The brilliant National Geographic Adventure sends out its freewheelers on a hitch-hiking journey through Russia, from the farthest eastern point of the Trans-Siberian highway, 6000 miles from Moscow, in a move dubbed ‘globalization gone wild’. Sign me up! this would be my dream; I speak fluent Russian.. anyone there reading?
Exploring Siberia, once synonymous with the Trans-Siberian Railroad, a form of travel as controlled and preprogrammed as the economy once was, turned into another extreme—as heedless and sometimes desperate as Russia’s new reality.
The newly opened Trans-Siberian Highway – arguably the longest highway in the world, is also the first to connect one half of Russia to the other, and link the expanse across the void of the largest national territory.
Roughly 75 percent of Russia is pure Siberia: a cold place, imaginative of bears, taiga, and shuttered gulags: wilderness via benign neglect, the last big empty. But there are Novosibirsk and Omsk – cities of million-plus each and the cultures reemerging in the relative open of post-Soviet Russia.
The 1991 birth of capitalism in Russia – a golden period of zero import tariffs, 100 percent profits, and exponential growth – was their ticket out of communism. The business was tough, but many got filthy rich in the process, spurring a wave of so-called novyh russkih (new russians).
On the quiet southern shores of Lake Baikal, the largest freshwater body in the world, the central government has announced a new, 270-square-mile special tourism zone.
There are plans for faster and bigger roads, ski resorts, five-star hotels, golf courses, spas, yacht moorings, sports halls, and a center for Tibetan medicine. Within 20 years, two million annual visitors are expected. Siberia is opening.
In Siberia “Supermarkets are coming. Electricity is coming. The Internet is coming. Credit cards are coming. Everything is becoming the same: Chinese goods and American freedom. Very cheap. Once, though, not so long ago, crossing Siberia was truly an adventure.”