|2004-04-13 - Second report from Särna
Finally we have all needed permits!
It took one and a half year from the day we begun the process until it was over. A time dominated by a lot of worry! We did, of course, realise that the process of getting needed permits to explore the Kolyma Region, would be more difficult than ever before. Due to its remote location and unknown reputation. But after spending the first six months talking to everyone from professional adventure consultants and the Russian Embassy in Stockholm to Russian Travel Agents and well-known scientists who had been close to where we were going, we suddenly realized that it could well be impossible!
A shock, for sure, since we already had begun the difficult, timeconsuming, but interesting issue of finding sponsors who could supply us with cash and equipment, we had also started to notify the media about our plans and we had made it quite far regarding the research into the issue. It felt like doomsday! How do you suddenly explain a failure like this? What a big shame!
One thing did happen though, most of our efforts put us in one direction and we finally understood that there was only one person who could help us, namely Russias most famous explorer, Dr Dmitry Shparo and the Adventure Club Russia. We immediately started communicating with him during the autum. We sent lots of faxes, emails and phonecalls until too many obstacles and high costs made it clear, that the only way we could sort things out, was for us to meet in person.
We flew to St Petersburg and Moscow in the middle of December. A decisive journey in many ways. As usual, we demolished many prejudices. Especially the ones regarding the russians. Foremost the one of a serious, stonefaced russian who only showed emotions when he´d drunk a liter of vodka and then got to melodramatic. As well as the notion that all aspects of life in Russia today is dominated by the mafia and that there was more thiefs than tourist on the streets of the cities, due to the complete fall of the russian Empire. Already back home in Sweden, we had realised, though, when we had met with the very friendly staff at the Russian Embassy, how we for years had been indoctrinated by the western media in a certain direction what to believe. Sure, we did see a lot of poverty, we saw the big gaps between the very rich and the extremely poor, sure both cities looked run down in many places, it was chaotic, lots of rubbish and a bad smell, food was generally tasteless, but the russians themselves had almost Latin manners! They were funny, witty, warm, welcoming, initially a bit introvert, but still outspoken about most aspects of daily life.
Matvey Shparo was no exception. A fact that immediately became clear when he picked me up at the airport outside Moscow. Matvey was the son of Dmitry. He was a big guy, with a beard, friendly and warm. During our trip through the suburbs, which was like one big constructionsite, he told me, without bragging, about his life as an explorer. He had, together with his dad Dmitry, 1998, been the first two humans in the history of exploring to cross the Bering Strait between Russia and Alaska on ski. They received congratulations from both Boris Yeltsin and George Bush. In the year of 2000 he crossed Greenland on skis together with one disabled, which hauled himself across the ice on a sledgelike wheelchair! In the year of 2002 he led a team a disables up the hardest route on Mount Denali in Alaska. Two of them had spinal cord injuries!
His father, Dmitry, received me with warmth at the Adventure Club Russia, located in the center of Moscow. It was a true center of adventure with rooms full of professional equipment, memories, gigantic maps, also a lodging, a kitchen and he had a few employees. Dmitry was a bony, thin and tall 62-year old who received my gifts of dried moosemeat with a slight suspicion. He had an interpreter, a lady called Helen, and a good friend of his, a scientist namned Sergei Epishkin, who himself had explored the northern part of the Kolyma River and we sat down four hours together and I felt a lot more relaxed afterwards. Maybe it still was possible to explore the Kolyma for a year! Three months later, all permits were fixed! Another russian predjudice died there.
Unfortunately, the Nordic winter which is almost over, have been a big disappointment. Almost tropical. In general, temperatures have been just below 15 degrees Celsius, and only a couple of times lower then 30 degrees Celsius. Therefore, we haven´t been properly tested, even though the real reason for sleeping outdoors all winter, have been to prepare us mentally, whether we could handle this type of cold or not. We have all three put on more bodily fat, Mikael a lot and Titti not enough. Which is really the only worry we have at the present, namely the fact that Titti has problems putting on fat. She hasn´t handled the cold this winter to good either. She´s tall and too thin, with big feet, notable nose and long fingers, she´s a genetic danger really. We haven´t either been able to train as hard physically as we had planned, mainly due to that the cost of the expedition became so high that we had to take any job possible. So we´ve travelled over 7000 km:s all over Sweden lecturing! On top of that, Titti has become a grandmother once again, and she have just spent a month taking care of her first one, Jon two years old, so her physical training has of course suffered. But these things belonging to the daily life is also part of the preparations for an Expedition. Family life has to work if one is going to handle a year in Siberia.
Young johan is a gift from the Gods, no doubt, funny, ambitious, responsible, technically aware and motivated. But we have one worry, how is he going to handle the fact that he will not be able to send 123 sms:es to his girlfriend every day? And, how is he going to handle his role as a boosedrinker?
We have understood that a mejor thing when it comes to socialising along the Kolyma, is understanding the value of a bottle of vodka. Titti doesn´t drink. I don´t either and I can´t due to a liverdisease picked up in Africa, therefore, the only one remaining is....yes, Johan. He knows the importance of vodka! I hope he doesn´t end up an alcoholic, though. But then again, that is a risk of the trade!
Three months to go. Is it really true that we´re actually going to be given the chance to explore the Kolyma. We wonder...