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Kamchatka: Life-hacks and tips

Kamchatka is somewhere far away on the edge of Russia. And in Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky it  seems to always be midnight. Well, that was what I heard on the radio early every morning in my childhood. I was dreaming to jokingly say this phrase as soon as I stepped out on the land of volcanoes. But when I landed it was still far from midnight. The Kamchatka Peninsula, which can fit both Benelux and Germany inside it, is dominated by volcanoes. They 'write chronicles' here, they are responsible for geographical boundaries. Almost 30 active volcanoes change the local landscape from time to time, and at the same time change the statistics in the volcanologists, climatologists and meteorologists reports. Living next to a volcano can be very nerve-racking, but the locals have been long accustomed to it. Every resident of Kamchatka saw a powerful eruption at least once in their life, each Kamchadal (a citizen of Kamchatka) has a story to tell to a traveler: about volcanoes, bears, and strong snowstorms. The locals even came up with the term “ to blizzard," meaning to sit at home till a strong blizzard ends. I suspect that Kamchatka is beautiful at any time of the year, but most tourists fly to the end of the world during the summer, when they can experience many adventures. I am telling you what you can do on Kamchatka peninsula and what you need to know taking a trip there. 

What to do in Kamchatka:

  • Try Kamchatka fish soup with five types of fish: cod, halibut, red fish, black cod and perch
  • Take a walk along a lava field of Tolbachik volcano
  • See how the earth breathes, look at fumaroles
  • Find endemic flora - Kamchatka Rhododendron and Kamchatka Cypripedium calceolus (a lady's-slipper orchid)
  • Climb one of the volcanoes: Gorely, Mutnovsky, or Avachinsky
  • Walk on the black sand beach
     
  • Go sea fishing
  • Watch killer whales
  • Count the sea lions on the rocks
  • Find the most beautiful volcanic pebble and take it with you
  • Try sea urchin
  • Take a walk on last year’s snow
  • Raft along the Bystraya River and 13 more rivers
  • Go bird-watching on Starichkov Island
     
  • Feed nuts to Arctic ground squirrel (Evrazhka)
  • See a rare Steller's sea eagle
  • Go surfing in the harsh oceans off Kamchatka
  • Go sea-kayaking
  • Visit the Nalychevo Valley
  • Buy amulets for happiness
  • Find the skeleton of an extinct Steller's sea cow
  • Bathe in the hot springs: Zelenovsky, in the Paratunka river valley, Malkinsky, or Nalychevsky, Essovsky, Khodutkinsky.
  • Stroll through the Valley of Geysers
     
  • Watch bears go fishing
  • Catch wild salmon
  • Find the grave of Captain Charles Clerk, who led the James Cook Expedition
  • Learn to distinguish chum salmon (keta) from sockeye salmon (nerka), and pink salmon (gorbusha) from coho salmon (kisutch)
  • Eat lots of red caviar
  • Taste salad with fern, pelmeny (wontons) with red fish, and pasta made of wild garlic
  • Pick a basketful of cloudberries and lingonberries
  • Buy Ivan-tea (herbal mixture)
  • Walk to the Blue lakes
  • Go to the dog kennel
  • Visit Lake Kuril
  • Go to the Volcanarium Museum and learn more about volcanoes
  • Learn about ethnography in the ethnocultural centre “Kainyran”

What kind of clothing to take with:

The weather will be very different, as well as the activities. It will be both hot and cold.

  • Thermal underwear
  • Thick windbreaker
  • Wool and cotton socks
  • T-shirts
  • Warm jacket
  • Trekking pants
  • Waterproof pants
  • Hat
  • Gloves
  • Raincoat
  • Trekking shoes and rubber boots (useful for climbing Camel Mountain and going to waterfalls in the Vachkazhets Mountain range)
  • Swimsuit
  • Hiking backpack
  • Trekking poles
  • Heating pad
  • Favorite Snacks
  • Repellents
  • Jackknife
  • Stadium Horn - to scare away the bears
  • Flashlight
  • Medical masks - great help during ash fall

What about cellphone connection there?

