We enter the lock from lake Onega. It's an impressive lock with high walls that rise 15m above us. It's actually a double lock, so as soon as the first lock has filled itself with water, and the doors open, we sail directly into another one to rise another 15m into the Russian Karelian landscape. Obviously reasons to gat out the camera and shoot some nice pictures.
While I look through my camera searching for a nice shot, I hear someone shout out from up above on the lock. There's a man standing in uniform with a kalasnikov on his back. He gestures to me to put my camera down.
Through this lock we enter the Belomorsk-Baltika Kanal, better known as the White Sea canal. It's a canal that connects the White sea up in the North of Western Russia with Lake Onega and that creates a direct route to the south of Russia and the Baltic Sea.
During the whole route of the Belomorsk canal, which is about 260 km long, we are not allowed to take pictures in the locks, we are not allowed to go off our boats in the lock, for example to help other boats mooring, and we are not allowed to go ashore unless we have special permission through Peter I to moor for the night. But don't wander off too far!
Stalin created it. He decided it was necessary to have this connection in order to have a route from north to south without having to go all the way around Norway to get to Europe and beyond. It took Stalin only one and a half years to have it built and in a country where the ground is frozen 8 months a year and where temperatures get below minus 30 degrees Celsius, it's quite a challenge to dig a canal within such a short time.
The story goes that about 200.000 people died while digging this canal. Others say it were at least 1 million. There came from the Gulag camps were they were put for unknown reasons. The canal is still there, and there celebrating it's 80's 'birthday'. But it's quite a thing to celebrate.
There are a lot of mysteries in this country. A lot of things are not being told and are not being shown. Us travelling through this area is apparently a special gesture for which, according to the gossip coming from different boats, Putin personally gave permission for.
I'm not sure what is true and what's not. I see the people in the villages smile and wave at us as we sail by with our parade of boats. There's not many foreigners coming through this area and it is nice to see the joy in the people's faces. But on the other side there are the crooked wooden houses along the river, the worn down villages where it looks as if there was livable society one day, the security along the canal and the history that lingers over this area.
While travelling through this area I get more and more questions. But questions are not to be asked too much in Russia. Did you know that you can't get a truly detailed map of Russia?
In Russia there's a tradition, a practice and a climate of secrecy that rule over the political and social life (Kapuscinski, Imperium, p. 202). And even though Kapuscinski wrote this twenty years ago, this doesn't change within a few years time; it still lingers on in people's habits and tradition. There's something about the Russian people. Maybe the language barrier doesn't help either, but 8 out of 10 times you get an ugly face to start with.
It intrigues me and it's one of the reasons why I find Russia so interesting. You can't grasp it, you don't know and you're not gonna find out. I see a challenge in trying to get the grumpy face to a smiling face.
"Dit is precies de situatie die veel mensen uit het westen radeloos maakt, aangezien zij geneigd zijn om elke werkelijkheid zo te behandelen als deze hun toeschijnt te zijn: doorzichtig, leesbaar en logisch. Met zo'n filosofie raakt de westerse mens die in de sovietwereld terecht komt elk ogenblik de vaste grond onder zijn voeten kwijt, tot iemand hem duidelijk maakt dat de werkelijkheid die hij ziet, beslist niet de enige is en zeer zeker evenmin de belangrijkste, dat hier een veelheid van sterk uiteenlopende werkelijkheden bestaat, die in een monsterlijke en ontontwarbare knoop met elkaar zijn verstrengeld, en dat de essentie van deze knoop is dat hij vele vormen van logica bezit: een zonderlinge versmelting van de tegenstrijdige logische systemen, die door hen die ervan uitgaan dat er maar een logica bestaat, ten onrechte vaak onlogisch of alogisch wordt genoemd."
(Kapuscinski, Imperium, p.237)