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Full Circle

Day 17: Petropavlovsk

Michael Palin - Full CircleWoken by Igor's scream: 'Breakfast!'

No raspberries today. Instead a sense of barely controlled panic as we have a flight to Magadan on the Sea of Okhotsk this evening, and we still haven't seen the Evenks or their reindeer. The helicopter has agreed to fly today, but the bus to take us to the helicopter has not arrived. Igor paces about in the road looking like Napoleon on the retreat from Moscow.

An hour or two later, the helicopter, another chunky old ME-8 with petrol tanks outside and inside, heaves us up over woodland of willow and silver birch and onto slopes of purple tundra where the mist swirls dangerously low. I have doubts that we shall ever see a reindeer or an Evenk. My record of reindeer hunting is not good. On Pole to Pole we wasted the best part of a wet day in Lapland looking for them. Sergei sits hunched at the window, brow furrowed. He makes regular visits to the cockpit after each of which the helicopter veers abruptly off in a different direction.

All at once Sergei is on his feet gesticulating. He's found the Evenks. Well, an Evenk, anyway. A lone figure of indeterminate age and sex, swaddled against the elements, looks curiously up from a hilltop as the ME-8 lowers itself down through rain which is now turning to snow. As soon as it is on the ground Sergei leaps out. Camel cigarettes are exchanged and lit with difficulty in the wind. Then we're off again, this time taking our Evenk along with us. There is, apparently, a very large herd of reindeer close by.

As we bank and swoop our way down yet another valley, the weather worsens by the minute. Icy rain streaks and streams down the windows and the mist is thickening on the slopes above us.

Now we can see reindeer tracks and the remains of a small camp, but no sign of either reindeer or their owners. 'Herd Not Seen' runs through my mind as a possible episode title. Then, miracle of miracles, I catch a glimpse of two antlered beasts, racing across a clearing and disappearing almost instantly into the trees, obviously terrified by the sound of the helicopter.
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PALIN'S GUIDES

  • Series: Full Circle
  • Day: 17
  • Country/sea: Eastern Russia
  • Place: Petropavlovsk
  • Book page no: 35

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