Zinaida had good English but surely she couldn't really mean it. I remained in hopeful denial. The thought that such a journey lay ahead was unbearable.
In the end it took us 22 hours to make the journey. And it was unbearable.
The Taiga is the world's largest forest. It spreads across 5 million square kilometres and would easily cover the whole of India. As Chekhov once said, 'Where it ends, only the immigrating birds know'…...
It is from Yakutsk that Marsden began her journey through the Taiga on cart and horseback of 2000 miles through the dense forest in search of the outcast lepers, heading first to the village of Vilyuisk.
For this stage of the journey she traveled with 15 Sakha Cossacks from Yakutskt through the dense Taiga forest in search of these outcast lepers.
The Yakutian people regarded leprosy as a punishment from the Gods for sinners. Scared of contact with them they expelled their relatives or neighbours with any suspicious manifestations far away into the Taiga forest, and forced to live either alone or in primitive shelters away for the settlements. The Taiga is the worlds larges forest. They lepers were deprived of any rights, their property was confiscated and they were banned from communication with the rest of the world. 1
The were exposed to frost of -50 in winter and tropical heat in summer. Where billions of blood thirsty insects attached their festering wounds.2 I had a brief encounter with these insects, which I will describe to you later.
The Taiga provides around 25% of the world's wood resource and is predominantly spruces and furs. Because of the permanent shade, floor vegetation isn't particularly dense, but wiry and spring loaded, making it difficult to walk through, grasses, moss, lichen, berries and mushrooms and pine cone seeds.
On 10 June 1891 she set off with her team.
In her book Marsden explains:
The post road from Yakutsk is marked on the map, but only exists in the imagination of the map engraver. The post services, which is not a daily but a monthly affair in these regions, is carried on under much the same difficulties which we encountered – along a half obliterated track – usually or through forests and over marshes with no sign of a path in the best way suggesting itself at the moment.
Times of course had progressed and there now was a road that was clearly marked – its condition was another matter however.
It was a distance of approximately 567 kilometers. It took us 20 hours. We were travelling at an average speed of 28 kilometres per hour. We stopped twice for a toilet/food break. It was told that the journey in summer usually takes between 10 and 15 hours, but if it rains or the weather is bad it takes a lot longer. It had rained the day before we were due to leave and so we experienced the longer journey. It took us 20 hours!
The ground here is very sandy, the roads are unpaved. When it rains it doesn't take long for it to turn to a complete bog (as we found out on the return journey to Yakutsk a few days later).
1Bessonov, Yuri. Journal of Nursing; An Outstanding Journey of a British Nurse to the Yakut Lepers in Siberi.