Couchsurfing in Russia is “Welcome to the asshole of the world”

Two ladies in front of the terminal building is Marina and Julia, they met me in the strangest airport I have ever landed. Strange it seemed, not because it was incredibly foggy day, when the evening sun orange colors shining through the yellowish dust. Five huge decommissioned aircraft Tupolev, monstrous remnants of the Soviet time was not the reason that I will never forget that landing.

The reason there was a huge hole in the ground, right in front of the airport. A giant crater, 500 meters deep and 1.2 thousand meters wide, which gave the impression of a grey, dusty entrance to the underworld. As soon as I took my Luggage with ribbon, Marina and Yulia took me to the “Lada Priore”, the driver of which was presented by Igor, he is a student of the mines, and here we are rushing at a speed of 70 km/h along the dusty road to the crater.

The air smells of sulfur and burning wood, the evening sun is low and paints the dusty haze around reddish light. A romantic sunset on the apocalyptic mood. A few metal steps lead to the viewing platform, which is installed on the excavator-amphibious Soviet times.

On her fence hanging locks of love couples with names of the newlyweds. Yulia and Sasha, Zhenya and Sveta. Vyacheslav and Maria. Union for life, bonded over the abyss, oath of allegiance to the most absurd tourist attractions of the planet.

Where the hell am I?

Answer from Wikipedia: the city of Mirny, Republic of Yakutia, the Russian far East, 37188 inhabitants according to the census 2010 population. The head of the city Sergey Alexandrov, postcode from 678170 to 678175 and 678179.

The response from Google Maps: is between Chernyshevsky, Diamond, TAS-Graham, Chamcha, Lensk, Suntar, Neck, Maliken, Nyurba, Verkhneviluisk, Nakano, Olyokminsky and Morrocoy. The designation of “neighboring communities” can be misleading, they are distributed in radius of 400 km from Mirny.


Guide responds: nothing. For “lonely planet” peace too is alone.

And my answer? Exactly where I wanted to be.

With my hosts, whom I met at website, where people around the world offer free housing. Exciting in an unusual place, far from mass tourism. Ten weeks I’m traveling to Russia in search of such places for the sake of my book project “Couchsurfing in Russia.”

I’ve seen enough of the beauty during the journey, is now to be ready for the other extreme. Not disgusting cockroach medium size on the kitchen floor and not torn tires in a ditch. It’s seeds. I mean antiestetika this scale, which was losing consciousness. Travel like a horror movie or Thriller, David Fincher (David Fincher) instead of Rosamund Pilcher (Rosamunde Pilcher), deformity with a wow-effect, the ugliness of history.

Only normal zero boring, becomes interesting in the extreme of the scale of aesthetics.

This is all a question of perception, by what criteria do you choose the destination.

“Welcome to the asshole of the world” — said Marina, and then we do a few selfies over the precipice.

© RIA Novosti, Alexander Yuriev | go to fotoballoon diamonds in Yakutia – kimberlite pipe “Mir”

Even if the local nickname implies something different, we stand before one of the works of engineering art. Long-term work envelope static. The second largest building of its kind. And the treasure too. Decades of an open mine in Mirny diamonds were found, a few grams of precious stones per ton of soil. Glittering riches hidden somewhere in the mud.

Slant wall of gray primer lead down a few rusty pipes remain from the conveyor. Rising above the opposite edge of the crater a small town, consisting of an eight-story residential blocks, which have risen only thanks to the extraction of diamonds, looks like a landscape from Lego.

I’m doing this for such places. I’m traveling to Russia and trying to find out the country with the help of local residents. I live at home, hang out with them for a day, to show me their world. And feel welcome in a country that does not have a good image and which is now receiving in the press is not very positive assessment. I feel welcome at the margins of the world.

Daily life is usually the opposite of vacation. But not for me, my vacation is in the everyday life of others. With the owners I visit their pubs, look at pictures from their last trip, learn something about their busy day in the office or parting the best of friends. Within two or three days, I know part of life’s history before that of strangers.

