"Volcanoes and geysers" Petropavlovsk-Kamchatskiy by jorgejuansanchez

Petropavlovsk-Kamchatskiy Travel Guide: 67 reviews and 318 photos

In the coldest areas of Asiatic Russia

Herein lays an account of the trials and tribulations encountered by a bold Spanish traveller in the winter of 2005 among the volcanoes of Kamchatka and the Republic of Saja as he sought to provide succour for a fair and gracious damsel in distress:

Once upon a time there was a gigantic country called Russia, an outstanding country equal in size to thirty-four Spains. The Russian country is rather like a Russian Doll Matrioshka, where every time you look inside one, you find another, and then the same again - - and again up to seven times. Thus the Russians divided their huge country into seven large 'Okrug:' the north-east including the peninsula of Kola, the 'Central' including the city of Moscow and its surroundings, the south with the Caucasus, the Volga area to the north of Kazakhstan, the Urals district forming the frontier between Europe and Asia, Siberia and the extreme easterly parts.

These seven 'Okrug' may be artificial units but within them lie eighty-nine official administrative areas including ten 'Okrug' that are more realistic divisions, corresponding to indigenous peoples. The others are: twenty-one Republics, forty-nine Oblasts, six Kray, two cities with federal status, Moscow and St Petersburg and, lastly, a self-governing Oblast called Yevreyskaya Avtonomnaya Oblast. This last was intended to be the homeland for the millions of Jews who inhabited Russia but, being astute and cunning, when they realised the horrible conditions of the region [a swampy area in remotest Asia, bordered by Manchuria] those who could afford to preferred emigration to the USA whilst others fled reluctantly to Israel until they could gain acceptance in a wealthy European or American country. Today only five per cent of the inhabitants of this autonomous Oblast are Jews of pure stock, descended through the twelve tribes of the patriarch, Jacob.

What had brought me to this Asiatic area was an SOS call from a female friend I'd known many years ago, in 1987 to be exact, during the life of the Soviet Union. I had been travelling with an organised group of Spaniards on the Transiberian Railway and she was our charming and vigorous guide. Years after this she rendered me a real service when I turned up unexpectedly on her doorstep, worn out and near enough in rags, without so much as a rouble in my pocket, having just been thrown out of the inhospitable neighbouring Republic of North Korea. As well as visiting her in her home city in the extreme east and providing some consolation, [she had just lost some of her closest relations and was heart broken] I set my mind to getting around some neighbouring places, the very names of which excited me almost beyond my imagination, places almost seeming drawn from comics about Tintin: Kamkatcha, Island of Sakhalin, Kuriles islands, Yakutia, Khakasia...

My arrival at the airport of Kamchatka Peninsula in Yelisovo was a shock when I shook off sleep induced by a long flight and by jetlag through an 11 hour time difference with Spain. Opposite the airport, less than twenty miles away, the volcano of Koriakskaya towered majestically at 3456 metres. This is one of twenty-eight active volcanoes to be found in that peninsula and shortly before we had flown over the eastern mountain chain with the 4750 metre high Kliuchevskaya volcano spouting out red hot debris from its perfectly shaped crater. Along with Iceland, New Zealand and Yellowstone National park in the USA, the Kamchatka Peninsula is one of the four places in the world with the most prolific supply of geysers.

It was a military airport. I noticed some camouflaged war planes in a kind of cave and officials with numerous medals on their uniforms and stars on their hats together with armed soldiers all over the place. Before we could get down to the ground out of the plane, an official and a non-commissioned officer came up and carefully checked the passports of all the passengers. When they discovered me to be a foreigner, they took me aside into the first class area of the plane, took away my passport and warned me: 'You need a mighty good reason for having come to a special area in Russia, on your own without an invitation from anybody, without a hotel reservation and with a temperature of minus ten centigrade. If you haven't got a good reason, we'll send you right back to Moscow in this very plane in less than two hours.'

I felt very nervous and I was afraid of being sent back but I didn't show my unease. The fact is that even today some of the old laws of the Soviet Union are rigorously applied towards foreigners, like having to be entered into an official register and stays of more than three days in any one city have to be authorised and stamped in a leaf attached to the passport. There are also regions of Russia that are completely banned, even to the Russians themselves, such as the islands of the Kuriles archipelago or the Chukotka Peninsula on the border with Alaska. In the end a massive colonel was satisfied with my simple and sincere explanation for my presence there, that I wanted to observe their natural splendour and particularly the volcanoes. I was granted permission to stay for three days.

The main city and capital of Kamchatka is Petropavlovsk Kamchatskiy, forty minutes bus ride from the airport. It's a strange town in that it doesn't have a centre, properly so-called. Instead it has an immensely long avenue leading to the port and there you can find, close together, the town hall, governmental buildings and the central Post Office. The bus went up and down hills along this apparently interminable avenue with the driver's assistant calling out the names of the stops until we arrived at a massive open air market. There I got off to a terrific atmosphere and a considerable noise from sellers of fish and red caviar, which was very cheap there. People eat it by the spoonful as though they were having lentils or re-cooked beans a la Yucatan.

