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No.47 – Russia – Wilderness, bears, Island Sakhalin

Aug 23, 2015 | Asia, Blog, Russia


The scenery was still just beautiful. At a raging river I had a long break. Finally there were no insects anymore and I was pleased with myself and the world. I suddenly had this crazy feeling of freedom that I always get when I’m in nature.

I felt just as right as rain.

After about 60 km there was a construction site which never seemed to end. Large stones
and a lot of dust and nice workers who repeatedly asked me something and told me that
it was no longer far away from a café. The only house on the entire route.

 Not far, however, is always relative when traveling on a pushbike.

40km of pure stones can be long. My knee hurt for days and I had no idea why it was sore. I had the saddle height adjusted many times, because I could not tell where the problem came from. I had to push through pain on slopes, so everything took even longer.

The farther I went the higher the number of kilometers the guys gave me as info at the construction site. In the dust I wouldn’t have known where to camp anyway so I had to just keep going.  

It was dark when I finally reached the cafe. When I entered, beaming, the one lady staff shouted at me and the joy of a warm meal has nearly passed. I persuaded them to let me camp behind the toilet and so I spent the night between truckers and stinking loo doors, but I had a full belly and no abdominal pain worrying how and where I should spend the night. 

It’s strange. I longed so much for the wilderness and now I tried to stay near people because it was too scary with the bears. But somehow with the Russians as well.  

But I still hoped for an improvement and was convinced I’d get used to the scary bear thoughts in a few days and hopefully I will just laugh about the fear I am going through at the moment. 

I took a day off and gave my knee some rest. I spent all day in the café. Outside it was simply unbearable because of the amount of insects. In the tent it would have been way too hot.

The people are also very reticent to each other. Hardly anyone says hello when they come in. The staff are totally snippy and curt. The truckers taciturn.A guy approached me because he spoke English and wanted to know what I’m doing.

He only shook his head and said: “You are crazy to be in this area here alone. We are here at the end of the world and people are not harmless and bears are everywhere. ” 

Although I stayed there all day, the staff gave me not a single friendly look. I think they found me just plain weird.

Forest, forest and more forest. One hilltop after another, up and down and only green color as far as the eye could see. The path had no end and the next night was getting closer.

This time I wanted to be more daring and had no alternative anyway. I saw a little slope and a small track. Invisible from the road I pitched my tent and lit up a fire.Unfortunately there were only young trees and therefore I didn’t have any chance of hanging up my food somewhere. But I didn’t want to take the risk of leaving the food in my tent so I left it far away on the ground, knowing to the fullest that there is little 

chance that much of it will be left the next morning.

I talked for quite a long time very loudly with the bear who was not likely there, but I wanted
simply tell him that I know that he is much stronger and that we are best friends anyway.
Somehow it helped me to feel better.

 I was so tired that I wasn’t hungry so I didn’t eat and even fell asleep immediately. But in the morning I could have eaten the crotch out of a low flying duck, as some would say in Outback Australia, but unfortunately I found that absolutely nothing of my food was left.Which animal had taken my supplies in the end I don’t know but the holes in the plastic bag definitely indicated a big creature.

Seems like I had slept like a bear myself.

The day without food was endless. Again, only the forest, many climbs and a significantly poorer road. I thought about stopping cars and asking for food because my condition was getting worse and worse but I didn’t really feel like asking anyone.I could get water from many sources so that was no problem.  

But at the end of the day I waved vigorously when a brand new 4×4 vehicle came towards me.
However the two men drove past. I think once they realized that I was a woman they stopped
and finally came back. “There are still 10 km to go to Vanino”, they replied.  

Isn’t this sad? In the endless taiga two men do not trust a foreign cyclist. No one trusts the other.


Of course their statement wasn’t as true as the distances indicated on the road.
25 more kilometers and several other long climbs still to go.

I already had cramps in my legs.

A truck stopped and the drunken passenger tried to come on to me but I just cycled on.

 I arrived in Vanino and saw the first man with a suit since I was in Russia. Normally I do not pay attention to such unimportant things and clothes mean nothing to me. But this was too obvious not to notice.


I was lucky and met a nice guy when I was looking for a place to stay. Everything was crazily expensive and so he helped me to get a ticket for the ferry to Sakhalin which was supposed to leave at 11 PM. Perfect timing. 


The lady at the counter was, well, a really nasty person. Old communism service. The attitude was: I just don’t care. But the ferry was dirt cheap. 30 Euro for the entire route, but without a bed.

The lady said, “without a bed I have to sleep with the Koreans on the floor”, whereupon I smiled and thought, yes no problem, I bet I am feeling much better again with Koreans. 

An old woman spoke to me and asked my name and who I am. “Oh, so your mother didn’t give you a nice name, that’s a shame” she said. But she thought I was 32 which in turn was of course a huge compliment. 

Finally the ferry left at 3 o’clock in the morning – 4 hours behind schedule.I pitched my tent on the deck. This is what I like about Russia, I can do what I want, no one bothers. 

