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Diary Last Updated: Jun 16th, 2015 - 16:51:13

Stage 7 - Monday 12 May 2008 - Day 84
By Dick and Pip Smith
May 12, 2008, 10:29

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Overnight trains, Khabarovsk and a friendly truck driver.

There were lots of trains last night – probably about 4 per hour. They virtually came in through the window of the Earthroamer, they were so close. We usually leave the top vent open for air and that meant that the noise was even more resounding – it was fantastic!
The trains passed us all night and in the morning

We had no problems in sleeping and it was great to go to sleep with the noise of express trains and freight trains thundering past, and then wake up with the same noise in the morning. It was incredible.

Last night we put our watches forward another hour. Strangely enough, we are now one hour ahead of Sydney time – even though in longitude we are just about the equivalent of Darwin. It appears they have the ultimate daylight saving here in the Russian Far East.
Village of Aur

We have now been through 9 time zones since leaving the UK . It nearly goes half way around the world.

You wouldn’t believe it – we started the drive today on dirt road again, but it turned to bitumen. Sometimes it was really good bitumen, other times it was bitumen with potholes where we really had to slow down.

For the first 20 kilometres or so we were driving parallel to the Trans-Siberian Railway, and we were following a coal train. We were doing 80 kph and it was too – so we know the speed they go.
The highway ran beside the Trans Siberian Railway line every now and then

It is good to see that in Russia the trains are used so much for moving freight. It is much more efficient. However one thing we have both decided is that with all this talk of climate change, it is incredible that there is so much vehicular traffic. Even in Russia, with the trains roaring backwards and forwards every five minutes, the roads are jammed with huge trucks. In the United States we remember six lane highways solid with trucks moving “cargo” from one side of the country to the other. A truck can go directly from a particular location to a particular location, but it uses a tremendous amount more fossil fuel than a train.

It will be interesting to see in the future if we end up with less freight being moved by trucks and other road vehicles, and more of it being moved by rail – which is so much more efficient. The whole of the Trans-Siberian Railway is electrified. The wires are extremely thin, so Dick thinks the system must operate with about 11,000 volts. It must be highly efficient, however it is obvious from the huge coal powered power stations that we see every few hundred kilometres that the electricity comes from coal, not from hydroelectricity or other more efficient energy sources.

It was 175 kilometres to Khabarovsk. It was interesting that on the way a car transporter passed us, then stopped up ahead with the driver waving furiously. We stopped, thinking he must have had some type of mechanical problem or could see something wrong with our vehicle. No, he just wanted to shake our hands and present us with a bottle of vodka! He also wanted to take a picture of us and the Earthroamer.
Our truck driver friend who stopped us to say hello and gave us a special bottle of vodka

We crossed the 2.6 kilometre bridge across the Amur River into Khabarovsk. The bridge is a modern structure of two layers – there are two lanes of traffic on the top, and two lanes of railway below.
Crossing the Amur River looking towards Khabarovsk
Boats sitting on the banks of the Amur River

Good navigators – such as we are – never get lost, but we can sometimes get temporarily misplaced. This is what happened. Just as we got to into the outskirts of Khabarovsk to the north, we stopped at a large supermarket to buy some bread.
50 kilometres from Khabarovsk the backyards were mostley hoed garden beds
A new modern supermarket where we stopped to buy fresh bread
Homes in Khabarovsk
Apartment buildings in Khabarovsk

We decided that the roads now seemed to be smooth enough that we could put the spare tyre back on the tyre carrier. A few days ago it vibrated so badly that it actually broke the welds on the whole rear bumper bar! For the last three days we had been living with the tyre in the back of the Earthroamer. The tyre is incredibly heavy – we estimate that it is over 80 kg. We managed to cajole two local men who were walking through the car park (one was pushing a stroller) to help Dick to roll the tyre out of the back of the Earthroamer on to the parking area and then lift it into position on the back. We then bolted it in place and we are hoping it is going to stay there – at least until Australia, where we can look at re-strengthening it again.
Lifting the spare tyre back onto the carrying frame on the back of the Earthroamer

We then headed along the road but found we were travelling more to the North West than to the south. Perhaps if we had stayed on the road it would have circled as a by-pass, but we didn’t know. So we turned back and headed through the main city streets of Khabarovsk.
Driving into the city of Khabarovsk
The first sign we saw to Vladivostok
New apartments being built in Khabarovsk

