Day 124 – If we were too late through the control post near Nikel, we would not be allowed to continue to Norway today – 3 July

Day 124. 3rd of July. No paddling. Ulf Larsen express from Kandalaksha to Jarfjord/Kirkenes.

While we had a slow start to the day in Kandalaksha, Stein’s friend and colleague from long gone days in Lebanon, Ulf, had an early (0630) start from Jarfjord to pick us up.

He was in Kandalaksha around 1300, we spent 12 min loading up the cars and then we started on the way home.

Why all the hurry? If we were too late through the control post near Nikel, we would not be allowed to continue to Norway today.

And our minds were quite firmly set on making it back to Norway today.

As it turned out we had a pleasantly uneventful trip and had time to spare even to do some last minute/last roubles shopping.

Salted dried squid anyone?

No trouble at the border crossings. The paper with stamps for the kayaks we struggled so to get on entry were not necessary on exit after all.

We signed off with FSB on SMS, and they wished us good onward trip.

We’ll stay with Ulf and his family for a few days.

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We commented earlier how privileged we were in that all our near and dear ones were in good health so we could embark on this trip.

Unfortunately the health of Stein’s father in law has deteriorated and Stein will travel to Oslo the day after tomorrow to visit him.

Plan is to start paddling Friday or Saturday. First things first and then we’ll see.

Day 123 – The kayaks are basically stored in the reception. Our good fortunes are still with us – 2 July

Day 123. 2nd of July. Rabocheovstrosk to Kandalaksha (by car). No paddling.

Kira showed exactly as agreed, with her car and a trailer. We took some time to load the kayaks securely onto the trailer. Once that was done we drove off in Kira’s mid sized Geely.

She drove well and carefully on bad roads which meant that we went slowly for the first hour or so. First because of the quality of the non state roads, then as we reached the main highway Murmansk, we went slow because of the extensive upgrade works to that road.

The landscape was the same for most of the trip, boggy taiga.

About two thirds of the way we got to the junction leading to Kira’s home village. There her brother was waiting and he drove the rest of the way. None of them spoke enough English to keep a conversation going, so the five hours passed mostly in silence.

A quick stop as we crossed the Polar circle, and then were in the outskirts of Kandalaksha.

We had struggled a little to find a hotel where we could store the kayaks safely, and in the end we settled for the Belomor dead in the center but with a video surveilled parking we were told.

As we came in we were met by a very solution oriented lady, and now the kayaks are basically stored in the reception. Our good fortunes are still with us.

Kandalaksha is a town of about 35000 people. We had a walk around and some late lunch early dinner. Difficult to say if the town is on the up or if the decline from 1990 to 2010 continues. A walk through the center of town shows a mix of new buildings, well maintained buildings, derelict buildings and burnt down buildings.

Stein’s friend Ulf is on schedule and the current plan is to leave Russia tomorrow afternoon.

We have spent a little less than two months here, but it feels like a lot more. It has been so packed with varied experiences. Almost without exception positive ones.

But now our minds are shifting towards the next stage: Finnmark.

Day 122 – In all probability we and our kayaks have had their last dip in Russian waters. At least for now – 1 July

Day 122. 1st of July. Short paddling trip from Rabocheovstrosk. 17 km, 7.6 km/hr average.

We paddled a short trip out into the Kuzova Archipelago. It is a real “skjærgård” with “svaberg” and some small sandy beaches. But not exactly inviting sea temperatures. We tested at lunch, but that was just to tag off “have swum in the White Sea”.

After lunch we did some self and comrade rescue training, before we paddled back in time to watch the “Russian miracle” against Spain.

We also experienced a small problem in that our transport for tomorrow declared a no show.

Stein contacted our friend Stas in Petrozavodsk who had helped us arrange transport in the first place.

Before the soccer game was over our problem was also solved.

Back to a ten o’clock departure for Kandalaksha tomorrow.

In all probability we and our kayaks have had their last dip in Russian waters. At least for now. In particular the White Sea could be an interesting destination another time. Combining interesting paddling with inviting seascapes, wildlife and important cultural history and institutions.

Day 121 – Also time for reading and watching some soccer – 30 June

Day 121. 30th of June. No paddling.

