One day Andrew and I rode in the bus to photograph the crew, so we arrived at the tiny beach resort of Morskoye a few hours before the others. It was like Atlantic City gone to seed. Trash was scattered everywhere on the beach: plastic beer bottles and heaps of rotting watermelon rinds, moldy sneakers and garbage bags stuffed full of picnic leftovers. Tinny synth-pop blasting from a cafe was like the soundtrack of someone's struggle with insanity. Graffiti scrawled on a cement wall along the boardwalk translated as a warning that litterers would be fined. Looming over it all was the orb-shaped concrete husk of a luxury hotel, abandoned after the Soviet Union fell. An idle crane poked toward the sky. It looked like the Death Star.
Valiery parked the bus on what we would come to call Dysentery Beach, where scraps of toilet paper fluttered in the wind like prayer flags. A stinking outhouse induced the gag reflex at a distance of 20 feet. Nevertheless Olga and Roman began to unload the bus. Well, here we are, they seemed to say, motioning at us to come along and start enjoying camp. They looked happy to be sharing the beauty of their country.
Andrew and I, groggy from the bus fumes, just smushed our noses against the window and peered out at a murky creek trickling over waterlogged grocery sacks. He and I were accustomed to sketchy roadside bivys, but even we agreed that if we were to come upon this beach late at night, needing a place to crash, we would just keep rolling. As for the paying clients whose arrival was imminent, they were doctors and investment bankers who came to Crimea equipped with UV-blocking hiking pants with zip-off legs, not haz-mat suits. Such world travelers might brave Himalayan blizzards and alligator-infested rapids, but there was no chance they were going to sleep next to someone else's shit. My meager Russian was not nearly up to the task of tactfully explaining this to the busy Crimean crew, so I pitched my tent amid the garbage, crawled inside, and popped open a cold bottle of Hike.
Rob, Gia, and the others arrived at Dysentery Beach a little while later, and the look of disappointment – horror, really – on their faces was memorable. "Is this the camp?" asked someone, hesitantly. It was. After a sullen dinner, eaten on folding chairs in the shadow of the Death Star, Rob averted mutiny by loading us into the smoking blue cupcake bus and checking us into a hotel.
"In Soviet times there were more regulations, and people followed the rules," Sergei told us, removing his glasses and rubbing his eyes. "But now it is like anarchy."