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Back to Where it all Began! Russian border (19/7/03)

It is almost four years since the cycling journey began, and now i sit in Alexsei's house in the village of Vartsila, just across the Russian border. In September 1999 I loaded my bike into the back of his beaten up old van and crossed into Russia. Yesterday I hitch-hiked- Alexsei no longer has a visa after some infringements in Finland (possibly his contraband sale of cigarettes and alochol). He still drives the same beaten up ford, but he has found some new business. At home in his flat along with brand new finnish stoves, washing machines, and TVs, he shows me with pride a new digital camera, scanner, printer and laptop. Among many of his jobs he is now contracted by the border guards to take digital pics of all trucks and buses. He now has seven garages- rusty sheds on the hill in the forest- with 15 old motorbikes and storage tanks for 8 tonnes of diesel. At home we chat over a cup of tea, and he shows me an astonishing amount of photos. He has had his own exhibition, and now works his own kind of photography lab from his small bedroom. He talks of a very cold winter this year, weeks of minus 40 and below, the elderly had even resorted to burning furniture to keep warm this year. Methods not seen since world war two. Here in Vartsila we dodge the myriad of knee deep potholes, a stones throw across the border cars hum along a perfectly clean and smooth road. It feels a relief to e back here. Just getting across the border was reminder of the flexibilty of the Russians. I was picked up by a couple from Sortavala on ther way home. Unfortiúnately lightnight storms had knocked out the Russian customs computers so we waited for three hours in a queue. It wasn't long before my driver found woman who knew Alexsei and agreed to drive me all the way to Alexsei's house. The forest here surrounds the village. Dogs bark, people wander with buckets down to the local well, and brand new Mercedes and BMWs roar past fresh from Germany on their way to St Petersburg to he car merchants. This evening I will board the train to Petrozavodsk, and from there head to St Petersburg and Babuskina. Not sure what to expect in babushkina.