Today was my 23rd consecutive riding day since the beginning of June. I need a few rest days to get myself going again and even more important: Clean clothes!!
Saturday late afternoon I reached my dream destination Yekaterinburg. Just before the city I crossed the imaginary line between European Russia and Asian Russia. I am now in Asia. Good KLR and thanks to all the guardian angels.
I am going to be in the city for three days. I look forward to sleeping, walking, relaxing and doing nothing. And since yesterday I am four hours ahead of South Africa (GMT +6)
After my visit to the War Museum in Riga I had the urge to visit a GULAG (reformatory camp, they said) camp in the forests of Russia. I started reading and found the following:
Kutchino, a small village 100 kms north-east of Perm, was the site of the harshest imaginable Soviet prison (GULAG) camp during the long period of communist ruling: “PERM-36”. The ‘reformatory’ camp was built under Joseph Stalin in 1946 initially functioned as a timber production camp – to produce the timber that was needed to make the destruction of the World War II undone. However, 1972 was the year in which the government converted the camp into the primary place of imprisonment for people charged with political crimes. The GULAG, that showed many similarities with former Nazi-camps, differed from most other camps in Russia because of its extremely severe regime. Only the most ‘dangerous’ otherwise-minded were kept in Perm-36: opponents of the communist government, authors and distributors of anti-communist literature, the USSR’s most prominent dissidents, anti-national organisation’s leaders, advocates for human rights and other kinds of “enemies of the state”. Perm-36 was one of the last ones in the Soviet Union to keep political prisoners as it only closed in December 1987.
I decided the turn the KLR and head north towards Perm. The only problem was that I didn’t know where the village Kutchino was. I tried my map, without success. I tried Google Earth, and again no success. A tourism agency in Perm offered tours to Perm-36 on the internet, but such a tour would cost more than R 2 000. That was way above what I could pay.
I decided to ride to Perm and try and find someone who knew where Kutchino was.
On the highway into the city Perm a BMW rider passed me and waved me down to stop. The gent, Vladimir, immediately invited me for a breakfast and tea.
Vladimir asked about my plans for the day, and as he heard that I was trying to find Kutchino he started smiling and took out his cell phone.
What happened then was again one of those unreal experiences that so often happen to travellers.
Vladimir, an engineer but now an estate agent, cancelled his appointments for the day and took me to his home for a shower and rest. (I needed that shower!) He offered to ride with me to Kutchino and after the visit he would take me to his parents who live about 50 km from Kutchino. We would spend the night with his parents.
I couldn’t believe my luck! Riding into Perm and then to meet such a very kind soul!
Vladimir called his parents to inform them, his brother to join us, and his wife to tell her he won’t be at home that night due to his South African guest.
Before we left he first took me on a city tour of Perm. He son is studying to become a ballet dancer and we also stopped at the Ballet Institute to meet him. Close by was the Opera House. It was Friday and the day to get married. At least four wedding couples were at the Lenin statue to lay down bouquets of flowers, an old Soviet tradition.
We had to fill up the bikes before we could leave. Vladimir paid the petrol for the KLR and didn’t want to take a single Rouble! He standard reply was: “You paid so much to come to this far corner of our country, so I pay!”
It was a beautiful ride, crossing rivers and riding through huge expanses of natural forests. Half way there we stopped for tea and buns. The buns were interesting. It had potato mash on top and tasted really well. Again Vladimir didn’t allow me to pay for our refreshments.
A school group stopped there for a quick visit to the toilet (again a hole). When we wanted to leave we first had to pose for a picture with them.
The visit to the GULAG camp was one of the top highlights of my ride. Walking through the camp and trying to imagine what happened behind those fences and barbed wires only because those people, the prisoners, had the guts to think differently from the main stream of people. I touched me deeply to think how many dreams were shattered in those camps, to think how many people were removed from their loved ones to never return to them again.
I took dozens of photographs there but it won’t mean much to anyone who wasn’t there.
I’ll do a next post later about the evening with Vladimir’s parents.