Day 118. 27th of June. No paddling today or planned for the next nine days.
We allowed for ample time through Russia, and now have time on our hands before Stein’s friend Ulf comes over and takes us to Kirkenes were we will arrive on the evening of the fourth of July according to plan.
Tomorrow is the last day weather permits paddling from Solovki in at least a week. But we won’t try to grab that window.
Since we don’t expect to ever come back we will do a morning sightseeing of the monastery and then load the kayaks on the passenger boat to Kem and arrive there tomorrow evening.
The day after tomorrow the weather is forecast to be so bad even the ferry transport is in question…
Today we tried to find an English speaker who could act as guide, but in vain, so we visited the maritime museum, the archeological museum and the Gulag museum and took a three hour drive around the western part of the island, with Google translate as the main tool of communication. Still room for improvement, but impressive all the same.
Both the maritime and archeological museum are well organized and “modern” looking museums. But almost all information is in Russian.
From the English highlights at the museum of Archeology we understand that the oldest finds have been dated to about 7500 years before present, interpreted as seasonal dwellings. Whoever did that must have had the crafts and seamanship to do the 20 plus km open crossing.
It may have been worth the risk. Here they found 562 lakes in an Archipelago with a total area of 347 square km. And a sea rich in mussels, fish, seal, and whales.
The Gulag museum is in a relatively small wooden building. It tells the story of the Solovki as the Soviet Union’s first politicial prison.
The islands had already had a several hundred year history as a political prison, but for altogether 316 prisoners.
More than that arrived in the first shipload in 1923, as we understand on the ship “Metel”. Tomorrow we will sail away on the “Metel-4”.
The museum was all in Russian, the most informative piece was an about 20 min long film about the camp produced by Soviet authorities. Presumably for propaganda purposes. Glorified in the extreme, but still showing hard work in the forest, with fish preservation, clothes production etc. Apparently the gulag produced large amounts of fish and timber. So much that a double track railway was constructed to transport timber to the harbor.
Our round trip was done by taxi, driven by Oleg. It was a good thing the road was dry, even though we drove in a typical Russian “VW beetle” like car with 4×4 system. All roads here are sandy dirt roads except a few hundred meters with concrete paving near the harbor.
We did one medieval fish pond and three small monasteries in three hours. A personal best for both of us.
We also got another glimpse of the Gulag when we visited the monastery at the highest point of the island. This building had also been a prison, and several other camps were spread across the island.
One picture showed Maxim Gorky visiting and posing with the camp guards in 1927.
A renowned author, fierce and effective critic of the inhumane sides of the tsarist regime, but never a hard core Bolsjevik: he still became an apologet for Stalin’s regime. And some years later (1932) he led an authors delegation to write about the heroic construction of the Belomor Canal, an even worse example of forced labor than the Solovki camp.
It would seem integrity is not a birth gift, but something that needs continous work and maintaince to stay intact.
It will be interesting to see what we get out of tomorrow.
Unlike Mandrogi or Kizhi, Solovki is not only, maybe even not foremost a cultural heritage, it is a place of worship and a place of political significance because of its key role in the Orthodox Church.
Still a focal point and bellwether for changes in Russia as it has been at least since the industrious abbot Skt. Filipp Kolichev (builder of the fish dam) stood up to and corrected Ivan the Terrible and as a consequence was tortured to death in 1570.