The forest of the outcast lepers

Vilyuisk is still in an area of primeval forests, swamps and marshlands, and even today, travelling through the area in a well equipped four wheel drive truck is still regarded as no easy feat. A far greater challenge would have been to push through the forest on horse back as Marsden was required to do on her search of the outcast lepers. A 100 years ago there were no roads or footpaths to facilitate the journey. 

In an effort to help the expedition get to the most distant of the lepers' yurts, the local Yakut people allegedly traveled ahead of Marsden in order to first break through the forest and create a path by laying logs for more than 1000 miles, through the thick forest and across the marshes.

Not only did she report this to be her first time on a horse, the terrain underfoot was neither flat or solid and she writes of the horses constantly stumbling on roots and logs along the way. After spending a day in the forest I could understand this. 

I could also understand the uncomfortable experience she encountered with the Russian insects.

We were invited on a 'employee's day out' into the forest to pick berries. went picking what the Russian's called a brushnika berry, or, what is known in English as a lingon berry, about an hours drive from Vilyuisk. Traipsing out into the forrest I found the entire floor, spongy and spring loaded due to the lichens and moss that covered the ground like a spongy carpet, hiding fallen logs and tree roots. The lingon berry bushes grew low, covering the ground we walked on. I am no expert horse rider but, even from my limited experience, I knew that this unstable ground would only lend its self to slow travel.

It was August and the berries were ripe and pleantiful (or so I thought but I learned from the complaints of the local berry pickers that it was a bad year – hardly any berries – according to their standards). It was the end of their summer. In a month snow would begin to fall, but the insects were still terrible. I wore a mosquito hat and everyone had covered up with long sleeves and trousers despite the heat. Even so, by the end of the day our hands were itchy with bits, along with any areas of skin that had become exposed throughout the day. I suspect they even bit throuhg my jeans as I had some nice red marks on my legs when I returned home. One woman had such a reaction to the insects that she had to leave - she was lucky enough to flag down a car and get a ride back to Vilyuisk. Her face began to swell up and her eyes were so puffy she could hardly see - she too wore a mosquito net across her face. Marsden reported a similar reaction.
'The insects are much worse in June! Can you imagine what it is like then if you think this is bad now!' Uliana told me. June was the month that Marsen began her travels through the forest. And she didn't have the benefit of returning home to an insect free bed and soothing bath at the end of the day.

There were reports that the insects were so bad that a deer lay down and died, so bad were the insect swarms around it that it suffocated.

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