Despite all the warnings directed at us and rumors about all that could go wrong with our intended ferry trip from Crimean peninsula to Russia, all was well and simple. The ferries run all night long with regular intervals (we arrived to the port around 11pm) and we didn’t have to wait in any queues because we were ‘pedestrians’ (and one cyclist). There was a queue for cars but it didn’t look tremendously long. Since the annexation of Crimea in March, the number of ferries operating between Port Crimea and Port Caucasus has been increased and now there are in total about 10 vessels (including train ferries) navigating back and forth from these destinations.
The only thing that took longer than expected, was the ferry ride itself. It was supposed to take 30 minutes but we ended up floating in the Kerch Strait for at least an hour. So, as the Greek ferry “Γλυκοφιλουσα III” was slowly drifting about, the main deck filled with Russians, a few foreign tourists and at least one Ukrainian, it finally felt like we are closing in on the real Russian Federation.
A man sitting next to us (and everyone in his close proximity as well) was listening to Russian pop music on his tablets’ speakers. Apparently he got bored and started talking with us. “Hey, you are on the boat and I am on the boat, so let’s socialize!” After the usual question “Where are you from?” and our usual reply “From Riga, Latvia”, he began his monologue “Yeah, it is a nice country but it’s just taking the wrong direction. It needs to be towards Russia, not the silly Europe or stupid America. You know what? The world as we know it is falling apart and Russia is the only country which can do anything about it. Nobody else can. ” Brief pause, he starts to smile and continues “But Mr. Putin, he is just the candy, we all love him here.” As a final remark she just adds “The triumph of Russia and glory of our beloved Vladimir was foretold by the Great Oracle Vanga herself!”
(“Everything will melt away like ice yet the glory of Vladimir, the glory of Russia are the only things that will remain. Russia will not only survive, it will dominate the world.” – Vanga, 1979)
As he was telling this remarkable story you could see in his eyes that he truly believed in it, he really loves his country and especially the President. But there was also something in his eyes that made us question his sanity. That was the first time (but not the last one) when we saw somebody being so obsessively passionate about Mr. Putin and Russian Federation. Just as he had started talking with us for no particular reason, the conversation ended abruptly as he walked away to search for more people to enlighten. Nothing really had happened, but we all felt a bit weird, maybe also slightly scared. You could say that this encounter was our welcome in the real Russia.
The ferry was already getting moored to the port but it was not exactly clear how Laura and I are going to get further than the port itself. The thing is – there’s a stretch of land, 12 kilometers in length going form the port to mainland. And there is nothing more than the port and a road on this stretch. We definitely didn’t want to walk that so we started to ‘hitch-hike’ on the boat already – we turned to the driver of Sevastopol-Krasnodar bus and asked if he would allow us to ride in his bus for 12kms. That’s how we ended up riding to the first village – Ilyich – in the comfort of the bus’s soft seats. Now we only needed to find a decent camping spot in the complete darkness, with cold winds fiercely blowing around us and we were good to go to sleep – first time this late (around 2am) when camping outside.
After the short sleep we woke up and the weather conditions were only getting worse by the minute. When we got on the road, it started to rain and we were really lucky that a car stopped just a moment before the light drizzle changed and it started to come down in buckets. It was a black sports car and hence the type of automobile the trunk was puny enough not to have space for any of our bags. So Laura and the bags were squeezed together in the backseat. The man was driving to 50km distant Temryuk and half of this distance I spent looking at the meat pies in his glove compartment. At one point I was even ready to ask if I could buy them off him. I didn’t ask in the end but maybe I should have – most probably I’d have gotten them for free. Besides the pastries, we did also notice that Coca-Cola was the drink of choice of the driver and that the car had a cracked windshield window.
Temryuk is not on the shortest route to Novorossiysk, for this reason our and Dainis’s routes deviated slightly on this day. But, the visit to Temryuk granted me the chance to go after a geocache in Russia and to be FTF even! It was still about 3 kilometers to the cache from the place the driver dropped us off, so we left our backpacks at a roadside café before going – otherwise we would have died of overstraining. The find was not guaranteed, though – no one had found this cache before and the only ones who tried ended up with a DNF. The cache has been hidden almost a year ago so the probability that it could be lost wasn’t so low. But turned out that I just needed to climb over the railing of the road instead of just searching in the railing and the geocache container was in my hands and I could call myself the first finder. From the four countries we had visited at the moment I’d already been the first to find at least one geocache in three of them – Belarus, Ukraine and Russia.
We made our way back past the estuaries (лиман) of the Sea of Azov, had some excellent dumplings for lunch, for only 80 Russian Rubles (~1,5€) and were ready to hitch-hike further, direction Novorossiysk. It took some time, as usual to get to a place apt for hitch-hiking, then for some reason, there were swarms of police cars driving down the road but, eventually, we got a ride – Zhiguli, driven by an old man who treated us with Borjomi mineral water and some candies. We stepped out of the car in a village called Dzhiginka and got the remaining Borjomi and candies as a gift. Now to look for a camping spot while there’s still light outside!
We didn’t see Dainis cycling on the road this time because our routes differed a bit but we assumed that he will soon arrive. Tried to call him to describe our location but he did not pick up the phone. Probably busy cycling, we thought and sent a SMS message. Minutes soon turned to hours and only after much longer than expected we reunited with Dainis again. Turned out that he had carried out an international investigation in order to locate us while we were making a fireplace, not suspecting anything. What happened, you will know when Dainis publishes the next blog entry.
