Go Asia!

Yes, we are in Asia. Apart from huge wasps, it's not that different from home. Since Kazan, there has been a couple of days with a lot of driving, and sleeping at truck stops. Last night we spent the night in the middle of a forest. When we woke up, our kitchen was gone. But a retired colonel in a neighbouring summerschool/ dacha for children (!) invited us for tea. Tea in russian means vodka. After two bottles and exchange of canned foods, we headed for Chelyabinsk.

Right now we are having a short pit stop in Chelyabinsk. Internet and food shopping action. In a few hours we will drive towards Troick, a small city at the border to Kazakhstan. And tomorrow: Kazakhstan.


Petrosavodsk ligger omtrent 2500 km fra grensa til Kazakhstan. Fordi vi ikke har kjøretillatelse i mer enn 14 dager, må vi være inne i Kazakhstan seinest den 31. August. Det vil si at vi har ti dager på ossfra Petrosavodsk. Vi må altså kjøre i gjennomsnitt 250 km hver dag. Hvis vi holder av den siste dagen til kryssing av grensa, har vi ni dager igjen. Vi trenger et par dager uten kjøring. Altså sju kjøredager. Det vil si at vi må kjøre omtrent 400 km hver kjøredag.
Folk som er misfornøyd med norske veier, kan ta seg en liten kjøretur i Russland. Hvis man kan holde en gjennomsnittsfart på 50 km/t er man heldig. Vi har det altså litt travelt.

Dette blir mer kjøring enn vi hadde regna med. Det legger noen føringer for reisa som vi ikke hadde regna med. Det har blitt en slags russisk roadtrip. Vi kjører hele dagen og kommer til et nytt sted seint på kvelden eller på natta. Det gjør at vi må ta de overnattingsmulighetene som byr seg. De siste nettene har vi overnatta utafor et hypermarked, ved siden av et kloster på truckstop og på en kjøreskole. Det siste skjønte vi først når vi våkna om morgenen, og en haug med biler humpa rundt bussen.

Nå er vi i Kazan, en svær by som ligger ved Volga. Her er fullt av både kirker og moskeer. Vi merker at vi nesten er i Asia.

Photo by Ingrid Koslung

21.08- Petrozavodsk

Petrozavodsk means "Peter's factory". The city was founded by Peter the Great in 1704. At the time he was at war with the Swedes and needed a city in Karelia to supply his army with arms and ammunition. Apart from the odd tractor, the factories in Petrozavodsk produce little metal today. The city is now dominated by students from the two local universities, as well as quite a number of Russian and Finnish tourists who promenade along the shores of the great Odega lake. We follow their example, and Maxim guides us through the city and down to the lake. Maxim also organises showers for everyone. Bj¯rn Kjetil, Torkild and Anders shower at Troll`s place, while the rest of us are catered to in Maxim`s appartment.
In the evening we invite Maxim and Tanya for dinner in the bus. Guro and Morten learns how to cook "pillemini", a russian dish similar to tortellini. Maxim has a Ukrainian hitch-hiker visiting who makes "dibosjr" - the official Russian hitch- hikers’ coctail. It contains canned, condensed milk, sugar, instant coffee, water and vodka. All of them supposedly ingredients every Russian hitch-hiker carries around in his backpack.
After a long and good day free of driving we go to bed on full stomacks and a bit tipsy from the vodka.
Anders. (translation-Ingrid)

Photo by Ingrid Koslung

20.08.07-Chupa-Petrosavodsk. 550 km.

