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April 24, 2005

Sakhalin: Kholmsk

It is a truth universally acknowledged that one can never see too many grimy, depressing ports. And thus it was that Paul, Lorraine and I found ourselves being lurched around on the backseat of a skanky-looking bus on another of our Sunday excursions. We were heading to a muddy hole of a town called Kholmsk, about an hour and a half away from Yuzhno, on the west coast of the island. I was in an indignant frame of mind because I hadn't been invited to the Australians-only barbecue being held up at the Dynamo to commemorate ANZAC Day. I ranted for a while about exclusion and bad manners before finally getting off my high horse and simmering resentfully. Turns out that from all accounts, we had a much better time. So there!

We met at mine and were late getting going, so it was only thanks to Lorraine's quick reading of the sign "Холмск" on the bus as it passed us, and Paul's flagging it down that we managed to catch it. The bus was old, with a big pail of water sloshing around at the back and some brooms (though it didn't look like it had been cleaned for at least a decade).

We drove through beautiful scenery - brown plains and snowy mountains and little wooden dachas - then went through a pass and down into Kholmsk. It was gorgeous weather right up until we got there, but it suddenly turned dismal, and I can only guess it was because of the mountains blocking the rain or something, because as soon as we left it was sunny again.

Kholmsk was about as drab and miserable as we'd expected, which is to say - very. It was better than Korsakov, but that's like saying being mauled by wild dogs is better than being eaten alive by them. Dog attacks is a subject of considerable concern to me, seeing as packs of stray dogs roam the streets all around here. They look just darling and you see them trotting along together down the roads, but I read an article recently in the paper about a woman who was bitten to death in the north of Sakhalin.

We mooched around the town for a while, looking for signs of spring. Lorraine thought she spotted a daffodil, but it turned out to be an empty beer bottle. We wandered around some shops and were given free socks by a very friendly lady who was really chuffed that we stopped in her store. My socks were very fetching: green with a picture of Peter Pan clutching his neck. We looked at the Cristoforo Colombo, a dredger which ran aground back in September during a typhoon and spilled oil onto the shoreline and had a stroll through the park, then had a drink in a little cafe while we waited for the bus.

The bus we intended to catch was full and there wasn't another one for two hours, which caused me no small amount of distress as The Apprentice is showing on a cable channel here at 18.00 on Sundays and - sad as it is - I've got hooked. How could I survive not only another two hours in Kholmsk, but a week without seeing The Donald in all his cringe-inducing glory? Problem was solved when Paul negotiated seats for us on a minibus heading to Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk. It was 10 rubles more expensive, but a lot more comfortable, about twice as fast, and we got to watch Russian music videos the whole way back.

Posted by Rowena on April 24, 2005 07:14 AM
Category: Russia
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