Back in Altai

Our late and complex arrival at an amazingly bad hotel in Gorno-Altaisk prompts me to catch up on the travel diary…but first a recap of the initial days.

Our Room in Gorno-Altaisk

We arrived in Barnaul at 5am Saturday morning only somewhat haggard and sleep-deprived. A’s friend and architect colleague Lena N (and her stodgy but friendly boss) met us at the airport in Barnaul. From there we were whisked to her home, a pre-Revolution wooden house with gingerbread around the windows. At some point it was subdivided into four apartments, and Lena’s is on the second story. She’s remodeled it extensively, but has yet to get to the kitchen, which has an old fashioned stove whose pipes heat the whole apartment. She fed us a huge breakfast of I can’t remember what and then we sacked out for a few hours.

Around noon, I got a text message instructing us not to eat anything before arriving at the Fund’s office at 130. Clearly, it’s going to be all about food again. We had several lovely tomato and green salads, various cheeses, sweets, and meat and got a few hours to catch up with our friends at that office. They’ve done some renovating and even finally got DSL, something I’ve been begging them to do for years now.

Later that evening we shlepped part way home to meet another Lena (R) at a cafe and catch up on her news. She’s working mostly for the Global Environmental Facility project (big int’l bucks, huge bureaucracy) doing enviro education and outreach. She also sold her teeny tiny but very cute studio apartment and moved to the edge of town into the forest. She’s quite happy in a two-bedroom apt in a brand new building. Maybe we’ll get to see her/it on the way back out of town.

That was all Saturday, not even 24 hours in town! On Sunday I got shanghaied into interpreting for the film crew that is traveling along the same basic route we are. They’re nice folks and I enjoyed the extra time to hang out with Misha Shishin. At lunch time, in an utter downpour, we headed out in two cars of 9 people to Bobrovka (Beaverton), a lovely tiny village about 30 km up the Ob River. We were actually in this lovely pine forest at a “resort” that belongs to Altai State University. We were inspecting possible construction sites (eyeballing, more like) for a proposed (overly) elaborate strawbale building. A’s been trying to convince them that they will regret starting with something this complex as a starting point, but they’ve not backed down yet. Tons of angles, lots of unnecessarily complex wall breaks, multi-story, curved, etc. Anyhow, who are we to say…it rained throughout, and we finally retired to the “restaurant” for a snack. We had to bring our our groceries and the staff (VERY) grudgingly sliced salami, cheese, and vegetables and set them out for us.

Monday…in the morning we made phone calls trying to arrange more meetings later this week. In the afternoon, A spoke at a very interesting roundtable (more like a long oval) at Altai State Technical University, where various perspectives on straw-bale construction in Altai and the US were addressed. A few people who had entered as skeptics left much more interested, so that was gratifying. The building was an amazing warren of hallways, connecting halls, classrooms, and stairwells. Clearly, new students have their work cut out for them just finding their way to class. I waxed nostalgic a bit with A about our university days – not much has changed in the classrooms and hallways, although we both agreed that students dress considerably more casually these days. Actually, people in general dress more casually and women look a lot less like hookers or drag queens than they used to. I almost blend in. On a good day.

After waking up at 400, bright eyed and bushy tailed this morning (Tuesday), I settled down to a bit of translation before the day started. It’s been raining heavily at night, on/off, probably to the tune of 3+ inches since we arrived in Barnaul. Apparently it’s been like this all month and is unusual. People’s garden plots are looking well-watered but kinda wimpy for this late in the spring.

We caught a 1020 am bus to Gorno-Altaisk, figuring we’d be at our destination by 1pm. Silly us. This bus stopped what seemed like every kilometer to pick up and drop off people at random places along the road. Sometimes the only thing visible for miles in any direction was a single-track muddy footpath leading off into the lush greenery. Finally pulled into town about 315pm and have been running around ever since trying to have our passports in two places at the same time – the hotel and the visa registration service. Poor Alyson is making the final run to the registration office now. We haven’t eaten since 8am this morning, except for snacks.

Back to the reason I sat down to write. This hotel. It is on the main square of the “city” (really an overblown town), catty-corner to the provincial parliament, and Lenin is waving to us from the middle of the square. This city has a population of 50K but is hugely provincial. The hotel, which I guess was nice at some point, is not so much now. Despite begging, we could not get a room with a bathroom. We are paying ~$40 for a two-person room with a sink, rattly parquet (painted basic brown) floors, a smell that is approximate to the age of the room, a very sticky desk, and clean sheets! The bathroom is about 20 yards down the hall, has no toilet seats, and I was afraid to look in the shower (which it turns out is on the first floor and costs $1/hr). There was toilet paper (brown crepe), so that was a plus. I’m NOT looking forward to visiting that a couple of times in the middle of the night tonight.

That picture makes it look much nicer than it is!

I hope we can leave for Chemal tomorrow…