Creating My Own Siberian Hell
Written by George Balarezo, Intrepid Global Citizen
I was warned about them from countless people before I left for Siberia. They can wreak havoc on you and ruin even the most romantic moments with your loved one. They attack by the thousands and never retreat until they meet their death from the Siberian winter cold. Poisonous snakes or spiders? Bears? Tigers? No, I am referring to an animal that has likely attacked anyone reading these words. The mosquito!
“Come on, mosquitoes? How bad can they really be?” I thought to myself. I have dealt with wild boars in the mountains of South Korea, was bitten by a dog in Western China and slept in the bush of Southern Africa with wild elephants, hyenas, hippopotamuses and lions. How bad could it be dealing with a few bugs here and there?
So far my bicycle took me to the woods around Lake Baikal and through the grasslands surrounding Tomsk and Novosibirsk. As I headed south towards the Altai Mountains, I hit the mosquito jackpot. If swatting mosquitoes were a sport, I became an experienced guru within a few short hours.
After leaving the small Siberian town of Barnaul, the horror began everyday after 8PM. They were waiting to feast on my blood like famished leeches. Siberia is known for its forests, and I am known for camping beside the road on my bicycle adventures, this would indeed be the perfect combination. After pulling off the road and into the vast wooded terrain, Alfred Hitchcock’s resurrection came into full light before you could say “lights, camera, action!”
The mosquitoes attacked me by the thousands. The man who does not believe in bug spray finally met his match. The Siberian heat left me moist and sweaty, while my diet of pancakes, cherries, plums, dates and nuts left my blood sweeter than a grandmother at the first sight of her newborn grandchild. In other words, I was ripe and ready to be eaten raw, one bite at a time.
Thoughts ran wild in my head. How would my $20 Namibian-made piece of plastic ever protect me from the wrath of thousands of mosquitoes? My tent has been with me for six long years and experienced plenty of wear and tear from its days in South Korean mountain ranges and previous tour cycling expeditions. It serves as my primary source of shelter while being my loyal sidekick while on the road. However, due to its experiences, it has accumulated several holes and a broken front door zipper, which means there are many gaps in the protective lining, more than big enough for mosquitoes to enter and feast on me for the night.
The first task was to set up my tent. Even though the sun was still blazing hot at 9PM, winter hat and gloves included, I covered myself from head to toe with layers of clothing I anticipated using during frosty Mongolian evenings. Now they served as mosquito protection. I chose to let the sweat drip rather than allowing the mosquitoes turn me into a corpse of rotten flesh. The tent went up successfully and the door zipped halfway shut. One by one, the sneaky little pests found all of the gaps in my tent and continued to wreak havoc. I suddenly lost control of my emotions and swatted away furiously at my unwelcome guests. “Die! Take that! I’ll show you who belongs here!” I shouted out loud as I swatted away like Jackie Chan in a one on one hundred battle. “If they see all of their friends dying one at a time they will get scared and leave me alone,” I reasoned. Unfortunately, my logic was greatly flawed and they continued to enter my sleeping quarters uninhibitedly.
I quickly realized this was a battle I simply could not win. Although minuscule in size, the pests outnumbered me by a factor of several billion. There was only one other option left- to let them enter freely and share my space with them. I would never make it to sleep if I continued karate chopping the small earthlings with reckless abandon. I calmed myself down and took refuge in my sleeping bag. While making sure to cover myself from head to toe with the sleeping bag, I closed my eyes and practiced several breathing techniques designed to slow down my heart rate. Normally, I fall asleep within minutes of this activity, but that evening I was much more wound up than usual. I slowed down my breath as much as possible and finally dozed off to the sounds of buzzing several centimeters distance from my ear lobe.
My eyes suddenly opened as the sunlight infiltrated my tent. “Morning! It is morning!” I screamed in delight. I survived the horror movie! It was five in the morning but I was anxious to get on the road. I was happy to have nature as my alarm clock. The mosquitoes had dissipated to a tolerable quantity and I hopped up on my feet faster than a cheetah who just spotted its prey. I covered myself from head to toe once again and packed up my bike at record speed.
It was 160 kilometers to the Altai mountains where rumor has it I would be able to sleep mosquito free. That day I cycled faster than “el chapo” Guzman fleeing from the CIA back to the Mexico border. I was simply too fast for the mosquitoes and left them in the dust. I set a new Russian cycling record of 160 kilometers on the day and made it to the pest free mountain range where the cool air enabled me to sleep like a college student the day after final exams finished.
Lesson Learned- Be the Thermostat and not the Thermometer.
The mosquitoes won. They had me distraught and swatting away like a martial arts world champion. There was simply nothing to do but give up. After all, I was a visitor in their territory. Who was I to think I would stand a chance in hand to hand combat against the forest keepers? I was in their house as an unwelcome, violent guest. It was a one billion on one battle and I was at an extreme disadvantage. There was simply no way to win and the only thing to do was admit defeat. Siberia is their territory and they also have a right to live and feast on visitors to their forests. They are also a key part in the local ecosystem and it was simply arrogance on my part to think I could walk into their territory and dominate them. Human beings were not put on earth to dominate all other species, we are here to live in harmony together.
As soon as I calmed down the mosquitoes became less and less ruthless. They accepted me as a guest in their territory by laying off during the night. They witnessed me change from an uncivilized beast to a well mannered global citizen. Even though I brought death upon several of them, they forgave me instantly and calmed down. I was the one bringing the violence and pain to hundreds of insects and it backfired on me. Frustration and anger got the best of me but those emotions did nothing except worsen the dilemma at hand. Just as in human relationships, when one party lets their negative emotions run wild, they become the thermometer instead of the thermostat, reacting to whatever stimulus is tossed in their direction. I became reactive just like a thermometer and was unable to control my temperature. The thermostat sets the temperature and is in control of everything. I lost control quickly and just brought more pain and suffering to myself. This was extremely childish and ignorant of me. Here I was claiming to be a pacifist and environmentalist while swatting away and murdering my fellow earthlings. My actions were the very definition of hypocrisy. All I had to do was get inside my tent and calmly cover myself with my sleeping bag. It was so simple. I had been doing this each night before, but now other earthlings were there with me together. We were meant to share the forest and we finally did once I wizened up and became a thermostat.
Be the thermostat. Don’t react negatively to the external environment. You will only end up losing in the end. The thermometer is nothing but a slave. Be the chief of your own worldly experience and peace, tranquility and a good night’s sleep will all find their way to you.