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Petropavlovsk-Kamchatski & Several Other Places on the
Kamchatka Peninsula
in the Russian Far East, Siberia, Russia
3-18 July 2003
by Alice D. T. Rawles

The day started far too early that Thursday morning. I had to leave the house at 6 AM. Except for that, the 3 July 2003 was great! I was off to join the first known American land tour on the Kamchatka Peninsula. This is one of the more isolated, sparsely populated, seldom visited corners of Siberia, rich in undeveloped natural resources but with little industry beyond salmon fishing. It is part of the Pacific "Ring of Fire" - formed by the activity of some 300 volcanoes, 29 still active, and has dozens of hot springs and geysers. Because it is so far north, the volcanic mountains have 414 glaciers, some up to 1,500 feet thick. A few small cruise ships stop along the coast. Most visitors are sport fisherman or scientists studying volcanoes, flora, fauna or aboriginal culture.

If you want 4 or 5 star hotels, gourmet restaurants, evening entertainment, fine shopping, lots of services, personal attention, etc. this is not your trip. If you are somewhat adventurous, like visiting unusual places, enjoy being one of the first people touring a place seldom visited by Americans and/or western Europeans, are able to tolerate clouds of large, hungry mosquitoes [luckily, their bites do not cause as much itching or swelling as most mosquito bites], can do without the things mentioned in the preceding sentence and don't mind doing your own laundry in the lavatory, this is a trip for you!

Upon arrival in Anchorage for an overnight plane change, I had plenty of time for a shower and a short rest at the hotel before Rachel Abernathy, my pot-luck roommate, got in from her day's sightseeing. We hit it off perfectly from the first minute. The phone conversations we had before we agreed to room together and the letters and pictures we then exchanged helped as they had given us some knowledge of each other. We didn't have to go through the usual initial uneasiness of being thrown together for two weeks with a roommate we knew absolutely nothing about.

That evening, there was a buffet supper and get-acquainted session in the hotel hospitality room at which we met the rest of the group of 15 travelers [7 women, 8 men] and Bob Nansen, the Betchart Expeditions Field Coordinator and one of the two tour leaders. Bob gave a short introductory pep talk and distributed a newly revised, tentative itinerary, then had everyone introduce himself briefly. Rachael and I were found to be the only people who had not been with our other leader, Dr. Victor Kuzevanov, the Russian botanist who had organized the Kamchatka trip during the previous year, on one or another of the several trips he had lead to Lake Baikal near Irkutsk in south central Siberia although each of us had been on one previous Betchart tour. The company has an extremely high rate of repeat travelers.

Almost bright and very early [5 AM - hours until breakfast, even!] on Friday, the 4th of July, 15 [would-be] intrepid adventurers, plus Bob, gathered in the hotel lobby for our ride to the airport and Magadan Airline's weekly flight to Petropavlovsk-Kamchatski [usually called Petropavlovsk], Kamchatka, in eastern Siberia. Magadan is a rather independent- minded, Russian owned, charter airline which flies more or less when and where it wishes. The schedule calls for a 7:10 AM departure every Friday, non-stop Anchorage to Petropavlovsk. Often it is honored. However, if most of the passengers want to go elsewhere, you may go there first and learn about the diversion when you land perhaps 500 or 1,000 miles from your ticketed destination. [I met people that happened to on their way to Kamchatka.] Our flight was the traditional 1-2 hours late so we had plenty of time to go from the older, international terminal building to the newer domestic one for breakfast between checking in and being allowed through security. There was open seating on the plane. For some unrevealed reason, the cabin crew wanted all the passengers squashed together in the front of the two passenger compartments. Only after that was fairly full were people allowed into the rear compartment. On our return flight two weeks later, the rear compartment was packed first with the overflow in the front one. The Magadan in-flight meals were good; both better and more generous than those served on most U.S. flag planes these days.

The atmosphere between Anchorage and Denali [Mt. McKinley] was unusually clear on the 4th so there were good views of North America's tallest mountain. I took a good picture of Denali shortly after take-off. Only a few hours later, I was able to get a picture of my first sight of the Kamchatka Peninsular - Klyuchevskaya Sopka, at 4850 meters the tallest active volcano in Euro-Asia, flanked by a pair of inactive volcanoes.

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