Kholmsk has its own beauty. It is still a junkyard but it is also a cute little city amongst hills just besides the ocean. Wherever you go you have a beautiful view. Some roads are paved, some are dirt roads.
|Kholmsk amongst hills|
"Beware Sakhalinians," it says, "I look over you but remember that once I was a hellish beast."
The city ends very quickly to give into wilderness and I wonder where are these wild bears.
They are my main worry and I start looking for a shelter for the night.
Not too much into the city as I don't want to get woken up by people sneaking into my tent in the night but not too far because of the bears. I end up climbing a small hill just behind the last houses behind Kholmsk. Someone started building something there. Maybe just a shelter, maybe even a house. It is made out of concrete and bricks. One of the walls has partially fallen down but the resistant concrete holds the roof in place. I decide to build my tent on the roof. It was basically a choice of whom I was more afraid: bears or russians. I could have hidden the tent from the russians inside the half/opened shelter and risk a visit by bears or put it high up risking discovery by russians but safe from bears.
|My tent is safe from bears|
|View from my tent|
Since I am still afraid of bears, I seal my food in a plastic bag and hide it a fair distance from my tent. The fish are quite far and I keep some bread just under the shelter.
|Sunset on that little platform|
As I go towards the ticket office to track that ticket of mine, I notice people staring at me in the street. I wonder if I have offended someone. But things get even more strange when I ask a guy where is that ticket office for the ferry to Vanino.
He tells me where to take the tickets and I am quite happy to leave his company, this situation is a bit uncomfortable for me. I don't know what they told about me on TV and I have no idea which person these people expect me to be. One thing I fear is that they destroyed my sex life on Sakhalin forever and a day because they probably mentioned Janela as my girlfriend.
Many people who read my blog would wonder why do I have such a free attitude towards women given the fact that I have a girlfriend whom I love. This is because we always had a free relationship which allows intercourse on the side as long as it is done in a safe and responsible way and as long as there is no romantic feelings involved.
Of course I very much doubt that Sakhalin television would portray me as such.
The lady at the counter tells me that the boat is not there and that it will come tomorrow. Therefore, I go on killing time by walking in the streets and nature of Kholmsk. The seacoast is beautiful and quiet but it is separated from the path I am walking in by heaps of rusted debris. Giant pipes which may or may not still be in working condition are running alongside it. I wonder what they are here for? It seems that this city has the potential of doing something in a steampunk universe but like the old volcanoes around, it is asleep. The sky is blue and the sun is shining on me. Long gone are the days when I had to wear my coat. I go to main square to buy some chocolate because that's all I eat when left on my own.
Some guy comes to talk to me with his son. He says he finds my hitchhikings internesting and didn't see me on TV and that is very reassuring because I don't have anything mysterious to live to.
When he hears I am waiting for the boat he invites me home, appearently it will be a long wait. He lives in a building in the center of Kholmsk (but the town is so small that everything is the center) which looks like the average Sakhalinian ruin. Inside however, the appartment is nice and cosy and even with fast internet.
My host's wife cooks borch, the russian soup and I can have a shower. One thing about russia is that I can no more find over-luxurious hotels like in Japan to sneak in and have showers as much as I want.
|My host and his son|
|Max and his "vik"|
The next day the ferry is still not there and after I finish playing with Max and talking to the wife who by the way looks gorgeous, my host takes me on a tour of the wherebouts of Kholmsk. We go all the way until the road stops. There is a lot of green and the coast is rocky. There are a few beaches on the city but they are so littered which garbage that you can't even see the sand. Broken glass from vodka bottles is sticking out everywhere and sometimes even rusted needles. It would be especially unwise to lie on this in a mere bathing suit.
|Remember that littering sucks|
|Kholmsk is a pretty place|
The second one is a big guy who seems to have a lot of influance around here. I don't understand what is his position but people seem to respect him, including the police.
We are told several times that the departure is imminent but everytime it is postponed.
|Me and a the Kyrgyz guy|
And there, we wait again. People have concerned looks on their faces. The scene reminds me of gloomy version of the late british settlers disembarking on the American continent.
Rusted iron pipes are hanging above our heads and I wonder what purpose they could have served and if they serve anymore.
|Passengers waiting for the boat|
We enter the giant floating garbage can that is supposed to be a ferry slash freighter.
I hear that people have been refused entry into this thing for no reason because it is russia and security officers pretty much do what they want. But I was wise to make friends with the big fat master of the flock and I was on television.
"Vsyo normalno," he says to the policeman who was giving me an inquisitive look. He lets me go.
As I enter the big giant of rotten steel, I wonder if I didn't push it a little too far... again. Nata was right, Russia is tough. Tougher than any country in europe probably. Tough and random, it is not made from soft frenchies raised in the Cote d'Azur. Everybody on that ship looks like they just have been released from prison. Ironically, I shall not judge them, I still have my number 20 glued to my glasses as a souvenir of my detention in Tokyo.
Throughout the whole way, the Kyrgyz guy is very helpful. He is carrying a television set but he asks if he can help me with my bags. We enter the floating junkyard through a rusted blue iron tunnel.
|Passengers entering the ferry|
I climb up the iron stairs, it is as I was exploring an abandonned house. But this abandonned house will be set afloat through 250 kilometers of sea. From the deck the Kholmsk harbour is in ruins. Actually it is not really in ruins, that is just its normal state. I look at the deck. It looks as if it belongs to that port. I am riding a ruin. The green paint fails to hide the rotten metal underneath the boat and there is a smell of burned plastic as the motors warm up.
The corridors are old and they stink. They lead to the cabins. The cabins are metal boxes with no aeration, the air is heavy and oxygen is scarse. Everywhere there are heavy metal shafts that I am afraid to touch if they were to open into the sea and flood the cabins.
In my cabin I can hear the ship going through the water and I wonder how far am I from that scene in Titanic where Leo and Kate racing through the flooded corridors towards the surface.
The Kyrgyz guy meets me on deck, he asks if I need help but I have a feeling that he actually is more lost than me and he's beeing a little too helpful for some reason.
"Hey that's the TV guy!" I hear somewhere behind.
A few people are waving me huge signs. Others want a picture with me. Oh no, this is not cool. I still don't know what they showed on TV, what are these people expecting of me?
After I have lunch with a bunch of people who think they know me and who I don't know I go on deck where some guy jumps at me from behind. He is exactly the type of stereotypical russian who makes pushups with his fingers and lifts cars with his legs. Fortunately he doesn't want to throw me overboard, he just wants a picture with me to put on facebook. I spend most of my time with the Kyrgyz people because I feel them closest to me.
|Me and some of the Kyrgyz onboard|