Kamchatka Land of 10,000 Bears, Part 9

by david on January 20, 2020

Monday, May 6th

My flight arrived on time and we deplaned onto the tarmac. Baggage claim was basically a big tent over a metal frame with a conveyor belt in it. Once again, my bags were some of the first ones off and I was soon on my way to the parking lot. I was happy to see Alex there waiting for me. He had a big smile on his face and introduced me to his son Vasili (another Vasili and a different spelling), and Julia, the translator for my stay. This was going to be interesting. Alex and Vasili spoke little to no English and Julia spoke with a soft voice. I guess I would have to turn my hearing aids wide open. With the introductions made, Vasili, Julia and I headed towards the car and Alex headed into town to take care of some business. He would meet back up with us later. When we tossed my bags into another Toyota Landcruiser, I knew I was in good hands. These trucks will go just about anywhere and I felt right at home. First stop was to pick up some supplies for me to take to camp. Just the essentials: brandy, rum, red wine, chocolate, and some mixers. Now I was ready for a week in the middle of nowhere. Back in the Landcruiser, Julia informed me of a small change. Instead of taking the helicopter to camp, we needed to take some snowmobiles to camp.  And would I mind riding one to camp instead of the helicopter? Always up for a new adventure, I answered in the affirmative quicker than I probably should have. If I had only known then what I know now.

Camp was about 200 kilometers (120 miles) away. 120 km (72 mi) in the Landcruiser and 80 km (48 mi) on snowmobiles. First stop was on the edge of town to pick up Igor. He is a Park Ranger in the hunting area and would be guiding me as well. It took no time at all to get away from town and soon the road, trees, snow, and mountains were all I could see. Every once in a while we would pass a wide spot in the road with a few buildings. We stopped at one of these wide spots for lunch. This particular spot consisted of a restaurant, small grocery store, hardware store, and gas station. There were a few other unmarked buildings that I assumed to be workshops of some sort. We stopped at the restaurant for the local staple, pirojaki (rolls stuffed with assorted vegetables and meats, then they are baked or fried). I had one with meat and another with potatoes, and both were quite tasty. I washed them down with a Coke and then took a coffee for the road.

Sixty seconds worth of driving found us completely out of sight of any signs of civilization. When I asked Julia, she confirmed that Kamchatka is very sparsely populated.  Once you leave a town or village, there are few ramshackle buildings and even fewer people. The Landcruiser was pointed towards some snow-capped mountains in the distance and I sat back to enjoy the scenery. I sorta hoped I would doze off (Lord knows I was tired enough!), but I was too keyed up to even begin to be sleepy. The pavement turned to gravel at the next turn, and the landscape gave even more of a feeling of isolation, if that were possible. The lack of power poles, street signs, dwellings, or anything man-made would have been foreboding had it not been exactly what I was looking for. Big bears should live in such places and big bears were exactly what I was here for. Another turn brought us to a gate and we stopped to sign into the wilderness area. Beside the gate was a smallish Quonset hut, a man and a dog. The Quonset hut looked to be a home as it had some kitchen items sitting in a window. I saw no vehicle or other mode of transportation so I assume the man was here for extended periods of time. Must be an extremely lonely job.  At least he had the dog for company. Whatever paperwork that had to be done was soon completed, and then we were on our way once again. Soon the gravel gave out and we were on a single track muddy path.

The view from the Land Cruiser The view from the Land Cruiser I don't know if it is over or around these mountains but I was going on a snowmobile. I don’t know if it is over or around these mountains but I was going on a snowmobile.

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