ROAD TRIP BEGINS to OYMYAKON from YAKUTSK (26th-27th Jan 2017; 30-31st Jan 2017)
The day we started our journey to the Pole of Cold, Oymyakon, with my team mates Nicola, Luigi, Lee and Tim, we were driven by Maxim and Alexander, together with our translator, Sergey. It took us two days to reach there which was about 20 hrs. Stayed overnight in Khandyga at a private apartment which is very comfortable on the first day of our trip. A comfortable place to bond with one another due to the structure of the unit especially the dining room. Okay, I might look friendly but I am not the type who will bond with others naturally. Sometimes I will feel awkward and will back-off abit (a lot). There were three rooms, in which the guys had their 2 rooms shared while I had one for myself since I am the only woman/female/girl/lady in this group. Anyway, it was a relaxing comfort.
The next day was a full 12-hrs drive to Oymyakon from Khandyga. We stopped at several places to capture photos of beautiful landscapes and roadside cafes for lunch and tea. Eventually at exactly 12-hours, we reached Oymyakon.
OYMYAKON (28th-29th Jan 2017)
It was already about 8pm when we were there. Extreme excitement reflected on our faces. Why? Apart from finally reaching the destination, the temperature was about -58 deg C!! Yeah, I know!! We were crazily excited! Wait before that, Luigi requested to stop in the middle of nowhere before we reach the final destination because the temperature falls to -55 deg C. At first, I was like “What the hell?” because it was a complete darkness and barren land. In my heart I was hoping there are no stray wolves. Once I went out of the car with the encouragement of Sergey because of the stars, I was so overwhelmed. The last time I felt like this was I went to space (I have not been there). The view of the millions of stars in that dark night was so priceless.
Basically I did a handful of research based on articles written by travellers about Oymyakon. So, roughly my teammates and I already expected the expected and unexpected there. We stayed at Tamara's house. Tamara and her daughter host guests from all around the world. Since years ago, Tamara has been active in developing Oymyakon's prestige and status in the eyes of the world. She is one of the respected individuals in the village. No worries if you could not communicate English with her. You will still be comfortable communicating with her. Sometimes, language can be a barrier but surprisingly not knowing a language does not limit us from communicating with others. Use your hands, expressions and emotions, please.
Her home was comfortable to sleep, felt secured, and feels like home. She served us with simple but delicious meals. I was not hungry there and did not really look for food. It seems like I was occupied throughout the day that I did not think of filling my tummy (I am still working out to have the six packs abs on the hand I am still eating a lot).
Let us talk about the cold which I believe if you are reading this blog, you would like to know about the temperature.
∞ Be prepared. I mean, very well prepared!! One month before I depart, I had a last minute search for the clothing. I thought I was already equipped until my colleague told me about his friend who visited Moscow and said it is not comparable to UK’s temperature. It is too cold for him. So, if Moscow is too cold for the clothes I had in wardrobe for my USA and UK past trips, means that I am not actually prepared, right? ∞
∞ Depending on your body's capability to sustain the -50 deg C level, the freezing cold is not a joke. I had 2 layers of thermal clothes. The 1st layer is thermal top which I bought from Winter Time Collection in Singapore, 2nd layer was North Face which I bought last minute and my black wool vest. My outer layer is Kensington Parka from Canada Goose which I purchased directly from CG online. This was above my budget, about S$1,500 including the shipping cost. I had no choice since in Singapore I could not find the appropriate one.
As for my pants, my first layer was North Face Summit Series Women's L1 Pants which I bought last minute, Winter Time’s thermal, and their waterproof winter pants with fleece layer. In Oymyakon, I wore additional North Face Gate Keeper green pants.∞
∞ As for shoes, my North Face Nuptse Purna Boots which I got it 2 yrs ago for my Alaska trip could not sustain the cold. I realized that when we visited the frozen fish market at Yakutsk. I felt the wetness on my socks and the cold air seeping through my shoes. Luckily, Bolot (our travel agent) had many pairs of Valenki high boots made of Felt which we can borrow during our trip. We can buy if we want at the places which they brought us on the first day in Yakutsk. The best ones cost about S$400/USD280 and above. Anyway, I did not purchase any. So with the shoes I had, I just need a pair of thermal socks, and a pair of wool socks which I bought at the fish market in Yakutsk. The wool socks costs less than USD5. If you travel with them, they will bring you to these places to shop on the first day.