We had to wait a couple of days for logistics, and in a sense we have been lucky with the weather. No paddling was advisable yesterday or for most of today. In the afternoon it cleared up and we did some maintenance on the boats. Also time for reading and watching some soccer.

There has been a meeting in the HSE committee and it was concluded that tomorrow we need to do some paddling both to keep our bodies working and to train rescue techniques and freshen up our skills before Finnmark.

Day 120 – At the feet of this one there were flowers. That is a first – 29 June

Day 120. 29th of June. Waiting on weather in Rabocheovstrosk. Visiting Kem. No paddling.

Heavy rains and strong winds through the day, would have made paddling unadvisable anyway.

Weather was so bad that the smaller boat that we traveled on yesterday had its route canceled and the bigger boat changed its route and brought back people one day early from Solovki.

Rabocheovstrosk is a village, the port village of Kem, Kem itself not a metropolis with its 13,000 inhabitants.

We went there just to have look and get some cash with which to pay the hotel.

Konstantin in Medvezhevgorsk told us that the Soviet color of cities was grey. By that standard Kem qualifies as a Soviet city. (Granted many cities would in rains like today’s).

Not only in color, perhaps: Outside the library stood a statue of Lenin. Not the first we have seen. But at the feet of this one there were flowers. That is a first. And around the statue was a well maintained flower bed. Just a bit early for the flowers in this climate.

The flowers on the statue were plastic, as all flowers and wraths we have seen at memorials and graveyards.

We spent an hour in Kem, had lunch at a local Cafe, went back and sat in the hotel Cafe reading, drinking tea and looking at the white crested waves.

Tomorrow we will follow the same procedure in the same weather, except we will not go to Kem…

Day 119 – Some few roubles saved and some pride lost – 28 June

Day 119. 28th of June. 1 km paddling. Average speed unknown and irrelevant 🙂

Today was a monastery day. We went on a two and a half hour tour of the main monastery after breakfast and after having read ourselves up on an English guide book.

First we joined a Russian group then we found a Swedish group specializing in war history.

We leave out the fine details, which we did not get anyway…

What is clear from the place, the book and the guiding, is that this is a place that is as determined to shape the future, as to preserve and remember the past.

Stein commented how the monks walked rapidly and determined, rather than slowly and contemplative.

A quick and sketchy Russian Orthodoxy 101 is as follows:

  1. Late tenth century Vladimir the first of Kiev Rus holds a beauty contest among religions to replace the pagan beliefs.(according to the Nestor chronicles). Result:
  2. Islam, way too austere! No joy!
  3. Western Catholic church: Too analytical and scholastic. No joy!
  4. Byzantine Orthodox church: The winner! In the churches and sermons, it was impossible to say where earth ended and heaven began! This happened in 988, before the great schism between eastern and western Christendom in 1054.

Judging by the amount of leaf gold used in the restoration of the cathedral at Soloviki, the Russian Orthodox church is working hard to keep the distinction blurred.

After the schism of 1054 in Russian perspective, the center of Christendom shifted to Constantinople, the “second Rome”.

From the same perspective, after the fall of Constantinople to the Ottomans in 1453, the center of Christendom shifted to the “third Rome”… – Moscow.

So the monks walking fast and determined at Solovetskji are not just out to rebuild the monastery, or to regain the sway of the Russian Orthodox church over Russia, they are called to save and redeem humanity. No time to linger.

In a decades long and Russian perspective they have reason for optimism. The pendulum is swinging their way. Religion is on the rise in Russia.

The church is handling that rise in position, impact and funding well. Invariably we have seen that the buildings where the church is in control is either well maintained or being renovated.

That is also true for the Solovetskij monastery.

Our tour came to an end and we checked out of the flat and packed the boats. Then we paddled across to Metel-4 and loaded up our gear and stuff.

We joked that with our appearance with beards and long hair we might be taken for monks trying to escape. But we left the island without drama.

Apparently, the only place our appearance made an impression was yesterday at the GULAG museum, where we paid the senior citizens rate. Some few roubles saved and some pride lost.

