Baikal – The Long Way to Beijing from Kamchatka!

Baikal – The Long Way to Beijing from Kamchatka!
Beijing, China

Beijing, China

Just took a shower in the wierd and retro Hourly Lounge hotel rooms. I’m at Beijing International Airport. And now I feel 100%, though seriously lacking sleep, given that I left Petropavlovsky-Kamchatki (the capital of Kamchatka Peninsula) yesterday afternoon and flew a very indirect path to Beijing. After the three and a half hours back to Vladivostok I had an hour to wait there in transit before flying six hours back west across Russia to Novosibirsk (capital of Western Siberia, I was through here on the train a few weeks ago en route to Lake Baikal). Then after three hours wait in Novosibirsk I caught the red eye to Pekin, Kitay (as they call ‘Beijng, China’ in Russia) at 02:00 local time this morning. And arrived here at 07:30 local time. Last thing I saw in Russia on the Novosibirsk airport public TV channel was an ad for WWF! Haven’t seen hide nor hair of WWF on my trip, though I had the opportunity to make contact in various places including Kamchatka, but decided not to. A fitting reminder I thought as I drank the last Russian Baltica beer before boarding to leave my beloved Russia. So why such a seriously convolute route from Kamchatka to Beijing? When I arrived in Vladivostok off the train at the end of my Trans-Siberian sojourn last Sunday, 15th of July, the travel agent I lobbed into there could only find this combination of flights to get me up to Kamchatka at short notice and back to Beijing in time for my pre-booked Jetstar flight on Saturday morning, 21st July at 02:10 hours. But ah Kamchatka! Man it was worth it! If only to whet my appetite. I can already see that several weeks are required to immerse yourself into brown bear country and salmon spawnings (the planet’s biggest in fact), as well as more volcanoes and their craters and lakes and a sense of wilderness I could taste while up the volcanoes slide, where just one or two very industrious mosquitoes managed to find me! I met a Yale professor in Yelisovo, Kamchatka, who’s been writing about the Russian Zapovednik (from the Russian word for “sacred, prohibited from disturbance, committed to protect”) for years. He says that many don’t know that the Russians have been protecting nature for nature’s sake for a very long time, even before most other nation states. When he tried to get the National Geographic to publish his findings in 1996 they rejected his claims out of hand. He got it first published in the Sierra Club magazine that same year. The term is an established one on the territory of the former Soviet Union for a protected area which is kept “forever wild”. It is the highest degree of environmental protection for the assigned areas that are strictly protected, and maybe restricted to the public [taken from ]. At the time, the Soviets looked at the newly formed US national parks system, which was ostensibly created for human pleasure when it did start at the turn of the last century, and decided that they didn’t want to follow the same path. “Theirs was purer from the start”, says Professor Fred, my new writer friend from Yale’s Environment School. The closest English term for ‘zapovednik’ is “scientific nature reserve”. As I flew from Vladivostok I looked at the route to Novosibirsk and I estimated by my calculations that if the cloud was parted then there should be a chance that we might see Lake Baikal below. We chased the setting sun two thirds of the way across Russia last night. The clouds spellbound me. And and at four hours into the flight I started scanning the earth’s surface below as the cloud blankets parted. Luck was with me – there were now huge breaks in the clouds. I was recognising mountain ranges. Then the Russian S7 (airline) hostess came down the aisle to say Lake Baikal was coming up. I was ecstatic! (On boarding I’d asked the ladies to ask the captain as to the probability of seeing Baikal – at the the time they came back with a big negative). And so sure enough within five minutes I caught the first glimpse of the north-east corner of the Lake, where the Upper Angara river delta snakes through marshes toward and through Yarki Island sand spit. As we moved west I saw the point at which I’d stood on 6th July looking across to Yarki and admirning the fishermen and the marshes and the holiday makers swimming in Baikal’s warmer northern waters. As we drfited along her northern tip from on high, Baikal stretched out to the south and disappeared under massive low cloud banks. But the whole complete northern tip of Baikal was clearly visible. I was very thrilled. I scanned the north-western shoreline (always tempting to call it a coastline as it’s so massive and comandeering) and saw Severobaikalsk township (where I’d stayed with Evgeny, Alyona and Anna (the wonderful family of Baikal Trail Hostel) and laughed with Azamat from Kyrgystan). And further south of Severobaikalsk I imagined the route I’d hiked south on 9th July as I spied beautiful Lake Slyudanskoye reflecting a grey evening sky. Just seeing this reminded me of the walk through the taiga-covered headlands and along the smooth-stoned beaches by crystaline waters to my favourite little wood-constructed villlage of Baikalskoye. All from such great heights. And it took about 15 minutes in the plane from first my sighting of Baikal to when I could no longer see it straining my neck backwards looking out my window. Then within another 15 minutes we passed over the (Lower) Angara River and the Bratsk (artifical) Sea – the Angara River is the only river to drain Lake Baikal. So within half and hour I’d seen the Upper Angara River drain south from the Baikal Mountains into the northern tip of the world’s oldest (at least 25 million years) and deepest lake and then it’s major draining river, the same Angara, coursing north into the huge reservoir, known as the Bratsk Sea. Needless to say I was very happy about that. So I’m going into city now to explore the Forbidden City, Tian#anm$en Square, etc etc. I need to be back out here at Beijing T2 to catch my flight to Singapore at 02:10 tomorrow morning local time. Australia beckons. But right now, after Siberia and the Russian Far East, Beijing is serious culture shock! (Hey, I just googled ‘Tian#anm$en Square’ in this Beijing Airport internet cafe and the Google results page came up with some selections. I then clicked on the wikipedia link for it and I got a message in chinese, which I assume says that the site is blocked. I asked the internet cafe attendant girl to assist and she got the following warning message while searching for the same thing: “We’ve observed that searching for [tiananmen] in mainland China may temporarily break your connection to Google. This interruption is outside Google’s control.” All very interesting.)

Categories: Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Post navigation

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Blog at

%d bloggers like this: