The Land of Volcanoes and Bears

It seems ages ago, it was ages ago, when I was actually traveling in the land of Volcanoes and bears, also known as Kamchatka.

“Kam-What?” Is what I heard all the time. Kamchatka is the name, the Russian Far East is the place. It is ‘the other side of the world’ for us, at least, the other side of our almost-neighbour Russia. A mere 10 hours time difference, about the same amount of flying hours, which makes it a lot further off than let’s say, New York.

The only people that generally know the name are Argentines. There is a country in a board game that is called that way, and there is an Argentine movie called Kamchatka.

So far so good. For all the other people in the world who don’t know it : it’s a peninsula the size of let’s say the UK, it’s a 1250km long. It is practically inhabited, about 320.000 people, of which 85% lives in the urban areas. The economy is based on fishing. There are few to no roads outside the urban areas. The further you drive from the capital Petropavlovsk, as can be expected, the worse the roads get. Best is to either take a huge 6×6 (larger, with much larger wheels then a large 4×4) to drive over all the debris, or a helicopter.

For years it has been closed to the public, as it was a military zone, and now that it’s open for ‘tourism’ it is slowly getting known internationally. ‘Tourism’ (between brackets), because there isn’t a lot of tourist accommodation. We did a cruise on a boat that would not be considered seaworthy in Europe, shared a cabin with 11 people and some had to eat standing up (lack of space). We slept in tents, and our most luxurious “hotel” was a cabin shared with 7 other women. And then I will not discuss the availability or condition of bathrooms…

So one must be a bit out of his mind to go there, you would think?

Well maybe. The beauty of the land totally makes up for the uncomfortable stay. The exhausting and sometimes dangerous climbing of volcanoes, I would sign up again without thinking, if I could. This land is unique. This land is amazing, this land is a dream!

It is situated on the “ring of fire”, the belt of volcanoes that goes from the Andes in Latin America over Russia, Japan, Indonesia, until New Zealand. It counts about 452 volcanoes, of which over a 100 are in Kamchatka, and of those 100, about 30 have been active during the last decades. So it is right to say that Kamchatka is the land of volcanoes. It is also considered UNESCO world heritage.

I had never seen so many volcanoes. They are high, much higher than the surrounding mountains, they have this beautiful cone shape, and are magnificent. All you can do is admire them. They are grand! I just could not get enough of looking at them. Taking pictures of them, again and again.

Apart from the wild, impressive and powerful nature, there is also an extensive wildlife, killer whales (we probably saw about 100 of them in a couple of hours), sea lions and seals, lots and lots of birds, but most famous are its bears.

The Kamchatka bears are similar to the Alaska bear, they are among the largest in the world (up to 3 meter), and live all around the peninsula. In many areas they are hunted for, with real guns, in order to kill them. We shot them with our cameras, in order to bring the images back…

Around Kurilskaye lake (a lake that originates from, yes, a volcanic eruption) there are about 1.000 bears living protected from hunters. It is where bear lovers go to see them, study them, take pictures.

The lake is also known as one of the biggest concentrations of spawning salmon in the summer season. The salmon that, after a few years living at sea, swim upstream to put their eggs in the lake (and then consequently die, if they have not been eaten by bears before that). Thousands, millions of them. This is of course a total feast for the bears!

This amazing experience I have just put together in my latest book, “Kamchatka, the land of volcanoes and bears”. Check it out and share the news! Now also available as e-book for your iPad or kindle. Feel free to add comments!

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