I looked for a hotel - sleeping outside was not part of my plans with the snow falling in buckets full. However, in the three hotels that I tried, they told me that their price for foreigners was $84 for a single room, whereas for Russians it scarcely came to hundreds of roubles! In December 2005 the exchange rate was thirty roubles to one American dollar.

Everything was as though the famous Gorbachev [the President with a map in his head of Birmania, now called Myanmar] perestroika had not extended to the far east of the country. The streets all kept grandiose names from the Soviet era, statues of Lenin were common and there were monuments to tanks, military aircrafts, heroes of the Soviet Union, hammers and sickles and the like. There were signs extolling the Communist Party and frequent references to the CCCP [USSR in English.]

The location of Petropavlovsk is superb, sheltered in a bay that seemed impregnable. I noticed a monument to the French explorer, the Count of Perouse, who had climbed up there on an expedition in the 18th century after his boats had lost in an encounter with the Pacific Ocean. [Some few months later he disappeared in the Solomon Islands after being attacked with his companions by native Melanesians.] On the monument was included a Russian song called 'Proliv Lapenza' or, in English, Straits of Perouse [the water separating the islands of Hokkaido and Sakhalin.] I also saw a lovely statue commemorating the apostles, Peter and Paul, whose names were bestowed upon the city in 1740. It was from here that Russian expeditions had left to explore the Pacific leading to the discovery of Alaska in 1741 by Bering and Chirikov.

I went into a tavern frequented by sailors with anchor tattoos on their arms and with bright blue and white shirts. I drank a little Stolichnaya vodka with them to establish friendship. After three small measures which had to be gulped down without even tasting them, as an animal might, I did manage to establish a degree of closeness and I asked them about finding a reasonably cheap place to sleep, where my passport wouldn't be taken from me. They offered me two variant [a word used profusely by Russians which means alternative]: the red light area frequented by ladies of the world's oldest profession, where some cheap rooms could be taken by the hour, or geysers abandoned for the winter at Paratunka, an hour by bus from Petropavlovski in the depths of arctic vegetation.

Being a very demure person, I opted for the latter variant and took the last bus for Paratunka, a spa town with hot water swimming pools, supplied by the hot springs of the geysers, where it was dark when I arrived. These spa rooms are very much in use from spring to autumn by Russians but in December there were only about four people there as a security group and they provided meals. I ate there and persuaded them to let me sleep in a warm place close to the geyser and use the showers and toilets; in return I would eat my breakfast and evening meal there and pay them enough at least to enable them to purchase tobacco. They agreed readily to this. In this way my stay in Kamchatka turned out to be quite cheap.

My daily routine there went roughly like this: after breakfast, based on various portions of red caviar by the spoonful and tea, I would first go to the internet cafe of Yelizovo to make e-mail contact with friends in Spain and other Spanish speaking countries, a real lifesaver allowing me the freshness of the language of Cervantes among so much Russian. Later I would go to Petropavlovsk where I would have my midday meal in the great bazaar, almost invariably more caviar by the spoonful except that once I tried an Uzbec dish something like our paella but with lamb and raisins in place of our shellfish. [Our paella valenciana is far better tasting!!!] Then I would go along the main street, musing about the normal daily life of the inhabitants, as many of them Russians as Koryaks, the natives of the area. There were the unavoidable Chinese merchants selling articles of clothing and other artefacts such as padlocks, mousetraps saucepans, party blowers and lace bobbins. Here it was a delight to savour the distant view of volcanoes until getting on for five in the afternoon, by which time it was dark. Then I would return to my geyser shelter and eat yet more red caviar with pelmenie and smetana sauce. Before I went to sleep, I would read by the light of the candle lantern that the cooks had lent me. I was reading a book that I'd bought in a street kiosk in Moscow some days before about the Ukrainian, Anton Chejov, and his visit to the penal colony which, in those final days of the 19th century, occupied the whole island of Sakhalin.

After the expiration of the time allowed me by the Colonel, I flew back to the city where my distressed friend lived and stayed there for several weeks. The short time that then remained before my return to Spain, I dedicated to visiting for a few days another exotic part of the unknown vastness of Russia, the Republic of Sakha, or Yakutia.


  • Last visit to Petropavlovsk-Kamchatskiy: Dec 2005
  • Intro Updated May 9, 2016
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Reviews (3)

Comments (4)

  • Kuznetsov_Sergey's Profile Photo
    Dec 14, 2013 at 10:01 PM

    Hello, Jorge! Thank you for bringing back memory about Petropavlovsk and Paratunka which I was fortunate to visit this week.

  • tiabunna's Profile Photo
    Sep 27, 2007 at 4:13 AM

    A most interesting introduction page. La Perouse came from there to Australia, then sailed away and disappeared. Any chance of more photos? :))

  • coccinella169's Profile Photo
    Mar 23, 2007 at 6:55 AM

    Very interesting and well written travel reports about places I haven`t heard of before!

  • elpariente's Profile Photo
    Jan 10, 2006 at 2:02 AM

    Muy interesante No esperes a poner en inglés todos los textos, hay mucha gente que los entiende en castellano y más tarde tendrás tiempo de ponerlos en inglés


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