Behind the Iron Curtain - My Trip to the Soviet Union, Boating on the Black Sea

Observer’s Log: Traveldate 890709.20
Day 10
Today, almost everyone (except Jason ) was in higher spirits. Jason felt as if he were dead and spent the entire day in bed. Lisa and Greg disappeared for the whole day, which left the rest of us in suspense as to what was happening. Unfortunately, nothing “hot and lusty”, as Toni would say.This morning, most of us (those who didn’t sleep in) went to the Botanical Gardens. It was, to say the least, f–king’ hot!! Then we (Toni, Derek, Pete, Shaun and Myself) went to the beach to swim and catch some rays. I almost caught too many as I now have an acute sunburn. Others (i.e. Jeremy) were not so lucky. Then came lunch and an hour boat ride (which saw Mr. Phillips as the helmsman for most of the trip). Upon returning, most went back to the beach, some crashed. As for me, I forgot what I did.Tonight, there is to be another dance (except this time, Greg wants to crash the Heinekin Bar) but I have chosen not to go as I need a hell of a lot of sleep, something I haven’t been getting lately.

That morning was one I had wanted to wake up to since the trip started. It was bright and sunny, few clouds in the sky. It was also quite warm, bordering on hot. To put it mildly, a perfect day in the Soviet Union. The day did not start without problems though. My roomie, Jason, was sick. He didn’t have a cold or anything, he just looked like he was about to do a lot of worshiping at the porcelain altar. I never really found out why he was sick, but we traced it to the glass of wine he had the night before. Either that or something in the water got to him.

I then ventured downstairs alone for breakfast. It seemed however, that I was not alone. Several other people had their roommates abandon them too, if they even came down at all. The breakfast population was quite small to say the very least.

Again, news of that morning’s tour came up. A trip to the Botanical Gardens didn’t seem all that exciting, but it was better than doing nothing at all. So as soon as I finished my breakfast, I ran up to my room, grabbed my camera, checked on Jason to see if he wanted to come (he didn’t even move) and shot back down via the stairs.

Those of us who were awake then piled on a bus and proceeded along the one way road to the Gardens. We didn’t get onto the highway though, we stopped just short of it. We filed off the bus and walked over to a three story concrete tower. It was a cable car tower. The cable cars were suspended from wires, unlike the ones in San Francisco which run along the ground. The car was fairly large too, we all managed to get on (which shows you both the size of the car and the lack of people who showed up).

The ten minutes ride to the top of the hill was fairly uneventful, besides the initial rocking that was so bad, I though the cable might snap, and the docking at the other end which I thought was going to punch a hole in the side. One thing should be noted, the botanical gardens aren’t that large, but the cable car was most likely designed by the same engineers who designed the elevators.

The tower at the top was much higher than the lower one, but this also had an observation level on it. That’s where most of us went. From up there, we got some spectacular shots of the area in which we were staying, even though it was a little too bright. When the time came and we all hustled down to the ground. Mr. Findlay managed to beat us all down. I guess he didn’t like heights much. My mother didn’t even like the pictures I took that looked right down the side of the tower. She hates heights.

Hotel Zemshuzina seen from the top of the tower, Sochi, 9 July 1989

Walking down the hill was no easy task. The path was on a fairly steep incline and for those of us who didn’t let gravity jog us down to an area where it leveled out, we had to take our time. It was hard to keep slow. Jeremy was one of those people. He completely disappeared for a couple of minutes, but then his voice (sounding much like Jackie Gleason in the Honeymooners) boomed out from where he had been. He walked towards us claiming that:

“It’s ferocious! It’s a man eater! Don’t get near it! It’ll peck your eyes out!”

Ferocious man-eating peacock, Sochi, 9 July 1989

Peck your eyes out? I had to see this. So did several others. We headed back in the same direction Jeremy had come from but couldn’t see anything that dangerous. Then, through the trees, we saw Jeremy’s monster. It was a male peacock. I should have known better, Jeremy was a bit weird. Okay, he was a lot weird!