Chupa is later described by people we meet as a hole, exclusively known because of a local writer by the name of Venedict Erofejev, a drunken bastard who wrote books about being one. Perhaps it was his cousin who came by in the morning, looking for more alcohol after a very late night out. Chupa looks better in the sunlight than she did the night before. Some cows walk by, and cute stray dogs compete for our attention. The three girls we met the night before arrive to join us for our morning coffe. They take some of us with them on quite a long expedition in search of drinking water. The public water supply exists, but the water is not drinkable. So we follow the locals example and collect our water from a natural spring in the woods outside town. The water is cold and fresh.
After a long photo session with the girls, they send us off as we glance at the ocean one last time. If all goes according to plan, the next seawater we`ll see is that of the Indian west coast sometime in December.
Right outside town we make a short stop to see the local wooden church. Some of us gets a short tour inside the building. The priest is wearing sandals, jeans and a shirt. The only indication of his priesthood is his long, grey beard. After looking at us with a sceptical eye, he and the cleaning lady light up and we manage to tell them that we are Norwegians and "spasiba".
A few kilometres later Martin has problems with the clutch. It turns out to be yet another air leak in the exact same place at last time. Luckily the repair goes swiftly and we are on the road again after 30 minutes.
This becomes another day of driving, Atilla eats more than 550 km. When we finally arrive in Petrozavodsk around 1 am, we are greeted by Maxim, a hitch-hiker who accompanied us from Narvik to Troms¯. He suggests that we park in the parkinglot outside a 24-hour hypermarked. Not the most idyllic spot, but both toilet and food is easily accessible. We share two bottles of wine and some cheese with Troll and Olya (Maxims friends) and Tanya (Maxim’s girlfriend) before we go to bed.

Anders (translation by Ingrid)

19.08.07.Chupa- an ugly town turns beautiful over night.

A long drive today- more than 500 kilometres on, at times, very bad roads. Sometimes the speedometer shows no more than 30 km per hour for long streches of road. There seems to be loads of roadworks going on, but the workers themselves are scarse, and there doesn`t seem to be much progress. The drivers are struggling with holes and bumps in the asphalt.
We decide to leave the main road and go on to Chupa, a small town by the White Sea, to find somewhere to camp for the night. The houses are mostly wooden, though a few huge appartment buildings dot the horizon. The town looks run-down and more or less dead. There are almost no lights to be seen.
By a football pitch, some kids are playing ball. Martin and Ingrid go and attempt talking to them about possible campsites. They achieve a certain degree of communication with three girls of 12 and 14 who can hardly stop giggling. After some stuttering and stammering in English and Russian (and a bit of spanish to round it off), they show us a beautiful spot down by the shore, on the outskirts of town.
It`s raining, so we get a chance to try out our shelter construction skills for the first time. It works surprisingly well, and we make dinner using the last Norwegian sausages we have.
Anders 8translation- Ingrid)

18.08.07- Murmansk

We drive into Murmansk at seven in the morning. On arrival we check in at Hotel Polyarnye Zory, a hotel named after a city a few hundred kilometres south of town. The Scandinavian flags outside the lobby show clearly that we are not the first Norwegians here. Some of the receptionists even speak a bit of Norwegian and Swedish. As long as you can tolerate loud techno and Russian pop with your breakfast-pancakes, this hotel is a good alternative. After having the hotel`s breakfast for supper, we head to our rooms for a good day`s sleep.
When we get up in the afternoon we are ready to have dinner for breakfast, and ask the receptionists for advice. Their suggestions are way too exclusive however, so we let Lonely Planet guide us to a pizza place called Mama Mia. The restaurant hands out pizza with reindeer tongue and jam as if it was the most natural thing in the world. The biggest success however, was the dessert-pizza Grandioso; cheese, assorted fruits, nuts, ice cream and whipped cream. After beer and vodka in the hotel bar, we head for our beds again.
The city of Murmansk is situated by the Kola Bay and boasts the northernmost ice free harbour in Russia. Thus it constitutes a point of great strategic importance, and is perhaps particularily well known for the large number of atomic submarines stationed here during the Cold War. The boats are still there, though most of them are hardly in sailable condition any more.
After a few harsh years, the city seems to be more or less on it`s feet again. The streets are filled with young people in fancy clothes, older people in shiny cars and hords of Finnish tourists.
Some of us comment on the huge contrast between the well dressed and seemingly well fed people, and the run down residential areas. The old trolley busses contrast the shiny new SUV`s in a similar fashion.
After sleeping off the vodka, we get ready to leave, and Attila the bus gets a check-up. It has received a good beating on the road from Kirkenes to Murmansk. Bj¯rn Kjetil shows his newly aqired mechanical skills, and fixes an air leak in the break system. An electrical chord also needs to be attended to, in order to get the sidelights on the right side working again. Also, the body got pushed about a bit, driving across some big bumps on the hellish roads of last night. As a result, the door is not closing properly- but this repair has to be saved for later. We head for the Russian forests again.
Anders (translation-Ingrid)

