Kamchatka – land of ice and fire, or maybe rain and fog?

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August 26th 2011
Published: August 25th 2011
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On the way to Kamchatka
Ira dropped me off at the airport before going to work – consequently I was there well in advance. In some way it was a good thing – given that not many people use online check-in I actually got a window seat 😊 I went through the security check and sat down in the waiting area listening to music and observing people. Khabarovsk airport has four gates – so there are probably like four ladies doing the boarding for all the flights. The most important skill in that position is probably to have a loud voice – the ladies are actually walking and screaming through the whole waiting area “last passengers to Moscow, flight 1234, please board at gate 3’’ after they announced the last call for this flight at least half an hour ago 😊 Looking at the people you could also more or less judge where they are flying to: the well-dressed people with laptops were more heading to Moscow, whereas the people who looked more like farmers and travelled with buckets were more flying to destinations like Okhotsk 😉 I also caught myself thinking: “Why would you fly to Vladivostok, it’s only a
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Reaching the crater - what a beauty:)
12h overnight train ride” – haha as if I’d take the train to Berlin for a weekend 😊 Perceptions change…

Dima met me at the airport on Kamchatka – he asked me beforehand how he can recognize me, I told him that I have a big black backpack. I obviously didn’t learn from Irkutsk – you pick up your luggage only after you have met your friends and family, this time not in the arrival hall, but actually outside of the airport – I actually don’t think there is an arrival hall, people are just waiting in front of a big gate 😊 Landing on Kamchatka is anyway interesting; after you have landed you drive about 5min through the forest before you actually reach some sort of tower and main building. Dima and I did find each other eventually. He currently lives with his mom on the countryside, his place doesn’t have hot water and his stove isn’t installed yet . He wanted to check for a hotel for me, after we checked the price in the first one and I told him that I’m used to not having hot water, we dropped my luggage
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Really, that was there all the time?
at his place and drove to a place called Paratunka. Paratunka is famous for its hot springs – so the first evening in Kamchatka couldn’t have been better 😊

The next day we drove to Petropavlovsk, the capital of Kamchatka . Petropavlovsk isn’t particularly beautiful and the city is quite spread out around the few local hills – it seems that without a car it’s quite hard to move around. We checked out the bay and a viewpoint up the hill, unfortunately the weather wasn’t that great, so you couldn’t see the volcanoes around the city. Dima is actually a fisherman – he’s currently looking for another job, though. I don’t think he regrets having chosen this job initially, but he seems to be kind of tired of it. He commented: “I’ve spent my best years in the sea – in the beginning you think it’s all romantic and beautiful out in the sea, but in reality it’s just really tough work!”

The next day was dedicated to organizing the rest of my stay in Kamchatka. I asked Dima for advice – as usual, you don’t
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Landed on the moon:)
visit the things that are the closest to you, and so didn’t he. He sees the volcanoes almost every day why would he climb them? 😊 I told him about my plans to catch the bus to Klyuchi or Esso – he told me that he doesn’t want me to go there alone. Judging from how easily he was able to convince me not to go there by myself , I realized that after two and a half months I was kind of tired of always organizing a new place to sleep, trying to figure out where to go and how to get there – I guess I didn’t mind just following someone for a change. So I did end up booking a day trip to climb the Gorely Volcano for my birthday and a 6-day tour further up north of Kamchatka to climb the Tolbachik Volcano. In that moment I was happy that the economy is doing quite badly at the moment – the exchange
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Dead forest
rate saved me quite a lot of Swiss Francs compared to rate at the beginning of my trip! I had to pay by cash ; Dima asked me if I have that much money with me, my answer: “obviously not, gotta go to an ATM”! He kinda looked strangely at me. We walked to the ATM, I took out money, Dima commented: “that’s all? that easy?” – That probably explains his previous facial expression; I guess he has never taken out money from an ATM. In the evening I filled up the bathtub and any other container I could find in the apartment with water – they are turning off the water for 3 days!

