In my romantic 13, when I wanted to become a vet, if someone was to tell me that I will end up organizing tours, I would consider such a silly idea not worth even being laughed at. But God works in mysterious ways. Having bound myself up with PV I got immersed into a peculiar area of private foreigner travel to Russia. A funny subject.
To me tourists travelling as an organized herd along a set route (Kremlin-Hermitage-Volga-the-great-Russian-river) are of little interest, and I would not myself explore the world that way. On the other hand it is hard to imagine how a foreigner can travel through Russia without a babysitter, in which capacity PV offers himself. The more I live, the more respect I develop towards an occasional freak that manages to avoid both joining an organized herd and using a babysitter.
Here, let us consider our trip to Lovozero..
Lovozero, founded over 400 years ago, if often called the center of Russian Lapland and the center of Saami – the indigenous people of the Kola Peninsula.
A great number of sports and tourist routes starts at Lovozero.
In the local museum and in the National Cultural Center one can get acquainted with history, culture, and lifestyle of Saami, and also to buy national clothing, household items and other articles by Saami masters.
All these were quotations from guidebooks. From them it follows that the place is a well-known traveller attraction. Let’s say you want to take a look at it with your own eyes.
First, you find out that reaching Lovozero is not that easy. It is not Moscow’s Kremlin. No planes, no trains go there. It is 180km from Murmansk, where planes do fly, and 80km from Olenegorsk, where trains go. From Kandalaksha, where you can get by train, it is 220km. Then it is a car or a bus. No direct door to door delivery for reasonable money, with a schedule in English accessible via the Internet.
Let’s say the traveller somehow got over that stage of planning. It is likely though that the traveller will want to stay in Lovozero overnight. We wanted to. And that was the beginning of the most involved quest to find accommodation in the Saami center of tourism.
Those in the know may ask what the hell we bought the camper for, when one can live and sleep always and everywhere. Doable, yes. The camper was a backup option. But dragging it along 220km for the sake of one night makes no economic sense. And the main thing is that we wanted to try going through the accommodation-finding process ourselves to be better able to help you travellers. The situation is not easy even for a local, let alone for a lonely stranger for whom I have mentally applied each stage of my information-search activity, to whom the issue seems as almost not having a solution.
What does a foreigner – and, as of recent, a Russian – do? Yes, they go to the all-knowing Tripadvisor. So he/she goes there or is taken there by the search engine, which tells him that “travellers can get all the needed information on Lovozero on TripAdvisor”. Let’s see what famous TripAdvisor advises us.
Quest: Level one
All-knowing TripAdvisor reports that Lovozero offers three accommodation options: two tourist camps and one mini-hotel. Being a skeptic, I dug through over a dozen other resources (in Russian of course) which told me of two more hotels. Thus we got the following list:
Camp Bear’s Corner
Camp Yulinskaya Salma
A naive foreign traveller happily thinks at this point they’ve got a choice. We were close to being there too.
Having been taught by the accommodation search in Murmansk, however, we started making telephone calls. For a foreigner this stage will be an uncirmountable difficulty because Russian accommodation owners will not normally answer e-mails. Nor will they speak English.
The round of calls resulted in certain corrections, eg:
Hotel Luyavr, the only one presented in your beloved TripAdvisor, has been closed.
Hotel Koavas – neither of two telephones answer.
Hotel Nadezhda is up and running but is all booked.
Camp Bear Corner is 20km from Lovozero and between seasons, as is the case now, it is not possible to get there at all. They are waiting for ice to form on the lake.
Camp Yulinskaya Salma – we didn’t call there, got tired by that point. It was clear that it is not close to Lovozero either and is likely to be inaccessible too. Also the description makes it appear as too luxurious for our purposes.
Quest, level two
Now we continue looking the Internet but in a narrow fashion. Sometimes vk.com groups of settlements work well. As far as the north goes, my favourit is russkij_sever. No guarantees of course but if you get an answer it will come from a live human being and be based on their personal knowledge. This source informed me of one more possible options at the geophysics observatory a couple of kilometers from Lovozero. A fun option I’ve made a note of but rumours of lack of a warm toilet and a shower put me off, considering the season, thus making me move up to yet another level.
Quest, level three
Having convinced myself that other resources have been exhausted I turned to my personal acquaintances who are in possession of lots of information related to everything on the Kola Peninsula. I’m lucky to have such a network.
My friends got me into an apartment of their friends who were luckily away.
It remains a mystery to me how a single traveller, especially a foreign one, can sort out their accommodation needs in Lovozero. Perhaps I’ll notice a solution during our upcoming trip..