Both of us had been to Khabarovsk before on one of Mike McDowell’s expeditions on the Kapitan Klebnikov to the Kuril Islands. We had walked right through the city and spent time there, so we really didn’t need to spend any more time in the city now. It is a beautiful city with lots of trees and new buildings. We accidentally drove past the newly constructed Orthodox cathedral Khram Uspeniya Bozhei Materi. It was a replica of a church that was destroyed during communist times. Being very Russian it has gold domes and Pip delighted in taking a photograph.
The Khram Uspeniya Bozhei Materi Orthodox Cathedral in Khabarovsk with rails and wires from the trolley buses in front

At times we had no idea which way we were going through the city. Vaguely, the GPS would indicate that we should head south, so we would wind down the window and say “Vladivostok” to the driver next to us. Most of them couldn’t understand what we were talking about. Our pronunciation of Vladivostok must be very different to the Russian pronunciation. Occasionally someone’s face would brighten up and they would point either straight ahead, to the left or to the right, so we would follow those instructions. After an hour in really heavy traffic – Khabarovsk has a population of about 600,000 people – we eventually found ourselves towards the outskirts.

Just to the south of Khabarovsk we saw the most enormous shopping centre – it was just like Westfield but even bigger. We pulled in because our little iPod FM transmitter device (which transmits the iPod music to the FM radio in the Earthroamer) had broken. Using lots of hand signals, we tried to buy one. We found iPods and just about every other Sony accessory, but no FM transmitters. It looked as if we would have to keep playing the CDs which we had heard many times before. Unfortunately the CDs don’t come out of the player when you push eject – unless you use a pair of long nose pliers to assist! However we were able to gradually change the CDs as we drove.

At the shopping centre was a Bunnings type hardware outlet, but it was even better. We managed to buy the necessary bolts that we will use tomorrow or the next day in Vladivostok to remount the fibreglass cover which surrounds the grey water tank. At the moment, the cover is still sitting on the roof.

Heading south from Khabarovsk we were on relatively good roads – but a relatively good road in Russia means that it is bitumen, but every now and then there is an enormous pothole. Here is a photograph of one of them.It was one of the smaller ones. The bigger ones could hide a Redimix concrete truck!
An example of a pot hole in the bitumen roads - this is a small one which could still blow a tyre at 60kph. Some are so deep that a truck has been known to disappear in them!

We followed the Ussuri River valley through magnificent scenery. There were green elms, and in the distance there were blue mountains. We could see across to the west into China and the low mountain ranges there. Every now and then we would see a road sign pointing to the west, which said “China” English.
Army barracks in Vikin with a sign to China
Roadside fruit stall
We noticed the blossoms around the homes in Khor - 663kms from Vladivostok
Women working in their garden preparing the soil for their summer planting of vegetables
A sign - possibly from the old Soviet Union days - not many of these left
Sign warning that the road ahead is very bumpy - what it really says it is in bad repair. We are suprised that the road is not repaired, they just erect the sign

We had a bet on how often we would be pulled over by the Police today. Pip wagered that it would happen twice, Dick said three times. Pip was the winner – we were only pulled over twice. Dick wanted to keep driving until we got pulled over again, but Pip said no, she was happy!

At 7.40 pm we stopped after 8 hours and 39 minutes of driving time, with an average speed of 64.4 kilometres per hour. We were very pleased with ourselves. We did 572 kilometres for the day.

We pulled up at a roadside café of the most deluxe proportions. It is obviously a chain and we have been told it is the top quality chain that is going to open throughout Russia. It is as good as any you would see in the United States or Australia. Rather than the filthy old pit toilets outside, it has beautifully clean toilets with automatic water from the taps, and even a little checklist which showed that the staff had checked the cleanliness of the toilets on every hour during the day. This is quite unlike Russia and it shows the changes that are happening.

We purchased a meal of salad, potatoes, chicken, chips and our favourite blinis – pancakes – and a good cup of tea. This cost 590 Rubles – about $26 AUD. That is about double the price we had been paying at the other roadside cafés, and it just shows how everything is going upmarket with quality and cost.
We ate dinner in this modern cafe and parked overnight

It is interesting to note how much the continental land masses are skewed to the Northern Hemisphere. For example, the northernmost point we reached on this leg is approximately equivalent in latitude to Macquarie Island, and if we end up in Vladivostok tomorrow (after driving south for another 1,000 kilometres or so from the northernmost point) we will be at the equivalent latitude to Hobart.

Tomorrow we hope to see the Sea of Japan. Won’t that be exciting? We think we have less than 500 kilometres to go on our expedition across the European and Asian continent. It will be exciting tomorrow if we actually get to Vladivostok. We will keep you posted.

Today 572 kms. 31,356 kms since Anchorage, Alaska.


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