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Military Health Resort or Relaxation Russian-Style

Summer - how impatiently we await it! The grand plans that we make! That’s all because summer is the time for vacation, for care-free joy and relaxation. We want to spend our vacation in a unique kind of way, so that it's not like the last one - so that it is a “thing to remember and brag about", so that one month of freedom charges us with energy for the rest of the work year. When planning our vacation, we need to decide the “where” and the “how.”

Any travel agent would be happy to help a well-to-do person not burdened with the necessity to coordinate the departure, offering them most fascinating trips to all over the world. Prices for the trip start at 350$ and higher. Foreign travel passport, traveler’s insurance, travel agency voucher, and a ticket in hand is all the traveler needs, and he is already being met at the airport, given a ride in a comfortable bus to the hotel, where the well trained staff, smiling, spends the rest of the guest’s stay falling over themselves to make sure he is satisfied, whoever he may be. The guest must be happy - then he’ll come back. That’s the omnipresent and unquestioned law of tourist business.


But laws have exceptions. In this case, the exception is embodied by a category of vacationers who, for one reason or another, don‘t have a foreign travel passport. For example – servicemen. Burdened with national security information and occupational health problems, servicemen and their family members are faced with fairly limited choices; these are - a hypothetical possibility to obtain a voucher to a health or tourist resort (Ministry of Defense’s tourist camp), to take a low-key kind of trip to the warm lands, or to spend a "family vacation" without embarking on any long trips. Definitely, health resort therapy, combined with “the sun, the air, and the water”, takes first place on the choice list. On to the health resort then!

The Navy offers vouchers for health resorts of the Moskovskaya, Kaliningradskaya, and Leningradskaya Oblasts (Moscow, Kaliningrad, Leningrad provinces), Kamchatka, Crimea, and the Caucasus. It’s just that obtaining the voucher is oh, not so easy! Especially to a place with a warm sea, during the summer season, and for the whole family - northern summer is short-lived and neither the “white nights” nor the mushroom- and berry-picking will make up for a bit of southern sun, bathing in the sea, and fresh fruits. There are vouchers - for 21 or for 12 days - but during the time of summer vacations only one (!) voucher a month is available for a large unit and 2-3 for a large unit control or an equal organization. More vouchers are available for central organizations, but even there the choices are limited due to the large demand. "Child vouchers” are not available at all due to elimination of full-service boarding houses. Instead, there are "Family Member Vouchers." One must be tirelessly persistent to be able to get at least one of those (for the wife) and to pass through the obstacles of the sanitary-screening board offices and get the roundtrip tickets. Incidentally, it’s the lack of tickets that oftentimes is the reason for giving up on the trip – south-bound trains and planes are always full. Additionally, for some reason the Russian Railway System offers seats in only the “non-prestigious”, to say the least, compartments and train cars for travelers carrying military travel documents; a 2-day long trip next to the vestibule of a train car with no air conditioning has a tendency to generally spoil the overall impressions from the trip. The long-awaited destination will meet you with noisy fuss, heat, and annoying taxi drivers, and any kind of information about public transportation, along with the transportation itself, will be nonexistent. You will have to work up a sweat (literally) before you are finally taken to the resort – the official bus is usually provided only for the trains coming from Moscow, and all other passengers have no choice but to hitchhike. In general, only the very important guests are met at the airport (arrival announced by a telegram), even though the airports are most removed from resorts. For example, the Anapa airport is located 200 km from Gelendzhik, while the Novorossiysk Train Station is 70 km away! There is a common saying that can be paraphrased as follows: “If you don’t transport yourself – no one else will.” As a result of this process of gaining your destination, your wallet gets emptied as fast as the frustration of your tired family grows. And when finally entering into the shade of the reception area, it’s still too early to celebrate. The receptionist on duty is most likely to offer you, in a tired and indifferent manner, to stay a “couple of days” separately – in the gym or in common quarters, or best case scenario – in the doctor’s office. After all, the voucher doesn’t say “you’ll be provided with a private living space.” Needless to say, the “couple of days” might last a week! For some weird reason, during high season (which in the South lasts from the end of May to September), the number of individual rooms - rooms with conveniences (two beds, a dresser, a TV set, a refrigerator, a joint bathroom, and a balcony) - does not correspond to the number of vacationers! This year I was lucky to vacation at a health resort. Resort Divnomorskoye is located in a village (in reality – a small town) with the same name, seven kilometers from the city of Gelendzhik, Krasnodar Krai, on the coast of a small bay. Until recently, both the village and the bay were called Falshivyy Gelendzhik (False Gelendzhik), so named due to frequent navigational errors of the seafarers of old. The village is located in a picturesque valley surrounded by relict mountains covered with coniferous woods, and by vineyards and peach and apple gardens. In the summer this is a true Mecca for vacationers, with motels, camping areas, resorts, health and fitness camps, and prices ranging from 2500 (air-conditioned rooms with conveniences) to 250 (space in a plywood hut, “outdoor facilities”) rubles a day. And, of course, there are beaches, markets, cafes, restaurants, concert areas and night-time discos.