Almost all mobile operators work within Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky. The worst of them all, traditionally, is Beeline. As soon as you leave the city, the "bee" waves to you and says "see you tomorrow." MTS and Tele 2 work the best of them all. Many hotels have wi-fi, the connection quality is usually average. Well, until recently they used only satellite Internet in the Kamchatka region, it was expensive and very slow. 

What kind of food is there?

Things are good. Breakfasts in the hotels, however, are pretty monotonous with very few fruits and vegetables due to their high cost. There are not so many good restaurants in the city, but a few are pretty good. Expect to pay Moscow prices or even a little more. Dinner in a restaurant without alcohol costs, on average, 1000 rubles per person.

How much does it cost to get to Kamchatka?



Due to its remote location, a trip from the country’s capital, Moscow (let’s take that as the starting point), will be expensive. Let's start with the ticket prices. Thrifty tourists can buy tickets far in advance - in February or in March. A good price for an economy class ticket is 22,000-24,000 rubles. During the peak season, July and August, the national airline sells tickets for 100,000, or even more, for a direct flight in economy class. I flew with a stopover in Novosibirsk and paid about 40 thousand rubles. Where to stay is up to you. You can spend your vacation in a tent or you can rent a great house on the ocean. Prices for a comfortable hotel in the peak season start from 5000 rubles per night. The most expensive excursions in Kamchatka are to the Valley of Geysers and Lake Kuril. Each costs at least 42 thousand rubles per person. The high price is easily explained - it is a helicopter tour.

Here are a few more examples of prices in the area:

  • Excursion to the Russian bay (boat trip) - from 9000 rubles
  • Climbing Gorely or Mutnovsky volcanoes - from 8500 and 9000 respectively
  • Trekking through the Vatckazhets Mountain range - from 7000 rubles.
  • A three-day tour to Tolbachik volcano - from 40,000 rubles.

The perfect itinerary to Kamchatka looks like this:

Day 1: Arrive in Petroavlovsk-Kamchatky, Rest. It's a 10 hours flight, the time difference with Moscow is 9 hours. It's a lot. Acclimation will happen only on the third day.
Day 2: Walk around the city, Halaktyr beach. Relax in the hot springs.
Day 3: Boat trip to the Russian Bay.
Day 4: Climb one of the volcanoes - Avachinsky, Mutnovsky, or Gorely.

 

Day 5: Helicopter tour to the Valley of Geysers. (Alternatives: Dachnye springs with the Small Valley of Geysers or a helicopter flight to Lake Kuril)
Day 6: Trek through Vachkazhets Mountain range.
Days 7-10: Travel to Tolbachik volcano.
Day 11: Depart for home.

What to bring home from Kamchatka?

  • Fish and caviar. Kilograms of fish and caviar. You should buy either on the day of departure or the night before. Due to the long flight, products must be placed in a thermal bag and immediately put in the refrigerator after arrival. Prices: fresh pink salmon from 100 rubles per 1 kg, sockeye salmon filet from 900 per kg, smoked chinook salmon from 1300 per kg, caviar from 2900 rubles per kg, dried flounder from 550 rubles per kg.
    ​  
  • Wooden figures of Kutha and Peliken. The first is the deity of Koryak and Itelmens (native people of Kamchatka), a spirit reborn into a raven, which brings peace and joy. The second is Peliken, a cheerful little man with a smile from ear to ear, a talisman, in the form of a smiling body-positive little man who brings wealth, good luck and joy.
  • T-shirt or hoodie from the local brand 'Kamchatka brothers'.

How to buy red caviar on Kamchatka?

