Kamchatka Overview October 02 2011
The jury is in: Yes, club and dance music are the all time top choices of music for Russians. Yes, Lady Gagga has infultrated all the way to far eastern Russia.
Kamchatka is a land where the sea meets a 200km wide, 800km long peninsula of land. A backwards place still struggling to escape communist era, a place where all payments are made in cash, a place where you drive on the right side of the road- yet half of the cars have the driving wheel on the right side of the car. The largest city, Petropavlosky (PKC) home to ~ 200K people. Probably the entire population of Kamchatka is 300K (My guess only... I'm typing this offline- if you want exact numbers- do research). Pretty much everyone lives in PKC in identical Communist Soviet Era appartment complex buildings. Each one 4 stories tall, ~20 units long, built from unpainted crumbling concrete. Once leaving town, eventually it turns to land void of people and instead full of wilderness, volcanos, bears, rivers, and fish.
We have come to Kamchatka under the invitation to participate in the scientific meeting titled 'Workshop on Subduction Processes' at the 'Institute of Volcanology and Seismology' (in PKC) which occurs every two years. The meeting comprises 150 participants from Russia, Japan, Alaska, and the USA. I know what you are thinking... What are Megan & Kevin doing at a meeting on Volcanology- and I must respond: 'Hey- When in Rome'. Except here we have replaced that phrase with “When in Kamchatka”.
In 5 short days of meetings and 'Field Excursions' we take our first helecopter flight, hike into the caldera of an active volcano, drink Vodka, and learn to eat 'Big Russian Sausage'.
To the north of PKC the main road is paved for about 2 hours. Beyond that it is gravel. After the end of the road, towns & communities are accessed by small planes and MI8 Helecopters. On August 31st
we drive north 3.5 hours, on the main road before turning off onto a rugged backcountry road. After the first quarter mile of driving, we encounter our first grizzley in a miles-wide open field of blueberries. This is a good opportunity to stop and fix undercarriage damage which has thus far occurred after leaving the main road (including broken electrical cables which has disabled our 4WD).
Our vehicle is a 1980s era Toyota 4WD van carrying the 4 of us plus our guide Dima, and his friend Olec, plus all our gear and dog Tina. Yes, thats right- we are going on an adventure. A 7... er... 10 day backpacking trip in the Kamchatka backcountry. Luckily this Toyota seems to fix just as easily as it breaks (much like other Toyotas). A few more miles... err... kilometers down the road we reach our destination: pretty much the middle of nowhere... defined by the road entering a series of trees, bushes, and creek that would require a much bigger vehicle for continued passage.
8 days later we emerge from the wilderness seeing only one other group people on our last day, and having found a smoldering campfire without any trace of its creators (Sasquatch?). Yes- the fishing is amazing, yes- it is a beautiful country, and yes- it is awesome to meet and hike with people from the other side of the world.