I’m so intrigued by all the new acquaintances that have never in my life did not feel homesick. Why? It’s just so exciting to know who is waiting for you next door. A free adaptation of Forrest Gump: couchsurfing is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you will get.

For the sake of a Cup of coffee in the apartment of the Parisian students, I would have postponed the visit to the Eiffel tower, a culinary evening with the family, the hippies can bring more than five dishes from the famous chef.

And while other for a jump of adrenaline rush from the bridge on a bungee, I’m sitting in a regular bus, you can imagine the gloomy suburban street, like I was this time came upon a ritual killer who greets me with a polished axe and a bathtub filled with acid. So people frolic in the Internet as they want.

Of course, this kind of tourism is significantly more labor intensive than to go all inclusive in Hurghada or rattle on a cruise ship in the Mediterranean sea. Here we are talking not about the finished product, not about the journey, how the consumer goods, during which people ask themselves the question whether there is enough of fun, photos, sun and relaxation they received “for their money”.

My meetings real, this is not a dramatization, the mutual gift of time and curiosity.

And it’s more expensive than everything else.

Makhachkala, Dagestan: in the wild Caucasus

Makhachkala in the Caucasus province of Dagestan is also a place not marked on any tourist map. My master’s name is Tyler, he’s an IT specialist, he was 37 years old and three months ago he got a driver’s license. He enjoys the opportunity to get additional driving experience, when we on the next day, go for a little walk on his black Fret Grant.

Makhachkala is Moloch, the chaos of eateries with stalls and stalls with kvass, shopping wedding dresses and mosques are confusing organic and chaotic colorful advertising posters. Just a few meters separate the boredom of a grey Soviet apartment buildings from the cheerful sight at the Caspian sea with a volleyball player, resting on a picnic, bathing and exercising muscular wrestlers.

The city officially has a population of 600 thousand inhabitants, and according to unofficial estimates — twice, and they’re a little confused.

© RIA Novosti, Maria Vashchuk | go to fotobanka Makhachkala

We’re headed South, first only the landscape becomes greener, then all garantee. The side stand police post. “Damn, they’re gonna stop, — says Renat — then the day is gone. They want all the documents they ask about our contacts and what we want here. They don’t believe us, no matter what we will reply. Pure bullying”. They have not stopped.

Renat has grayish — black hair, brown eyes and dark skin. For three years he lived in längenfeld, in a shelter for refugees in an old military barracks. Then many refugees from Dagestan came to Germany, because the region suffered from Chechen war. “I taught the German language with the help of Jehovah’s witnesses, they have been so patient during the conversation. And using radio WDR 4, on the song “Ich hab’ mein Herz in Heidelberg verloren” (“I lost my heart in Heidelberg”) and similar, these suggestions are not so difficult.” A pragmatic man.

He has very positive memories about Germany. On a run around the lake, the girl with the Au-pair program with a language course, on the correctness of officials, the freedom away from the rules of the family. “Parents in Dagestan are trying to control you until death. They are afraid to let children just do what they want, even if children 50 or 60 years.”

His application for asylum was rejected, he abandoned dreams of beginning a new life in Europe.

Now he hopes that the tension in relations with Moscow will not increase. “Currently, the situation in Ukraine is critical, it is best for us, we are now not the main enemy.” Five or six years ago it was much tougher, every crime, which was involved in someone from the Caucasus, has become political.

Now we’re on a dirt road between steep walls of rock, which, like a huge fish’s fins, the rise above the meadow. The side is decorated with an incredibly diverse flower meadows, the air smells of citrus and mud — cow dung. Huge eagle draws circles above us. Renat out of the car, riding through deep muddy puddles and slalom around the large boulders.

It seems to us that around the next bend of the serpentine without a full drive to drive will not work. But somehow we manage to get to Balkara. Village in the mountains amazes with its stunning location on a slope decorative and old men in hats who sit on the benches in the main square. Tiny hunched grandmother returned from the fields with wooden baskets full of tea leaves. On the stone walls of houses glued to dry the stench of cow dung, later they will be used as furnace fuel. Donkeys, chickens and cats wandering around and the muezzin calls to prayer.

