This is my eighth adventure into Russia and there is still a sense of the unknown. As with all of our adventures our support team fully expect border and checkpoint administration procedures to have changed between each visit. I had told everyone that after being unleashed onto Russian soil, we would still have a couple of guarded checkpoints to pass before we were really here and set to continue our adventure. We are usually approached by austere armed soldiers who check all documents thoroughly and tend not to interact with our clients, making them feel a little uncomfortable.
As we approached the first checkpoint some 15km from the border I slowed us down respectfully and expected to have to stop to show our passports and migration cards. The way is barred by a high wire gate and a rickety stinger that was attached to a wire so that it could be pulled in front of our cars, bursting the tyres. Quite why they would think that we would charge through still continues to elude me!!
You can imagine both mine and Steve Pitts surprise as the guards, without guns, strolled out of the sentry box before we had even stopped, opened the gate and waved us through with a smile and a wave. We were flabbergasted to say the least; Russia has changed most certainly. We drove on and imagined the conversations in the Toyota and Land Rover behind us “I thought that Neil had said that we would be confronted with gun slinging guards at the checkpoints?”
Stopped for a brew next to a Russian camp site
Although it was late evening the sun was still hot; it would not get dark here until midnight at least. The stop was a short one, as we still had 100km to go before we would arrive at the Hotel Belomorje in Kandalaksha.Our first stop on Russian soil for coffee and a snack was down a steep sandy track to the Tuntsayoki River. Here you begin to appreciate that the Russians spend a lot of their time fishing and picnicking. There were the remains of five fires with cooking sticks propped up on rocks, very much as though they were left with the intention of a return cook.
After two hours of bouncing down a road of undulating tarmac surrounded by forest, with grey treeless mountains stretching out in the distance, we found ourselves in the main square of Kandalaksha. It was 22:00 as we parked outside the hotel so I expected that the new restaurant would be closed or at best they would rush us through a meal. I went into the restaurant as the others settled into their rooms and was told “that they would be open until we had finished our meal. No rush at all” they assured me.
With pints of good Russian beer and food that was served in a way very similar to a Spanish tapas bar, we found ourselves still sitting and chatting at midnight. Reluctantly we decided that we really ought to leave so that the restaurant could close, especially as this is where we would be having breakfast. To our surprise as we left more people were coming in! A lovely old lady (who I later found out was the mother of the owner) was still happily preparing wonderful fresh food. It seems that this family run an amazing 24hr restaurant alongside the hotel.
As we went to our rooms I did wonder whether this little restaurant in the depths of The Hotel Belomorje ever closed, I suppose that in the morning we would find out over breakfast!!