Water was initially a big problem for us travelling in Russia by camper van. We couldn’t find any places to fill our tanks up as the locations of the few campgrounds in Russia weren’t where we wanted to go. Normally we would fill our tanks and empty our wastes such as the black water and the grey water at campgrounds. We did have that option in Russia.
We searched high and low to find fresh drinking water for the camper van. Driving deep into the night for a few days at the beginning of our travel in Russia, just trying to find freshwater. It clearly wasn’t working out for us. At first, we tried petrol stations, a logical step I would have thought, but it’s incredibly hard to find petrol stations with water taps in Russia. What we found was only one in about 100 have water and how drinkable it is might be questionable.
So petrol stations weren’t a workable option for us, we had to find another way. We were told by many of the station attendants to get our water from the taps in their toilets. As you can imagine. This had zero appeal for me. Not just the idea of using a jerry can 10-12 times to get it into the tank, but the source of the water was a total turn off.
We Hit The Jackpot
Gratefully we stumbled onto another source and as it turned out and it turned out to be a really good one. Something that most Russian families use regularly to get their drinking water.
Villages and many city suburbs have something akin to a village well, it’s actually a big old looking water tap called a Kolonka (Koлонка) that uses a system that keeps the water well below ground level and pumps it up under pressure when you hold a big lever on the Kolonka down for a while. It works summer and winter through. The water is from a well underground and very clean and drinkable. It’s also very cold like it has come straight from a fridge.
We also found a map App called 2GIS that showed us the locations of every single one of these Kolonka throughout Russia. In a flash, all our water problems completely evaporated (sorry about the pun). From that point onwards we had beautiful fresh cool and clean water and water that was easy to find and free!
They aren’t much to look at and we always made a point of running the water for a bit before putting the hose in the tank, just to be sure that it was clean water going into the tank. I got caught out one time. I think that some work had been done to one we used before we got to it and the bottom half of our tank was a bit muddy. We had to flush it all out before the next fill up. I found Kolonka’s in places ranging from the suburbs of St Petersburg to remote villages in Siberia.
We were really surprised sometimes by the quality of the water, one batch around Tomsk was effervescent and tasted better than any naturally effervescent bottled mineral water I have ever bought! Can you imagine my surprise when I drunk it straight from our vans tap for the first time, I thought Vero had played some sort i=of trick on me!
This was more problematic as there simply are zero dumping stations for this. It is nothing like Europe. So what to do. We realised quickly that there was nothing to do other than dump it where we could.
It caused us a real moral dilemma, one we really struggled with. Our only way of overcoming it personally was to make sure that we used the best eco soaps available, that we minimised the food waste going down the sink, this helps to keep the pipes clear anyhow, and to use the water in the van sparingly and use alternatives whenever and wherever possible. Mostly we ended up having to dump grey water on the side of the highway. I’m not proud of this, but there really were no alternatives.
If anyone reading this found a better way to deal with this issue, please tell us asap, as we have another 7,000km to travel here as I write this post.
Blackwater was less of a problem to deal with, but still a nasty icky one.
In western Russia, there are loads of roadside cafes you can camp next to when you are travelling in Russia by camper van. They offer not only food and drinks, but many also offer a safe place to park overnight and a place to go to the toilet and have a shower, some have motel rooms too. The ones with toilet facilities, generally, will let you dump your toilet cassette for the same price as charged to use the loo yourself. Some might turn you away, but not many and the ones that refuse are most in the cities and are not roadside facilities.
There are very few, if any, public toilets in western Russia that you don’t have to pay for.
Easier As You Head East
As you move further east, you will find there are fewer and fewer paid toilet options, but thankfully small public toilets adjacent to the bus stops start to pop up. The toilets are actually pit toilets, so basically and literally a hole in the ground and at ground level for the most part. What I mean by this is that it is a squat toilet, no seat at all. This is the case with most public toilets in Russia. These are a perfect, if rather unpleasant, option for emptying your blackwater waste tank/cassette. Because it is at ground level.
I believe that you can run a pipe from your tank to the toilet easily enough, you might need to make sure it is long enough to reach or have an extension pipe you can fit if you need to.
For those with cassette toilets, it’s a breeze, and because they are at ground level, it’s much easier to empty the cassette into them than a conventional toilet.
I mentioned above that it was an unpleasant option. It’s unpleasant because no one is cleaning them, often they are old wooden structures that look like they might fall down on your head and some people that have used them before you got there clearly have zero ability to aim! I held my breath many a time while I stood as much ‘outside’ as I could while reaching in to release the contents of our cassette. Need I say more?