All this seems to me quite charming Renat less than impressed. “I don’t understand why people today still live in such remote places,” he says. This also applies to discoveries travel kauchserferov: what the traveller thinks is romantic and authentic, local often seems quite prosaic.

Volgograd: a minute to the neighbors

A week later, on the night train I arrive in Volgograd, my owners name is Sergey, Krisya, and Gregory, im 55, 37 and 3 years. In his couchsurfing profile Sergey quoted saying his mother, which I liked: “a Maximum of 1% of the people are absolutely good and perfect, and 1% — very bad. The remaining 98% is a complex mixture of good and bad. In your life, you are mostly going to meet people who are neither angels nor demons, rather a cocktail of both. If you want to live among angels, you have to provoke the people around you to show only their good side.”

© RIA Novosti, Kirill Braga | go to fotoballoon “Motherland” on Mamaev Kurgan in Volgograd

During my travels I got a similar experience. Just in countries that receive mainly negative assessment of the press, I feel the most beautiful emotions are completely normal people who don’t fit into this bad image.

I believe such statistics are fairly reliable, even at the lower limit. Probably 1% of Russian — absolute simpletons. And 1% of Austrians, Muslims, Americans, Germans, Christians, Nigerians, refugees, residents of Cologne, women, left-handers.

Unfortunately, that 1% requires a lot of attention. And even if their share is negligible, then arithmetically 7.4 billion inhabitants of the Earth have 74 million idiots worldwide. That’s enough to screw something up.

In fact, Sergey is a historian, but works as a taxi driver. He has a mustache and lots of wrinkles from laughing, and it emits a local warmth that is immediately likable. If Russia were fair, he would have been everybody’s favourite organ grinder, standing a little apart from the bustle.

At home he willingly demonstrates her big belly, because it most often goes to the speedo. Creasy also have a big belly, but for a different reason. “It wasn’t planned, I already have two children, Sergei and Grisha” jokes she.

“Oh, you couldn’t watch 15 minutes for the boy? We want briefly to go to the neighbors”.

Of course I can. But as soon as the door closes, the absence of the mother causes us concern. It first checks how many times it is necessary to throw the machine on the floor until all the wheels come off (13 times). Then he begins to shoot laser disks one by one with a plastic core to different rooms to test their suitability as a Frisbee.

I try a distraction in the form of a foam ball, and it really leaves a sparkling record. He takes the ball in his mouth and, obviously with suicidal intentions, trying to climb into a large plastic bag.

After I stopped, little lemming goes to the kitchen and climbs onto the ledge of an open window. He tries to shake out is set for security wooden lattice outside the window four floors down. 15 minutes can be an eternity. “Grisha was obedient?” — asks Krisya back. “Yes, an extraordinary child,” I answer.

The plan for the rest of the day come up with quickly: buy a beer and fish and then watch a movie. In a small shop, we ask you to fill a-liter bottle of beer “Bavaria” and buy mackerel hot smoked and cold-smoked bream. Russian alcohol stores often have large Windows and fish smell the same. The house all laid out on the paper.

Another guest for the night ringing the doorbell, a bearded new Zealander David, who is currently on a world tour. It takes place in the kitchen and is surprised thanks and winged expressions on the wall, which wrote with a marker the previous guests. Sergey asked me, could I also write something. “But in German, please,” he says.

Why he likes the guests? “I’m a hunter, angler, and you are my victim. You fall into my network, and I drink your blood”. Then he offers a toast: “For fishing!” The victim from New Zealand and Germany looking a bit confused. “What I mean, — says Sergey, — there is a guarantee that you — a more interesting people than my neighbors. If you were normal, you wouldn’t be here. For health!” It sounds a little better.

Then he pulls out a guitar and teach me some Russian songs. We eat and drink and sing, and the longer we drink and we sing, the worse the musical performance. And somewhere approximately between the third and fourth false note in the guitar solo of the song “Sunny day” to my mind comes the thought:

Now I really arrived in Russia.

This text consists of excerpts from the book “Couchsurfing in Russia,” Stefan Orta.