Arthur Boulenger, an ESADE MSc in International Management, and his brother Alexandre, are two French globetrotters planning to get from Vladivostok to Moscow at the wheel of a Lada Niva, the legendary Russo-Soviet off-road vehicle. At this stage no more than a few details remain to be fine-tuned before the starting shot for their odyssey, due to be fired on 16 July. The young adventurers tell their story to Russia Beyond.
At the ages of 23 and 25 respectively, brothers Arthur and Alexandre Boulenger are already endowed with an acute sense of adventure. Indeed, while the former took part in the 4L Trophy, a rally from Biarritz to Marrakesh contested with the celebrated Renault model, the latter undertook a solo journey in 2015 from Beijing to Aktau, in western Kazakhstan. Their next challenge? They want to do no less than cross Russia, from Vladivostok to Moscow, by car, and not just any car: the indispensable Lada Niva, a veritable Russo-Soviet symbol highly valued for its robustness.
They have shared their desire to discover the vast expanses of the country ever since their respective trips to Central Asia, as Arthur in turn also spent time in Kirghizstan in 2017. In fact, he mentions that he has a curious anecdote on the subject that explains the idea of this journey across Russia.
“During the first weeks after I arrived [in Kirghizstan], in a youth hostel in a rather godforsaken town I met a Russian train driver who came from Siberia”, he tells Russia Beyond. “And he told me that I absolutely had to go and discover Russia, because he had seen it all in the course of his job, and he jokingly said: ‘Why don’t you take a Lada? You could cross the country.’” To which the young man joked back: “I’ll do it one day.”
But that was without counting on Alexandre, who failed to see that the project was so absurd at all, as in fact he had already mulled it over.
“I had the opportunity to go to Kirghizstan, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan. In these countries you get to absorb a culture, a shared heritage; I had the impression that in a way I was discovering Russia through these countries of the former USSR. So I felt sort of frustrated; I wanted to go one step further – to round the cape – to make a move towards Russia,” he notes. “And at the same time these Ladas are everywhere, without exceptions; whether you’re in a city, a village or up in the mountains, there’s always a Lada around, and so I said to myself that it’d be brilliant to discover Russia, and to do so in a Lada.”
Roadmap and immersion
The two brothers, who hail from Essonne, have therefore launched their website LADATRIP, where they showcase their ambitious project. We also learn that their itinerary will more or less follow the route of the Trans-Siberian. For them this is one way of ensuring that they will pass through certain not-to-be-missed points of the country, but also of guaranteeing that they will find adequate technical support in the large cities along the way in the event of a breakdown. “But we expect to make most of our discoveries far away from these places,” they nevertheless point out during their interview, knowing from experience that the most indelible memories are often forged in remote spots steeped in authenticity.
However, they are careful to leave themselves a certain amount of flexibility to account for the chance meetings and unforeseen events their journey holds in store from them, so they are open to the possibility of taking detours to destinations not initially included in their route, depending on the advice of the locals. “It’s these events that you can’t predict that are the beauty of the trip,” the elder brother feels.
As far as accommodation is concerned, as confirmed bivouackers, Arthur and Alexandre are setting their sights on a mixture of nights in nature and evenings at the homes of locals, to share moments of fellowship and immerse themselves in the culture of the different regions they will be crossing. Furthermore, it is this warmth and this hospitality of the population that they want to share with the Western public, in order to break the image Europeans may sometimes have of Russia.
Objectives and preparations
“We really get the impression that the Western representation of Russia is biased. So we thought that this journey could be an opportunity to share and to bridge this distance, this gap that exists between East and West,” emphasises Arthur. This opinion is taken up by Alexandre: “Considering the magnitude of the project, we reckoned we ought to share it, give it greater scope, offer a window on Russia and the Russians we meet along the way. If we get to grips with that, if we succeed in doing that, we’ll have gone beyond the traditional consumption of travelling.”
To share their adventure better the two young men plan, for example, to make videos to document their journey, but equally they want to rely on partnerships like the one established with Russia Beyond.
The search for partners is in fact the primary focus of their preparations at the moment. Assuming they get their visa sorted out, their main preoccupation at present is actually how to procure the famous Lada Niva, at the wheel of which they will set forth across the expanses of Russia. They are therefore on the lookout for dealerships, garages or even owners willing to sell or hire them a car. To this end, they hope to reach an agreement with a major brand in order to sponsor their journey.
To cover the eventuality of being unable to find a partner, they have in addition launched an appeal for donations on their website, although they insist that this will only be used as a last resort. The ideal all-inclusive budget stands at €10,000.
While these various technical and organisational details remain pending, the two lads display a degree of motivation and enthusiasm that leaves no room for doubt about the realisation of their project, which Russia Beyond will make it a pleasure to follow and share.
Read the original article here.