MazdaRoute3, Siberia: Day 2 (605kms)14 | 08 | 2013

    STRANGE THING, TIME-ZONES. Ulan-Ude in Eastern Siberia is eight hours AHEAD of the UK. Believe me, that plays silly games with your body clock when you try to sleep (watch our video roadtest of the new Mazda3).

    Try and get your head round this. Left Heathrow at 11am morning on excellent four-hour BA flight to Moscow. The Russian capital's three hours ahead of us, so I arrive there at 6pm: I know, confused already!

    Three hours watching the world go by in the airport before boarding the Siberia Airways plane to Ulan-Ude at 9.15pm.

    It's a six-hour flight, but when the time-zones are ticked off, it's 8.10am the next morning when we land. I've had three hours sleep.

    As you'll have seen in the coverage from Day 1, the schedule was busy right from the start. So it was head down at 11pm (3pm in the afternoon UK time). Could I sleep? Not a hope, despite the fact I was knackered.

    I eventually dozed off around 4.30am (we'll stick to Siberian time now), but the alarm went off at 6.30am: breakfast was at 7.15am, so no time to hang about.

    Across the road from the Hotel Baikal Plaza, the new Mazda3 was sitting waiting for me. Ok, it wasn't just me. Actually there were eight brand new Mazda3 hatchbacks negotiating the 9300-mile, 15,000kms route from Hiroshima to Frankfurt, all driven by journalists from countries around the world.

    My car was No3. Oh, and there was a fleet of four CX-9s — the car was never brought into the UK because it was deemed too big, and with its three-litre V8 petrol, too thirsty for our domestic market — as back-ups. I learned early on that the CX-9 with the No15 on it had a never-ending supply of Snickers and Mars Bars, more of which later.

    After a comprehensive briefing about do's and don'ts — basically, keep the car in front relatively close to you, especially in the towns; avoid the potholes; beware of Russian drivers; and beware of potholes … and did we say, beware of the potholes? — we were off into the morning rush hour.

    Related: 2000kms in a  Mazda3 — Day 1

    Within 15 mins we were on the outskirts of the town, and all we could see was a never-ending landscape of cabbage fields. Of course, I'd heard about Russians and their love of cabbage, but this was cabbage-farming on a scale I'd never imagined.

    It also quickly became clear that health & safety was a subject which is at the other extreme in Siberia to the namby-pamby approach taken in the UK.

    When the Russian's decide to relay the tarmac on one carriageway of an A-class-type road, they just get on with it. A truck with a trailer full of tar, a road-roller and five guys — one with a brush — is all that's needed. No bollards, no flashing lights, no average speed cameras, not even a hi-viz jacket in sight.

    What also becomes obvious very early on, once we get into the countryside, is that the housing is bleak, dismal and dilapidated. The homes are either single or two-storey, thin wooden-built dwellings with corrugated iron roofs, but most of them look as if they're from another time. Nothing seems to have changed here for two hundred years. It's basic.

    How basic? Well, without getting into too much detail, the toilet facilities at the restaurant where we stopped for lunch consisted of a large wooden hut perched on the side of a hill. Inside there was no light, so you were thankful the flimsy door didn't close properly, and a two-foot square cut out of the wooden floor. Enough said.

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    Now, remember this 'facility' was only 20ft from the restaurant: a colleague pointed out to me later that what went into the hole in the wooden floor was then left to make it's own way down the hillside au natural!

    Moving swiftly on … our route took us along the side of the famous Trans-Siberian railway line for much of the day. On a few occasions the trains came rumbling alongside, then disappeared into the distance.

    However, romantic as they may be to trainspotters around the world, they can be a pain. The transport infrastructure in Siberia isn't necessarily the most cohesive on the planet, as was confirmed when we came to a railway crossing.

    Yes, it was closed, and we watched with interest as the long goods train trundled past. Once clear, we waited for the barrier to lift: and waited, and waited. Suddenly bells rang, and another train heading in the opposite way trundled past. Still there was interest.

    Fast forward 45 minutes, and we were still there, having watched five trains go past. The sixth and final one, we counted the carriages: 86.

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    The other thing you're never far from are trees: hundreds of miles of never-ending trees. I kid you not. The scale is immense.

    Russia accounts for one-seventh of the world's land mass, yet it supports 25% of the world's forests.

    Seven hours after leaving Ulan-Ude — and having covered just 250kms — we finally stop for lunch: a bowl of clear broth with shredded cabbage, and potato. Mmm, scrummy … but what's for main course? Nothing: that was it.

    Now, remember the CX-9 with the No15 on it, well it didn't take long to find him and snaffle a coupe of Snicker bars (frustratingly, they were the 'half-size' budget pack ones!).

    Not surprisingly, by the time we pull up at the Hotel Mayak in Listvianka, it's dark. We've been on the road for 14 hours and covered just over 600kms, a distance you'd expect to cover in five hours given a clear run on the M40, M6 and M74.

    But in day punctuated again my cattle crossing the road, avoiding potholes which threaten to rip the wheel and suspension off the excellent Mazda3, and near-suidical Russian drivers — we did come across one huge lorry which had overturned after taking a corner far too fast — we've cracked the first leg.

    Now all I have to do is crack this sleeping lark.

    Tomorrow: 555kms to Tulun.

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    Jim McGill


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