Six Completely Predictable Things Before Breakfast
I took plenty with me: an axe and cleaver, several knives of varying degrees of viciousness, small round tumblers and vodka, cigarettes, a saw, an ice drill, torches, fishing poles, a tent, camera, binoculars, first aid kit, silver foil blankets, anti-freeze, laptop, a coil of rope and a Kindle. Provisions too, of course, pasta, coffee, rice, hot chilli sauce and peanuts. Then I put my backpack on, fell over backwards and decided to jettison most of the torches and knives, the blankets and the anti-freeze; the vodka and the chilli sauce stayed.
A cabin at the foot of a snowy mountain range in Siberia is not most people’s idea of a holiday. Me included. I’m a travel writer and it’s a profession that’s slipping away. It used to be all 5* star luxury and glamping, but now you have to go the extra mile. Literally. No-one’s interested in reading travel writing unless you’re a tortured, sunburned, alligator-nibbled wreck at the end of it.
So I’ve done a spell as an apprentice ranger in Kakadu, lived among Masai Warriors and manned a stall in the labyrinth of Khan el-Khalil, amongst other far-fetched, and ultimately pointless, things. And now here I am in a hut in Siberia, surviving on my blunt wits.
This is for my new book, but I’ve hit a snag already. I started off well, detailing my apprehensions, packing, expectations, the endless journey here, first impressions of the majestic, brutal beauty of the land, the cosiness of my hut and how I spent my first day. And I have written no more. Because Day 2, it transpired, was identical to Day 1, and so on and so on across the last three weeks, only with increasingly amounts of vodka thrown in. I keep waiting for a spiritual epiphany to come along to perk things up, but no, I’m just bored.
Every morning I wake with renewed hope and, every day, I remember I’m here, in the wilderness, with nothing much to do. There’s little wildlife. I could have gone ice-skating on the vast frozen lake if I’d thought to bring skates. But you can’t have regrets on the Siberian tundra. I read in bed until my back aches and then I brace myself with a nip of vodka, pull on my snowsuit and get out there with the ice drill and fishing poles to catch something to eat. Then I gut the fish, light the woodburner, make an early dinner of fish on rice slathered with hot chilli sauce. And then knock back tiny glasses of vodka under the light of a kerosene lamp while I read myself to sleep and try not to think about bears.
Then it starts all over again the next day. I found myself peering down the hole I’d cut in the ice to fish this morning, wondering whether, if I leaned forwards and let myself fall head over heels through its jagged edges, I would float down like Alice into a fantastical, icy blue netherworld. I didn’t do it.
I checked the calendar when I got back to my hut and discovered that I am stranded here for another 9 weeks. The rabbit hole is looking tempting.