Travel Journal: Picnic In Siberia

The best way to travel through the Siberian wilderness is on a tank loaded with vodka, fish and a Russian marksman capable of shooting the shit out of another man’s ass. It’s not exactly a package you’ll find on Orbitz. Fortunately, photographer Luke Dickey took photos.

Milk Made: You took these photos a year ago then?

Luke Dickey: Yeah. We went to Russia on what I remember being July 5, because I remember there being fireworks in Siberia on the Fourth of July because of Enrique Iglesias’ dad who was actually in the town where we were staying. And then the next day we went on the adventure.

MM: What was the adventure?

LD: Essentially we were going to meet my fiancee’s dad who lives in Moscow and has this business where he’s basically building a road to a mineral deposit in the middle of Siberia which is going to be mined. He doesn’t really speak English that well and some things are lost in translation, but at one point he mentioned that he had a tank. So we drove out on a road and met some workers and all of a sudden there was a tank behind us and we all got on the tank.

Now this tank is not a tank with the turret. I mean it has the tracks or treads or whatever you call them and it was open in the back. It was used in the Afghan war to deliver bombs or something like that. Apparently it’s not that difficult to get a tank in Russia if you want one. We got on the tank, and it does a 90 degree turn to go straight into the wilderness and we spent the next hour standing on the edge of this tank hanging on the monkey bars as it goes over a mountain and towards this lake that’s off in the distance. Then we parked there, set up camp and tried to fish but we didn’t catch anything. But we brought fish and started cooking it — we had what you would imagine a good time would be encompassing guns and boiled fish and a lot of vodka and the most obscene amount of mosquitos you’ve ever seen in your life. It was a lot of fun.

MM: How many people does it take to drive a tank?

LD: I think it’s just one person. It’s just like those levers, if you’ve ever seen Indiana Jones —

MM: — That’s exactly what I was thinking of.

LD: But there were no cliffsides that we almost ran over and there were no Nazis.

MM: Did you feel pretty safe on it?

LD: It was pretty safe, I mean we were only going like 5 miles per hour. I was hoping we’d see a bear but this thing was so loud that there was no way that any wildlife would be anywhere nearby. It’s a very untouched land. We don’t really have that here. Untouched land here is like parks. Untouched land in Siberia is populated, there are more people there than I imagined, but it’s just so vast. But it’s crazy, they still burn their trash there. After the barbecue they were like, alright throw it all into the fire.

MM: Did it take long to get out into the wilderness?

LD: Yeah, I mean we stayed in this town called Abakan that might be regarded as a city. And from there we woke up in the morning and drove down to… I think the region is called Mezhdurechensk or something like that. If you look at a map, there’s a place where Kazakhstan and Mongolia and China all come together, it’s just north of that about 400 miles. It’s like very southern Siberia.

[We poke up through some photos that show enormous guns]

MM: Were you guys actually firing off weapons?

LD: Oh yeah. [Flips to a photo of an older Russian man] This guy, Sergei, he’s my fiancee’s uncle and he was a cop. There’s a story about him where he was in a shooting competition among other cops and won a prize. On their way back from the competition they stopped to drink some vodka, and as they got drunker, one of the cops with them said, “Oh, you’re a Khrolenko. Well Victor Khrolenko — who’s my fiancee’s father — ruined my life by marrying an American woman — my fiancee’s mother.” This was in Soviet times and a big deal. The guy was claiming that knowing Viktor had screwed up his career. And the guy who was talking shit went outside to take a shit, and Sergei shot the shit that came right out of his ass. [Laughs] There’s a picture I took, I don’t know what they were throwing up, but he shot it twice and you could see the two shotgun shells in it. He’s a legit Siberian.

MM: Did your fiancee’s uncle give you any pointers, like the Russian way to shoot?

LD: I don’t think there is a Russian way to shoot. [Laughs] Shoot a lot of bullets and don’t turn around because you will get shot. That’s the Russian way: Don’t turn back. No, I don’t think they really said anything. I think by that time I was already pretty drunk. Every single day it was just constant vodka. And every one glass of vodka comes with two after. I would actually find myself not getting completely wasted until I sat down and then I’d be, holy shit, I need to take a nap.

What was really interesting was that we found a lot of young kids like our age in their 20s or so who don’t drink. We actually came across quite a few of them. But yeah, alcohol is pretty big there. And beer isn’t considered alcohol there and it comes in like a Coke bottle, and it’s warm. It’s called Peva.

But this was just one day in the journey. That night we stayed in basically what was the base camp for all the workers working on the road. They all stayed in containers that were built out as homes. So we stayed there for the night. I tried taking pictures of their homes, but they were all wary of the American who doesn’t understand a word they’re saying. But all in all everyone was really nice and cordial but maybe they just viewed me as the boss’s daughter’s fiance.

MM: Were you trying to document what it’s like driving a tank in Russia or were you just shooting away?

LD: I just couldn’t stop taking pictures that day. If anything else it was just very special. Never in my life am I ever going to have this badass moment or shoot guns and ride tanks and eat boiled fish. It’s probably a moment that a lot of other people won’t be able to experience.

MM: I’m pretty sure you’re right.

LD: Apparently he now has a helicopter but I don’t know if I want to go on a helicopter considering how much vodka everyone drinks.

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