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Movement here prevents the water from freezing.

Frozen Lakes and Rivers

While lakes and rivers are the only really useful highways through the wilderness

FROZEN RIVER

Through Yakutia by Pony Sled on Frozen River Roads

THE MAIN DIFFERENCE between the pony and the sled dog is that the dog is very eager to pull and to travel, and the pony would prefer to stay in the barn. Yet the Yakut pony is the ideal means of transportation in this region, since it’s very well adapted to the extreme cold and is skilled at traveling on frozen rivers. Besides, everyone in the area uses ponies, so when we passed through a village, no one stared at us. We had the same sled, same ponies, same clothes, same fur caps as they did and even our faces, weathered from travel, had the look of the country. This is what we had wanted to cross Siberia and become part of its landscape, respecting its traditions. But the Siberians we met found this disappointing. They had never seen foreigners before, and our appearance did not live up to expectations. It’s as though a Martian were to appear at a Paris cafe, climb out of a Peugeot with a baguette under his arm, and announce, “Hi, I’m a Martian!”

No, what they wanted were real

Frenchmen, and to prove that we were real we had to produce our passports, speak French, and Volodya (our Russian interpreter) had to spit on the ground and swear it was the truth. Only then could the party begin.

The news would spread like wildfire, and those who lived outside the village were called in. The best food the villagers had to offer was presented, and all available vodka was requisitioned. We had to tell our stories and talk about France and the French and on no account could we dwell on our expedition or our ponies. These subjects couldn’t have mattered less to the Siberians, since they spend their lives on their ponies’ backs. We had to describe Paris, the clothes Parisians wear, what they do, what they say. In return, the Siberians offered us all they knew and had. Their generosity was complete and unstinting.

The next day we would resume our long glide along the frozen river, assuming there was no blizzard, no piled-up ice, and no deep snow to slow us down.

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