A day to chill
I wake just after 5am and it's already getting warm, I try to get back to sleep but my brain is running overtime. I toss and turn 'til 6:15 when I can stand it no longer, I put the music back on and start to write. The heat inside the tent is becoming unbearable, I dress and move outside into the bright sunlight. The Norwegians decided that they liked my story of the spa and have enlisted Vladimir to take them down to sample the waters. We meanwhile take it easy in the sunshine, enjoying a late breakfast and the tranquility of an ever emptying base camp. The Adventure Consultants break down their base camp and hand Sergei some supplies, everything here seems to work on a trading basis. Amusing that such a world renowned commercial venture such as AC work in this way, but I suppose that they sub out to local contractors and after all when in Rome! Midday and the afternoon clouds are gathering at the end of the valley and bank along the high peaks to the east. BJ goes down to the silver pool and returns just before Una and EK who are a little disappointed because it's ladies time until 1pm and they didn't want to wait about that long. We need to organise our kit for our return, which is so much closer now. It's going to be strange leaving this patch of grass in the shadow of snow capped Elbrus and to return to a culture that is so very different that's less than 24hrs away now. There is no real plan for today, Sergei has spent most of his time on the laptop. Kenny the third Norwegian arrived back in camp around 3pm from his successful summit earlier this morning. Una and EK are pleased to see him but rag him until he produces his camera and shows them conclusive proof in the shape of his summit picture. They wait all day for Andrei to pick them up and take them down to Ptiagorsk (City of 5 Hills), this leaves BJ and I wondering about our travel arrangements tomorrow. After the brilliant sunshine of this morning for most of the afternoon it's been cool and raining. The only time to be outside the tents/bags is to see the hapless newcomers attempt to be photographed with the stroppy Yak/Dzo. While we are eating one of the hardcore camper vans rocks up and the Norwegians are told that it's their transport down. Kenny is trying to eat his first meal, Una and EK are watching a video on the laptop in their tent. All hell breaks loose as the three of them dash about grabbing kit and stuffing it in to bags. With goodbyes said they trundle and bounce away. Then as we go to turn away they circle back around about 50metres away and head back, we start cheering! As the van pulls up Una jumps out of the back, clambers over the fence and trots over to the mess tent "I’ve forgotten my boots!" he grabs a plastic bag and dashes back. With a few toots of the horn they bundle down the track and they're gone. We're left to speculate about Andrei's arrival time tomorrow.
And so to Civilisation
We wake early with the heat. Stuffing our sleeping bags and sleep mats and that's the last of the kit away. We eat breakfast and then just hang about, we've seen both a jeep and a camper van come bundling up the track into camp, neither are driven by Andrei. We continue to think of useful, fun and effective ways to deal with the cows which, like a scene from Vietnam movie, are testing our perimeter again. One causes a diversion, diagonally opposite the toilet opening, while another trys to slip in, they are also making an assault on the military post and toilet too! Vladimir calls from the other side of camp, we don't connect with what he's calling out. Sergei then confirms this is our jeep, I head back from the toilet and I'm glad I've been as the thought of being bounced around in the back of that tough little beast and it's 4hrs to Ptaigorsk! BJ and I look at each other as our driver loads our bags, he looks like the archetypal Russian Bond villain, complete with DPM cap and waistcoat. He puts his own rucksack and waterproof boots on the roof rack as there is barely enough room for us and the kit. As BJ and I crawl onto the rear bench seat we realise at our heels is a hunting rifle! Laughing about shooting the cows becomes ever more feasible on our way out of Dodge. As we rattle about along the track down to the river BJ grabs at the handle by his head, there's a telescopic fishing rod tied to it, the driver is a bit of a hunter we figure, haha. We're laughing like idiots as he reaches back and offers us a bag full of 2" apples from his "area", we don't know if that means garden/farm/hunting stomp. I politely refuse but BJ has one to my great amusement, his face is a picture, haha, how sour? We rumble off through the river bed, so different to when we arrived, hardly deep enough to wet the axles, while a week ago it would have swept us away.