The following morning was the anniversary of proclamation of The Republic of Latvia but this event didn’t make the weather conditions better. It was raining again. As nice the weather was while we traversed Crimea as bleak it was in Russia. We hid from the wetness in a bus stop and jumped out only to stretch our hands towards the passing cars. A man took us to the resort city Anapa. On the way we listened to his complaints about the salaries in Russia, and Laura discovered that he had a gun wrapped in his hat on the backseat. Well, there was nothing to do with this knowledge so we just continued observing and again, discovered that the drink of driver’s choice was Coca-Cola and that his windshield was cracked.
We found ourselves in the city of Anapa, which was not so good, we should have stepped out on the ringroad before the city to be able to hitch rides more successfully. But we were, where we were and as a solace we went into a gas station to get some lemonade. In between the bottles of Mirinda and Mountain Dew, Laura found a vial of IRN-BRU and was totally stoked about this find. There was no information about this drink in my book but apparently it is some Scottish lemonade which she really did not expect to find in Russia. Meanwhile, I was thinking about what the name means. Is it “Iron Brew”, written in Text-speech? And what could this be of an iron brew? Rusty nails brewed in a water, hence the orange color?
Anyway, the stokedness came to an end when we had to move on in the rain. It was about 7km to the ringroad so we decided to try our luck in a bus stop. City, a lot of traffic, shitty weather, the conditions were far from perfect. It took quite a while to get the next ride – Andrey had already seen us when going into the city and had decided to pick us up on his way out if we would still be miserably standing there. In the car, we were treated with Coca-Cola again and our moods went back up. Andrey was working as a freelance courier, delivering things from one place to another with his van that, again, had a crack in the windshield. I guess that Cola and a damaged front window is the default package of a Russian driver. Well, the elder man had a Borjomi instead of Cola but you got to start thinking about health when you get older, you know.
We didn’t just get to Novorossiysk with Andrey, we stayed with him while he was driving around the city and making his deliveries. We also went to a small resort Shirokaya Balka, a place that is all about dolphins. While he was doing paperwork, we quickly went to the sea shore and discovered a monument to dolphins. “Dolphins – people of the sea. Bringers of luck.”
Back in Novorossiysk, we went to our pre-arranged host Eugene – an ATM technician. Not only did he fry a delicious chicken fillet for us but also showed us the path of a banknote from inside an ATM to the receiver’s hand. Soon after, Dainis also arrived and we spent the evening, listening to Eugene performing songs on his guitar and exchanging stories about our travels. Concluding the evening we watched one of his favorite movies – 99 francs and received an offer to go with him the next day to see how an ATM is fixed. Nothing too complicated – just to change a defective receipt printer.
So, in the morning we went back to Anapa, watched the ATM being repaired and eventually printing a smiley-face receipt and after the work was done, went on a walk to see a bit of the city. As a resort city, at this time of the year it looked half abandoned and sad. As we were walking through a hibernating amusement fair, we got amused only by the competition of ‘multi-dimension cinemas’. At first, the usual 5D, 6D booths.
Then we saw an 8D one – wow, that’s probably a little exaggerated. But then, out of nowhere – firstly 71D, secondly 82D, then 99D but to top it all – a “999D кино”. Nine hundred and ninety nine dimensions – that’s a lot of dimensions! From other amusing things – we saw a shop that had a crossed over President Obama’s head with a notice written below: “We don’t serve President Obama in this shop.” I wonder what would really happen if he decided to visit this shop someday…
It was great with Eugene but we needed to move on – only eleven days on our Russian visa left. In the evening we went to the Novorossiysk train station to board a train to Krasnodar. We were amazed by the tightness of security in Russian train stations – just to get inside the railway station, we had to go through metal detectors, scan our bags and go through long explanations why we need a bottle full of fuel and that it is not meant for bombing purposes. We also had our passports checked and not only needed we – Eugene also had to confirm that we are his guests, that he is a resident of this city and that we are not evil terrorists. While Dainis and Laura went to buy the tickets, an employee of the station unfriendly pointed out to me that I should keep my bags closer to me otherwise the police will come and confiscate them. When my friends were back with tickets, they also had an instruction sheet given to them at the ticket office – how to recognize possible terrorists and what to do then. The first and the most important feature of a suicide bomber – he has an explosive device with him!
We got to Krasnodar safely, without any terrorist encounters and what was ahead of us – an exciting night in the railway station. We arrived there at about midnight but our next train – to Mineralnye Vody (Mineral Waters – not a really creative city name) was at 8am. So we spent the night in the station, fixing a punctured bicycle tube, taking turns going out in the city to scout for some cookies and trying not to fall asleep and fall down on the cold floor.
When we finally went to board the next train, it was only a short break in our waiting and sitting marathon – Krasnodar to Mineralnye Vody is about 400km of a train ride. In the end, time passed real quickly because we spent most of the ride sleeping in awkward positions on the uncomfortable train benches. 20th November and the time to exchange railways for roads again had come. We plunged into the unknown as we had to cross one of the most interesting and diverse regions of Russian Federation – North Caucasus.