|2004-09-20 - Tale about Andre & Valentin
19th of September, we´ve paddled 70 km:s over two days and we´ve raised our Moskosel cot on another small fly infested island just off the Kolyma River at N 64°43´07.1 and E 153°41´13.8, 2-14°C, overcast with occasional rainfall, light sw wind.
The tale about Andre and Valentin- full time trappers for the last twenty years.
During these last two weeks we´ve been able to live like good-to do trappers, by which I mean, that we´ve been able to survive completely by living off what nature can supply us with. By hunting, trapping and catching fish. Primarily by catching plenty of fish. It is a genuinely free, rewarding and exiting way to live. But also very demanding and hard. It takes a lot of work, no periods of rest, and a lot of planning.
Especially when the surroundings are unknown, which they are to us, but we study our maps in detail, test different places and lately it has worked out so well, that we can actually survive. And fill our hungry stomachs. For example, this morning, we caught our first lenok -the big Siberian trout- which weighed nearly 5 kg:s! On top of that our nets gave us a decent sized pike and six big siks. Four of them full of rom enough to make plenty of good caviar. How to do that, we learned the other day during our fantastic encounter with two proper trappers, Andre and Valentin!
´´You can´t just pass by without giving us a chance to invite you for some food´´, Andre explained with some surprise, when he caught us up with his motorboat, made us stay at a tiny sandbank, shook our hands and introduced himself, ´´We passed you the other day and waived at you, remember? Come on now, it´ll just take a few hours of your precious time!´´
Then he gave us a toothless smile, placed an iron bar in the ground and tied a rope between that and our canoe.
´´Bring your rifle´´, he said, ´´don´t leave that here!´´
´´But surely´´, I said, ´´you don´t mean that we should leave the canoe and the rest of our gear here in the middle of nowhere?´´
´´What can happen?´´, he said astonished, ´´there´s nobody but us out here.´´
´´Bears?´´, I tried jokingly.
´´The water level is far to high at the moment´´, he said assuring, ´´you haven´t seen any fresh tracks left by moose or bears these last two days, have you?´´
We hadn´t. We felt a little proud that he figured we were proper
hunters. He´d probably heard those four shots Johan fired a few days ago, not far away, trying in vain to get either geese or ducks to eat.
´´Can I try your rifle later?´´, he asked with lots of curiosity, when we entered his rusty, old steel boat.
Ever since we left Seimchan, we´d both seen and heard small motorboats from a distance, always the same color and always two people, waiving with chock. We first thought they were local chuckchi, since we´ve found their nets almost everywhere we´d wished to place ours. Now we understood it was the same two Caucasian Russians. And we´d spent a fair amount of time trying to figure where they´ve bought their petrol.
Something we learned once we arrived at the home of Andre and Valentin, located a few kilometers away from that little sandbank where our canoe was parked.
´´We travel to Zyryanka (350 km:s away) a couple of times every year to buy basic food and fuel´´, Valentin explained with a toothless smile at the same time as he was trying to rid himself of the irritating swarms of small flies.
Valentin was the older of the two, maybe 50, whilst Andre was around 40.
Valentin had rheumatic problems one noticed when he pointed at a bearskin he was working on.
´´It wasn´t the biggest of bears I´ve killed, but it was fat and the meat was tender´´, he explained as a matter of fact.
He smelled of vodka, but one could see he was in pain. He called for his favorite dog, Djin, a very well behaved, well fed and kept, intelligent and beautiful laika, which had lots of charisma. They had three more dogs, all well behaved and well treated. These guys new how to take proper care of dogs. All dogs started to bark as mad when I brought out my rifle to be inspected. The dogs probably figured:
´´Time to go hunting! Yipiee!´´
Gee, did I miss my own dearly loved dog, Sigge! (Visit
www.utsidan.se/sigge) There´s few things in life that I find so
enjoyable as bringing a good dog out hunting!
Their log cabin home and trapper camp was rather rundown, some would probably call it filthy dirty, including André and Valentin, but there is more important matters than cleanliness, if one is to survive year after year in the Kolyma wilderness! One did notice however that surviving had been become harder since perestroika. We noticed that the ancient snowmobile, diesel generator and two steel boats were on the verge of never working again.
´´We´ve lived here the last twenty years´´, Andre continued after he returned to camp after a short visit to a place where they dried meat and fish.
He came back with sun dried schirr and a big glass jar full of rom from the sturgeon. They had caught a giant of a sturgeon that morning. It weighed about 10 kg:s and it was the biggest fish we´d ever seen!
(According to Andre, the sturgeon can weigh 40 kg:s!)
´´We use small fish like that as bait were I come from´´, I joked with a serious face.
´´Anyhow, let us eat!´´, Valentin exclaimed, not the least impressed.
Valentin had created a meal for Kings and Queens!
Half raw sun dried schirr with chopped onion in a vinaigrette sauce, fresh potatoes and as dessert, a pot full of sugary black berries! Even though the kitchen was the filthiest and worst smelling one could imagine, the meal was with the best one could have!
´´Surely you are staying over night?´´, Andre begged us when we were finished, ´´you see, we don´t meet a lot of people here.´´
We tried to explain that we worried that we wouldn´t make it to Zyryanka before the arrival of the winter and that we needed to add quite a few more miles to feel safe and sound.
´´Well, I guess you have to leave then´´, Andre said very disappointed.
Valentin looked more accepting, even though he complained all the time that he didn´t have any fresh bread to offer us as a gift.
Andre did cheer up a bit when we returned to the canoe and the sandbank and he could try a shoot with my rifle.
´´Hmm´´, he said in disappointment after he´d missed small tin jar 120 meters away. I forgot to tell him that my rifle aims a little high, but before I could tell him, he grabbed his own shotgun and aimed again and missed. Extremely disappointed he exclaimed:
´´What is the distance of the gun?´´
´´About 4000 meters´´, Johan answered, meaning how far a bullet could reach. For the first time we saw a genuinely impressed Andre:
´´And we can only shoot a moose from a distance of 500 meters!´´
(For those of you how are not into hunting, in Sweden we consider 80-120 meter a safe distance to shoot a moose.)
One thing is for sure, it´s hard to encounter more genuinely good human beings than André and Valentin.