The Road of Bones

Friday 12 Sep 2014
We didn’t make it to the ferry yesterday,  125km short. So we left the campsite early this morning to catch the Aldan river ferry before noon. Beyond that is the “road of bones” right up to Magadan.

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This 7 footer Canadian motorcyclist came from Magadan. So if he’s ok then we’d be ok. The ferry terminal is just 20km ahead and it’d be an 1 hr ride.

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Passing time on the 10km (1.5 hrs) upriver ferry ride.

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The road of bones starts from the ferry terminal. Nothing unusual about it except for its history. See Wikipedia for details. What’s amazing about it is the amount of massive upgrading the Russian authorities are doing to it. Based on a Presidential directive the upgrading started in 2008 with an upward bow of a highway called the Kolyma Highway M56 to Magadan. The old road of bones has fallen into disuse; but it’s still there for the diehard 4×4 offroaders who loved to ford rivers and repair makeshift bridges.  If Stalin was around he would certainly be pleased.

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It’s also very scenic.

At last light Thomas decided to camp. It was drizzling and the campsite was below the road with quite a slope to negotiate in the dark. Anyway we all got down safely, pitched our tents and Jeremy set up his kitchen.

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As for me the car has been my bedroom for the last three nights and it’ll continue to be for the next three.
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Saturday 13 Sep 2014

Destination Ust-Nera again. A fine sunny day. The views were simply awesome

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The roads were dry. However there were as many punctures as yesterday because of the gravel road surface. So there were many stops even before Ust-Nera.

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We arrived Ust-Nera at 8.25pm and found a tyre shop. Already last light and I was hoping for a hotel. Yes, no camping but our Russian handlers only managed to get us a dilapidated apartment. But with hot water, flush toilet and kitchenette.

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Sunday 14 Sep 2014
It’s to Susuman today just under 400km away ESE. More punctures further delays. Didn’t make it to Susuman. Camped out 70 km short of the town.
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Monday 15 Sep 2014
About 680 km to Magadan. Must make it today, maybe in 12 hrs. It’s now the destination not the journey. Rolling by 9am.
Along the way there are many villages and townships,  but mostly abandoned. Reasons being that they were settlements for the exploitation of the natural resources ie coal; and these have run out. Now gold and diamonds are found and some of the townships have remained (like the one where we stayed at Ust-Nera.) The mine owners, however, are not keen to develop these townships because they know the exploitation wouldn’t last forever. Thus only basic services were available; no maintenance of buildings or roads; and no hotels because tourists were not expected.
Not many punctures today. But Car 8 had a major problem when its LR wheel came off and rolled to the other side of the road into the drain. It was 8.30pm. One wheel stud had sheared. Temporary repair was done and we drove into Magadan with no further incident. Arrived hotel at 11.15pm, had dinner and checked into our rooms. Hotel had good wifi. But a hot bath and shampooing hair were more urgent. I was also lucky to have a single room.

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Magadan 16 Sep 2014

Magadan was the end of the road for me (and for four others as well.)  The rest die hard adventurers were to drive back to Vladivostok via the old road (of bones) which was abandoned when the Russians built the new sections of the Kolyma Highway (bowing upward as in the picture.) Why wasn’t I keen to do it?  Several reasons: (1) the thought of doing the campings all over again (2) I’ve seen enough of Siberia for my brag list (3) money.

Kolyma Highway M56Anyway, I was glad to see Magadan and walked around the city and to learn of its infamous history. Magadan was the seaport that received the prisoners delivered by the Trans Siberian Railway to Vladivostok for trans shipment to the gulags.  Thus the memorial sculptures at the city square told the sad story of the Stalinist era.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThat night we had a farewell dinner at this seafood restaurant.  Had to walk for quite some distance from the hotel because the cars were all away at the workshops for maintenance and repairs.  We had a good time.  Actually only John Jarvis and myself were leaving the group tomorrow morning to fly out to Vladivostok via Khabarovsk (the other three – Aman Yong, Dr Sharanjit and Cliff left on the 15th.)

IMG-20140922-WA0005The next morning 17 Sep, we left the hotel and made a stop at the “must see” tourist attraction of Magadan; that is the Mammoth and Tears of Sorrow, the Mammoth being historical but the Tears of Sorrow being in memory of all those who suffered during the Stalinist era, in particular the prisoners of the gulags.

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