The Gardens was split up into sections that were made to look like the countries where one could find the plants that grew there. We found the peacock in the Japanese area. A little further down we found the Mexican area. Just before we reached that however, we found a small fountain around which were a couple hundred tourists. That’s when Derek, Shaun and Greg got it in their heads to act a bit unusual … they dunked their heads in the fountain. I have never seen so many dirty looks from so many Soviets all at the same time!

Of course, I couldn’t really blame them, I wish I had done the same. The temperature in the Gardens was almost unbearable. At least the Black Sea kept the beach a little cooler. This was a bit much. Although I didn’t have a thermometer, I guessed that the temperature was somewhere in the vicinity of 102 degrees … in the shade (providing that you add on the humidex).

A couple of minutes later, we were at the bottom of the hill. But the tour wasn’t over yet. We then went through an underpass to another section of the Gardens on the other side of the highway. The first thing we saw was a very thick and very tall growth of bamboo. Someone commented that we were in Vietnam. That was a little dull, but we quickly reached a small building with green windows.

The windows were actually clear, but at a distance, I didn’t realize that it was a fish tank. The water was a dark green, but it wasn’t cloudy. You couldn’t quite see to the other side, but you could pick out most of the fish in the tank. We stayed for about five to ten minutes before our guide said it was time to go. As far as I was concerned, any place cooler was better than that.

When we got to the place our bus was supposed to be waiting for us, it wasn’t there. While our guide took off to find it, the rest of us looked at the small market that was assembled near by. One of the small tents sold cold drinks. To the average person, it looked like cold Palmolive dish washing soap. A small glass cost 33 kopecks and several of us got a glass. A few even got two. It was very sweet and had an aftertaste reminiscent of dishwater. But when one is hot and thirsty, you don’t give a damn.

When we got back, we realized that we still had most of the morning to go. Pete, Toni (who had missed the Garden trip), Derek, Shaun and myself decided to make a break for the beach, while it was still a little on the empty side. We ran into Mr. Phillips (by now we called him John, his first name but for respect, I’ll leave it as Mr. Phillips) and asked him to join us. He accepted and we began the labourious task of finding a place to lie down.

To make lying down on the beach easier, the hotel made up several hundred little wooden beds, which you put on top of the stones (not especially for us, some of the benches looked about ten years old). They were quite comfortable, considerably more than the stones that we would have had to lie down on if we hadn’t been able to snitch any beds.

But we did snitch enough for our group. The towels went down (the beds were painted and got quite hot, but not as hot as the stones) and the suntan lotion came out. Everyone, except me, coated themselves with it. I can’t stand the smell, it makes me quite ill … I put up with the burns (after so many years, it doesn’t seem to matter much anymore). Of course, we took turns splashing around in the sea to cool off from time to time. We had to take turns, or chances were we would loose our beds, not to mention the stuff we had come down with.

Pretty soon, we had accumulated quite a large number from our group. As some of them were more intent on a dark tan, that meant more of us could splash around in the water longer. This led to something else. Anita had begun not long before to get me a bit worried. Either she was making passes at me (which I seriously doubt) or she was doing what I like to do others from time to time … making a pain of herself. To put in layman’s terms, she was following me around a lot and was determined to catch me in the water. This is when my three years on the school swim team and my ability to swim long distances underwater came in handy.

Suzanna came up with a good idea at lunch time how we could spend our afternoon. I didn’t care what it was, spending all that time of the beach got to me after a while and I would have gone parachuting from the fifteenth floor if it were more interesting. She made mention to a boat about a half a kilometre from our hotel that sail four or five times a day on an hour boat trip. To most of us, it sounded like a good idea.

So following lunch, we grouped in the lobby (after we had made hasty retreats to our rooms and back) and then headed out for the boat. Incidentally, Jason was still in bed, sick. Neither Derek, Pete or myself could get him to budge. When we arrived at the ticket booth, Mr. Phillips informed us that he would be paying for all our tickets. It seemed he had brought too many rubles and was intent on getting rid of a few. What he didn’t know was that many of us collected the fifty kopeck fees and put them in his camera bag. I wonder if he ever found them?