In Borderland

Russia is the land of the Lada. Not only the land of vodka, bureaucracy or gray concrete, but also the land of the small and handy car that for me always has been a symbol of the former Soviet states. I had forgotten about the Lada when I imagined Russia as a country with concrete buildings, tired vodka-drinking people and an enormous bureaucray. This is also Russia, but Russia is until now something else and something more. It is nicotine-addicted transport inspectors, customs officers that laughs when they look inside our bus, it is silent shop attendents, humpy roads, old, worn wooden houses with fantastic wood-carvings. It is sunshine and nice people, old trucks and charming truckstations with smelling toilets. It is a welcoming Russia that so far hasn't lived up to its bad reputation, and knock on wood, it won't either.
At the moment we are driving on a humpy road between Petrozavodsk and Vologda. This is not the only bad road we have experienced since we just about managed to get into Russia - in the excitement of crossing the border to Russia we forgot a very important thing; map reading, and as a result we followed the wrong signs to Murmansk. A journey that would normally take us 3 hours, ended up taking 7 hours and a night's sleep from us. The distance was the same in kilometres, but when you are driving only 5 km per hour on a road that more resembles a dry river, than an actual road, it is quite obvious that it takes a few hours longer. But, hey, someone told us that the roads were supposed to be quite bad in Russia. What have we learnt? There is always a co-pilot and map-reader sitting next to the driver. And never trust a road sign.
Even though the road quality doesn't resemble a dry river anymore, the roads are still a challenge and the bus is constantly changing between 20 to 80 km/h.
Crossing the border is a long story and now, a week later, it seems more like a Russia-test than how it actually felt during the five long hours waiting at the border between our safe home country Norway and the big, scary Russia: if you pass the test - if you are patient, humble and stubborn you are welcome to Russia, if not, this is not a country for you. But we passed the test in the end. Russia is a country for us.
We arrived late afternoon at the border, a bit nervous and excited about what expected us. It was now our big trip was about to begin for real. It was now we were going to meet a Russia few of us knew, but all of us had heard and read many stories about. Would the customs spend hours checking our bus, or would there be a different kind of problem ahead? Would there be any problems at all? The one we feared the most, the customs, didn't turn out to be our problem this time.
After a young man with an enormous hat let us into the Russian border station, we were guided to a room were they stamped our visas. Since Guro Anna is registred as the owner of the bus, she is also the person who has to take care of all the practical matters with the papers for the bus. She was about to learn that we were in "BIG troubles" as the transport inspector expressed in broken Russian-English. In Russia you are not allowed to drive with more than 8 passengeres if you are driving as a private person in transit, meaning that you are not returning to the same border as you started out. With our 12 seats in the bus, we were, as the transport inspector indicated, in trouble. We were already registred in the system as a "big bus", and we had already gotten our migration papers. We needed a transit paper, but it would take weeks to get, and our whole trip were on hold. Neither Guro Anna's tears or Pasvikturist (who had helped us with our Russian visas) begging on the phone, helped. The fear of the, for us, invisible boss, were too big. The transport inspector was afraid he might loose his job if he let us go. He suggested that we came back the next day when he wasn't on duty with three seats less in the bus, but our visas were all single entry visas, and they were already registred. Getting new ones would take days, and we were in a hurry. Being in a hurry is by the way another problem we hadn't predicted, but more about this later.
Sad, dissapointed and confused after 4 hours of waiting we were sent back to the bus and asked to leave. We had at this stage started to plan an alternative route not including Russia, but it also meant applying for new, expensive visas and no Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan. We had tried everything; could they maybe annulate our entry stamp? Could they delete us from the system? Could they pretend that they didn't know that we were driving through Russia to Kazakhstan? Soon the whole border station was involved in our problem, but they didn't seem to be able to help us, even though the transport inspector actually looked sad as he smoked heavier and heavier. During these 4 hours Guro Anna had gone from being "Miss Wyller", to being "Anna" and at the end "Guro Anna". A kind of personal bond had envolved.
Of course we had to get a fine before we left; one fine for being rejected and one fine for not having a N for Norway at the back of the bus. Guro Anna was on her way to pay when the transport inspector pulled her aside, lit a cigarette and said "Okay, you go to Russia now" and pointed towards Norway (he meant to point towards Russia, of course). In the joy of the moment Guro Anna claimed "I love you!" This must be the biggest declaration of love he has ever experienced in his working days. The transport inspector had after a while realised that he could delete from the register that we were driving transit, and instead write that we were going to Murmansk - any problems that might occur because of this, we would have to handle on the border to Kazakhstan. He would not be the person responsible anymore.
The border was about to close (Russian time) and we were now facing our original fear: the custom. Each one of us had to take all our personal belongings and get it scanned - meaning, not more than 35 kg, otherwise we would have to pay duty. It is likely that we have approximately a tonn of things in the bus, including personal belongings, technical equipment, food and kitchen. Only two people managed to get their things scanned before a somewhat frustrated customs officer came towards the bus with waving arms demanding us to stop. They had seen enough and it was closing time. Two customs officers took a quick look inside our bus while laughing and smiling, they even called for the woman who had stamped our passports and gave her a short sight-seeing.
We had now been in the borderland for five hours; a land of stern people, problems and enormous hats, but also our first meeting with a Russia that smiles and laughs in the end. At last we were allowed to cross the magical border to Russia.


