The Fire and Water Ritual

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I wake up at some later time to find Don has appeared sleeping on the other side of the bed, clutching a bottle of vodka.  I roll over and go back to sleep.  I manage to stand up around three in the afternoon and shuffle into the kitchen to drink all the bottled water in the house.  I get through two litres and some balance returns to my day.  I figure we’re not going to Gatchina anymore and there are a lot of missed messages on my mobile phone asking where we are.  I go back to sleep and awake to find Don has recovered and is sitting in the kitchen.  He doesn’t know how we got separated either.  Apparently he spent a few hours staring blankly at train station signs written in Russian as he searched for Alisha’s one.  He had also acquired a bottle of vodka with the intention to wake me up to demand I have some so we can keep going and join the group at Gatchina.  He fell asleep on the train and was woken up at the end of the line, then kept jumping out at every station on the way back to see if he’d made it home.  Finally he did and surged into the street to jump on the marshrutka, only to be stopped by the same two policemen who grabbed me.  They must have thought it was Australia day or something as he staggered off.  He fell asleep on the marshrutka and ended up back at the train station once before finally making it to the apartment around eleven.    Apparently Lari opened the door to see him clutching the bottle and he managed one sentence before passing out next to me.
“I’ve just had the most amazing morning.”

The beach sunset

The girls have headed into the city to lodge paperwork to get Lari registered in Russia.  Since she’s just arrived, she needs to be registered somewhere and Alisha is able to do this for her.  Alisha actually needs to be registered in St Petersburg herself, so it’s easy for her to fill in the form for Lari at the same time.  All Russian citizens have to register in a city in their own country if they are there for more than three months, which she has been.  Everyone has one passport for moving around inside the country and must apply separately for a passport to actually leave Russia.  The first one is just like the ID cards used in a number of countries as a primary form of personal identification.  In order to get that external passport the individual has to fill in a bunch of forms in their home city that get sent to Moscow and used as doorstops for half a year.  When its life as a doorstop finishes the person is notified and they then must travel to Moscow once or twice to submit more forms and be interviewed, photographed and otherwise tortured by the bureaucracy.  Getting your external passport apparently takes six to eighteen months depending on whether the bureaucrats have already had their hearts and souls removed to feed the demons within the government, or are just working towards it.

Beachside vodka session

That’s only the beginning; however, a Russian citizen wishing to actually leave their country has to submit even more paperwork.  They have to tell their government where they will be staying for every night they’re outside the country – and prove it.  Hotel booking confirmations, formal letters from people they will stay with, every single day must be accounted for; or they don’t leave Russia.  We spoke to one woman in Moscow who used a credit card to book everything online to get the required proof.  Once the government approved her journey, she would then go and cancel everything and do whatever she wanted.  All of this goes to explain why Russian tourists are a limited commodity.  To have the time and money to just acquire the external passport is beyond the ability of most citizens.  Even if they manage to get that, then being able to afford to travel is a luxury largely reserved for residents of Moscow and St Petersburg and the odd wealthy family in other cities.

Even Russians pull faces after drinking vodka shots

On their way back Lari and Alisha have decided that we’ll have a fire on the beach tonight and they bring back the firewood.  Energy levels are low, and the fruit juice they also bring is helping a lot as we wander very slowly down to the beach carrying firewood and paper.  We have no clear idea how we’re going to light it without kindling, but the attempt should be amusing anyway.  After I shuffle around logs and some cardboard for a while, Don notices some hot coals and adds them to the mix.

Don questioning the manliness of the fire

I spend a lot of time fanning it and eventually the pine logs burst into flame.  For about a minute, before needing vigorous fanning again.  We can’t find any kindling, we have nothing to split the logs and it looks increasingly hopeless.  The only answer is to have some more shots of vodka, which we all do a few times.  The sunset is lazy and cloudy and we alternate between water and vodka shots and take increasingly silly photos of ourselves on the foreshore.  I suddenly remember an idea I had back in Australia and lurch down to the water and put my hand deep into it.  I then touch Don and Lari’s foreheads with that hand, leaving a  vertical stripe above and between their eyes.
“We’ve touched the water of the Gulf of Finland on the Baltic coast of Russia.  Now we have to swim in the water of Vladivostok at the other end of our journey.”
They both nod lazily.  We finish the drinking water before heading inside to sleep again before the next adventure.

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