  • Fresh caviar is available only from June on. In July, you can have fun and make 'five-minute prepared’ caviar right on a fishing trip.
  • Please check that there are no bubbles or white plaque in the container of caviar
  • In the eggs there should not be any extraneous inclusions. They should be like droplets.
  • A good quality product will not stick to your teeth. Try to bite the caviar. It also should not stick to the spoon.
  • Good caviar does not have a pungent odour. If a container stinks like a barrel of herring, do not buy the caviar. However, if the caviar does not emit any smell at all, then it was frozen. The aroma should be subtle and pleasant.
  • Good caviar consists of round eggs. If the eggs are shapeless, wrinkled, and do not fit snugly together, you do not need that product.
  • The caviar should be crumbly, and all the eggs should be same colour.
  • The eggs should be resilient, but at the same time soft. Hard and very salty caviar is poor quality.

What to do if you run into a bear?



In Kamchatka they say, "fed a bear - killed a bear". Bears crawl into the trash looking for food and this is a real problem in the region. The locals tried to solve it. In the wild, you can easily see bears nose to nose. There is a chance that a bear prefers to get out of your way; it is also shy. But there are times when an animal is irritated and aggressive with something, for example, a bear that has not slept and woke up early from its hibernation. If the beast feels threatened, it will defend itself. Dangerous are meetings with bears who are protecting their cubs or with a hungry bear who has just found food for himself.  And here you are. The fact that a bear is aggressive can be understood by the following signs: the bear stares at the victim, opens its mouth, and drool spills out, the beast lowers its head, its hair rises, its paws on the ground, it growls and rushes. However, identifying a threat will be quick and, most importantly, intuitive. 

A set of simple rules to avoid a bear attack:

1. Do not ride or cycle along bear paths. These are with big animal foot prints or holes similar to them.

2. Do not go into the forest alone, not even with a dog.

3. If you see a bear in the distance - yell, make loud noises, swear loudly, knock on bowls with spoons, blow into a stadium horn.

4. Do not get close to the bear, even if it looks quite friendly. All this is a cock-and-bull story. Remember that even a 50-kg teenage-bear can kill an adult male.

5. Do not climb into the bushes and cedar.

6. Do not hide food in the tent.

7. Incinerate food waste.

8. If you stumble upon cute cubs, leave as soon as possible. Otherwise, you’ll get it in the neck if the mother sees you. 

9. If a bear catches you fishing, do not pull the caught fish out of the water. Do not fish where bears do.

10. Do not wake a sweet sleeping bear. Trouble is guaranteed.

What to do when you meet a bear?

  • Do not run, no matter how fast your legs are. The bear will catch you anyway. And then it will eat you.
  • And you should not climb a tree - bears can do it better than you.
  • Put your hands up. Do not show fear. If the bear stands on its hind legs, do not faint - this is a good sign, then the animal is not dangerous.
  • Do not turn your back to the predator. Leave slowly. Hunters advise to move diagonally.
  • A difficult option (but the experienced people say it works). Pretend to be dead. Lie face down, cover your head with your hands. Do not move. Demonstrate a miracle of endurance when the bear starts to sniff you. At that moment I would probably die of fear. Wait until the bear moves a decent distance away. By the way, this 'show' does not work with black bears.
  • If there are two or more people with you, scare a bear “through common size” - snuggle tightly against each other, raise your backpacks above your head. You can even climb onto friend’s back if time permits.
  • If the situation gets out of control, and you have pepper spray or a weapon, by chance - shoot it. Well, c'est la vie… If you have a gun - aim to the head, the eye, the spine, the chest.



The Four Seasons of Russia project is supported by the Russian geographical society www.rgo.ru
A trip to the Valley of Geysers is recommended by the Russian geographical society.

You can buy a tour to Kamchatka on the website "Russia Discovery" www.russiadiscovery.ru
   

Also read about Kamchatka:

Kuril Lake: something about the life of bears and humans
The Valley of Geysers
Avacha Bay
Volcanoes of Kamchatka
Climbing Mount Camel
The Small Valley of Geysers
Trekking to Vachkazhets Mountain range

Translation: Irina Romanova, Instagram: @astrabella1

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