Extract from “Kamchatka: A Journal and Guide to Russia’s Land of Ice and Fire” by Diana Gleadhill
Diana Gleadhill worked as a professional librarian before becoming a graphic artist who dabbles with mosaics. Driven by her natural curiosity and sense of adventure, she has explored exotic destinations as diverse as Kenya, South America, Central Asia and the Kamchatka Peninsula. She lives in County Down, Ireland.
Why on Earth did we choose to go to Kamchatka? Not only did Elise and I ask ourselves this question, but so did everyone else. Having had one very successful and interesting trip to Russia and China via the Trans Siberian Railway, and another to Central Asia, I wanted to see more of post-Soviet Russia. Kamchatka, being so far east of Moscow seemed an interesting place where we might try and discover how people were coping with “perestroika”. I had had a bit of a dodgy back in the past year or so, and Elise admitted to having sore knees from time to time! We had sworn in 1984, after camping in Nepal, that although the walking was fine, hard nights in a tent were perhaps were not for us. Yet we were here, 16 years older, attempting to do a great deal of camping, and in Russia for-bye, where we knew not what the food and general conditions would be like.
I had read an article in National Geographic magazine in 1994 about Kamchatka’s volcanoes, its pristine wilderness, its bears and the indigenous reindeer herders of the country. It had been totally closed to foreigners, and indeed to the Russian people for many years of Soviet rule, the country being turned into a Cold War fortress of tracking stations and it is only since perestroika that the outside world has discovered its existence.
Kamchatka is a 1,000-kilometre-long peninsula in Russia’s Far East, attached to mainland Russia at about 62 degrees north at Penzhino Bay, separated from the mainland by the Sea of Okhotsk, nine time zones east of Moscow, and part of the Pacific’s “Ring of Fire”. It was the southern half of Kamchatka that we intended to visit. Apart from an amazing 160 volcanoes, about 30 of which are active, the country is covered by mixed forests, grassland and tundra, and home to a great assortment of wildlife, including brown bear, reindeer, snow sheep, sable, beaver, otter, ermine and marmot. The rivers teem with salmon and trout and here is where the wonderful Steller’s sea eagle makes its home. The population is only about 380,000, at least two-thirds of whom live in the capital, Petropavlovsk- Kamchatskiy, more commonly known as “PK” or Petropavlovsk.
The person credited with “discovering” Kamchatka, travelling overland in 1696 from Anadyr, was Vladimir Atlasov, who brought with him a group of 65 Cossacks and 60 Yukaghir natives to fully explore the country. However, the existence of the Kamchatka Peninsula was already known to Russia with explorers such as Ivan Kamchatiy and Ivan Rubetz having brought back stories of a land rich in fish and fur.
Nobody we knew had heard of Kamchatka, and the travel company we used admittedly knew very little about it. We couldn’t find any contemporary information on the country except for Christina Dodwell’s fascinating, post-perestroika book Beyond Siberia, published in 1993, which described her journeys in northern Kamchatka staying with the Koryak people and which we read several times; the seven pages in the Lonely Planet guidebook dedicated to Kamchatka; and of course the original piece in National Geographic. (I still had not quite come to terms with the celebrated Internet). As luck would have it, a good friend, the professor emeritus of geology at Trinity College Dublin showed us a wonderful video of the ‘Valley of the Geysers” taken by a colleague, Professor Adrian Phillips, who had done some research a few years previously in Kamchatka. We were advised not to leave it too late in the year as the country is completely snow-bound from October until about May.
Apart from this information, we knew very little about where we were going or what it would be like in present-day Kamchatka. We just knew that it seemed remote and untouched by tourists. Elise and I were both very keen to see the infamous bears which seemed so plentiful, and I was particularly interested to meet, and possibly stay with some of the local people as well as the reindeer herders. If we were ever going to go there, it had better be sooner rather than later.
And as for you, my reader, why not come with us on our adventure. Give me your hand and I will take you to touch on an extraordinary country; a place where bears and reindeer roam; where indigenous people live in harmony with nature; a wild and fiery Kamchatka — at the far eastern extreme of Russia.
This extract was published with permission from author Diana Gleadhill and Odyssey Books & Guides
The book is available for purchase on Amazon.