Wednesday, 6 June 2012

Mount Elbrus - Part Four

Russians don’t do aircon.

The aircon in the room is pointless, we open the windows, shower and go down for dinner. We walk into the dining room and have no idea of the layout, some tables seem to be set for a buffet, possibly for the wedding party, others laid slightly better so we sit there. It turns out to be the A la Carte section and this instantly adds the debt of a small third world country to our bill. There is a wedding reception in a room out the back, the women are stunning but peculiarly their men all look like they’re low budget porn star throwbacks. The loud music from the party comes in 10 minute bursts, despite the door being open and is a strange mixture of western pop/dance and modern/traditional Russian. Random.

Although having decided at our last meal in London that we wouldn’t drink until we had returned from the summit BJ ordered wine, just a couple of reds each. The heat, even in this vast marble clad room is intense, the Russians really don’t do AC. BJ orders a jug of water in his best Englishman abroad mixture of gesticulation and careful annunciation. The waitress looks confused, I start to laugh as she seems to vaguely comprehend. As she walks away I suggest that maybe she thinks we want a jug of vodka, moments later she reappears with a menu and points to vodka. We crack up, BJ points to Perrier and she laughs too, she must have thought we were either hard or stupid, I’d go with stupid. Once we’ve eaten we return to our room expecting to find a thin layer of frost on the walls, wrong! There is little difference in temperature between corridor and room.

We settle down for the night, still melting, the lights in this room are discoesque, there are 2 smoke detectors each with a flashing red LED and the bright blue LED on the AC control unit is illuminating the entire room. I use a couple of pieces of zinc oxide tape to cover it - it just helps to dull it a little. THE HEAT!!!

On to the Mountains

Down to breakfast and over to the buffet, this time. Then out to the minibus shuttle back to the airport, the heat and the craziness. Because of our concern of being overweight with our bags we’re wearing our big boots, not so good for being incognito but at least we’re under 20kgs. There is a great game that can be played in this airport, hunt the check-in desk and gate but we need a challenge so we add the change currency variation.

I eventually find a bank to change my dollars to rubles where the guy behind the glass very curtly tells me “closed!”, but where can I change currency “Closed!” Arse.

At the other side of the bank is a cash point, great. Double arse!! All in Russian, ok 5000Rubles, push the button, Cock! One note appears a 5000Ruble bill. Luckily I manage to find a concession that is willing to break it down. We meander through the departures area to a desk where they take our ticket and point us over to a full body scanner, on a domestic flight? Into the trays go the big boots, day bag and mobile, I step in and alarms sound “Watch!” oops sorry! Down to the VIP lounge, perfect AC, water and food, unfortunately the stern looking stereotypical female Russian official thrusts a laminate toward BJ telling us that the VIP card we’ve got isn’t valid here. We wander sweatily down to our gate, buy some water and drop down on to the floor in the corner. Better turn the mobile off for the flight. ARSE! Must have left it at security. Dash back up two flights and try to explain that I’d left my phone behind. Another stern look from the official and I’m reunited.

Our bus drives us over to the furthest edge of the airport where our 15th Century plane awaits. I figure it’s all the way out here so that as they refuel if it explodes, which it looks very likely to, it’ll cause minimal damage to life or structure. I’m reconsidering the window seat being the best place to sit. This ancient Tupolev looks as if the windows have been hammered into place by a cross-eyed blacksmith. The oxygen being pumped around the plane is visible between the wall and window as a vapour. Or it could be the fuel vapour as they refuel. OH JEEEEZ! No, it’s oxygen, please let it be oxygen.

As we taxi across Moscow to the runway the blind rattles down, great. I push it back firmly. We continue to taxi and down it comes again, the thin blonde Russian girl next to me giggles. I push it back more forcibly this time. I smile at her, this time it’ll stay up. 20metres further on and down it comes again, she cracks up. Surprisingly we’re fed and watered on this rattley, heavily stained, overly repaired plane and it’s pretty good too. The flight is uneventful but the landscape is eye-opening, didn’t expect it to be so heavily arable. We circle left and straighten up for the approach, as we touch down the passengers clap loudly, I’ve never understood this before, this time I understand their relief. As we step off the plane the 35°C heat hits us, this I wasn’t expecting. Into the airport, I use this term loosely. More waiting in increasing temperatures, the bags take forever, after losing 95% of our bodily fluids through sweat, our bags finally appear. To exit this oven we have to have the baggage tags checked against ticket stubs, the heat!

We’re here, out in to the waiting throng, it’s a crazy scene again, and the heat. We meet our guide Sergei and make our way over to our little jeep and its driver Andre. We load our kit and we’re off. The first question is who’s been where and who’s done what. Me, I’ve done a bit in the UK, Ireland, Europe and I’ve had some fun in Nepal too. Sergei and BJ have a lot more on their CV’s so there is a degree of posturing, understandably. BJ opens with 15 Kili’s, Sergei defends with a Denali, BJ raises with South America and Sergei sees him with Ecuador, BJ comes back with 162 Alpine Peaks which Sergei trumps decisively with K2. No one will get the high ground (sic) with Sergei, a confident headstrong young Thundercat.

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