The driver and Sergei are in deep conversation while BJ and I are dying from a mixture of Carbon Monoxide and fuel fumes. We stop a couple of times at what seems quite random places, once for our driver to hand over 3 Leki poles over to the driver of an expensive and very new looking Toyota Landcruiser, while Sergei chats to 3 guys from a hardcore camper. "Is that guy in the Toyota taking photos of us?" "Yeah! what the fu..?" It must be BJ's glasses that draws so much attention to us, haha. We crack on, half the time on the wrong side of the road/track as it seems smoother, then veering back across the marbles on the surface to elude the on-coming vehicle, but that’s only about six times in a 4hr journey. As we drop down through a weird village, comprising of brand new and near derelict homes and towards a bridge I tap Sergei on the shoulder and point to the obstruction in the road "Sergei, it's the muzafukincowz!" This dusty track loops through valley after valley, after about 21/2hrs in the middle of nowhere on a bridge, over a gap rather than what will probably become a torrent in the winter, Sergei says "This is where the border check point was". We begin to wonder how we could have dodged around that? Bouncing along we are then treated to a metalled surface although still full of craters infinately smoother, our heads and spines grateful for the respite. Both we and the oncoming vehicles swerve back and forth to avoid potholes and each other. On and on we drive with the fumes making it difficult to enjoy anything of this journey.
We finally turn into Pytaigorsk and weave our way through streets filled with suicidal pedestrians and kamikazi drivers. We drive alongside an ornate square filled with people, flowers, trees and fountains there before us is the "Intourist" hotel. Built in the 70's at the height of developing communism for tourist market. The entrance hall and reception is vast, high ceilinged marble Russian excess, on the other hand BJ and I with the big bags and day sacks barely fit in to the lift. As we look about for directions to our room in the lift lobby we realise we have our own bar on our floor. Laughing we wander along the corridor to our . . . . . small squalid box. Thank God we don't have a cat, we have to move the coffee table and an armchair out on to the balcony in order to have enough room to fit ourselves in. "Well it has beds and running water" We have to keep the balcony door open in order to breathe, it's meltingly hot in here. Both freshly showered and dressed in clean "going home" clothes that make us so much more presentable than our trekking shorts and fetid shirts we set off out into the heat. This place is so surreal, everyone but everyone is dressed up to be going out for the evening but it's only just lunchtime?! We have limited idea of where to go from Sergei, taking mental notes of cafes, restaurants and bars we could try later. The heat is too much and we desperately need to feed and take on fluids so we settle on an open fronted cafe in the shade, where the menus are all in Cyrilic! We haven't a clue about any of it, haha. When the waitress comes over she explains that she doesn't speak English just Russian and Spanish in English, how random!! but she swaps the menu over for one in English, PHEW!! So we order from the English menu she uses her Russian menu to take our choices, again quite random. BJ does his best to translate English to Spanish but becomes royally confused when she asks where we are from in Spanish and he thought the question was in Russian, his excuse was that he was severely dehydrated and had just downed half a litre of Russian beer, low altitude lassitude strikes again! So here we sit watching the strangest city catwalk drinking local beer and eating mussels and chips, just gets weirder. We finish our meal, if it could be called that, and wander off through the streets finally ending up in a swanky mall. Then down into the "fun park" that had seen better days (or possibly not), BJ eating his ice cream is desperate to get a quad peddle cart to hoon around on, only to discover that it was kids only and confined to a tiny square, he's crushed. He suggests that we rent them and just ride off around the park, I again smash his dreams by telling him that there is no way that we could out run the attendant. We meander through the streets back to the hotel and take a turn back down the hill, BJ says "Hey here's the cafe", we head up the stairs and discover that it is actually a ladies outfitters, amidst our laughter and the confused looks of the assistant and the customers, the cafe was was on the ground floor and closed for refurbishment. We continue our quest. A little further along we discover a kebab shop?! of sorts, looks pretty busy with the locals ordering meat and chips in pitta bread, BJ starts salivating at the window. Further still is a bar with some very flash 4x4's outside, we both instantly think Mafia. BJ starts giggling like a schoolboy looking at boobs for the first time I turn back and see him standing outside a shop full of hookah pipes and belly dancers costumes, I assure him that Steph wouldn't want him in one. HAHA. We reach the bottom of the hill and try out the "walk of death", you just step out in front of the moving traffic and watch it stop instantly with no foul words, blarring horns or gesticulations, bloody hell that really works! We head back up the hill and stop off at the "bling" bar, where they curiously don't sell Russian beer?! so a Tuborg and a quick wifi surf, where we learn a little about this crazy city and we're back off to the sanctuary of our hotel to ready ourselves for tonight’s onslaught. Back in our room we change down in order to cool down, remember AC in this place is an open balcony door. We come to around 8pm when we are due to go back out to eat, BJ is complaining of a headache and goes to the bar on our floor and returns with a couple of litres of water, fruit juice and a sack of crisps, which we demolish in seconds. We seek some cooler air out on the fire escape and to our surprise watch the sun set on Elbrus, it's incredible that it only a 4hours drive between these two places, yet there it stands before us showing its sheer snow covered size, bloody hell it's huge!