Loads of North Korean guest workers were on board. Nice men. To my big surprise many of them wore a “Kim” pin on the jacket, some also Kim with his father. 

The lady in the Cafe was another very nasty woman. She shouted at me when I came in 10 minutes before opening hours and I wondered more and more how much longer I would remain in Russia.

After 19 long hours the old ferry finally arrived in Sakhalin. It was long night. Getting to a place in such a dubious country in the middle of the night somewhere in a port city is never good. But I was lucky and met two Australians and a Kiwi motor biker, the first foreigners since Korea and so I could improve my mood briefly and had a chance to talk properly again. They took the ferry to Vanino, from where I had come.

There were only two hotels and unfortunately I had to pay 25 Euros for the night. The most expensive night of the entire trip so far. 25 Euros for a bed in which I did not even fit lengthwise.



I met two nice men who gave me the advice to stick to the main road. “Don’t go on the smaller roads , there are too many poor people and you never know what they’re up to.” But the main road to Yuzno-Sakhalin, the capital of the island, is safe.They gave me fire crackers for the bears and I left for the road to Yuzno.  

Sakhalin made a significantly more wealthy impression. Pretty wooden houses, big cars
and good roads, it also had a beautiful landscape. Many wildflowers, rivers and as always,
a lot of forest.


I picked the most beautiful house to ask if I could camp in their garden. “Niet” the old woman
replied. I was trying to convince her that I am ok and that there is nothing to worry about.
But she repeated a few more times with an angry expression: “Niet, niet, niet”.


The next village was another 10 kilometers away and so there I tried my luck again. The village gave the impression of being poorer again. The funny thing was that people retended they have seen tons of tour bikers before. I was invisible. Absolutely no one paid any notice to me. I was simply totally ignored. Even the kids weren’t curious. 

The only country where I was never able to get a kid to laugh.

 I drove back and forth and then discovered a very well maintained house. Lots of flowers and no crazy barking dogs. An old man was working in the garden and when I smiled at him he gave me a really nice smile back. Bingo.He just wanted to see my passport if I’m really German. I gave him my translated note to read, and he waved me in.


His wife was totally impressed by me and I was adopted from the first moment. Excellent.



She was a real “Babuschka”. For food there was fresh fish, a very delicious borscht soup
and bread with butter. But before we got up and they prayed and crossed themselves
a few times in front of Jesus who decorated the wall in all variations.I made up an excuse why I did not have a neckless with a Christian cross, hoping that we finally could start eating.  

Of course I had to look at different photo album and we watched a video of a Russian orthodox service.They were wonderful people and I was so grateful for their hospitality. 

The bed was crazy comfortable. In addition I was surrounded by Jesus in all its variations and I bet he protected me the entire night. The next morning they prayed only for me and when I asked if there are many bandits in the area, she took Jesus of the wall, kissed him a few times, crossed herself and crossed her fingers in front of me so she was now sure nothing will happen to me. 

With a big hug we said farewell and the lovely “Babuschka” gave me a lunch package.

It was one of those encounters I will never forget. They were by far the nicest people I have
met for a long time.


Yuzno wasn’t far anymore. A rich city. Supermarkets like ours. Many expats who work in the
oil fields, good roads and some brand new houses.

 I stayed a few days in an extremely pleasant hostel and decided to leave the country with the

next available ferry to Wakkanai / Japan.


I spent 4.5 adventurous weeks in the eastern corner of Russia and somehow I was still disappointed that I didn’t follow my original plan. The Russian visa was 300 Euros in total and not the easiest to get. All in all it was a lot of effort for not a lot. But I had enough, I didn’t want to torment myself even more.

 But at the end, it was more adventure than in most countries I have been before. And to be  honest, I love adventure ! It was very exciting and I might not forget it for a while.

I organized a ticket for the ferry to Hokkaido / Wakkanai in Japan by 10 o’clock the next morning. For a crazy 200 Euros.I started at 7 o’clock with the assumption that it would not be far to get to the harbor and I would be easily there at 8:30. I was supposed to check in at 8 AM but this felt a bit too early for me.  

No one told me that there were a lot of hills and that the distances were just made up again with a crystal ball. It was pouring with rain and I arrived soaking wet in the port city and searched in vain for the ferry. Once again no one knew where I needed to go.No dock workers knew the dock for the ferry to Japan. 

It was already 9:15 and I was getting more and more nervous. But suddenly a brand new boat blinked among the grey and rusty harbor freighters. I drove straight toward it, passed each checkpoint without any problems and wondered where the immigration might be. At the boat I was sent back by the police to where I came from. So I passed all the officials again and it took a few more minutes to finally get to immigration.Luckily still in time.  

I was sent off grumpily by the Russians and was welcomed very warm heartedly by the Japanese.

Another culture shock is now awaiting me. First, from crazy China to the lovely island of Taiwan. Then from Taiwan to exhausting South Korea, then from South Korea to scary Russia and now to the next extreme culture country, to Japan.Somehow it is not always easy to cope with all this. 

Ciao Russia – Adventureland …..


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Hello, I am Heike 🙂


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