Now Entering Siberia … Eastwards to Novosibirsk
Well, ok… I could’ve rambled on some more about Ekat, but I felt a sudden detour coming on. I was curious to have a virtual scratch around in the gap between Ekaterinburg train station and Novosibirsk. After trawling around the ‘Net, the outstanding realisation is that yes: East of the Urals … you are heading into Siberia, proper … Big, empty (..ish) Siberia and all it entails.
So anyway: I discovered someone’s photo-travelogue of their rail trip to Novosibirsk, and it goes something like this:
Here’s Us at the Railway station, vacant countryside (empty blue sky, horizon peppered with trees, foreground Steppe/brushland), more of the same, still more of the same, a large sleepy village/small town in the sticks, vacant countryside again, more of the same, another sleepy small town/village in the sticks, vacant country yet again, more of the same … repeat ad nauseam … And finally: Here’s Us at the Railway station.
Ok, for most of us the very mention of Siberia instantly conjures up the cliché of a cruel, blizzard-laden ice-scape with bulkily swaddled figures staggering around a darkening labour camp. Ah yes… but why do such images become clichés? Partly because of laziness, some of the time: the clutching in indolence at the convenient. But also because these images often are (or were, depending on context) quite simply: the truth, or at least part of it. No, nobody said: “for everyone”, but nonetheless for some.
Whilst the labour camps of the Gulag have either dissolved into the snow and memory, or alternatively been relegated to contemplative monuments of shame and caution, the brutal Siberian winter still remains. It’s colder than the Arctic due to Siberia’s height above sea level, even plummeting in the North to an abyssal -62 °C in one recorded instance. In urban areas too, the cold is readily lethal with -52 °C reported in city-centre Syktyvkar in 2001. Cruel indeed.
Such temperatures are inconceivable for most of us…. and even if we could conceive of them, it’s very likely that we are incapable of feeling them anyway. The estimate by Russian scientists is that the body’s temperature differentiation system stalls at around -35 °C … Simply put: we can’t feel anything below -35 °C. Even if it’s -50 °C. See how dangerous it is?
What adds to the danger is the deceptive dryness of the cold… Here in the UK we can feel almost every descending degree of drizzly-damp as it seeps through our bones in winters of hateful icy humidity. …Even though we may only reach the comparatively balmy minus-teens in England itself.
I’ve stood on Blackfriars bridge for a film shoot in wet, late November wondering just how many degrees you have to lose off core-temperature before you actually die. Hardened Northern Europeans too, have reported with some surprise just how cold England can actually feel, when the temperatures themselves are nothing to (literally) write home about.
So in Siberia: take away the wet and we’ve lost a familiar pointer. Now we are heading for real trouble. The careless individual may return home (… or not at all) somewhat less of a person than when he or she started out.
Even after relatively brief periods of exposure (depending on time and temp), inadequately insulated fingers and ears may quite literally freeze solid and snap off, or a blackening extremity may have to be amputated to save the remainder of a limb.
The flip-side of this are the scorching summers: real forest-fire bait pushing at the 40 °C mark.
So… take care. We’re not in Kansas now, Toto.
Next time: Trips and Tales (Part 43) Siberia – revelations about the region and its people.
[photo by hankaleh]