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jorgesanchez Tiksi - A travel report by jorge
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Tiksi,  Russia - flag Russia -  Sakha (Yakutiya)
34919 readers

jorgesanchez's travel reports

The most remote place in the Russian Arctic Ocean

  16 votes
Page: 1 2 3 4
Tiksi is located in the delta of the Lena River, up in the Arctic Ocean. It is a very hard place to reach and you need a special permit because of its strategic and military importance since the years of the Cold War.

Rock in the middle of the River Lena, near Tiksi
Rock in the middle of the River Lena, near Tiksi
The idea to travel to the almost inaccessible Tiksi started with Jeff Shea, an American traveller who knows the 194 countries of the United Nations and has climbed the seven highest summits of the seven continents.

Jeff suggested to gather all his travellers’ friends in an exotic place, and I replied proposing three main rivers in Siberia: Obi, Yenisei or Lena.

My initiative was accepted, but Bill Altaffer, a Californian traveler, disregarded the Obi because he had future travel plans in that river (finally he did not join).

Then, Andre Brugiroux, from France, said that he had already navigated along the Yenisei, and he proposed the river Lena, a choice that was also supported by Polish Wojciech Dabrowski.

We all approved Andre/Wojciech proposal and the Lena was chosen.

I then suggested a complementary journey: The Road of Bones, or 2000 kilometres of bad roads built by the prisoners of the Gulags in times of the criminal Stalin. The road is so called because of the prisoners dying daily during its construction, who were buried under the asphalt. In fact, that entire road is a huge cemetery.

All my friends applauded that second idea.

In Spain I met a great traveller (Juan Tino Tafao) who was in Yakutsk the previous year and spent much money using the services of a Travel Agency. He recommended me and after 50 days the special permit to Tiksi was ready.

It was issued on my name but being collective I could invite friends listed in a separate sheet, who finally were: Jeff, Andre, Wojciech and Kevin Hughes, the ex President of the Travelers’ Century Club.

To further help my friends I arrived 12 days earlier to Yakutsk for the arrangements. Wh

Favourite spots:
Yakutians in their motorboats
Yakutians in their motorboats
Lena is the tenth longest river in the world (about 4400 kilometres) and navigating along it, from Yakutsk to Tiksi, was a breathtaking experience.

Practically all the passengers were Yakutians, except the captain, who was Russian. He was not a very sociable person and none of us, travellers, could visit him, except me, being the responsible of the group, to sign the book of guests.

The navigation lasted five days (including one day delay). We sailed the 5fh of August 2009 and arrived to Tiksi the night of the 9th of August.

There were some stops along the Lena River but we were not allowed to disembark. The Yakutians came in their motor boats to collect the cargo carried by the boat. That was an especial moment and practically all the villagers came to the banks of the river to observe the constant movements of passengers and goods coming and going. It reminded me the journey by boat from Belem to Manaus, along the Amazonas River.

What's really great:
Downtown Tiksi, boring but still with a charm
Downtown Tiksi, boring but still with a charm
Tiksi was a dreary city. During the Soviet Union times it sheltered 17000 persons, mainly soldiers, but after the Perestroika many military bases were dismantled and the soldiers sent to other destinations. Today the population of Tiksi scarcely reaches the 5000 souls.

Its streets still show Soviet signs and old phrases, such as “Glory to the Work” (Slava Trudu), which reminded me the German phrase in Auschwitz extermination camp of “Arbeit Macht Frei”.

There was only one hotel in Tiksi (closed), a museum (closed), a Post Office with Internet, a stolovaya (basic cafeteria with some snacks), and several shops selling products, especially beer and vodka.

Andre had returned to Yakutsk in the Mekhanik Kulibin. Kevin, Wojciech and Jeff would fly there after two days, and I would fly one day later because I was given a discount of 40 per cent for been older than 55 years. Sadly, two of my companions rushed to buy their tickets and paid 13000 rubbles instead of 8000 (Jeff was only 53).

