¡¡¡Мохрино!!! Mokhrino is the name of a small plot in the swamps outside of Khanty-Mansiysk that contains a cabin and facility dedicated to researching the quality of the oil that comes from the area as well as testing out new methods of wind and solar power. There are three ways of getting here: by boat, when the river is wide and deep enough to drive through (only spring and early summer); by foot, which is quite the journey; and by Awesomely Capable Siberian All-Terrain Vehicle. Clearly this is not only the most practical method in the fall, (by which time the river has shriveled to an unrecognizable trickle of its former self) but also the method that will make you cross your heart and hail the mighty Siberia and forget all the annoying bits and fall in love with Russia over and over. We plowed casually over fallen trees like a Русский Богатырь (Russian heroic knight character) over capitalists. We smashed through muddy rivers like revolutionaries valiantly demolishing their way through the Hermitage. Our faces were whipped raw by protesting birch branches and our coats coated in furious mud, but alas, they were no match for our mighty, beastly vehicle!!
We arrived to a forest paradise, where, after warming our hands at the wood-burning stove and burning our tongues with cup after cup of tea, we got to work. The boys pulled up pails of icy, dark brown water, which we all worked together to lug to the banya. We foraged for blueberries and pinecones, out of which we extracted the buttery, earthy nuts and ate squirrel-ly.
While the banya warmed up, we took a look at the swamp itself. A feast of autumn colors and contrasts. Pumpkin-orange wet ground, dry, burgundy brush, skinny olive evergreens bracing themselves for the fast-approaching winter, all against a cold, gray, indifferent sky.
Then, Banya Blast-Off. Heat and steam so furious that you think of joining the church and leading a pure life, fearing an eternity of this soul-demolishing heat. Then, we beat each other furiously with fresh, rich-smelling birch branches that have been soaking in boiling water, determined to beat the cellulite away. Once we get so heated up that we start to consider planning a revolution, we step outside to dump the icy water on each other and bring ourselves back to consciousness. We watch in amazement as our earthly bodies steam and gurgle. We take a deep breath of cold Siberian air and… rinse and repeat. After three rounds, we cease and desist. We’re dizzy and refreshed and relaxed. Our skin, though still red and abused, will soon be supple and fresh. Aaaahhh so good.
Then, for the rest of the night, we funnel in vodka, black bread, fresh elk meat, blueberries, and pinecone seeds, sit in front of the fire, sing Viktor Tsoi, DDT, and nameless Russian classics along with Zhenya on guitar, and propose ridiculous toasts – «Гуд бай Америка!!» (a very Russian pronunciation of “Good Bye America!!”) came up in fact three times by the older gentleman, who lives in the other cabin, who was particularly diligent about making sure to finish all the beverages (so we wouldn’t have to take anything back with us, of course.) A superbly Russian evening. I was reveling in it all.
The next morning, we ate steaming porridge with slabs of butter (I believe that if you gathered all of our butter slabs, you would have enough to make an almost life-size bust of Lenin) and vigorously cleaned the cabin. No running water, which was such a beautiful escape from reality last night, became an annoyance for washing dishes in the morning; we routinely migrated to and from the well to have enough water. Also, we added boiling water, to “make it sanitary.” On our way back, again on the beloved all-terrain-never-mundane Mercedes Tank, a dog, probably that of a hunter or a fisherman, took a zealous interest in us and followed our Siberian Luxury Sedan the whole way. The Lassie with Tenaci(ty)!
IT WAS SO MUCH FUN. Oh yeah, and we saw BEAR TRACKS, whooohoooo!!!!!!