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Saturday, June 06, 2009
First you need to find a company or group of fellow-adventurers. If you don't have any friends in Russia interested in adventure travel, you can always write a letter. Say, to Gorbachev. This is no joke! In 1990, riding high on the wave of perestroika, a group of American friends wrote a letter to Russia, suggesting that the Cold War could be buried through bilateral adventure travel trips. The letter worked its way through the USSR tourism bureaucracy and landed in our laps. That year, we were among 20 Americans and 20 Russians who headed out to Karelia, to the Southern Shuya river. The Americans floated on rafts, the Russians on catamarans. Everyone spoke English, although of course the Americans picked up some Russian words along the way. Many of us keep in touch to this day.
One could also write to the Russian Federation of Sport Tourism. Their website (like most every site listed on this page) is only in Russian, but if you write in English, they will understand you and eventually answer. There are forums for people in interested in: sailboat tourism http://www.bit.ly/cssMAp; water tourism (kayaks, rafts, catamarans, baydarkas, etc.) http://www.bit.ly/apsoHi; and trekking, biking, spelunking and mountain climbing http://www.bit.ly/aEuUdH.
Keep in mind the Russian difficulty classifications. If you have never done adventure travel, you should stick to Category I trekking or river trips. Category II is considered somewhat extreme, and Category III and higher can be life threatening for those without previous experience at this level.
The website veslo.ru has a section “Looking for a fellow traveler” (Ищу попутчика) in water tourism: http://www.bit.ly/bM86Dm. You can post in English. I have seen Poles, Swedes and Brits looking for Russian comrades here. Is it safe? In my personal opinion, most likely yes, since adventure travel in Russia is as a rule pursued only by educated, responsible Russians.
This site is devoted to kayak tourism, but only at the more extreme levels: http://www.bit.ly/dpt6Vc
All the above are non-commercial offers, meaning that it is generally free or very low cost to participate. Members are responsible for the costs of their travel to and from the point of departure and return. The costs of food and equipment rentals are divided equally among the members.
There are, of course, also commercial adventure tourism options for Karelia: http://www.bit.ly/djepRP http://www.bit.ly/b9TVOx; Sayana and the Caucasus http://www.bit.ly/cjyMmv; Siberia and the Far East http://www.bit.ly/dnEhkt; and there is a clearing house of commercial tours for Karelia http://www.bit.ly/9B9xDc.
Those resident in the US should also check with reputable U.S. tour firms, such as Mir Corporation (mircorp.com – named one of the world’s best adventure travel companies by National Geographic Adventure).
Second, if you have a company or group and are ready to go, and they indicate that the conditions for your participation are that you bring your own supplies (kayak, life jacket, backpack, etc.), you would be best off looking at renting such items from a Russian company, rather than bringing them in with you. Here are some good sources:
Rental costs are roughly R200 per day for the first five days or week, R100 for the second five days or week.
Rail travel to your destination is also a cost to consider, and that can be investigated on the following sites: tutu.ru; rzd.ru. By way of example, a third class (плацкарт) ticket to Northern Karelia (about 30 hours by train), one-way, is about R1300 ($40); in a second class cabin (купе), it is about R2500 ($75). You can purchase tickets online at these sites.
Note: In Russia you cannot purchase your train tickets further than 45 days in advance. If you are planning to travel in the high season (July-August), you should plan to purchase your ticket(s) on the first day they become available.