The fantastic formations of the Lena Pillars
The fantastic formations of the Lena Pillars
The Lena Pillars is another wonder that awaits the brave traveller in Yakutia. It consists on natural formations of fantastic rocks resembling towers, statues and columns over 150 meters high, along more than 80 kilometers, found on the banks of the Lena River. That visual ecstasy lasted several hours.

We stopped in a Natural Park where a shaman and his wife came to perform ceremonies in which almost all the passengers of the Mekhanic Kulibin participated (including me) dancing around a bonfire with the arms extended and shouting like possessed: Uuuuuhhhh!… Uuuuuhhhh!… Uuuuuhhhh….!

Andre had seen those pillars in a previous trip to Yakutsk some years ago and I also could see them during the 12 days that I waited for the group. Kevin and Jeff would arrive too late to Yakutsk, and Wojciech could see them only thanks to my help, arranging the registration of his passport in the Police (OVIR), while he enjoyed that excursion.

The permit, issued on my name to visit Tiksi
The permit, issued on my name to visit Tiksi
In the boat we slept in our cabins. The richer (Kevin, Wojciech and Jeff) had bought first class, and the poorer (Andre and me) travelled on third class, at half the price, with the Yakutian passengers.

In Yakutsk I found a lady who offered beds in her house in the downtown at only 500 roubles, with right to use a washing machine, so I helped my friends to save a lot of money, because the hotels in Yakutsk are very expensive, except one in front of the airport, extremely far away from the centre, at 900 rubbles per a bed in a dormitory shared with Russians, and with shower and toilets in the corridor.

During the navigation I made friendship with a lady in my third class cabin and I arranged to sleep in her house for only 300 rubbles per person, including transport from the port to Tiksi.

The apartment was in poor conditions. Wojciech was very clever and got the only mattress of the flat, while the rest of us had to sleep on the floor.

There was no hot water in the whole town.

The tent with the green roof is a place for bad ladies
The tent with the green roof is a place for bad ladies
There is no nightlife in Tiksi, except a kind of brothel frequented by drunken Yakutians and some low class women. The first night we went there by mistake, thinking that it was a cafeteria, just to buy soft drinks, but immediately appeared a strong inebriated Yakutian looking for trouble, so we bought a bottle of lemonade and left the place at once.

Nothing else was open; therefore we went to sleep early to our apartment.

During the boat journey there were contests of songs and chess games in the evenings, but being in Yakutian language none of us participated, preferring, instead, to talk about travels in our cabins, write our diary, or reading travel related literature.

In Yakutsk, being the capital of the Republic of Sakha (or Yakutia) there were night clubs, theatres, cinemas, discos and pubs, but when the darkness came, we resolved to stay in our flat, or to have dinner in the hotel Tygyn Darkhan enjoying the local dishes and drinking kumis before going to sleep.

Two Bears Tupolev TU-95 overflying Tiksi
Two Bears Tupolev TU-95 overflying Tiksi
Tiksi is composed by Tiksi I, Tiksi II and Tiksi III.

Tiksi I was the place were we had been. Tiksi III was the airport and a small village nearby inhabited mainly by soldiers and pilots of the airplanes Tupolev TU-95 (NATO knows that plane as “Bear”).

Then, where is Tiksi II? I asked. And the local people, afraid, told me that Tiksi II was the cemetery. But some others were convinced that Tiksi II is a secret military town, underground, constructed during the times of the Cold War, sheltering secret weapons ready to use against USA in case of war.

When my friends returned to Yakutsk I still had an extra day that I employed entirely visiting Tiksi III, a place much more nicer and less depressing that Tiksi I. I saw an Orthodox Church, an open hotel (called Arctic, where I had a decent lunch) plus an active life and laughs among the soldiers.

From Tiksi III I could observe the manoeuvres and practice flights of the strange, but beautiful, design of the “Bear” bombers TU-95.