Saturday, my birthday, 7am meeting time – the guide, Alexej, a young couple from Moscow, two ladies also from Moscow and three locals. The weather didn’t seem to be willing to give me a birthday present – so I was wondering what that hell are those locals doing on this trip? 😊 In Switzerland, if the snow and the weather aren’t great, most locals don’t go skiing, whereas the
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klyuchevsky national park
tourists who are in Switzerland only for a week go skiing every day no matter what weather – I assumed in Kamchatka it would be the same. But Russians are different – apparently the three of them wanted to do another tour which didn’t take place, so they were offered the night before to go on this tour – their reaction: ‘’ah yeah sure, why not?’’… I just love those guys! So, the closer we got to the volcano, the worse the weather got, nevertheless we decided to climb it. Due to the fog you couldn’t see anything , but those three guys from Kamchatka absolutely made my day – they were joking around the whole day 😊 Apparently the first and also the last volcano they will ever climb 😉 On the way down we crossed a group of Koreans – one guy completely dressed in white , another guy with an umbrella – after seeing them the feeling of being a tourist completely fainted 😊 On the way
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Ascent to Tolbachik
back with the minibus we stopped at a natural hot spring – perfect to warm up again after the volcano climb. After that we enjoyed a tasty lunch/dinner with chicken, fish, some drink out of flask . All in all, a funny day and hey, I climbed a volcano on my birthday, what did you do??? 😊

Ironically, the next day I woke up with beautiful sunshine 😊 Well, at least I actually realized what kind of beauty was all the time around me – the volcanoes are really just next to the city! I couldn’t really believe it the first few days. Dima took me a place where not only hot, but also healthy mineral water comes right out of the ground. After the volcano climb a perfect way to relax on Sunday – sunbathing, relaxing in the hot water, from time to time jumping in to the freezing cold lake to cool down 😊

On Monday my 6-day trip to Tolbachik started. This time I got foreign
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Tolbachik crater
company: Markus, a photographer from Austria was part of our group. He’s taking pictures for an article about Kamchatka to be published in the magazine he’s working for . Then we had Renato, a guy from Khabarovsk and the rest of the people all from Moscow – a young couple , two girls in their 20ties , grandparents with their grandson as well as two women travelling individually. The group was completed by Tatiana, the cook, Oleg, the driver as well as two guides, Igor & Vitaly. The former leading a 10 days tour with Renato, Tania & Tania further through the Klyuchevsky National Park where Tolbachik is located, the latter taking the rest of the group through the town Esso back to Petropavlovsk after 6 days. Tatiana, the cook is originally from Minsk, but came to Kamchatka for work on a 3-year contract – it has been 33 years that she lives here. Oleg is from Tyumen, he came to Kamchatka with
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Koryaksky volcano
the army. Twice he left Kamchatka, twice he came back. He said “auf Kamchatka wohnt man nicht, da lebt man’’ .

The first day we pretty much spent in our army truck driving roughly 500km up north – the further north we got, the worse the roads. In the evening Banja was waiting for us in a simple guest house in Kozirevsk, the closest village to Tolbachik. The next day we drove into the Klyuchevsky National Park where we set up our tents in the base camp close to Tolbachik – the weather, rainy and foggy once again. The place looked more like a moon landscape than a National park. At least now I don’t need to worry about flying to the moon – I think that place came pretty close it 😊 Later on we went for a first walk to a smaller crater and the dead forest – the fog disappeared slightly so
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Avachinsky-Koryaksky volcanoes at sunrise
we did actually see something !

Travelling already for quite a long time, obviously I tried to take the least as possible with me, whereas others just travelling to Kamchatka had probably everything possible you could need while trekking with them! So the first night in the tent I was literally freezing my a… off with my small, thin sleeping bag. Not many times in my life I’ve slept as badly as that night, I even started dreaming about getting attacked by mosquitoes 😉 I was actually happy that we needed to get up at 7am! I forgot about the bad night pretty quickly when I came to breakfast and saw “Fotzelschnitte” on the table – that just so made my day! 😊 Today was the big day of climbing Tobalchik – we were supposed to be driven closer to the foot of the volcano, but there was too much fog , so the driver said
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Mutnovsky volcano
that it is too dangerous to drive there in this weather. Thus, we started walking right from the camp . That day, I was really really happy to be quite sporty, even though I usually don’t do endurance. As on my whole trip through Russia, also in this case, I just went with the flow – probably it would have been smart to check first what I got myself into 😉 In this case about 2200 meters difference in altitude – I made the acquaintance of my personal limits ! We walked, walked, walked, climbed, climbed, climbed, saw beautiful sights, the sky cleared up, up until about 100 to 200 meters difference of altitude to the top I was doing alright – after that I was very happy to still have some battery on my phone, the music helped me up to the top! Up there a huge and beautiful crater of almost 2km diameter was waiting for us. After that unfortunately another I don’t know how many km back to the camp – positive thing, by the time we got down the sky cleared up and we could actually
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Viluchinsky volcano
see where we were camping – haha, I expected something different 😊

