Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Ekaterinaburg 11 June 2007

Today we arrived in Ekaterinburg after a 620km drive, which hopefully will
be the last of our marathon drives. We have left Siberia and entered the
Urals, which are a low range of mountains stretching north south for
2,000kms. For centuries they have been vital to Russia as a source of
metals and minerals and have given rise to a number of industrial cities
such as Ekateringburg and Perm, which will be our next overnight stop.

Ekateringburg is probably most famous as the place where Tsar Nicholas 11
and his family were murdered by the Bolsheviks in 1918. In the city there
are many magnificent statues, museums and variety of architecture. The
Church of Blood dominates and has been built to honour the Romanov family,
now elevated to the status of saints.

Last Saturday in Omsk we had another nice encounter. On Friday I had been
talking to a young Russian, Dimitry, who had seen the car and wanted to
know about our travels. He had been learning English for only 8 months and
we were able to have quite a passable conversation together. Before
leaving he told me he was a chef and would we like to come to the
restaurant where he worked for lunch the next day, to try some Russian
cuisine. In the morning he rang the hotel to make sure we were still
coming. Dimitry was at the door to greet us and ushered us into a small
side room with lovely d├ęcor and a beautifully set table for two. In the
main part of the restaurant there was a wedding reception in progress so
we were able to peek at the proceedings.

We left it to Dimitry to decide the ordering and after four courses and a
bottle of wine we were very well sated. He waited on us very attentively
and we found out during the meal that this was actually his day off, and
he was doing this as a special favor. The meal was not overly expensive,
nothing compared to the experience

Less than half an hour after leaving Omsk early on Sunday morning they
was a loud CRUNCH and we stopped with Lang saying this is serious ******!
He thought we had broken an axle, or done something to the gearbox. We
pushed the car off the road onto the footpath and he jacked it up and when
he pulled it apart found it was the splines on the axle drive shaft
completely worn down. A taxi driver pulled up and Lang went off with him
to try to find a workshop. Firstly one that was open on a Sunday, and
secondly understood what was needed.

I stayed with the car and over the next five hours encountered all types of people trying to help. Most
seemed incredulous that a woman was on her own and obviously there was a
serious problem. One chap who had had his fair share of vodka kept patting
me and then presented me with some wildflowers. Lang arrived back in the
same taxi, a tow truck had been organised and off we all went to a Toyota
repair shop. When I say all, it was a whole convoy of adopted protectors
who had been on their mobile phones finding some English speaking friends
to join in.

At the workshop tools were downed and we got preferential treatment, going
straight up on a hoist for a quick repair. So we could stay mobile and not
sit waiting days for a new part, they welded the axle directly to the
drive flange on the wheel. Lang decided that was acceptable to get us to
Poland where repairs and parts are available. We are hoping the rubber
drive blocks take up the movement originally provided by the now welded
spines and do not put too much strain on the gearbox.

We had a noisy farewell with lots of cheering and photos when at 2pm and
we were on the road again and made the 320kms to Ishim for an over night
stop before today's run into Ekaterinaberg.

Tonight we are meeting up with Sergey and Dasha Starkov. They are a young
local couple who we met by chance at a restaurant in Ekateringburg in
2005. They both speak excellent english and became our guides through the
city while the ABC did their filming for the Peking Paris documentary.

Also today we passed the two Austin 7's from the UK doing Peking Paris and
tonight we are staying in the same hotel. It was raining most of today and
we were snug in our little Malysh while they were freezing in their small
open cars.