Off to Russia!

Holy crap! I’m going to Russia! By myself! What am I thinking!?

Well, since you asked (actually, I think I asked), I am traveling to Russia to climb Mount Elbrus, the highest mountain in Europe. But wait, isn’t Russia part of Asia? Well, yes, but Mount Elbrus is on the border of Russia and Georgia, and it’s easier to access the mountain from the Russian side. Hence why I’m flying to Asia to climb a mountain in Europe.

Thursday was a full day of traveling. I started my day at 2:00am since I had a flight to catch in Boston. My flight was leaving at around 9:30am, but they suggested getting there 3 hours early. So between that, a four hour drive, and rush hour traffic, Dale and I left VERY early. I actually only got 1½ hours of sleep because I didn’t finish packing until 12:30am.

Naturally, we stopped at Dysart’s along the way to pick up some food. I got three slices of French toast with real maple syrup and some home fries. Dale got 3 slices of French toast, an egg sandwich, home fries, and fruit. Oink oink! By the end of our breakfast in the car, I managed to spill maple syrup all over my pants. Awesome. Now I get to be sticky for the next two days. At least I will smell good!

I made it to Boston around 6:45am, and it took 30 minutes, IF THAT, to check in and get to my gate. So much for needing 3 hours. I decided to open up my book and get some reading in. Right now, I’m reading The Giver. This was a book I read in 6th grade, and I wanted to read it again since there is a movie out now. It is weird reading it because I actually remember some of the plot and characters as I am going through it again 15 years later.

The flight from Boston to JFK was only 39 minutes, so that flew by (pun intended). Unfortunately, I had a 4 hour layover at JFK. In order to get to my next terminal, I actually had to walk outside the airport and along the road. I guess there is no other way, because that is where they instructed me to go. I went through the check-in process again since I was now flying with Aeroflot instead of Delta. That went smoothly as well. This is scaring me. Airports shouldn’t be this quick and easy.

As I was going through all the check points with Aeroflot, the attendants would ask me where my final destination was. My final destination was Mineralnye Vody, and I had no idea how to pronounce it. Therefore, my answer to their question every time was, “Uhhhh, Miner-something. It’s in Russia.” They all laughed because none of them could pronounce it either. I’m screwed if nobody speaks English in Moscow. The good news is that I know how to say “I don’t speak Russian” in Russian.

While waiting in JFK for my next flight, I met a 26 year old guy from Israel. He came over to use one of the power outlets, and he was joking around about how I needed to kick him if he fell asleep because he just took a sleeping pill, and it is kicking in fast. As I looked up at him, he had an empty Budweiser bottle next to him. He was very nice and continued to talk as he pulled another beer out of his backpack. It turned out he was on the same flight as me, and then once we got to Moscow, he was flying to Israel.

My new friend, “Dan”, proceeded to tell me how he won the “Greencard Lottery” and has been spending time in NYC working. His hope is to open a coffee shop in Brooklyn. Dan said everybody is so nice in NYC and Massachusetts. I laughed because those are the last two places I’d go to meet nice people, but he said it is much worse in Israel.

Dan said he is going back to Israel because he is flagged as a criminal by them and might have to go to prison. He said they will be picking him up as he gets off his plane to interrogate him and possibly put him in jail. He told me, “I hope they’re not going to rape me!” Dan was very vague about what this criminal activity was, but he said the cops came to his house for “something,” and they “intercepted a package. I did something serious, and I was guilty.”

Dan then proceeded to tell me, “you have beautiful eyes,” and “you are f***ing gorgeous,” which is when I proceeded to leave and get myself some gelato :).

The flight to Moscow was pretty uneventful. It was about 10 hours, and I only slept for a small portion of it. I did have the joy of watching a beautiful sunrise while everyone was sleeping.

Sunrise on my flight to Moscow.

When I arrived in Moscow, I had to go through customs which consisted of walking through a maze in a room titled “nothing to declare.” Nobody was even there to check anything. As I left customs, I had to go to my terminal and go through security again which was uneventful.

