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Siberia

Sunk on the road to Kainsk
Little more than a fortnight into their journey, Borghese and his crew left Mongolia and the influence of China – though certainly not their troubles - behind at Kiakhta.

Photographs featured on this page are taken from the various editions of Barzini's work, please see bibliography below.
The best road in Siberia
Kiakhta saw Borghese the recipient of lavish hospitality, but the time came to leave for Udinsk, 240 versts away (the Russian verst was a distance of approximately 2/3 of a mile). The telegraph wires would again be their guide, over the first part of their journey, but problems would soon become pressing. The messenger of European civilization, the Trans-Siberian railway, had done wonders for travel across Russia, but its introduction had had a deleterious effect upon the region's roads. Rarely built properly in the first place, the railway had taken away the traffic, and thus the roads and bridges fell into disrepair. Where roads were passable, they were overgrown to the extent that it was a challenge to decide where the road ended and the verge began, and indeed which had the firmer ground. A plan developed in the team's collective minds - why not make use of the railway line itself? Permission was, perhaps surprisingly, granted, and while the going must have been decidedly bumpy, the Itala travelled a great distance with relative ease.

The 30th June provided the most alarming situation to be encountered on the whole journey. With bridges in disrepair, crossing them was tricky at the best of times. Falling wooden planks had given the crew an idea of the harm that could potentially happen to them. Despite their best efforts at caution, the worst happened - a bridge collapsed underneath their car, sending the occupants falling backwards to the ground below. A policeman who had been accompanying them over this part of the journey had watched the incident from the safety of terra firma, and ran screaming for help while Borghese, Barzini and Guizzardi untangled themselves from the wreckage as best they could. Remarkably, serious injury was avoided to both man and machine.







The policeman returned with help, somewhat surprised to see the three drivers alive and walking. A lengthy recovery operation took place to remove the stricken vehicle from its precarious position.


Irkutsk was reached, the team departing on 3rd July. The journey included further sinkings in boggy ground and desperate fast drives over rickety bridges - the decision being now to cross such structures as fast as possible, to minimise the time each part was under the strain of the car.



A typical encounter on Siberian roads

The next phase of the journey was to cross the taiga, "the interminable Siberian forest" as Barzini phrased it. Together with the cold and the persistent rain, the muddy journey through the forests was difficult and dreary.

A breakdown in the taiga
The taiga

 


The taiga gave way to plains and rivers, but the cold and the rain remained with Borghese and his men. Ferries were used to cross rivers, including the "horse-ferry" - horses walked round and round, pulling a mechanism that dragged the vessel across the river.

Sinkings and breakdowns remained common - albeit no hold-up was serious until a broken wheel threatened the expedition.



Sunk on road to Taimsk
Difficult ferry embarkation
Sunk near Tomsk

Breakdown in Siberia
A new wheel


Reaching the Urals, Europe and the final leg of the journey were in sight. However, a wheel was badly in need of repair. Patched up initially, it soon broke beyond repair. Remarkably, though stopped in an unpopulated area, a local carriage-builder was on hand to craft a new one.

The wheel fitted, the travellers continued west, with the better roads of Europe to look forward to.