I’m in a beautiful hostel in Yelisovo (the town closest to the airport just outside of Kamchatka Peninsula’s main town of Petropavlovsky-Kamchatky) run by an Alaskan lady who was inspried to moved over to nearby Kamchatka many years ago, herself being from the pre-1867 part of Alaska that was occupied by Russians (the US government bought Alaska from a cash-strapped Russia for US$7.5 million).
I had two offers of a lift to the hostel from strangers: one from the lovely 19 year old Ireny who I sat next to on the flight and who was born and raised on Kamchatka and who plays drums in her band called ‘Sly Life’. The other was from people I’d met in the car park waiting for the luggage room to open. I’d overhead them greeting their teenage son arriving home off the plane and the mention of Australia. I asked the son if he’d been to Australia. Turns out he was returning from a 6 week exchange staying with families at Noosa Heads, Queensland. His father, through the son, introduced himself as the purveyor of all things outdoor tourism. Turns out it was his business. And with his son still as the shy translator he offered to take me to the hostel. He knew Martha the operator. But when Ireny, my 19 year old flight companion came over to say that her uncle was OK to give me a lift, I politely declined the other offer.
Ireny’s uncle was 22 years old and bare-chested, as men like to be during summer in Russia, with a seriously swollen and scabbed-up tattoo on his chest and stomach. It was very new and it looked very painful. He proudly assured me that it wasn’t as he zoomed his right-hand drive luxury Land Cruiser (imported as so many do from Japan, hence being right-hand drive) amongst the busy town traffic and then out of town to where the hostel was situated with a clear view to the volcanos.
As the never ending good-will and good-nature of Russia’s people continues to soothe me, I’m getting ready to make an ascent of one of the many volcanoes. Only got three days to make that happen. In the short time I have I’ve began the process of gathering local intelligence in order to determine what is necessary for an ascent of the volcano closest to Yelisovo, that being Avachinsky Volcano (Avachinskaya Sopka). Flying the three hours northeast of car-mad Vladivostok (the smokey haze mixed with the Sea of Japan’s mist and fog this morning was choking) I was greeted out the window with amazing classical cone-shaped volcanoes rising up all over the place, and radiating out from below their rocky skirts were myriads of taiga-encircled lakes of all shapes and sizes glistening back up at me as the jet raced overhead and the sun reflected in quick succession in each lake in turn. The volcanoes, of which Kamchatka has a significant proportion thereof of the planet’s total number, are still streaked with flutes of mid-summer snow lying starkly on their bare flanks. Already other guests at the hostel, over a wonderful salmon meal prepared by wonderful host Martha, have shared with me their enticing tales of bear sightings and of the famously large sea eagle in these parts.
Walking the river’s edge this evening, amidist the bull dust of the roads trasversed by cars (hard to believe but the soil is so easily disturbed when it’s dry), I observed the camouflaged-clad menfolk blowing up their outboard-fitted zodiacs and heading out to their favoured fishing spots. Camouflage outdoor gear seems to be the preference here. Maybe a post-Soviet hangover. I don’t know. But it’s noticeable.
Wierd little yellow-brown flies caught my attention, swarming over moist cow pats near the grassy banks. Some had other flies perched on top of them. I’ve never seen such coloured flies before.
Avachinsky and her neighbours were viewable through banks of clouds wherever I walked along the swiftly flowing stream, braided in places. Each time I looked up over the stream toward her new parts of her were exposed as the fog ceiling shifted and/or the roaming cloud banks moved. All the while the stream flowed quietly toward an unknown coast, a fraction of which I saw from the airplane above. What I saw was delta and braided into large sweeping bays.
I was enthralled to discuss Neuro-Linguistic Programming and neural awareness with them, subjects that they are both learning to be trainers in. Bottom line of all discussions in this area: living in the moment and taking responsibility for one’s own feelings and thoughts. Couldn’t agree more.
The other guest Prof Fred, an older guy with young thirsty heart and eyes, is an environmental lecturer and writer from Yale, New England region of the United States. He alsmost bounded down the stairs when he heard me arrive. Seems he likes to talk and passionate is his tone. I’m engaged by him in ways that I’ve forgotten after these two months on the road and not meeting other western academics. He’s researching the little known fact of Russia’s protected area system – the zapodevniks (see subsequent blog entries) – that was in place, if I have understood Fred correctly, long before the soviets came to power.
Martha, the host, also seems to know the WWF people in Kamchatka well. I’m not sure if I’ll say hello. With time short and my objective clearly defined, I need to stay focused. Three words: volcano, volcano, volcano.
Earlier, on the way back to the hostel I bought a couple of the Baltika beers, Baltica Number ‘9’ to be precise. Baltica make a range of beers labelled ‘0’, ‘2’, ‘3’, ”5′, ‘7’, ‘9’. And respecively they have the following alcohol contents: 0.0%, 1.5%, 2.8%, 4.0%, 5.4% and 8.0%. As it turned out the wonderful young Swiss couple who’d just rocked up from parts unknown with the bear and eagle and fox tales, had also bought a couple of Baltika Number 9 beers. We all agreed that of all the Russian beers we’d tasted it was the stronger beers +7 or 8% that had the best flavours and aromas.
Anyway, less of beer and more of ascents.
I’m now eight hours ahead of Moscow and a world away.