Kamchatka coordinates: Latitude 58
“If the weather is good” – the most open said and hoped for condition
07/01/15 – 07/11/15
My year in Russia is almost over. Last stop: Kamchatka (КАМЧАТКА). It is the most eastern part of the country. If you go further east, you will suddenly be west. It is Russia’s last time zone. The difference to Germany is now +10 hours. Kamchatka is famous for its stunning nature: volcanoes, geysers, hot springs, free-living brown bears, tundra wolves and arctic foxes, the Pacific Ocean with all kinds of Pacific salmon, seals, whales and puffins.
Together with my friend, we travelled to Kamchatka’s capital, Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky. Unfortunately, the day of our arrival was not the best start for our journey. The city was covered in a grey blanket of clouds. Compared to Yakutsk it was really cold. (Who could have thought I would ever say something like that?) Due to a long journey without much sleep, we just arrived, slept and walked around. First impression: It is too cold!
Before I start with our adventures, I would like to give you some basic facts about the Peninsula Kamchatka, “the land of fire and ice”:
- 322.000 inhabitants in total
- 180.000 inhabitants live in the capital
- approximately 16.000 brown bears are living in Kamchatka’s nature
- subarctic to polar climate: covered in snow from October to May & a short, cold summer
- surrounded by Pacific Ocean, the Bering and Okhotsk seas
- volcanoes of Kamchatka belong to the UNESCO world heritage list
- approximately 160 volcanoes, 29 of them are still active
- three visible volcanoes from the capital: Koryaksky, Avanchinsky, Kozelsky
- famous Valley of Geysers, part of which was destroyed in a massive mudslide in June 2007
- very active region with frequently shallow earthquakes due to Pacific Circle
- After World War II, the Soviet authorities declared Kamchatka a military zone: It remained closed to Soviet citizens until 1989 and to foreigners until 1990.
- surprisingly for me there are no White Nights
After a good rest, we had planned to start our second day directly with a trip to a volcano. Unfortunately, the weather was not good enough for that. It was still cold and rainy. Instead, the organizer of “Kamchatka freeride community” offered us a horse-riding trip to the Avacha River. Since it was a quite spontaneous offer, we got dressed within 5 minutes – right in time for another decline. The tour was booked out. That is bad luck!
Therefore, our second day was all about exploring the city, “enjoying” the beach and seriously hoping for better weather. Apparently, all our planned tours were depending on good weather. The definition of good weather in Kamchatka seems to be “no wind, no rain”. The locals told us this summer was one of the worst summers they had in years. During all June, it was cold and rainy. They had not had one good sunny day. That is quite unusual since normally the sun is always shining in June and July. Hm. We had no choice than to actually hope for better weather…
Kamchatka’s Capital – Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky
Paratunka, a natural thermal bath
Unfortunately, the next day there was still no good weather. Quite the opposite. It was cold and the rain seemed to be unstoppable. Our volcano tour got canceled and we decided to go to take a thermal bath instead. After a long bus ride, we arrived at Paratunka. Lucky us a very kind woman from the bus took us with her and showed us the way. Otherwise, we probably would have never found the hidden bath paradise. With her five English and our five Russian vocabularies, we made quite some good conversation and had even a teatime together in the bath. She brought some tea that she made out of self-picked berries and that was (in her opinion) very healthy for the whole body. Well, it tasted very good! Together with the other three bathing guests, we enjoyed the silence, the beautiful view on the snow-covered mountains in front of us, the delicious tea, the good Russian music from the radio station “Dacha”, the rain drops and the hopping between the very hot and the “normal” hot pool of natural thermal water.
An adventurous kayak freeride
Even though the weather was still cloudy and rainy, we finally got the “go!” for our four-day kayak trip. On a catamaran, we had quite an amazing and unforgettable time! (I do not even try to tell everything that happened. That would be just too much! So I try to keep it short and just mention the most interesting parts…)
On our first day, we went to a bay where we first had to get rid of many stones and rocks to smooth the ground so that we can built up our tents. Due to strong tides our “bathroom” corners were not accessible any longer, which is why we had to do our little business pretty much in public. There was a tiny little corner where you could still see us from many ankles. Well, you get used to it 😉 Our bathroom and our drinking water came out of a little waterfall next to us. It was freezing, but refreshing and delicious at the same time.
Our group consisted mainly of Russians. My friend and I were the only foreigners. Despite our poor Russian skills, they took us in their group and tried very hard to make everything understandable for us. All of them were really, really great! Even though some of them only stayed for a day or two, some others arrived on another day, we always had a good time!
To cut a long story short, basically we were kayaking, eating, riding on the catamaran, eating, drinking every night self-made “Glühwein” (German hot wine), sleeping, eating, moving our tents and things from one place to another and so on. During the four days, the weather was most of the time cold, cloudy and rainy. The clothes my friend and I brought did not even last a day. It was too cold and everything got wet from all the water that surrounded us. Fortunately, our catamaran group brought enough clothes that we could put on during the days.
We visited different bays and beautiful small islands with no other people than us on them. On our hour-long rides on the catamaran, we saw the most stunning nature. We were surrounded by the Pacific Ocean, by snow-covered mountains, beautifully shaped rocks and many residents of the sea like seals, seagulls and puffins.
During one of our many trips, we were on the catamaran for a couple of hours. Even though our captain told us not to drink that much this morning to avoid a pipi-break, the five passenger girls really needed to pee after a while (surprise!). Our three strong seamen looked out for the next island to stop on. Despite very strong waves and a lot of seaweed covering the bay, they stopped there for us. Well, the bigger problem was to get out of the island again back on sea. The three seamen with pure muscles and strength jumped into the water to bring the catamaran back on track. It took them about half an hour and all the strength they had! I have never seen such kind of action before! It was very impressive! At the end, all of them were completely wet even though they were all wearing waterproof clothes. Not a single spot was try anymore! After all this action and effort, I just commented “Crazy!” with big eyes and the mouth wide open. The captain responded “Niet! Normalna!” Oh right, that is normal! Sorry, how could I be shocked and impressed? I forgot I am in Russia. This is how things are here. One big adventure! Everything is normal!
