Yakutsk – Jorge Juan Sanchez

Coldest Place on Earth

This account of visiting Yakutia has been edited from a longer story.

It was already dark in Yakutsk, the capital of Yakutia. It was four o’clock in the afternoon. This is a place where the day is short in the winter but in the summer the sun never really sets. I was looking at the outdoor temperature on a thermometer: minus forty-one degrees centigrade! Yakutia is the coldest place where people live all year round. It’s situated in an area of true permafrost.

Near the airport I checked the room at one of the two hotels there. They told me that the rate for a single room, which included breakfast, was three hundred roubles. That’s less than ten American dollars.

On the following days I was invited to try ‘kumis,’ a drink made from the milk of mares. I listened to an old local musician playing a small instrument that they call a ‘jomus,’ shaped like a soup spoon. It’s placed in part of the mouth and a reed is vibrated to produce sounds very pleasing to the ear.

The local people are related to the people of Mongolia. Many of them are nomads who live with their herds of reindeer in the north of the country near the icebound Arctic Ocean, sleeping in yurts.

The women sport very bright jewels, especially necklaces. On close-up examination these can be seen to consist of any number of small diamonds. Yakutia has an astonishing number of diamond mines.

I had to take a photo of a thermometer to prove how cold it was. At night, it gets down below minus fifty centigrade! I kept warm by wearing a ‘shuba’ or anorak that was given to me. I also wore two pairs of trousers, leather boots, several sweaters and a sort of Russian peaked cap called shapka.

Well, I took off my right glove for less than ten seconds, just enough time to take the photo of the thermometer. Then I reached out to put my glove back on. But it seemed as though the fingers of my hand were in the process of falling off! I went into a cafeteria and pleaded for a glass of hot water, tea or coffee or whatever they had. But one of the two beautiful waitresses informed me they were having a ‘pererib’, a 15 minute break. One was smoking and the other painting her nails as they looked at me without any interest. I rushed into the toilet and turned on the hot tap. It took a full ten minutes with my hand held under before I recovered any feeling!

If I ever feel too hot in my homeland, I just look at my pictures of Yakutia and feel cooler just looking at that cold place.

— Posted – July 2012

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