Shoyna, the world's northernmost desert

Alexei Golubtzov / Focus Pictures

Shoyna, the world's northernmost "desert", is not marked on any map. Only camels are missing from the sand dunes that stretch for tens of kilometers along the coast of the White Sea in the north of Arkhangelsk Oblast. The desert is located 230 miles east of biggest city of Nenets Autonomus Okrug - Naryan-Mar.

In Shoyna, sand is ubiquitous. It is all around, as far as the eye can see. The dunes, which migrate up and down the White Sea coast by action of the westerly wind, can bury a house up to the roof in a single night.

Shoyna is one such village, but here the people's attitude to sand is improbably fatalistic.

They have only one precaution: do not close the door at night. Because come morning, it may not open. Half the village, population 400, is at the epicenter of a slow but inexorable sand wave.

Here, people are accustomed to the fact that sunlight penetrates only the top part of the windows, but newcomers will feel almost buried alive to begin with. The locals used to disinter homes with a bulldozer, but two years ago it broke. A new one was sent a couple of days before our arrival.

No one knows the exact reason why the sand crawls up and down the coastline. The phenomenon has not been researched extensively by scientists. Neither have they studied ways of stopping the dunes.

Back in the 1930s, Shoyna was a large settlement, described as the "second Murmansk". Up to 70 fishing vessels would ply the shoreline.

Life in Shoyna is not opulent, but nourishing. The gulf abounds with fish: plaice, navaga, white salmon, peled. Money comes from Norwegians across the border, who for many years have bought up the local cloudberries.

The men earn a living from hunting. A local marksman boasts that the geese here as numerous as the grains of sand in the dunes. There are also bears, but they are rarely hunted: the meat is not tasty. The vicinity is home to a wide variety of wildlife, including some very rare species of birds. No wonder that ornithologists make of point of visiting every year.

How to get there? By light aircraft. Passenger "agricultural planes" fly regularly to Shoyna. It is better not to eat anything before the flight if you would prefer not to see it again.

Where to stay? Unsurprisingly, there are no hotels in Shoyna, but there is a vacant barracks with four rooms. In any case, the hospitality of the locals means you won't be sleeping outdoors.

Where to eat? The locals will demonstrate their hospitality by feeding you insane quantities of fish delicacies and seagull eggs, in return for a slice of humility. If your pride is too strong, the village has a shop, even two.

All rights reserved by Rossiyskaya Gazeta.

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