Andre, Jeff and me eat reindeer that I got in Yakutia (picture by Kevin Hughes)
Andre, Jeff and me eat reindeer that I got in Yakutia (picture by Kevin Hughes)
In the Mekhanic Kulibin there was a restaurant with basic but acceptable food.
We had bought noodles and other products in the supermarket of Yakutsk. Kevin and Jeff had brought from the United States some snacks.

The second day I bought as a gift for my friends an enormous fish that one of the passengers had caught in the Lena River, and we had food for the rest of our boat journey.

In Tiksi there was only one cafeteria where we had soup and some sandwiches. In the evening we ate products bought in the supermarket (bread, cheese, juices, etc.).

Yakutsk had all kind of restaurants, Japanese, Italian, American (a Russian version of Kentucky Fried Chicken), and local Yakutian food in the hotel Tygyn Darkhan, where four of us (Kevin, Jeff, Andre and me) enjoyed excellent dinner several nights with a friend of Andre (Nadia, who had helped me in renting the minibus to Magadan). We especially loved the local dish strogonina (raw fish) and kumis liquor (excellent!!!).

Other recommendations:
The minibus (Bukhanka) that I rented heading to Magadan
The minibus (Bukhanka) that I rented heading to Magadan
Back in Yakutsk, the 15th August we started the Road of Bones journey to Magadan in our bukhanka.

Since the beginning we had allowed ten days for the navigation to Tiksi and back, plus ten more days for the Road of Bones. But one of the members of the group (Wojciech) had booked an airplane ticket from Magadan to Kamchatka for the 22nd of August (afterwards Kevin would buy another ticket for that same date from Magadan to Khabarovsk), so for solidarity with them we were forced to run like crazies (otherwise they might miss their planes), thus reducing dramatically the time planned to discover that unique part of the world, and sacrificing the visit to many unusual places that, unfortunately, we could not see.

In spite of that most unpleasant obstacle, what we saw and experienced during the seven days across the Road of Bones, especially the virgin nature, the contact with the gentle Yakutians, plus the visit to the Museum of Gulags in Magadan, made our journey unforgettable.

Published on Friday October 9th, 2009

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Fri, Mar 23 2012 - 02:20 AM rating by mikebarton

Great story. Thank you for sharing it.

Tue, Oct 27 2009 - 04:25 AM rating by trampi

Great, long report about very distant places... Thank you!
The information about agency arranging permits for Yakutia you got from Mr Tafao is available also in the Lonely Planet "Russia" guidebook (2006 edition-page 627) and they have also page on internet:

Mon, Oct 19 2009 - 04:46 AM rating by gloriajames

a journey only a true traveller like you can undertake! bravo and an that's an excellent report!

Fri, Oct 16 2009 - 05:48 AM rating by danilbruce

Great Report!

Wed, Oct 14 2009 - 05:45 PM rating by eirekay

Just amazing! What a journey! And what company you had! Thanks for taking us with you!

Mon, Oct 12 2009 - 05:23 AM rating by louis

What an increduble journey you had. Just wonderful. You are a real travellers. Many thanks for posting this report.

Mon, Oct 12 2009 - 03:26 AM rating by krisek

Fascinating reading indeed! Thank you very much for sharing your experiences. It seemed that travelling in a small group of extremely experienced travellers was somewhat different than doing it alone, huh? ;)

Fri, Oct 09 2009 - 05:42 PM rating by jacko1

An absolutely brilliant and evocative report Jorge, aah, if I was ayoung man again!

Fri, Oct 09 2009 - 04:12 PM rating by mistybleu

Now this is what I call travelling. What an interesting journey, it reminds me of a book I read. Nice one!

Fri, Oct 09 2009 - 03:27 PM rating by pesu

Jorge, good to have your incredible contribution back on Globo! A breathtaking adventure and a great exceptional report about it! Doesn't seem to be too easy to balance the plans of 5 of the most famous travellers on earth... ;-)

Fri, Oct 09 2009 - 02:13 PM rating by antonioagui

Chapeau Jorge, and welcome back!

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