MazdaRoute3, Siberia: Day 4 (760kms)16 | 08 | 2013

    THREE HOURS SLEEP! Did it come as a surprise? No, not really, considering one of the main Trans-Siberia Railway depots was a couple of hundred metres away from my bedroom window, and I had to keep the said window open as there was no aircon in the room. (Watch our Mazda3 video review).

    On the plus side, at least the window was fitted with a fine mesh to stop the swarms of mosquitoes from the nearby stagnant pond munching me alive during the night.

    Last night's dinner — which, actually, was probably the best one we've had all week, consisting of potato/egg/mayonnaise salads, and even a piece of breaded and fried chicken (and no, it wasn't from the local Kentucky Fried Chicken!) — was served in the weirdest surroundings: as was this morning's breakfast.

    It looked like a pink boudoir which housed discos for transvestites. It was all sugary-pink; boom-boom Eastern Bloc disco-type music thumping from the speakers around the room (even at breakfast); and each wall had the most massive TV showing the Russian equivalent of a sexed-up Big Brother. Honestly, at times you didn't know where to look, and I'm no prude.

    Just after 8am, we're back in the Mazda3 to start what is the longest single day's driving on the route to Frankfurt: 760kms.

    We edge out of town — definitely the roughest-looking we've stayed in — and within minutes we start what turns out to be almost 50kms of the roughest road you've ever seen.

    Not content with having potholes half the depth of the Mazda's wheels — which were shod with 205/60 R16 96W XL Nokian Hakka Blue tyres — the whole route was liberally sprinkled with boulders the size of footballs.

    Related: 2000kms in a Mazda3 in Siberia — Day 1

    Related: MazdaRoute3, Siberia: Day 2 (605kms)

    Related: MazdaRoute3, Siberia: Day 3 (655kms)

    Amazingly, I saw very little evidence of punctures, though I did pass a rather forlorn-looking tyrefitting 'establishment'.

    As we painstakingly inched our way along the route, dodging the massive 40-off tonne trucks which careered towards us peppering the car with gravel, at times it was like competing in a rallycross event in slow motion.

    The dust was so think it was difficult to see the back of the car in front. And to be honest, there were times when we had to trust in blind faith by following the car in front as we overtook an even slower moving lorry grinding its way forward.

    And yet, still the Russian kamikaze-type drivers were in evidence. They'd come flying past on your left-hand side, at ludicrous speeds, spewing up dust and rocks, and suddenly have to veer right into a space which didn't really exist — think of Lotus's F1 driver Romain Grosjean in a clapped-out Lada — to avoid the unseen oncoming traffic. I'm convinced the majority of them have a death wish.

    It was as if they were playing Russian Roulette. No coincidence then that the side of the road is littered with memorials to those drivers who gambled and lost.

    Much of today's route was on the M53: no, don't laugh, honestly. It's called the M53 and runs 1860kms from Novosibirsk to Irkutsk. the problem is, they're slowly — very slowly — rebuilding it.

    Once finished (if ever?) it'll be brilliant. For now though you can have 20kms when you're on most perfect, billiard-table smooth road cruising at 165km/h, and then the road just stops … and it's gravel.

    And when they have to build a culvert to direct water cascading off the mountains under the road, while they strengthen the main road surface to support its weight above the new culvert, they divert the traffic down to the level of where the culvert will be, usually about 10ft. Health and safety? Forget it.

    Related: Mazda3 to tackle 15,000kms roadtest

    It's a long road: it takes between four and five weeks to drive a truck from Moscow to Vladivostok: the Trans-Siberia train takes six days.

    By 4.15pm, when we stop for lunch, we're not even halfway. The good news? Lunch was a steaming hot bowl of scrummy bacon broth, with boiled potatoes. But I'm still grateful for the never-ending supply of Snickers, Mars Bars and 450ml cans of Red Bull from Mazda CX-9 No 15.

    Perhaps its worth mentioning the food again. You may think all I've done is moan about the food. If that's the impression I've given, I apologise, because it's not meant to be the case.

    This is one of the poorest areas in Russia, and the people struggle to put any form of meat on the table … hence the soups. For the vast majority who don't live in the towns of cities, there is no work. And not surprisingly, there's no state benefits.

    I asked one of the Russian Mazda team if the country was better, or worse, after the collapse of the Soviet Union?

    "Without question, worse," she said. "Before the changes everyone had work: the State made sure of it. Even if it was working in the fields all day, or wielding a shovel digging holes, they had a job.

    "Now the old have nothing. There is no work for them, and they have no income. For them it's a simple case of survival and existence."

    Related: Mazda3 Fastback revealed

    I lost count of the men, women and children who sat wearily at the side of the road with a bucket of potatoes, bucket of parsnips, or even pine cones, trying to sell them to the passing traffic. Not once, in 2000kms, did I ever see someone buying from them.

    The second half of the journey was punctuated by delay, after delay, after delay as roadworks and railways influenced our progress. This is not a country — at least not this part — in which it's easy to make rapid progress.

    The reality is, no matter how fast you travel, Mother Russia will keep you firmly in her grasp.

    We finally get into Krasnoyarsk at 10pm, but given we've crossed another time-zone, on my body clock it's 11pm. We've been on the road for 15 hours.

    The hotel is definitely the best we've stayed in, but how's this for scheduling? I'm being collected to head to the airport to begin the trek home at 4.30am!

    So, sleep, or no sleep? The answer: a relaxed hour or so with the Mazda guys, a coupe of well-deserved beers, and then up to my room at midnight.

    Bed? No way. I decided it was best to stay up, so I flicked on the laptop and worked through till 3.30am before jumping in the shower, then heading down to pick up the coach to the airport.

    People have said I was mad doing this trip, but I'd contest that. It was a unique experience, one which was never likely to be repeated. Why would you not say yes to such a challenge?

    As for the new Mazda3, which has essentially been my home for the last four days, I'll give you all the details tomorrow in the first road test of the new car ahead of its official unveiling at Frankfurt on September 10.

    Tomorrow: Road test Mazda3.

    To be continued.

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    Jim McGill

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