This very long ride brought us to another bay where some biologists live during the summer to study killer whales. The name of the biologist’s organization is FEROP – Far East Russia Orca Protection. It was very interesting to see their living conditions (look at the pictures below!) and to get to know more about their work. The project exists since 1999 but more and more biologists are losing interest in that work. I really hope the project continues and they will find other scientists that are willing to spend a couple of weeks with very low living conditions in order to study the whales that pass by.
Overall, it was a great trip and it was worth all the freezing!
A monster truck trip to the volcano Vachkazhetz (Вачкажец)
Before I start with this story, I have to mention that our ten days we had in Kamchatka were not restful at all. We had a full program. Every day we had to get up very early and were on tour until late evening. After our kayak trip, we were really tired and only wanted to sleep and rest for a while. But not this time. We went late to bed and had to get up very early in the morning to go on a volcano tour.
So half asleep, we were sitting on the porch waiting for our tour to start. I could not believe it when two monster trucks arrived in front of our hostel. There are not so many huge cars like that in Germany, which is why I was shocked and excited at the same time. This is going to be another big adventure! It got even better when I saw our driver. One big, extremely trained, tattooed man with a smile of a four year old.
“The journey is the reward” got an entirely different meaning after this trip. Literally, the journey was the destination. The monster trucks took a track that was not an actual track. They made one out of it. I have still no idea where our drivers had their orientation from and how they found “the” way to the volcano. There was no road, no track, no nothing. There was a forest with bushes and birch trees. Moreover, a lot a lot a lot of mud! They were stuck so many times! Sometimes they needed a shuffle to get rid of the mud around the tires, sometimes they had to pull the car out of the mud by tying a rope around a tree, sometimes they just drove over bushes and trees, sometimes the monster truck almost fell over. The comment we always got “Normalna!” For us it was pure adrenaline! For them it was normal. This is why I love Russia! It is rough, it is thrilling, and it is adventurous! And for the Russians it is all “normalna”.
Therefore, the actual excursion is not that interesting… We arrived at a lake close to the volcano. Despite the snow everywhere, it was quite hot. We could walk around in shirts and the men were even hiking shirtless. (Probably not only because it was hot, but also to show their trained bodies…)
Another reason why I like Russia a lot: People do not bother so much. When I started snowboarding, they just showed me how to put on my snowboard. After that just try it! Without any instructions or dry training. The same at our kayak tour. Just sit in and paddle! Do not think too much, just do it! It was nothing else with our trip to the volcano. We were hiking on steeply, snow-covered mountains with torrential waterfalls next to us. Just look out and do not fall! We were walking on thin layers of ice above the running water. Just look out and do not break in! Sometimes it can be that easy!
At the end of the day, we had a snow hike during summer. We were hiking up steep mountains, sliding down on our butts, jumping over small mountain rivers – and all the time surrounded by a beautiful landscape! Kamchatka is pure natural beauty!
Things you do once in a lifetime – A helicopter tour to the Valley of Geysers
Last but not least. There are certain things in life that you probably only do once. Especially if you are travelling to unusual places that you might not have a second chance to return. Such as Kamchatka for instance. That is why you have to make the most out of it. Even if the weather might be bad, you have to go kayaking. Even if you do not have any waterproof shoes, you have to hike in snow. Even if a helicopter-tour is crazy expensive, you have to spend the money for it. It might hurt, but only for a second. After all, one of the reasons why I spent a year in the coldest city on earth was to finally earn some money, to finally have enough to travel and do crazy exciting things. Such as the helicopter-tour to the Valley of Geysers, one of the many natural highlights in beautiful Kamchatka.
It was my very first (and probably only) time flying with a helicopter. The Vityaz-Travel Company (витязь-тревел) is specialized in all kinds of helicopter trips. There is for example “heli-skiing” and “heli-boarding” during the winter seasons. Trips that are now on top of my bucket list!
However, this trip was THE PERFECT TRIP! The weather was amazingly good. The sun was shining. We could walk around in a shirt. The trip was perfectly organized. Our guide and even all the other passengers (we were the only foreigners again) were fluent in English. For the first time after all these days, we got as much information as all the others. We were walking around the Valley of Geysers, we saw Geysers erupting, and we had a look at the spot of the massive mudslide of June 2007 that buried several Geysers. We even saw a brown bear! He was coming close to our wood house. The bear was checking out the surrounding area and without even knowing he made all of us very, very happy!
Our helicopter-tour lasted all day long. We flew over several volcanoes and geysers and just the most stunning landscape there is! Kamchatka truly is the land of fire and ice! I have to admit after Iceland, Kamchatka and upcoming Alaska I might have found my place for the future 😉
Well, the perfect trip was completed with a short bath in a natural hot spring. Even though it was more of a mud bath, we were told it was very healthy and soothing for our skin and we should not take a shower in the evening. No problem! We were too tired and too exhausted from all of these beautiful impressions anyway 😉
As we returned to the helicopter-port, we even got a certificate for attending that wonderful trip. Furthermore, the organization gave us some postcards and magnets for memory. As I already said: The perfect trip! Every single copeck was totally worth it!
ALL IN ALL, Kamchatka was one of the best and most exciting trips I have done so far! I can strongly recommend a trip there! A special, unique and not entirely discovered spot of our earth that is not overrun by tourists yet. So take your chance and go to such an amazing place!