If You Think it's Cold, Travel to Oymyakon
It is 12 o'clock and we are long overdue as we continue our travel to Oymyakon, the village of Siberia closest at the North Pole and known for being the coldest in the world. Our 4x4 has had failures and we have delayed repair. We should already have arrived but at this time of the night, we are still 230 km from our final stage. Before us, the Kyubeme river cuts the road and one of our drivers and guides, waders to search on foot, the best route to cross.
It's amazing to see the strength and dedication of him and his companion, who accompany us on this journey. They constantly drive and repair the van that takes us today to Oymyakon, the coldest place in the world. Here we only pray for a good bed and a hot meal, when the temperature as today is below zero degrees. Finally, we crossed the river masterfully. Although we halt a couple of times in between the torrent, the van starts smoothly and goes without question.
Once on the other side, we started the first 190 kilometers of the old Kolyma Highway, or Road of Bones, a route with a terrible story. It was built with the sweat of slave prisoners of the Russian gulag, and beneath it lie the bones of those who were dying in the harsh conditions of forced labor and winters in the Russian Far East. Testimony of this tragic story is the small set of barracks we found just across the river, where once prisoners slept.
We must continue unabated because our destiny is still far away. We spent almost five hours of bumpy mountains on this track, continuing our journey without stopping, sleeping and sitting with our knees folded, with heating at full speed and the latest Russian pop and dance hits blaring at full volume. We crossed some other vehicle in this remote area. One of them tells us that it has seen a bear. We simply see their huge footprints in the snow after a while.
We arrived at 5 in the morning to Tomtor, where we take the detour to Oymyakon. We refuel at the gas station in the town and start the last 30 kilometers to our destination. It took two hours to travel just 30 kilometers. Needless to say, the state of the road was quite complicated with huge potholes, holes filled with water and ice, detours through the taiga but we finally arrived.
It was 7 in the morning and the sun is beginning to bathe the landscape. We arrive at the guest house, in the only village that welcomes the few tourists who come here. The lights are on and the hot food is about to be served. We take our shoes off in the changing room, a kind of room as an air chamber that insulates the house from the cold outside.
We opened the second door, which gives access to housing, and a couple in their sixties welcomes us warmly. The food is ready on the table with delicious meat soup and a little-boiled duck to nibble. There are also traditional pasta and fish oil. The omnipresent "chai" or tea, leads to goodbyes to sleep. Tomorrow (today) will be another day. We need to sleep, or that it is a few hours.
The alarm goes off at noon but exhaustion is such that we finally woke up around 2. The kitchen table is always ready for breakfast with royal delicious dishes. We take out our camera to visit the town. Our driver and guide is performing maintenance on the car. They assemble and disassemble parts, revise, adjust, and everything always with a smile on their face. The road is demanding, and very hard, and the vehicle suffers a lot.
Oymyakon is a quiet village of 900 inhabitants located in the Republic of Sakha in Yakutia in Russia. You could say that it is an isolated town if it were not for the road of about eight hours that brought us here. It is eight hours from the Kyubeme river, plus a couple or three hours to the next town. It takes two days of travel from Yakutsk, the capital of the Republic of Sakha. Its inhabitants are self-sufficient here in many ways. They keep horses to move as also vans, sidecar motorcycles, and vehicles. They have fishing boats (in summer) in the river to cross the villages. In winter, ice hole and fish live under it.
We reached the monument commemorating the record temperature of Oymyakon. On January 26, 1926, it reached -71.2 degrees. It was the lowest temperature ever recorded in a populated nation (except the bases in Antarctica). That is why this is known locally as "The Pole of Cold". Every year sub-zero temperatures are for more than nine months here. In January or February, it gets down to -40 degrees. In July it reaches again to 30 degrees in the positive. The huge contrasts make the locality adapt to the extreme weather.
There is no plumbing, as everything is frozen. The toilets of the house are outside, and yes, one must leave the comfortably heated 20 degrees inside the house to go outside and perform their needs. The thermal power station of the town help maintains a constant temperature inside the houses. If lower temperatures are reached within -50 degrees, the schools remain closed. Because yes, here life goes on as usual pace, and as we said children each day walk for more than seven kilometers to go to school in hot weather, cold, extreme cold, rain or snow. Every day.
By mid-afternoon, we get back home to savor the snacks as a meal prepared for us. Hot soup again, this time accompanied with fried fish and traditional pastries. With good full belly, we go to the Russian sauna, the banya, where we throw our badly sweated bodies for half an hour in buckets of ice water. We are left totally refreshed. It's amazing how well we feel with these contrasts. We did not even touch the two buckets of hot water, located above the stove that warms the banya.
This time it is our Russian comrades who laugh at this fact. How can we have spent forty liters of ice water and not a single liter of hot water? At night, it's time to enjoy the tranquility of Oymyakon. Here the silence is overwhelming, and the quiet life. We have endless conversations in the kitchen. We take our little souvenir and we go to sleep, because tomorrow our route continues. We must take back the way to the main road, recrossing the Kyubeme river, and face the M56 to Magadan, our final destination on this trip.