Kamchatka — Russia’s Mysterious East

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Kamchatka — Russia’s Mysterious East

October 13, 2011 - 23:36
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“Is there diving in Kamchatka?” my buddy asked me while inspecting a map of Russia on Google. It was such an unexpected question, it put me in a stupor. As a Russian dive professional, I certainly should know about all the dive sites and dive centers around the country, but I was stumped with this question about Kamchatka.

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Each more or less erudite traveler I questioned told to me that Kamchatka is the land of volcanoes. Of the more than 600 volcanoes on the planet, 160 of them are located on the peninsula of Kamchatka, and 30 of them are active. Volcanoes are even on the flag and emblem of the state of Kamchatka.

Official statistics state that Kamchatka has only about 15 thousand tourists annually, and the majority of them are citizens of the United States, Japan, and other foreign visitors. I was amazed that the percentage of Russians in these numbers was a lot less than half, in camparison to the approximately three million Russian tourists that visited very similar environments in Alaska. All these numbers pushed me to thinking that something was not quite right about my fellow countrymen’s knowledge of Kamchatka.

Most of the travel agencies (operating tours to Kamchatka) offered me hiking or helicopter excursions to the volcanoes, white water rafting on wild rivers, fishing, photo sessions with wild bears, bathing in hot springs and other small pleasures for boring philistines. But in regards to diving on Kamchatka, there were only rare, atypical replies, which brought me big doubts about the professionalism of the operations there.

The Internet—the best friend of divers today—informed me that August was the best season to travel to Kamchatka. We found only one PADI dive center, Orca-Diving, in the town of Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky. This information wet my appetite and growing desire to dive even more, together with real professionals, on the coast of the mysterious volcanic peninsula.

We booked our flight for March to save money on seasonal airfare increases for such popular locations as Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky. We were not in error to do so! In summer time, Russian air-monopolists raise the prices more than double the going rate, and tickets to Kamchatka become more expensive than flights to the United States, Seoul, Hong Kong, Singapore, Manila or Tokyo.

It is a nine-hour non-stop flight between Moscow and the state capital of Kamchatka. Finally, our group of 19 brave underwater adventurers land on the concrete airstrip of Elizovo Airport.

History

Since ancient times, Kamchatka has been occupied by the tribes of Ilmen, Koryaks and Ainu. The first visit by a Russian to Kamchatka is not dated precisely, but Georg Wilhelm Steller (Stöller)—the historian of the first Kamchatka expedition—mentioned that Russians already lived on Kamchatka in the 17th century. There was even history about a certain person, Fed’ka, who travelled across Kamchatka and lived there for some time.

Officially, the peninsula was explored much later by Yakuts and Anadyrs Cossacks who traveled there from the continent. Unfortunately, many documents of that time have been lost, as they were written on birch bark and stored in wet conditions in an old state office.

Eventually, Europeans discovered Kamchatka in 1729, when the Russian flotilla under command of Vitus Jonassen Bering—the Dane in the service of the Russian sovereign—rounded the peninsula from the south and made maps of the bays of Kamchatka and Avachinsky.

The peninsula is bordered by the Ohotsky and Bering Seas and the Pacific Ocean. The only overland way to Kamchatka, via the northern isthmus connecting Kamchatka with the continent, is through a land of bogs and very difficult to ...

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Originally published

on page 67

X-Ray Mag #40

February 13, 2011 - 20:47
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