I turn myself on another side on a narrow bed in the train cabin. The train shocks every now and then. My bike is in a different cabin. At least I hope so. I have putten my bags in a corner. A young man is snoring next to me. His military coat with a large fur collar hangs dangling at his feet. When I look outside I see trees in beautiful white fields with an icy blanket of snowflakes above them. The train goes from Segezha to Kandalaksha in Russia. A town 250 kilometers south of the city Murmansk.
Plenty of time to look back on What happened the past few days. So much has happened that I even don’t know where to start.
Leen, let me start there.
Leen lives in Medvezjegorsk and has immigrated from the Netherlands. The day I met Dima, I was sitting in a restaurant with Leen in the evening. We had nice conversations about what I do here and even more interesting, what he does here. About Russia. About the winter. About his wife. Leen lives together with his Russian wife and moved here for her six years ago. An adventure. He has had a son for three weeks. It was quite a challenge to get his last name, with ‘van’ as intermediate word, with a small letter in Russian systems (Dutch names have us mine name Henk van Dillen a word with a small letter in it).
Leen drives me around in Medvezjegorsk and tells something about the town. He works from a historic building that was built as a hotel for a visit from Lenin to a finished canal that was dug in communist times. Only the visit of Lenin didn’t happen. The building remained. That evening I also meet Dima again in the cultural center of Medvezjegorsk. He plays bass guitar and his friend drums. And off course I dance! This is how we made a small jamsession.
With pain in my heart I say goodbye to Dima, his friend and Leen that evening. It felt so nice to meet someone that I can communicate with. Conversations with Russians in English are often difficult and the cultural differences involved sometimes make it almost impossible to communicate.
The next day I leave to cycle to Segezha in two days. Over the main road, which fortunately has a passable emergency lane. There is little traffic but that does not make it less dangerous. Russians here are not used to cyclists and not at all in winter.
In Segezha I take a day of rest to dry my stuff and book a train ticket to Kandalaksha. On the advice of Dima, and the cycling club from Murmansk, where Dima brought contacted me with. There is only one big road going north. To follow this for 800 kilometers is too much. That will break me.
Now I am on the train with a beautiful view and beautiful background music. After a few hours the train arrives in Kandalaksha. Fortunately my bike is still a bit further in the cabin. I take my bags and throw them out through the exit of the train compartment. Then I take my bike and walk to the exit.
I am startled.
At the exit, I see a delegation of police officers staring at me. Not one, not two, a group of five. What now? I quickly get through my mind what can happen. It looks a bit like my experience in China. “We are immigration police, please come, we have some questions for you.” That’s what one of the officers says in English. Questions? My heart pounds in my throat and I don’t really know why. I follow the officers to their office at the train station. They are friendly but formal. They are starting to ask me questions. “What you do here? Where are you going? Where do you sleep? Are you going to Murmansk? Do you have ticket? “At one point I ask if there are problems. The officer answers me in English: “You don’t worry sir, formalities.” I decide to stay calm and cooperate. After some copies of my passport, visa and immigration card (a very important piece of paper with some names and numbers on it) I may go.
I’m tired and when I’m tired this kind of occasions gives me stress. Not that the officers do anything bad, but the formal attitude and manner of authority makes me feel like I can end up behind bars at any moment.
Fortunately, that does not happen.
The stress disappears quickly when I meet a nice guy named Ivan in the evening. He works at the hotel where I sleep and takes the time to give me a tour in Kandalaksha. We walk to his favorite spot on the edge of a mouth of the White Sea. He talks about his life in Kandalaksha and I listen carefully. Life is difficult here, he explains. There is not really a thriving economy in Kandalaksha and that is why it is almost impossible to find a good job. He prefers to go to a bigger city in the south for a better life, but money is a problem for that. One of the few chances is the military school, but he doubts about that. When I ask what it is like to live with six months of winter, he starts laughing loudly. “Six months? Winter here is at least seven or eight months. Sometimes snow starts in June! ”
In a long time I appreciate our fine but in comparison tropical and long wet summers.