Irina Sidorenko and her dog Greta at the Country Club beach, Durban, with the Moses Mabhida Stadium in the background. Picture Motshwari Mofokeng/Africa News Agency.
Irina Sidorenko and her dog Greta at the Country Club beach, Durban, with the Moses Mabhida Stadium in the background. Picture Motshwari Mofokeng/Africa News Agency.
Irina Sidorenko and her dog Greta at the Country Club beach, Durban, with the Moses Mabhida Stadium in the background. Picture Motshwari Mofokeng/Africa News Agency.
Irina Sidorenko and her dog Greta at the Country Club beach, Durban, with the Moses Mabhida Stadium in the background. Picture Motshwari Mofokeng/Africa News Agency.
Sidorenko tucks into a bunny chow in Durban. Picture Motshwari Mofokeng/Africa News Agency.
Sidorenko tucks into a bunny chow in Durban. Picture Motshwari Mofokeng/Africa News Agency.
Greta's passport.
Greta's passport.
Sidorenko in Guinea Bissau.
Sidorenko in Guinea Bissau.
Sidorenko and Greta in Greece.
Sidorenko and Greta in Greece.
WORLD - Living out of her car for the past year, Russian-born Irina Sidorenko has travelled through 48 countries with only one companion - her dog, Greta.

Irina Sidorenko and her dog Greta at the Country Club beach, Durban, with the Moses Mabhida Stadium in the background. Picture Motshwari Mofokeng/Africa News Agency.
Irina Sidorenko and her dog Greta at the Country Club beach, Durban, with the Moses Mabhida Stadium in the background. Picture Motshwari Mofokeng/Africa News Agency.

  

Sidorenko’s epic journey has been made in a very ordinary sedan, a 2005 Hyundai Elantra. No special anything, not 4x4 or Sports Utility Vehicle but your run-of-the-mill production car. It has clocked more than 190000km so far and is ready to lap up more.

So far, the 46-year-old Siberian mother of two has driven from Moscow, through 20 European countries, and all the way through Africa.

Sidorenko and Greta in Greece.
Sidorenko and Greta in Greece.


She arrived in Durban three weeks ago and is now preparing for the next leg of her journey. She will soon board a ship to Uruguay, and then from country to country through South and North America and Asia before heading home.

While some might think she’s crazy, Sidorenko’s travels have enabled her to see the world in an extraordinary way.

“I was born in a small town in Kemerovo region where I lived and completed university before landing a job as a public relations officer in the cinema industry,” said Sidorenko.

She went on to create Media Holding (television, radio and newspapers under one roof), completed University of State Management in Novosibirsk (degree of government and municipality management) and in 2006 decided to move away.

“I moved to Moscow with my two sons, Vladimir and Iliya, where I worked for a leading property development company.

"In 2015, I met a married couple who had just returned after driving around the world. The idea to do the same appealed to me.”

And with Vladimir and Iliya having left home, she also wanted “to do something different”.

In 2016, Sidorenko obtained her driver’s licence, bought a car and undertook a few road trips. The first was to Crimea, which lasted three weeks.

“My very next journey was to Georgia. This time I took Greta (Siberian Husky cross Labrador) along with me,” said Sidorenko.

By the end of that trip, she knew that Greta would be the best travelling companion a woman could have, particularly in dealing with any nasty strangers.

“My first plan was to go along the east coast of the continent, but we could not get into Egypt and Sudan. We had to return to Morocco and go from there along the West coast.

“The next stop was Western Sahara, then Mauritania, Senegal, Guinea Bissau, Conakry, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Cote d’Ivoire, Ghana, Burkina Faso, Benin, Nigeria, Cameroon, Gabon before entering the Congo.

“There I met some friends. They flew me over the DRC to Angola in a military aircraft.

“Then I came to Namibia and finally Cape Town.”

She had not known that Durban existed until she met people in Cape Town who spoke highly of the city.

“They told me Durban was a great city to visit. They also advised that it would be easier to arrange going back to America by ship via Durban,” said Sidorenko, over her first taste of a Durban bunny chow.

Sidorenko tucks into a bunny chow in Durban. Picture Motshwari Mofokeng/Africa News Agency.
Sidorenko tucks into a bunny chow in Durban. Picture Motshwari Mofokeng/Africa News Agency.


After arriving in Durban, she found a group who spoke Russian on the facebook page Zavtraki in Durban (Durban Breakfasts).

Hosted by Russian-born Olga von Eck, Sidorenko has since seen a lot of the city - the most memorable being Phansi Museum where she was taken through the cultural history and artifacts of the people of southern Africa by Paul Mikula, a trained artist blacksmith, who established and runs the museum.

Preparing for the next leg of her journey to South America, Sidorenko recalled the most frightening incident she had encountered on her travels. It happened in West Africa, in Conakry, the capital of Guinea.

“I was caught in the middle of rowdy strikers who broke into my car. Local journalists came to my rescue. They alerted the Russian Embassy who sent representatives very quickly to rescue me,” said Sidorenko.

Other than this incident, people she had encountered had mostly been friendly. But she did encounter problems with customs officials in various countries.

“In Israel, they would not accept Greta’s papers. I had a difficult time getting through border control,” said Sidorenko.

Greta's passport.
Greta's passport.


“And in Senegal they told me they only allowed cars not older than 2008 models.”

Sidorenko said she had to pay “a penalty of a e150” to get into Senegal, and was often asked to pay bribes when stopped by authorities in other West African countries.

Her car also broke down on several occasions.

“But I always met people who helped, and made it possible for me to continue. I only speak Russian, but very quickly I learnt that when people want to communicate, they will communicate.

“We understand each other clearly. Communication is not only words. We can understand at a higher energy level,” said Sidorenko.

After staying for a week in a Durban guest house, Sidorenko has moved out and is based at a Christian Mission in Morningside, continuing to live in her car which, she says, is more convenient because of Greta, her dog, with two well-used passports, Russian and European.

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SUNDAY TRIBUNE