26 July 2013
After two days sailing up the Yenisey River, Tara docked in the harbor of Dudinka, Russia. Despite the early hour of our arrival, around 2 o’clock in the morning, the Russian authorities were there to greet us in their uniforms and military caps. The formalities went fast, and since Wednesday morning we’ve been strolling around the peaceful streets of the capital of the Taimyr region of northern Russia.
From the first moments in Dudinka, we felt the warmth and hospitality of the “people of the north.” Probably the best way to deal with the long and harsh winters. As soon as the schooner was docked, the captain of the pilot boat that had accompanied us the last nautical miles, invited us aboard his boat. A glass of vodka and a piece of raw fish were waiting for us. Our “Niet spassiba” were in vain: we had to honor the Russian custom.
A glass of the local alcohol encouraged me to bite into the fish – still bleeding. Lee followed without much enthusiasm. After the tasting, our polite smiles provoked the laughter of our hosts, and revealed the captain’s few gold teeth. An unusual experience that we’re happy to have lived! Then a girl appeared on the quay near Tara to present a gift to the crew – a wolf’s head made of beads, surrounded by fur. The wolf came aboard, and was given a place of honor in the main cabin.
After a few hours of rest, we went exploring Dudinka. We visited the church of Svyato-Vvedenskaya, and walked around the inevitable statue of Lenin. Then we strolled along the wide avenues of the city, all overhung with steel pipes containing heating ducts that give an ugly appearance to the city. But because of permafrost* there’s really no other option.
As if to compensate for this unattractive element, city planners and painters focus on the color of facades. Fuchsia pink, lemon yellow, olive green – the colors compete in brightness, only to fade away after a few years. To liven up the city, luminous plastic trees are planted in the middle of sidewalks. Dudinka must have a festive appearance during the winter, with a coat of snow added to the palette of colorful t-shirts and other fluorescent clothes worn by young women. But this is another story, or simply proof that fashion does not stop at the doors of Siberia.
We ventured between blocks of buildings, discovering at every corner a greengrocer, a children’s park or an old abandoned car that would delight collectors. But these are only appearances. Dudinka is secretive – you must dare to open doors to discover another world. Who could have imagined we would find a banya* in a run-down neighborhood? How could we guess there would be a cyber-cafe on the first floor of an apartment building? To open other doors we would have to know the language; this was the only obstacle in our Siberian immersion. And who knows if the Russian language would be sufficient, because Dudinka is also a crossroads of communities and cultures.
Anna Garcia Deniaud
* Niet Passiba: No thank you in Russian.
* Permafrost: layer of permanently frozen soil.
* Bania: Russian Sauna.