|2005-02-18 - The life of a Taiga hunter
17 Feb, 05 - 21:14
GPS-pos: N67°34´ | E155°46´ | Alt: 8 M
-51°F today at 9 a.m. and it is the 17th of February. We´re still in the logcabin at N 67°34´01.2 and E 155°46´56.5.
´´This is a very demanding life´´ ,Sasha explains, ´´you don´t know from one day to another whether there will be food on the table the upcoming week or not. Perestroika´s done life very insecure.´´
Sasha´s the one which rents the logcabin we´re in. I´ve almost spent a week on my back here now and the advantage of this, is, of course, that you get to know people much better and get a proper insight into their daily lives.
´´We hunters didn´t lack anything during the Soviet time´´ ,the talkative Sasha continues: ´´The authorities flew out food and other necessities like petrol, vodka, newspapers and spares as quick we contacted them over the radio. They also supplied us with snowmobiles, boats, bandwagons and spares for these and they paid us very well for the fur we brought in. Today, we don´t get any help at all and we have to make our own way into Srednekolymsk to buy food and sell our furs. Which we get hardly anything for today. It hardly pays for the cost of traveling with snowmobile to and back from Srednekolymsk.´´
Sasha is 55 years of age, but looks older. Except working in the harbor in Srednekolymsk during seven years (we saw no signs of a harbor during our visit, by the way) at the end of the Soviet Era, he´s been a fisherman and hunter all his life. He opened his cabin for Ivan and Pavel since they couldn´t find work during the winter months, they wouldn´t have survived otherwise. And the reason he wasn´t at home when we arrived, was due to the fact that he´d been on a weekly hunting trip in a mountain rage located south of here. He´s slept on reindeerskins in a cotton tent heated with a small stove. For this reason he´s suffering from backpains and his ailment for this, is a piece of fur from a hare tied on his back. His hunting trip was a failure and he´s in a aggravated mood.
´´I caught a mere two sables. That´s all. These winter months are difficult for a hunter´´ ,he complains, ´´The cold makes the fish stay put and the four legged animals are so weather sensitive during the winter.´´
When perestroika struck this region, he lost his job, as so many others. His only way to survive was to fish and hunt, whether he wanted to or not. And since the present government ain´t giving these northern regions any heavy subsidizes, as the Soviets did, life is extremely demanding. Which easily can be seen amongst most hunter´s we´ve visited, regarding the amount of medicine to be seen lying around on tables. All kinds of medicine. For high blood pressure, heart disease, liver problems and general pains. And most of them suffer from various stages of rheumatism. Due to the hard life and the extreme cold during the winter months. Which also explains the extremely high indoor temperature to be found in most logcabins along the river. The older the hunter, the warmer the cabin will be.
´´Freedom you ask?´´ Sasha continues, ´´there was more than enough freedom during the Soviet era. Of course, one had to be careful with what you expressed amongst others, but we hunter´s here in the north, we didn´t have any problems with authorities or the KGB. And what kind of a freedom is it of one has to worry about when you can get your next meal?´´
Which even Johan and myself ask ourselves. I don´t remember when I was as knackered as this by cold as this time. Terrible! I´ve slept most of the time in the cabin, but I am getting better by the hour. But I am still a bit from full recovery, I´m coughing badly and have a slight fever. We´ve also noticed that we get less food for every day passing by. Even if it´s delicious -mooseheartsoup, moose chin soup, rat soup and troutsoup- we´re 5 people for little food. And since they feel embarrassed if we eat our own food, we avoid doing this. Which helps us of course, since we´re still 3 to 4 weeks away from Kolymskaya, and need all the food we have to be able to make it all the way. We´re presently down on 9 it feels like. And we can´t eat these kind people out of their house, so we just have to continue north any day now. Whether we´ll be able to do it or not.