stable supply of electricity; there’s satellite TV and there’s internet! Oh yes – and it’s very cold. The coldest ever officially recorded temperature was a little under -65°C. Incidentally – the hottest it’s ever been was almost +35°C! Woah: that’s a temperature range of more than 100 degrees centigrade!

I wrote above that Oymyakon is a Pole of Cold, not the Pole of Cold. I had to write that as there’s another contender for the coldest settlement in the northern hemisphere – the town of Verkhoyansk, which isn’t all that far away, relatively (what’s a thousand kilometers between rivals?:). Sure, we’d have liked to have checked out this challenger, but it is 800 kilometers from the highway, whereas Oymyakon is a mere 190 and the backroad to it is a real good one.

// Btw: about those 190 kilometers: I started to doubt their accuracy. From Tomtor to Oymyakon it’s 40km for sure, I remember that. But from the highway to Tomtor I’m certain our odometers read just 120; however, Yandex Maps gives 150km (meanwhile, Google Maps tells you not to take the (excellent) road we took, instead sending you in a huge circle round the other way – a journey of almost 800km!). So, what, the road was so hypnotic that the distance in kilometers was magically transformed into miles?!

Anyway, once in Oymyakon, it was time to start snapping. So my long-time, almost constant travel companions DZ and Petrovich and I did just that – started snapping. And the results aren’t bad at all ->

Oymyakon at night – our first pics upon arrival:

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On and on and on – along the -58˚ road to Oymyakon.

The time has come for the proverbial main course folks – the very reason for this whole mad winter Magadan–Yakutsk (and then cross-Russia) road trip: yep – the world’s coldest settlement: Oymyakon.

Picking up where we left off in the previous post – we turn off the main road and head toward Tomtor and Oymyakon. 150km to the former; a further 40km to the latter. Something like this:

As you may be able to tell from that map (remove the highlighting on the route and you can hardly see the road!), it’s a very narrow minor road lane. But all the same – as per tradition around these parts – much of the snow had been cleared. The potholes were few and far between and the road surface was generally good, but best of all was that there were hardly any other cars on the road (just two or three on the way there).

Also as per tradition, OMG-white-winter scenery all around along the whole route. Absolutely gorgeous! ->

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Ransoms: To pay nothing or not to pay? That is the question.

Sometimes, reading an article about what to do in case of a ransomware attack, I come across words like: ‘Think about paying up’. It’s then when I sigh, exhale with puffed-out cheeks… and close the browser tab. Why? Because you should never pay extortionists! And not only because if you did you’d be supporting criminal activity. There are other reasons. Let me go over them here.

First, you’re sponsoring malware development

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Magadan–Moscow, Part Two: I did it my way – along the Kolyma Highway.

I’ve already shown you just how beautiful the Kolyma Highway can get in the deepest winter. I hope those pics have been suitably enjoyed and appreciated by you all, and maybe will encourage some of you to go experience Kolyma for yourselves: highly recommended!

Now, in those snaps – did you notice just how smooth and cleared-of-deep-snow the road was? Like – every single pic (and I can tell you that there was hardly an (un-photographed) stretch of the road that wasn’t just as smooth and free of snow). Well, while taking said pics, I sure noticed – and couldn’t quite believe my eyes. In Moscow there can be streets covered with more freshly-fallen snow, and it possesses legions of snow clearing trucks in every district! And this was my second amazement on this trip (after the first: the hypnotic white-winter-wonderland scenery, that is): the quality and keen maintenance of the roads.

So what was I expecting instead? Well, like most anyone who lives in Moscow, if I would hear words like Yakutia, Kolyma, Magadan and roads together, I’d expect the accompanying scenes to be thoroughly, utterly grim and hopeless. Something like: thousands of miles of poorly-surfaced, potholed, muddy roads, streaked with deep ruts and with plenty of cars getting stranded in thick mud awaiting assistance.

How wrong I was!…

Read on…