This time I was ready for the cold night – packed up in jumpers and warm socks the night passed by somehow. Last day at the foot of Tolbachik – it was raining cats and dogs. We decided to go underground and visit some caves. After that we packed up our tents and completely wet drove back to Kozirevsk where once again Banja was waiting for us . After that Vitaly, Markus, Olja, Lena and myself had a few drinks – I just remember laughing loads and loads, but not quite sure any more about what 😊 The next day we left for Anavgay and Esso – two small villages about an hour away. In Anavgay we visited a camp of the Even tribe. For my taste a bit too touristic, but I understand that they have to earn money somehow. After that we headed for Esso, which they call ‘Switzerland of Kamchatka’ – nobody really knows why. From my point of view, the nature around is somewhat similar to some parts of Switzerland and the
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Waiting area at the airport
amount of street signs for the fact that there are no real streets in this village are also quite Swiss-like 😉 Apart from that Esso is famous for its hot springs, so we pretty much enjoyed our evening in the pool. The next day before heading back to Petropavlovsk, we visited the regional museum in Esso – nicely done, but the guide was a bit an overkill for us – she talked and talked and talked until we just couldn’t listen anymore .

Back in Yelizovo I spent two days relaxing, buying presents, going back to the hot springs, searching the town for internet , walking around the market and mostly just tanking energy!

On Tuesday, my last day, I decided to profit from the beautiful weather and hit the Mutnovsky volcano. The road there, if you can actually call it a road, is most of the year covered in snow, it only melts at the end of August for probably a week or two. We drove there with something they call a jeep – I think, it’s one step further than
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From the plane
a jeep . Anyway, the ride there was already an experience – over snowfields, volcano dust, rocks – I think this vehicle can drive anywhere 😊 Eventually we arrived at the foot of the volcano, or maybe already a bit higher, not sure – had a little snack before hiking up. For once we had a great view – I actually saw Gorely which is close-by. Up at Mutnovsky a movie-like scenery was awaiting us. There were loads of bubbling holes, fumaroles – loads of smoke / gas coming out of the ground. I liked it 😊

The next day it was time to leave. Standing at the airport I realized that those volcanoes are actually almost right behind it – landing in clouds and fog, I thought the pictures on the brochures showing the airport building in front of the volcano were purely photo shopped 😉 Checking-in my luggage I had two young guys in front of me – they checked like 6 pieces of ‘’luggage’’ – a cable reel, a drill, … 😊 The best about this airport is the waiting area though – there are benches just
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Who needs a plasma screen?:)
standing outside the airport building, so you can sit outside, have a drink, enjoy the volcanoes as if you were sitting in a cafe somewhere outside – just brilliant 😊

At some point we flew off – beautiful view, clear sky, perfect to dream away…

On a side note:
I haven't really made my mind up yet about the value for money question - yes, Kamchatka is beautiful, but I'm not a 100%!s(MISSING)ure yet whether I would actually recommend travelling there... Definitely don't do it after 2 and a half months travelling across Russia - you need to be able to digest loads of impressions 😊 If you do decide to travel there - consider whether you really want to go there alone, what you want to get out of it, are you really a trekking/camping kind of person, ... For once I have to agree with Lonely Planet, Kamchatka is not a place where you just go and see - it needs some preparation, not necessarily in the sense of booking a tour , but in the sense of what you want to get out of it, preparing your mind!

Additional photos below
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On the way to Kamchatka
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Useful mean of transport in the airport
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Hot springs
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Hot springs: Dima relaxing
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Enjoying the whirlpool :)

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