Russia is a modern state. By that I mean it has all the trappings that you expect, fast food, highways, high fashion, fast cars and an apparently burgeoning middle class. Fortunately, it hasn’t been completely overrun by global homogenization. Roadside cafes are more than Little Chefs or McDonald’s. They range from Mom and Pop sandwich stalls, to modern buffet Euro-style cafeterias. Even the toilets range from unspeakably rank outhouses to pristine, tiled loos. This is a country with so much going for it, from its natural resources to its people, it is easy to believe that Russia’s turn in the driver’s seat is coming at last.
Our journey out of Samara pointed us towards the Urals and our first major change in landscape for several days. Hay fields lined with trees steadily fell away as the low rolling foothills of the Urals pitched up stands of birch and conifers. The road narrowed ahead of us and diesel fumes choked the valleys as trucks labored up the steep inclines.
Pausing for a tasty dinner at an aspiring hotel/resort gave us a chance to practice the two words of Russian we’ve remembered so far, thank-you (spa-si-ba) and check (schyot). By then we’d covered some 450km and were hoping to sleep in the forest for a change. Poking our noses down side roads yielded numerous small logging camps, but little level ground. Eventually we went into a field and were greeted by an owl that flew ahead of Swifty directly down the track. We turned in where the owl disappeared and pitched our tents in the damp undergrowth of a grove of trees. Throngs of killer mosquitoes meant slapping ourselves to sleep.