Outside magazine, March 1995
"It's very rare, but occasionally you find a really big example of a cockroach," Vadim Mikhailov says, with oddly upbeat emphasis.
Mikhailov, 29, is trying to drum up interest in his strange new tourist business: leading rubber-suit-wearing adventure-seekers into parts of Moscow's 620,000 miles of dank, dark sewer tunnels. Mikhailov and his 15-person Diggers of the Underground Planet -- named after the seventeenth-century English agrarian reformers -- are hoping to make a little capitalist jingle while calling attention to the fact that, like many of the sewers on his tour, Russian environmental regulations have scarcely changed since the Middle Ages.
Hence, only the hardiest need apply for Mikhailov's outings (usually under an hour, price negotiable), which may expose you to a varied and corrosive toxic spattering. Diggers and their clients have also encountered huge rats, mutant fish, fugitive criminals, clouds of staggering gas, rumors of crocodiles, and something Mikhailov calls "the blob," a revolting white fungus that grows on the tunnel walls.
Although you provide boots and a flashlight, your overalls come courtesy of the Cold War. "It's a war-chemical defensive uniform," says Mikhailov, who claims that, among his small number of domestic and foreign clients, he's attracted more than just fume-loving risk junkies. "We also interest the family tourist. They come and want to see the Kremlin, the rivers. Then they get interested in this."
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