Russia - Poisoned lands
We left the hotel late in the morning as we definitely needed a bit of a lie in and, instead of leaving Murmansk straight away, we decided to do some sightseeing.
We headed for the largest monument we (and everyone else in Murmansk) could see, of the unnamed Russian hero soldier. After clambering up to have our pictures taken and taking in the view over Murmansk we tried to find our way out – easier said than done as this city, like most others, has a cunning ‘hotel California’ road system, which means you can come in but you can never leave! Eventually after having to rely solely on the GPS we got out of Murmansk. The road out was extremely long and straight and before long the now familiar potholes had returned to slow our progress further.
It wasn’t long before we had to stop for our first Russian petrol and backside break! After filling up and now with very heavy bikes, we hit the worst stretch of road that I have ever had the ‘pleasure’ in riding. Ahead of us was nothing but large rocks and sand. The Russians strip their roads down to the hard core and don’t bother with contra flows or anything! I approached the rocks first and with horror felt my bike squirm all over the place – it felt alive and that I had absolutely NO control whatsoever! Everything was shaking and rattling – including my teeth – and within the first 10 feet I thought that I was a ‘gonner’. Every time I felt the bike go I increased my speed and it pulled straight again just to loose traction all over again – I screeched, swore did heavy breathing and tried to relax and not grip the handlebars so tightly. I heard not a word from Simon as I was making too much noise for him to be able to get a word in edgeways via the Autocom (or so I thought!) Hurray!! A smooth bit, it’s all over..........Oh NO! Its not I can see it stretching ahead for miles and miles...oh shit, oh shit, oh shit!
Exhausted we stopped on the side and took a breather. It was at this point that I found out that Simon wasn’t being ultra cool and not swearing and deep breathing but that in fact our Autocom had come unplugged and he had thought that I was being ultra cool by being silent and concentrating!! Plugged back in we started again, thinking it could not get any worse...we were wrong of course! Another 10 km with lorries coming towards us and kicking up such a wall of grey stone dust that now, we were not only slipping and sliding with no control, we were also riding blind with lorries heading straight towards us – we could hear them but not see anything! It went through my mind – one slip we could land in front of them and they could run over us and not even know it! Concentration was intense and after 15km of this we were both exhausted – but I was terribly impressed (and relieved) that neither of us had had a mishap!!
Passing by Monchegorsk and Polyarnye Zory was another period of hell....this is not an exaggeration....you just cannot believe the amount of pollution in the air.- the sheer stench. The now usual acrid smell of sulphur hit our noses and backs of our throats. The land is damaged forever – it is never going to recover as it is poisoned- there are acres upon acres of deadness – the trees, rivers, lakes – all are dead. There are no birds – one thing that caught my mind as very appropriate was the telegraph poles, all were simple crosses – line upon line of crosses that look like they’d been planted deliberately by someone asking forgiveness.
We stopped for a small break at what should have been a roadside café with a view of a beautiful lake – instead the view was of a dead lake – a lake with grey, green, and purple hue to it. Until this time I’d never known that a lake could look alive or dead – this one had been eaten alive a long time ago and was now decomposing.
After many, many more miles had passed we gradually began to see life again in the tress around us and the birds returned – and so did the mosquitoes ...in their hundreds! We had thought about wild camping tonight but each time we stopped we were covered by millions of mosquitoes within seconds and so changed our minds. Simon seems to be the favourite on the menu for the mozzies- I think they see ‘tough old meat’ when they look at my skin and so pass me up!
In my wisdom I had decided we should head towards Kem – well actually in my defence there was nothing else to head towards! It was now getting quite late and Simon and I were getting a little concerned that there would be nowhere to safely stay. We approached Kem, which is described in the Lonely Planets book as ‘one of European Russian’s most depressing towns’ and had this feeling of dread...there will be nowhere safe here! We passed by a deserted concentration camp, which was set up during WWII and passed the many grey and dilapidated wooden houses, eventually stopping just off the centre of the town and decided to do a u-turn and continue riding. ...But to where? In the middle of turning Simon was approached by a maroon sports car and I could only make out a lot of waving of hands and a hotel mentioned. We had just been given directions to a hotel on the coast another 8Km on...do we go? We were nervous. The road doesn’t look like it goes anywhere.... it could be someone sending us out to the middle of nowhere in order to meet up with his buddies and mug us...all of these things run through your mind!
We arrived at the complex at near enough midnight.... and once again met the guy that had given Simon directions and found out that this was his complex. We checked in and were told that the $40 included breakfast and that they had no problem cooking us dinner! We gingerly went into the café area and a very cheery girl asked us if salad and meat was good. As it was now 1am this sounded great, but did they really want to do this at this time in the morning! ? We were told “no problem – sit”. The meal was fit for a king and all for a total of $7.
With stomachs full we headed for bed. The room was clean and comfortable and we sure the bikes were safe, guarded by 3 ‘bouncers’ who continuously walked the grounds and each wearing there tattoos and black eyes like badges of honour.