The boat looked circa World War Two with about a good solid inch of paint on it. In the Black Sea, it bobbed like a cork, but it didn’t flip over. I quickly glanced at the name, I almost thought it said “S.S. Minnow”. I couldn’t help but mention it to John. Soon, we were underway. Several of the girls had come in their bathing suits and were now tanning themselves in the strong sun. A few others were indulging themselves with a chorus of “The Ballad of Gilligan’s Isle”. KB was of course, filming with that stupid camera of his. I felt a bit like Sean Penn after a while.

True to my promise to Suzanna, I finally nailed her (in film, not Jason’s way, although I must admit I wouldn’t have minded). It wasn’t too hard, I just had to time it when she wasn’t looking directly at me.

Tour on the Black Sea, 9 July 1989

Somewhere about halfway through the ride, I ventured to the leeward side of the boat where it wasn’t quite so sunny. There I found Suzanna talking to whom I assumed was the captain. Except she was talking in English, and I doubted the captain spoke anything but Russian.

I was right, she was talking to Mr. Phillips. I wondered where he had disappeared to, he was piloting the ship. As first I screamed (which caught his attention) and then I took I picture of him. About ten minutes before we finally returned to the dock, I went to the bow where I found Pete and Derek. It was surprisingly windy up and the front, and a lot cooler. Shortly after me, Toni arrived. The lot of us chatted and I noticed something which Pete told me about just after we got off. Toni was standing next to me, not him.

When we got off, I saw the full implications of Toni and Pete’s split. When Toni had got on the ship, she still had her bags from the BS shop. She hadn’t had the time to got back to her room to drop them off. Toni wasn’t carrying them when we got off. Derek was. Of this, Derek and I have a small dispute )he argues that Toni hadn’t brought any bags on). But this was engraved in my brain. I tend to remember things like that and if KB had video taped it (I’m surprised he didn’t), you would have seen Derek carrying her bags.

Previous experience had taught me that went such a thing happens, relationships become extremely strained and often snapped. I could see the same thing coming with Derek and Pete. I was assured about six months later, that despite events that supported my theory, their friendship had not deteriorated. Of this, I was very much relieved.

Once we got back to the hotel, everyone split up again. Some returned to their spots on the beach while others went to their rooms and crashed out. I’m pretty sure that’s what I did, although I’m not 100% sure. The only reason I think I took a nap was because I remember being waken by Derek and Toni during their search for Pete.

There was also a bit of controversy that afternoon. It seemed that Greg and Lisa V disappeared, and none of us knew where. Toni speculated something “Hot and Lusty”, but much to her dismay, nothing happened at all. At least not with them. There were a few others who avoided the trip on the boat and just laid in the sun. Jeremy fell asleep. When he woke up, his back was practically blistered from the sun. That’s what I was told. Believe me, if you had felt that sun, you would have believed it too.

Dinner was uneventful, Jason was still sick. By now, just about everyone was aware of it, and everyone kept asking me what was wrong with him. The best I could reply was that he was sick to his stomach and puking every five minutes. So I stretched the truth a bit. Who cared?

No longer feeling tired, I made a trip upstairs to the Observation Level. From here, you could see miles on any night. When no-one else was around, you felt quite peaceful up there by yourself. I could hear the bandshell that was near our hotel and the people in our group way down on the balcony of the Heinekin bar. I could see them, partially hear them. I didn’t bother to try and get their attention though, they were too far down.

On my way down to sign in for Jason and myself, I ran into Shaun. He was giggling his ass off about something. But instead of telling me, he dragged me back to his room to show me. The inner door, which separated the bathroom from the main room, was closed. I was about to open it when Shaun stopped me. He closed the outer door first and then led me into the room, cautiously. I couldn’t figure out what all the care was for.

Then I spotted it, standing on the TV. It was a pigeon. Shaun and Jamie had trapped a pigeon in their room. The bird had taken revenge for its entrapment by relieving itself all over everything. The counter, the floor, the TV, they were all dotted with bird excrement.

I laughed and left, making sure that I didn’t let the bird into the hall. That would have caused a lot of trouble. The last thing we needed was to have hotel security going through the rooms. When I returned to my room, Jason was asleep. Whatever ailed him seemed to make him sleep like my cat, which is constantly. I took my Walkman and went out on the porch, where I listened to some tunes before going to bed.