“Sometimes, you have to take one step back, in order to move forward”, writes our photographer Irina in the account of the first part of her travels through Eastern Europe, Russia and North- & Central Asia last year. After a short break, she will continue her journey this spring. Travel destination this time: Alaska. Read more about her travels in our interview.
Hi Irina, tell us a little bit about yourself! Who are you and what do you do?
I grew up as a real country kid in Westphalia, Germany. For a long time, I didn’t want to leave home. That’s why I decided to start training to become a digital media designer in the neighboring place after I finished school. And that’s also how I came to join Photocase back then. But working in a small and very conservative advertising agency soon didn’t offer any future perspectives for me any more so I decided to start over. At that time, someone gave me the advice to become what I dreamed of as a kid, which was (apart from the wish of becoming an artist) animal ethologist. This was the job title of Heinz Sielman, whose nature documentaries I loved when I was a kid. Without further ado, I studied biology in Bochum and my childhood dream really came true! In my final thesis I studied the domestic behavior of raccoons in the Müritz National Park. The study of wild animals and/or nature conservancy is definitely where I see my professional future. That’s where I feel at home.
The wish to do a long journey grew and grew over the years. I guess the foundations of that dream already formed during the time of puberty, but the actual, worded wish is about 7 years old. The longing for faraway places and the urge to experience the loneliness of nature was mainly generated by adventure or travel literature which I devoured. Books have always been a trigger to see certain places for me and have shaped many of my decisions. Later, nature documentaries further nourished that dream. I waited a long time for the right moment to fulfill that dream, I thought of tactics and made plans. In the end, it was again a career-related dead-end (failed doctoral thesis plans) that made it possible for me to start over. This time with a journey, an old dream, that was to be turned into reality. The travel destination was set right from the start: to the East, through Russia and finally to Alaska and the Aleutian Islands.
Why did you decide to travel East, why Russia?
A lot of people ask themselves where they are coming from and start digging into their own roots. At the end of my school years, that’s exactly how I felt. My whole name is russian (or slavic) – Irina Muschik, but in my family there were only Germans. Even my grandparents were born here. They also weren’t able to tell me anything about our ancestors. I tried coming closer to the disclosure of the secret of my name by learning Russian. My first chance to travel to Russia came in 2006 and that’s when I fell in love with this country. I felt comfortable, I just loved the simple way of life, the melancholic songs and the nature. Today Russia means endless wideness, terrific landscape, megalomania, ingenuity, gruffy divas, melancholy, cordiality, total schizophrenia, absurdity, simplicity, freedom and so much more to me. Because of this fascination, I initially planned to stay in Russia for a whole year but thanks to hard-core Russian bureaucracy, I only got a 3 month visa and was forced to knock over all of my travel plans.
How do you travel & which means of transportation do you use?
First and foremost I travel as an ordinary backpacker with a very low budget. In my backpack there’s a tent, a sleeping bag, a camping mat, a Glock army knife, a camping stove (an old “Juwel 34″ from GDR times) and some cookware, camera, a small laptop, binoculars, GPs, a compass, a few clothes and fewer toiletries. I think that should give you a pretty good impression of me. The main means of transportation I use are buses, the second most important are trains and ships and during my time in Russia I hitchhiked quite a lot. I will only have to use the plane at the end of my journeys, on my way to Alaska. Because my budget is really very low, I decided right from the start to go without any hotels or other paid accommodations. I’ve been an active couchsurfing user for almost 4 years now and I just love the possibilities this hospitality network offers. You meet locals or expats and get a much closer look into the country you’re visiting. That’s why the sleeping-places on my journey are almost always on other peoples couches. Or I lay down in my tent, as long as I’m in non-urban areas and the temperature is above -10°C. Up until now, I only used paid accommodations five times and in summer I was camping for almost 2 months.
Which countries have you traveled so far on your journey?
I started from Germany in February 2012. The first destination was Cracow. From there, I went to the High Tadras, crossed the Carpathians through Slovakia, Ukraine and Romania. At the Danube Delta I reached the Black Sea and circuited it traveling through Bulgaria and Turkey to get to Caucasus. I lived 6 weeks in Georgia where I had my base camp at a biologist’s place in Tiflis. After that I treveled through Azerbaijan and the Caspian Sea to Kazakhstan. I spent 2 months there, including a short trip to Kyrgyzstan from where I crossed to northern boarder to Russia. During my 3 months stay in Russia, I visited the Altai mountains, the Lake Baikal and it’s western sourroundings and finally the region Primorye, northeast of Vladivostok. Afterwards, I took a ship to South Korea, where I spent one month – during the high time of Gangnam-Style. Due to the status of my finances, I was forced to take a break from traveling which will probably last till end of March.