I'd gone to Tuva expecting to stay for only a week or so. Now, after a month in that wonderful place, I'm back in Krasnoyarsk. The hunting trip and week-long visit afterwards with a family in Toora-Khem were wonderful! I'd met Boris just once before, when he stopped by the hotel room to tell me, a complete stranger he'd met for just 5 minutes, that I could join him in the taiga (such amazing trust and welcomingness, which should be a word). I'd expected winter camping with just the two of us, but his best friend Sasha also joined in. These two grandfathers were my patient teachers for two weeks in the Tuvan taiga. They're both in their 50s, which was good, because it meant I could almost keep up with them! We weren't completely winter camping either, since there was a teeny cabin where we slept on a platform made of felled trees, with bark and all. But we spent the rest of our time outside. On the 5 or so days with new snow (when you can track animals best), we weaved our way through the forest in search of sable, ears cocked for the bark of their dogs. On the 11 or 12 days with no new snow, we walked along the frozen margin of the Ulu-Khem/Yenisey River at the pace of its current, so our homemade flies on bobbers floated attractively.
In contrast to Greenland or other more-industrial fishing, we only caught about 150 kg, but given the method and small fish size, that's quite impressive. And only 4 sable. All three of the other hunters we met in the two weeks also reported scarce findings, so I wonder if there has been too much hunting pressure on the creature. They will sell the fur for clothing, and either sell or keep the fish for themselves. Whatever meager earnings they make in the taiga complement the similarly sparse results of their mid-winter and summer employment- building houses. These men live in one of the least-human impacted parts of Russia (aka mining, oil and gas, and logging), but that also means that life is simple and rigorous. For example, we saw a single farm on the "road" (place people had driven in the forest before)on our 5 hr truck ride to the cabin. The two-room farmhouse (the size of a dorm room) had no electricity or running water and was the home for seven people. All cooking is done outside on a campfire, even in winter. The last night in Tuva was -30 deg. C (-22 deg. F), so in mid-winter I imagine it will be quite cold.
It was spectacularly peaceful, and somewhat mind-boggling, to sit in a boreal forest at the geographical center of Asia, around a campfire where fresh fish soup boiled (for dinner and the next day's breakfast, almost every day), in -20 deg. C (below 0 F) temperatures, with two Buddhist/"Shamanist" men who spoke Russian. And I was happy that I had learned enough Russian not to be completely incapable of communicating! They were very patient and giving men, as it seems most Tuvans are. The whole two weeks I waited hopefully for the river to freeze enough for a nearby reindeer herd (herded by friends of Boris) to cross so I could see how they are "farmed" nomadically and we could go on a riding trip on the deer. Tuva's the only place the deer are large enough to ride, so that would have been unique! By the end of our time, we walked across with no problem, but the deer did not arrive...There hasn't been much snow, so perhaps they'd strayed too far off into the hills.
Since I had such an amazing time with the kind people of Tuva, I had hoped to go on another "expedition"- north to Evenkiya or elsewhere. However, there is too much red tape. Instead, I'll stay here and do a bit of writing comparing my time in Greenland with Tuva. I now feel like I should've stayed longer in Tuva, but such is travel. You learn as you go. Today I learned how to rent skis and discovered a new race course and biathlon stadium that I can ski to from my hotel, so life is not terrible! On December 14 I'll go to Norway for the holiday season. Afterwards I will hopefully check out methods of reindeer herding in the Arctic part of that very-organized country. Then maybe hop across the border to Rovaniemi in Arctic Finland. And after January I have no clue! I'll listen to your thoughts!
About this blog
Eaten Earth will be a location for occasional photos, thoughts about the state of the world, and updates on my roaming through Arctic regions.
The title: I feel as though our species is consuming the Earth. As a way of thinking about how to change that, I'll focus on one of the strongest, most culturally important, and most malleable ways we interact with our planet- the actual eating of its bounty. How people eat, what it means for them, and what it means for the Earth, will be an undercurrent to my entire travels. - Alex