To be alone is absolutely ordinary for me, but the familiar feelings of solitude and isolation take on an entirely different meaning in the Russian forest. During the recent journey, I visited the village of Astashova in the Chukhlomsky District of the Kostroma region. About the village I'll write a separate post, but today I'll show you the house in which I slept, deep in the woods on a cold, snowy night.
I've seen so many abandoned, sunken homes during various road trips in Russia, but in this village there is life! Our village host had a full house, each bed occupied by men who were helping with local construction projects, or out of town guests. I could either sleep on the hard floor, in the company of four Russian men, or go to an empty home a few kilometers away and have an entire house to myself. After inspecting the old, wooden structure, I picked the latter option.
During the day it seemed charming, like something out of a Russian fairy tale with its colorful blue windows and snow-capped roof. When I returned late at night, in utter darkness, the old home took on a different aura. A sort of spooky, far-off cabin, where no Internet or phone existed. Something out of a horror movie, where the victims never see the light of day again. I suddenly realized I would be by my lonesome, many kilometers away from the few humans I knew in the area, and an uneasy feeling overtook me. A slight fear of being alone in the middle of nowhere, in a distant country...But I sucked it up, and carried on into the night. Let's take a look inside my sleeping quarters...
1. Open the old, creaky door, and here is what greets me. An ancient, wet, musty smell, and a big stack of wood for heating. The house was freezing cold, but this was my choice. Early in the day, the local villager asked me how warm I wanted the home for the evening, so he could go gather wood and start the fire in the stove. I told him - "NO HEAT!". I was happy to be in a frigid space, after suffocating from the oppressive heat in almost all Russian hotels and restaurants earlier in the trip.
2. Behind this door was a surprise! A sort of mini antique shop, with the owner's collectibles on display. The house was built in the late 1800's and is in need of repair, but overall in a livable condition, at least by village standards.
3. Old bottles, animal heads, other junk which clearly hold some sentimental value to someone. I always like digging through stuff like this, as I've shown you in other posts. Photo credit for this image goes to my travel companion macos.
4. During the day inspection, I was certain I would sleep in this bed. It was the only stand-alone sleeping option in the house, but when I returned in the dark evening I didn't like how the small window had no curtain. I guess it's from watching too many crime shows, but I would not rest all night, for fear that some forest creature or mad man was staring at me through the window. :) The local also suggested I sleep here because it's the same room in which the heating stove is located. Upon learning that I would not use the wooden stove, he was in shock, trying many times to convince me to light the fire, but alas I'm stubborn and rejected all his pleas.
5. My bed. The bottom, center bunk with a thin mattress thrown on a hard, wooden plank.
6. Kitchen, stocked with some goodies in the refrigerator. Old soup, fruit juice, and other items left by construction workers who sometimes sleep in the house while working local jobs in the area. In the middle of the night, this floor was so cold! I will never forget the sensation of walking on it, an immediate ache in my joints and tingle in the nerves of my toes.
7. Nostalgia! It's possible to share all your meals with Grandpa Lenin at the dining table, or perhaps he is the protector of the home?
8. How to wash your face, brush your teeth, make tea, or boil pasta? It's necessary to carry heavy jugs of water into the home, dump them into the archaic plastic dispenser above the sink, and then magic happens. Water flows from the faucet! :) I noticed a red button on the plastic container, so I guess it's possible to heat the water, though I'm not certain. The house was fully supplied with pans, the standard stove carved out of the wall, and even a photo of Ded Moroz to bring some cheer all year round! Btw, I wish to thank the young man who helped me settle in for the night, and navigate the unfamiliar surroundings. Sorry, I can't remember his name, but he took very good care of me before he returned to the "man" house to sleep.
9. I've stayed in many American cabins, in remote mountain areas, but they always had toilets and showers. So, the most adventurous part of this night was doing ordinary human things - using the restroom and taking a shower. I'm sure many of you still have grandparents or other relatives living in villages, but the "toilet" is something extraordinary! How does a female use this thing? It's impossible to sit, for fear of being swallowed up in the deep, unsanitary hole. I tossed and turned in the middle of the night, doing the pee dance that children sometimes do, wiggling in my bed to avoid using this restroom, but eventually it became necessary. So, I simply stood on it and did my business. Later, some of my Russian friends told me this is called "eagle style." I could not control my laughter when they said this. In America, an eagle represents freedom. In Russia, piss. :) And the smell in this small wooden cave, well you can imagine. I don't know which is worse - having a toilet like this in the home, or using an outhouse in the middle of the night??
10. After a long day of walking in the village and meeting with the locals, I wanted to take a hot shower. It was then that I learned yet another lesson in Russian life - how to use an authentic banya! What an experience, so hot inside, yet so cool! :)
11. After a lecture about how to bathe in the banya, I began the process of dumping water all over myself, scrubbing with old, dirty soap, and then throwing liquid on the hot rocks to immediately be encompassed by steam. Ahhh...great sensation! Then, in true Russian style, I ran outside naked, jumped in a pile of shiny snow in complete blackness, and returned to the banya. In this moment, I felt completely alive! Unfortunately, I was here alone, but the locals explained that it's typical to sit in the separate room, drink vodka and have snacks. Next time. :)
12. I can't say I slept very well that night. I was extremely cold, snuggled in numerous blankets with chattering teeth through the wee hours of the evening and morning. This was my own fault, I underestimated how cold the temperature gets in the Russian forest. In the morning when I woke, I walked past this huge stack of wood outside the main door and regretted not using it. For the next few days, I had a wicked cold, snotty nose and congested head.
Second, my mind wanders too much in complete silence and solitude, with no distractions or sounds. I began to think about life, love, sex...all of the existential questions that plague an insomniac like me. I sat on that hard bed, wondering how people live their entire lives in a village house like this, with no modern amenities or basic conveniences. Yes, there's some rustic romance to it, even for me. It was a unique and memorable experience, but to spend every breathing moment on the planet in a place like this - there's no real desire.
What did I learn most from this trip? Something I already knew, but never truly understood until I spent a day and night in this village. Russia - a country for the strong!
When was the last time you spent the night in a house with no basic water, toilet or shower? Perhaps some of you are currently living in a village? If so, tell me where. Maybe next time I'll visit you, because remote places like this are my favorite areas to explore. In America, Russia and around the globe!