Enter Russia

After five hours at the Russian border, we got in, five minutes past closing time, which is 11 pm Moscow time. It was five long hours with waiting and more waiting, njet, njet, maybe and finally "ok and good luck" from the border guards. Our first meeting whith the Russian bureaucracy, probably not the last.
After turning the wrong way in a road crossing, we spent several hours on a bumpy and sandy road with with huge holes. We asked ourselves if the roads really are that bad in this country, and India seemed very far away. we reached Murmansk at 7 in the morning, after a six hour ride that should have taken 2 hours. We had breakfast and went to bed.
One could say we got Russia right in the face. But now we are in Murmansk, after a good days' sleep, we will have a stroll in the city and continue southwards tomorrow.

Across the border-Short update

We are now about to enter Russia near Kirkenes, and preparing to unload all our luggage for scanning at the border. Hopes are high, but we are expecting to possibly spending quite some time with the Russian border officials. Last night we set up camp in a beautiful location not far from Kirkenes, did some fishing and some barbecuing and had a great time. Now, on to Murmansk!

Norway, your most expensive vacation destination ever

Two weeks have past since we left Telemark and Oslo and started our travels. Norway has proved a great place to be a tourist, with exception of the obvious facts mentioned in the title.

We have not yet slept one night without a toilet and a shower accessible, and have been offered food, good stories and excellent company everywhere we`ve ventured. Lofoten and Hamnøy were fantastically beutiful with Lofotkaffe and Markus + Elin as excellent guides. After that we (at least some of us) went surfing (at least attempted to) in Unstad, before we headed to Tromsø and Karlsøy. The people, music, lavos and festivities of Karlsøya were - as always, pure bliss. We kept ourself busy helping out with the festival in different ways, building toilets, dancing and making food as well as establishing the "media-city" in the old school building that now fuction as the Karlsøy Festival`s heart and brain. The pirate-radio "Karlsøya Direkte i år igjen" broadcasted on FM 108 under the slogan "Creating a free space on the airwaves". Our editorial group consisted of local kids and came up with numerous creative jingles, interviews and reports about the festival, the island, free spaces in Europe (Ungern, Christiania, Köpi) as well as a deep plunging debate on the subject of the fishing industry in northern Norway. The festival newspaper "Geitehelvete" was put out daily by Andreas and Fredrik- a marvelous little fanzine with a 1977- punk- D.I.Y. -design.

At present we are in Hammerfest, tidying up the bus and our heads before departure for Kirkenes and Russia tomorrow morning. Spirits are high in spite of a mild coughing and sneezing epidemic spreading rapidly among the crew. Finnmark is exotic and full of raindeer, fish and good people- the wievs from the bus windows are breathtaking. It`s high time we get out of this country before we turn into patriotic bastards.

A big thank you goes out to all the people who have helped us so far.