Story 16 - Horizons of Snow.
The night was short, though. The wake-up call was arranged for seven. It consisted of someone knocking the door down. Breakfast wasn't at all like in Caracas. I looked out the window. The world was still dark, milky with fog surrounding the lanterns; the cars that drove by had their headlights on. A street-sweeping machine came with special equipment to claw up the ice. Only one type of breakfast was served, consisting of freshly baked bread with butter and preserves, and real coffee. No eggs.
The breakfast was barely over when we were hurried back into the taxi that returned us to the airport to board another plane. During the drive I noticed bricklayers at work with steaming mortar. Most people were walking to work, regardless of the cold, wrapped in heavy coats, their heads hidden under large fur-lined hats that come all the way down over the ears and neck.
"Life goes on!" commented the taxi driver as I mentioned the bricklayers. It was the same driver who had picked us up the night before. "Life must to go on," he added. "Yakutia is a rich land," he said proudly. "Our products are needed. We have immense deposits of iron ore and coal, and natural gas..."
"...and diamonds," said Anton in English.
"Ah, you know your country well," the driver grinned at her.
Moments later he pointed to a woman on the sidewalk selling frozen milk in open containers that had wooden sticks frozen in them to serve as a handles. He honked three times and waved. The woman waved back to us.
"You didn't know about this one, I bet," he said to Anton.
Rostislav didn't realize that this interesting tourist adventure was building upon what we had created before, that bought us still closer to one another, and this with nothing more than just looks and smiles and simple words, like: "See here! Look there!"
The Yaktusk airport was slightly larger than all the others we had seen enroute, but it was still just an open field of hard-packed snow. I soon realized the advantage in this. Our next plane was an old Antonov-12, mounted on skis, outfitted for supply runs into remote areas.
"It can carry tons," Rostislav explained proudly.
For our trip, however, the plane was half-empty.
"How far are we from our destination?" I asked Rostislav before we were airborne again. By then we were worlds away from Bratsk, which itself was but an outpost. Yaktusk appeared to be the final point of civilization in this ice-crusted emptiness. Rostislav simply nodded and smiled after Antonovna had translated the question.
I was puzzled by his answer. Perhaps he didn't know. At that moment the engines drowned out what he might have said, and in no time at all we were airborne again. Soon the sky became clear.
"The fog over the city must be generated by people," Antonovna supposed.
"That's how you can spot a heard of reindeer," said one of the crew. "Their breath generates a cloud of fog around them."
We flew lower now than on the previous run. Occasionally we came upon ice-crusted forests that nestled between small mountains and frozen lakes. Occasionally, there was also an isolated herd of reindeer visible. Just like the
crewman had said, a group of black spots could be seen that were enveloped in a thin fog that shone brilliantly in the reflection of the slowly rising sun over the timeless snow that covered everything.
"Did you realize we are over seven and a half thousand kilometers east of Moscow?" Antonovna asked excitedly,
From here we could go another four thousand kilometers to the east and still be in what used to be the Soviet Union. And all of this country is as beautiful as this. Don't you love this land?" she said and smiled.