Up ahead, Egor pops his skirt and takes a big, fire-charred pot out from between his legs. He places it on the deck of his kayak and we all breathe a collective sigh of relief. We can relax for a moment. The pot coming out had become the international sign that the whitewater ahead was calm, at least until the next river bend.
North American “flatwater” and “Russian flatwater” hold two very different definitions and it didn’t take us long once we arrived in Siberia to learn this, even if we couldn’t speak the local language. In fact, Russian flatwater is essentially a misnomer, as the water is anything but flat. The pot became our gauge, and for some stretches of “flatwater,” the pot stayed inside the kayak and we stayed focused. And thus it became this way, through signals—both implicit and explicit—and stoke, we overcame cultural and language barriers.
Our Russian liaison, the whitewater czar, Egor Vozkoboynikov, led our group throughout Siberia with consistency and inconceivably smooth lines. It was a unique experience to paddle with Egor and Two Blades Adventures. Having a local guide gave us much more insight and cultural context to our experience and really maximized our paddling days. It took a few days for our different styles of river-running to sync, but once they did we got along famously.
Our time in Siberia completely shattered our expectations and any preconceived notions of the country we had had. So, before we delve any deeper, let’s start with some quick myth-busting: True or false, it’s always sunny in Siberia? False. I think it rained on us nearly every day. Russia is just as big as it looks on a world map? Oh yeah. Russians are the greatest sandbaggers? Very true. But maybe that’s because the idea of flatwater in Russia is false. (See above.) Vodka and horse meat in a can? You betcha!
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