The resort’s territory, more than 2 kilometers in perimeter, is a true forest preserve, hosting two nine-floor dormitory buildings, medical building, canteen, club, library, a number of administrative and house-keeping buildings, a 2-story so-called “Commander in Chief cottage”, cafeteria building and a snack-bar area. Right next to the fence, in the shades of the ancient pine-trees far removed from the fuss of man, there are also 5 “Finnish” houses, and guest accommodation in those is arranged by the resort director himself. In fact sometimes, in the summer-time, he himself occupies the house closest to the seafront.

The resort director, Aslan Khasambievich Tsypyshev, is a talented manager and a very pleasant-mannered person. Not once has anyone heard any direct refusal coming from his lips. He is hospitable Caucasus-style, polite and friendly with the vacationers, and if he ever does refuse, he does it diplomatically, in a convincing and charming manner - "I'd be glad to help, but there's nothing I can do!"

However, with the service people and the staff, he is a demanding, tough manager who knows how to save money and who is perfectly able to navigate himself through all the hierarchical relations of the various organizations of the Armed Forces, the Navy, the Military Industrial Complex, the Fiscal Department of the Ministry of Defense and the local labor market. And it can't be any other way - there are inspections after inspections, it’s becoming more and more difficult to satisfy the important guests who have experienced foreign resorts, on top of that there is the remodeling of the dormitories, and the scheduled expansion, and the medical equipment renovations, and the improvements of the grounds, and god knows what else - down to the daily cleaning and garbage removal from the beach area! That's probably why the “not missing out on profits” idea became the guiding force of the resort director’s management activities.


To the credit of the honorable Aslan Khasambievich, I failed to notice any "missed out profit" (that could be why I am still not a manager but a simple serviceman). The voucher price, which includes room, three times a day meals and medical services in the course of 21 day, amounts to 6 thousand rubles per serviceman and two times that for each family member staying under the voucher obtained at a Sochi Health and Fitness Complex at the place of service. If the voucher (for example, for the child) is purchased in the health resort directly, the full price is over 1370 rubles a day per person. That is, a room for two (no air-conditioning) costs 100 dollars a day - price of a good hotel in Turkey or Egypt, not to mention more exotic countries that offer seaside relaxation. There, an equivalent room "including breakfast" may cost from 10 dollars a day, which includes daily bed sheet replacements, wet cleaning, etc.

Nevertheless, seems to me that more and more resort guests, who oftentimes have nothing to do with the Navy, pay the commercial price. What else, besides the wonderful seaside location, attracts the vacationers? Undoubtedly, it’s the good medical services that are part of the health resort therapy. The wonderful, experienced doctors, excellent nursing staff, new equipment, natural mineral water and oxygenated cocktails with infusions of healing herbs of the ancient Caucasus, the physiotherapeutic health treatments using local healing compounds, and the healing atmosphere itself that characterizes the resort – all of that is above and beyond any other type of recreation.

An individual approach is taken to each vacationer. The department head, doctor Svetlana Georgievna Bogova, veteran of the resort, studied our medical history and familiarized herself with our documents prior to receiving us soon after our arrival, listened to us attentively, prescribed all the necessary treatments and afterwards, despite her busy schedule, always considered our wishes with care. She is a wonderful, interesting person and a highly qualified doctor. In my impression, that is true of all the medical staff and the resort doctors. This too speaks of the strong leadership of the resort director who once used to be the resort head doctor. Present head doctor (unfortunately, I did not get his name) was more concerned with arranging beach chairs of the prestigious area over the pier. Beaches, following the decision of the village administration, are available to all the vacationers, with the resort having only two "healing zones", those being - one closed stuffy area for 200 “numbered” spots under a wide-spaced camouflage net 30 meters away from the shoreline, and 40 spots under the same net, but on the deck, located over the pier and open to the sea breeze. Needless to say, getting into the VIP zone became the one goal of the absolute majority of more than one and a half thousand vacationers. The waiting list spread over two weeks and daily fights over the beach chairs arose between the lucky ones that were "numbered" and the freedom-loving invaders. The fights often involved some kind of offensive squabble and tossing of possessions, with the rescue station and the beach staff having to intervene. It would be fair to say that the “authorities” did not intervene too often, so the vacationers had to protect their own rights, and their possessions, and their health from the drinking, smoking, and swearing “outsiders” who were impeded neither by the warning sign “Healing beach, enter with resort passes only”, nor by attempts at persuasion.