Since I had a 4 hour layover, I decided to go find an ATM so I could get some Russian rubles. I think I found an ATM, but everything was in Russian, and there was no way to change it to English. Therefore, I didn’t dare stick my ATM card in one of the random slots in this big box. I was able to figure out where the toilet was, though, so I made a trip there. There was this funny ad in the stall, and even though I don’t know Russian, I was able to figure out that this poor guy has hemorrhoids and needs some Preparation H:

Preparation H ad in Russian bathroom.

By this time I realized it was way past my bedtime at home, and I became extremely exhausted. I fell asleep in a chair by my gate and didn’t wake up until it was time to board the final plane to Mineralnye Vody.

 That flight was around 2½ hours I think. I don’t actually know because I slept through the entire flight. I fell asleep while we were parked in the terminal, only to wake up just as the plane was taking off. After the plane lifted off, I closed my eyes and fell back asleep instantly. I was kind of mad at myself because the take-off is my favorite part!

When we landed, we got off the plane right on the runway and proceeded to pick up our luggage. I was anticipating losing my luggage since there’s a lot of room for error with three fights, so I packed all my essential gear in my carry-on. Surprisingly, my suitcase made it in one piece! Yay, success! My guide, Roman, was waiting for me as I walked outside. I am no longer alone, and the rest of my trip will be under the care of Pilgrim Tours.

We exchanged greetings and then waited for another guy who was on my flight. We waited and waited and waited, and he never showed up! Roman made a few calls and went inside the airport to investigate, and this guy was nowhere to be found. So we went to our van, where we met up with three other guys on the tour who had flown in a few hours earlier. Two of the men were Germans who have been friends since school, and the other was a solo traveler from Seattle named Donald. They were all in their fifties and very nice.

Next up was the drive to our hotel in the Cheget region. This was a 4 hour drive through gorges and mountains, and I loved it! Despite being exhausted, I made sure to stay awake during the drive so I could enjoy the surroundings. We made a bathroom stop where there were a few shops selling stuff, mainly handmade mittens, fur hats, fur jackets, and other warm items. This is my kind of place :). I tried talking to the people, but none of them spoke English, so I just smiled and said my one Russian phrase that I know, “Ya ni punemayo paruski,” or, “I don’t speak Russian!” After that, we drove through a checkpoint with two armed guards, and we went through no problem.

Our view on our drive to the hotel in the Cheget region.

We made it to the hotel which is in the middle of nowhere at the base of Mount Cheget. We had dinner in the hotel at 7pm which consisted of bread, salad, soup, mashed potatoes, and gravy with more meat. They gave us so much food, and we all had a tough time finishing it.

Hotel at the base of Mount Cheget.
View from our hotel at the base of Mount Cheget.
Cute town near Mount Elbrus.
Town at the base of Mount Cheget.

We talked about the climb around the dinner table and discussed all the gear we needed. Roman stressed multiple times that it is going to be “very cold” up there. I forgot my glove liners at home, so I will have to borrow a pair of those, and he also recommended bringing a thermos and ski goggles which I will have to rent tomorrow. The forecast is calling for major snow showers the whole time we are on the mountain, so I will cross my fingers that we get a window of nice weather!

Tomorrow we are doing an acclimatization hike up Mount Cheget. Can’t wait!

So here’s a summary of my journey to the Elbrus region:

  • Drive from Bangor to Boston
    • 4 hours
    • 240 miles
  • Fly from Boston to JFK
    • 1 hour
    • 184 miles
  • 4 hour layover
  • Fly from JFK to Moscow
    • 10 hours
    • 4661 miles
  • Another 4 hour layover
  • Fly from Moscow to Mineralnye Vody
    • 2.5 hours
    • 850 miles
  • Drive from Mineralnye Vody to Elbrus region
    • 4 hours
    • 114 miles

Exhausted yet? I am. Good night :).

Next in Sarah’s Elbrus Diary: A tour of my shower and A day of acclimating (and being a rebel)