∞ Oh your gloves. This is important. I just learnt from Sergey that fingers warm each other. So, do not wear the typical gloves which separates our fingers. Wear the mitt type. I brought several types of gloves which I thought I could layer at least two of it. Well, none of it helped. Luckily I bought last minute the North Face Himalayan mitt Summit Series. This cost me about US$165 online direct from USA. The guys in my group purchased their varezhki mitt made of sheep wool which Sergey suggested at the frozen fish market. It is extremely not expensive (95% cheaper than mine) and literally warms their fingers more than mine. I highly recommend it because Nicola touched his warm fingers on my cold face to prove its effectiveness. It was really warm. ∞
∞ Cover your neck with a balaclava and scarf. Simply a scarf will not suffice. As for my head, I used a simple winter beanie which I bought it at Nanjing China and covered with my jacket hood which is made of coyote fur. It has to be really warm if not you will be uncomfortable within a short period of time. When that happens, that is it!! ∞
∞ Maybe you have heard about the toilets in the Oymyakon district. So, this is also real not just rumours. While travelling towards Oymyakon after Khandyga district, the availability of toilets sanitary are lesser compared to in Yakutsk and Khandyga. So bring along wet wipes and tissue papers with you when you are going to Oymyakon and also at Lena River. At the homestay in Oymyakon, that was also my first experience I did not shower for two days. Luckily, I had two small bottles of water and wet wipes which I used to damp myself in the morning. At least it was refreshing. ∞
The longest duration that I could survive outside in the open in Oymyakon was about 15 to 30 mins. One of the challenges which I love was the frozen river fishing. Luckily, before the trip I started again my workouts to build my stamina. It was normal during the first few steps walking on the frozen river towards the holes made by the fisherman. However, once we started walking further following the steps of the fisherman to avoid stepping on the thin surfaces on the river, my breathing started to become erratic (not that bad. I was just exaggerating). It is not about the walking. It was the wind and breathing in the ice cold air. If you have runny nose, it will definitely freeze. And if you are wearing spectacles and covering your nose with balaclava, good luck! I had mist on my spectacles at the last part of the session and I could not wipe it as it had frozen. So, relax. Get back to the vehicle and let the heater naturally unfreeze it first before wiping it.
We caught about seven small fish (not us, it was the legendary fisherman) which was fried by Tamara for our breakfast the next day. Please do not ask me what kind of fish are found in the river. I barely even know who is who in 'Finding Nemo'.
FOOD AND CUISINES
You should not worry about whether you can find food there. If you are travelling alone without a travel agent, in Yakutsk city itself you can find minimarts and cafes. As for in Oymyakon, you will be served with more than sufficient amount of food throughout your stay there. Every meals comprise of soup and reindeer meat that will help to warm your body. They have pickles served in every meals and according to Iriana, that is a common dish.
I tried their raw reindeer meat and frozen raw fish which were surprisingly nice to eat. Try it when you are there as it will be once in a lifetime experience. It is not the same as sushi, totally no. The guys love the vodka and wine there which they bought during the journey. I do not drink any of those so I have no comments.
Overall I could say that if you have the guts and determination to go through a rough and tough journey (though no mountain climbing involved), take the opportunity to try this trip. Especially if you have the right amount of exposure in travelling to other countries on your own, this will be one of the best experiences you will remember forever. Any challenges you encounter will be a bliss. Anyway, it is not like you are climbing Mount Everest or the moon. This trip is more on sitting down in the car for 20hrs (with stops) while someone else drives you. Well maybe you will need a moderate amount of patience and good health. Open mindedness is one of the key too since you will be experiencing new situation, surroundings and food which might seem not appealing at first impressions. But you will be able to adapt like a normal human being should.
Once you reach Oymyakon, it will be filled with warmth and welcoming energy. The people there open their arms to your arrival with smiles. We were invited to their concert on our last night there and everyone was so welcoming that we were invited to the stage for a short questions and answers session about our trip. Even though not many people visit this place, we met two young men from Japan who were filming a documentary which we will be in it for maybe a few seconds, and Erico from Japan and Iriana from Yakutsk. It was a beautiful experience. Simplicity.
I was told by the professor in Mammoth Museum in Yakutsk and Tamara that I am the second Singaporean to reach Oymyakon. The first was a family. So, I guess this place is like the moon or Mount Everest. Like if you do not know, Yuri Gagarin, a Russian pilot was actually the first human to go to outer space in 1961 (cited from space.com)
Link to full album: https://goo.gl/jLsUC2
Facts and Stories during travel-Sergey,Maxim
Photos Collaborations - Luigi and Tim