Kola Peninsula 2004
In the summer 2004 we had once again packed our reliable Land Rover and the whole family went to Murmansk on the Kola Peninsula.
Although Kola Peninsula is located in the European part of Russia, it is far to the north, above the Arctic Circle, which gives you an idea of the conditions in Siberia. This time we were accompanied on a trip by our friend Norbert. Originally he had planned to go with his wife but three months before the journey it turned out that Dorota was pregnant (congratulations!). However, Norbi – a tough guy – did not give up his adventure. He entrusted Dorota to the care of the whole family, prepared his Land Cruiser and decided to go with us.
The trip went smoothly and pleasantly except for 9 hour (omg!) stop while crossing the Russian border and an incredible bureaucracy that we had to deal with there. We set up a first camp in a meadow of some kind farmer halfway to Saint Petersburg. The next day we woke up, ate breakfast, packed the camp and went on a further journey. But… this time Mateusz – who usually blab all the time and behaves like the Donkey from “Shrek” asking: “Are we there yet?” – napped, didn’t talk much and looked sick. We touched his forehead to check temperature and asked how he felt. Everything indicated that our child was ill. We didn’t know what’s wrong with him, and the lack of a thermometer (since then I have it always in a travel kit) made a more accurate diagnosis impossible. There was nothing we could do, we had to go to a city, buy a thermometer and decide what to do next.
We’ve got the thermometer, we checked the temperature … 38st C! The child was obviously sick and we were standing in the middle of the city parking. In the same pharmacy we asked where we can find a doctor. It turned out that the best solution was to call an ambulance – and this was what we did.
After about dozen minutes an ambulance, that looked like a mix of GAZelle and VWCucumber, with a doctor onboard appeared. Anyway, it resembled me of Polish Nysa vans, which were popular in 1970s and 1980s. The lady was very nice but the ambulance did not had anything more in its equipment than a stretcher. We decided to go to a hospital and then diagnose what’s wrong with Mateusz. We spent several hours in the hospital, walking from room to room, waiting, explaining (which was not easy despite the similarity of Polish and Russian languages). Just as in the case ambulance, the standard of the hospital left a lot to be desired, but we definitely felt the staff’s empathy and willingness to help. Eventually – luckily – it turned out that it was just a common cold, we needed some Gripex and Aspirin and boy should feel well. Now it looks banal but, trust me, the nerves that accompanied us that day were huge.
For the next few days we were heading with a moderate pace to the North. Unfortunately, it was rainy and everyday our tents were tested for being waterproof. But even a calm ride in Russia can give you emotions, like, for example, a militia control. Theoretically nothing dangerous as long as you are not a drug smuggler and do not break rules constantly, but you travel peacefully with your family. However, I learned that if you drive a car with foreign plates in Russia, you will be stopped by every encountered militia car. You can also be sure that something with your car or documents will not be right. There will always be reason to write you a ticket… which, of course, can be paid without a receipt. That was also in this case: we were stopped on the slightest excuse. I was asked for my driving license, which of course I gave politely (then I still had paper, not plastic document) and to my surprise it turned out that such a driving license is invalid! Why is it invalid? Because in their opinion it is not valid … They’ve already seen plastic driving licenses, so they think a paper one is invalid. And if your driving license is invalid, then you have to pay a ticket. But I’m precautious and I always have with me an international driving license with a side in Russian :) I gave it to officers and said: “Here, you don’t like the other one? Here is another one.” And what? And again the same – in their opinion it is also invalid! But why? That’s why! Because! If I do not like their decision, I can wait for the police chief. And when will the chief be here? He may be here in 3 or maybe in 5 hours. In the end, I decided to give up and pay the ticket.
All the strong excitements from the first days were compensated with a vengeance by a camping on the White Sea. The most exciting were the high tide and low tide!
The place that we chose for camping in the evening was located next to the water, but in the morning it turned out to be a few hundred meters away! A distant island, where we saw parked trucks, on the second day turned out to be connected to the mainland. Perhaps for many of you this is nothing new, but for us and for our kids it was something extraordinary. The weather also improved and finally the sun came out. After so many rainy days, it was a deliverance for our wet clothes and tents, a cold wife and kids who, after seeing the sea, could not sit still anymore.
The landscape on the Kola Peninsula has changed slightly. We saw stretches of dead forest to the horizon.
Soon it turned out that we reached the Monchergorsk region – one of the main nickel mining areas in Russia. We passed this unfriendly place and finally saw the desired inscription ‘Murmansk’. We were in a famous city, where the notorious Russian Northern Fleet is located, where during the World War II convoys with an aid for the Eastern Front came to, which is the largest city behind the Arctic Circle.
After visiting the city, buying dried fish, and taking a mandatory photo of one of the Russian nuclear icebreakers, it was time to think about an accommodation.
A group of motorcyclists came with help, explaining what and where should we do. An additional attraction was the possibility of communication in our native language when it turned out that one of them had studied at the Maritime School in Gdynia.
We spent the next few days traveling through depopulated areas of the Kola Peninsula. Dozens of rivers, lakes and swampy roads were a great area for driving. At the same time during the whole trip we were accompanied by swarms of cows-sized mosquitoes! Mosquitoes on which no Autans and Offs brought from Poland made the slightest impression. Once again, it turned out that only Russian products could help resolve Russian problems. So we bought in a pharmacy a few bottles of suspicious liquid, which deterred with a packaging itself and this was it!
While camping on the beautiful Lake Umbozero, we decided to see the mountains on its other side and thus we arrived to a gate of an open-cast mine. At first security guards did not want to let us in saying: “not allowed, belazes are working”. We did not know what it meant and why, despite the road being empty and wide, we could not enter. Fortunately, a nice conversation finally enabled us to visit the mine.
Everything there was enormous.
Huge holes, huge boulders and the most important – big trucks called “BelAZes”. When we saw the first one, I understood at once why the guards were afraid to let us in. A 300-ton truck the size of a tenement house can easily crush any off-road vehicle. A visit in the mine fascinated us so much that we completely lost the track of time. Let me quote here a passage from my daughter’s diary (then 11-year-old girl), describing our return to the camp. “Marcin and Norbi opened one beer for each, Mateusz fell asleep and we moved on. Then they drank the second and third beer, so the way, which earlier we did in 4 hours, now was done in 1,5 hour. My mother was terribly angry, when we returned at 3:40 and she didn’t want to talk to us, but in the morning she forgave us.”
Because several previous days have passed without any major problems, it was about time for something to came up to diversify our trip. A crossing through one of hundreds of fords turned out to be a bit deeper than we expected. So much deeper, that the leaky snorkel in Land Cruiser released some water, which got into the hot turbine and ruined the Toyota engine! The car was smoking white, it lost power, in a word – it was not going to move! Together with Norbert we made a decision about forced accommodation in a hotel in Kandalaksha and to seek help. Unfortunately, the failure of the modern D4D engine was too serious to attempt to repair it in the Russian workshop. This meant the need to organize a car transport to Poland and the end of the trip for Norbi.
Because this unexpected breakdown and forced breakup with Norbert happened in 2/3 of our journey, the four of us were forced to continue the travel alone. On the way back we again visited Ladoga Ladoga where, driving on side roads through small villages, we spent the last days of our stay in Russia.