It would be possible of course to settle down on the pebble rock by the seaside if not for the influx of vacationers, because already by 9 am, especially on the weekends, you can’t even put your foot down, not to mention a beach towel, since this beach is for everyone’s use! Some nibble on sunflower seeds, others on watermelon. Bare-skin children are playing rock games and, thanks to all the watermelon and the lack of any kind of pants, pee right into the incoming waves under the watchful sight of the loving moms. The sea has a look of dumpling soup, and to reach clean waters one must walk the only walkway on the pier, but even there you have “hoodlums” jumping into the water right on top of the ladies trying to swim. Even the ever powerful organism of the Black Sea cannot withstand such savage treatment – some kind of infection spread through the waters and a flu-like disease turned into a true plague for the kids and adults alike.

In addition to the general commotion and confusion, one must not forget that the southern sun is healthy only in small doses, and in case of overdose causes burns and heat strokes; people suffering from heart disease (and who doesn't after 15-20 years of military service!) should also avoid overheating. But there’s nowhere to hide! Only in the resort park, under the pine trees! Not on the beach, because there is no beach. Well, technically there is - on the map next to the rescue station, all five piers and the space between them are designated as belonging to the "Beach of the resort Divnomorskoye.” But only one convenient solarium is functioning (see above) - the second one is disassembled for repairs, and in the rest, the spots are rented out for 30-300 rubles a chair! I don’t know who is the actual renter, who is the lessee, who gets the money and who benefits, but in the evenings it’s the resort’s Navy team who puts away the beach chairs at the paid areas. Same lads in the evenings clean the six beaches, to their best abilities, raking out the garbage along with the used syringes and bottles. Big thanks to all of them and the resort’s agriculturist for their hard, often unappreciated, "un-military”, but very necessary labor!

Yet, there’s no one else to clean – cleaning crew salaries in our system are not impressive - it’s not going to attract either a student, or an overage girl, or a retiree. On top of that, the maintenance staff budget has been cut. The waitresses are still holding out, but there are not many of them left – one for 15-20 tables (that makes about 80-100 people!). These are real professionals of the “canteen art” – hauling a heavy, awkward cart, they languish in a long dispensing line; it takes true skill to arrange all the dishes (two-three layers of them) on the two metallic shelves of their carts, but it's even more difficult to wheel this Tower of Pisa accident-free into the hall, where, in expectation of their dietary meals, the vacationers have already finished all of their bread and compote. I am no gourmand - I eat everything and in any quantity - but try to make your wife and kid eat a cold bread patty with boiled pearl barley or a boiled (!) cooked sausage with macaroni! No, no, and no! Their desire is for real meat with vegetables and greens, but that’s exactly what’s missing from the diet, or almost missing – two slices of tomatoes and a shoot of parsley are good enough in the winter, but this is summertime, and the South, and tomatoes grow on the fields here, while the grass grows just about everywhere. Why is it that in the Strategic Missile Forces health resort of Lazurny Bereg (Azure Coast) they serve platefulls of salad – eat all you want; why is it that in the Avrora health resort in Hosta, fresh fruit are handed out for both breakfast and dinner; why is it that in the Black Sea Fleet’s health resort in Yalta, waitresses manage to serve meals hot, and what’s more - give out seconds? Wny not here? On the other hand, what we have is that by the end of the work day, the galley workers, smiling to the local security agents, haul out heavy string bags, and looking out through the string gaps are plastic containers with kefir, layer pastries and paper bags with team and coffee “3 in 1.” Well, that’s one way to do it – these people also need to survive, feed the family, slip some food to the guests accommodated in the utility rooms – the goods won’t go wasted!


And so the soft-hearted parents and grandmas with grandpas take their beach-comber offspring to cafes, chebureks-houses, barbecue grills and pepsi-colas, where they themselves linger until late and with a stronger drink in hand, dancing awkwardly on stiff legs to some feeble-voiced pseudo-singer singing karaoke. In contrast to the old days, for some reason the resort does not present live programs and the club does not function. A serviceman has vacation once, and the way it's spent should not lead to excruciatingly painful regrets over a month of life wasted. No need to concentrate on the described above - those are just trifles that can in no way spoil the magic atmosphere of the little southern resort town filled with the aroma of freedom, unbounded vast spaces and a wonderful happiness of being together with the loved ones!

P.S. According to some reports, beginning of next year health resort Divnomorskoye is going under the jurisdiction of the General Staff of Armed Forces.

Author: Valeriy Valkov