It took two hours by boat to get to Rabocheovstrosk, and we went through the Kuzova archipelago. It looks interesting from a paddler’s. Weather Permitting we will paddle out into the archipelago for a day trip on Sunday. Tomorrow and Friday is all rain and storm.

Monday morning we leave for Kandalaksha. If all goes well and according to plan.

We don’t worry. This is Russia and things have a way of sorting themselves out.

Day 118 – Integrity is not a birth gift, but something that needs continous work and maintaince to stay intact – 27 June

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.

 

Day 117 – We came within tens of centimeter of the whales – 26 June

Day 117. 26th of June. 25.4 km, 7.1 km/hr average speed.

A kayak whale safari was the plan for the day, so we broke camp with a (tiny) bit more urgency than usual and were in the boats by 0900.

15 km to paddle to the appropriately named Cape Beluga, and two hours to go to low tide when the whales gather in pods of up to 30 animals.

Flat water and following current so we made it in time and we were not disappointed. When we got there one pod in particular of between 15 and 20 animals were swimming back and forth and playing just outside the cape. We understand they do this between about June and August, at low tide in calm seas. Water depth was maybe 2 meters sometimes they were swimming even shallower.

There were two small motorboats there with whale watchers. By regulation they could not move for fear of hurting the whales, so they were at anchor.

We could move and take advantage of the current so we drifted right through the pod. We came within tens of centimeter of the whales. They whales were not afraid and only mildly interested, a few came over swam under the kayaks and threw a sideways glance as they passed on.

A very memorable encounter.

After four or five passes each we went ashore for lunch just as a group of tourists arrived. They had walked about five km. Judging by the women’s dress, their primary reason for visiting Solovki was not whale watching, but rather religiously based.

All the women wore ancle long dresses and a headscarf. A symbol of piety. And another version of the Abramic religions focus on how women dress and cover their hair.

It is no surprise to meet such a group here. Solovki Islands is a major destination for pilgrimage in the Russian Ortodox church. The old monastery is not only restored, it is also once again an active monastery. As Erling walked an evening tour round the Monastery, monks chanting could be heard from the inside, while numerous couples walked in hushed conversations outside of the walls. It did generate an atmosphere of intense spiritual quest, a characteristic of the Russian Ortodox church, at least judging by the great Russian novelists accounts.

Back to something we know a little more about: Paddling. Once the sea started to flood rapidly, the whales left and we paddled on to the village of Solovetskij.

We had been informed that all hotels were full, at least near the harbor, where we could stay close to the kayaks.

But we managed to find accommodation in a private flat/flat for rent. The entrance looked a little dubious, but the flat was OK, and we have line of sight to the kayaks from the shared kitchen.

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Tomorrow we plan to be tourists and learn more about the long and at times dramatic history of this place.

UPDATE: Day 116 is updated with photos.

Day 116 – What we hadn’t thought about was the tide – 25 June

Day 116. 25th of June. From Ostrov Kuzova to Solovki archipelago. 24.9 km, 5.7 km/hr average speed.

The weather forecast was a bit dubious, at least it was correct about the morning rain.

After a late breakfast we went to the top of the small island we camped on and looked across to Solovki. The plan was to paddle in the evening. As we stood at the top, Yr.no forecast 8 m/s, but it was nowhere near. No white topped waves in sight.

We went back down and broke camp. After all this toing and froing and careful consideration we got in the boats at about 1430.

We had chosen the worst available time. One thing was the wind. About 4 m/s rising to 5 m/s headwinds. That was an expected obstacle.

What we hadn’t thought about was the tide. We can report that paddling in these archipelagos is very much about tide and current. It flowed like a river at times. And not in the right direction. The sea got very confused with waves from seemingly all directions.

In the end it took us four hours and twenty minutes to get across. We had paddled almost four extra kilometers compared to the shortest route.

On the plus side the western most islands of Solovki where we landed is a really beautiful place. So instead of paddling on the village of Silovetskij, we decided to call it a day and camp right here.

Tomorrow the plan is an early start towards Cape Beluga, then to the village to look for two nights accommodation.

Hotels are full, but the tourist office assures us there will be a solution. We trust them. So far there has always been a solution in Russia. And we have the tent as back up.

Now to try to get some sleep in the white night.

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