My adventure into the Kamchatkan land of ice and fire had, sadly, come to an end. It was time to face the flights that would bridge the distance between Petropavlovsk and my home in Canberra some 7,806 kilometres or 4,850 miles away – in a straight line, that is. But my journey was not to be in a straight line and it would take many, many hours, in fact days! My journey home was to be even longer than originally planned because, even before I had left home to go to Russia, Aeroflot had cancelled my flight out of Petropavlovsk. By then, no other flight was available out of PK to get me to Khabarovsk in time to make my onward connections.
My first thought, at the time, was to get an extension to my Russian visa. At the visa office I was given a very firm “nyeht” and when a Russian visa officer says that word you understand every last letter of that word! So what follows was the only way I could get out of Russia before my visa expired. My friendly visa officer told me that if I overstayed my visa I could be fined, or worse, arrested. Not a good idea!
But at least, everything went to plan at Petropavlovsk airport. All of our various onward flights were on time. After fond farewells at the airport, I left Gulya and my fellow adventurers, each of us to go to our separate destinations. My first stop would be in Khabarovsk where I would spent the night in a hotel.
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As my plane took off, I had one last look at some of the Kamchatkan volcanoes.
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Even as we circled to fly away, a cloud was settling on the highest peak.
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Near Khabarovsk, I looked down on farmlands inundated with flood waters.
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It got worse, until below me was just a sea of muddy water. Before leaving PK, I had caught a glimpse of a Russian news bulletin that showed flooding in Khabarovsk with cars all jumbled together. Gulya had told me that the situation was expected to get worse. In the news footage it had looked as though the damage had been caused by a sudden surge of water, not something you would expect from heavy rain.
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The closer we flew to Khabarovsk, it was obvious that the flooding was indeed severe. There was plenty of water around and I only hoped that neither the airport nor my hotel were under water.
Once on the ground, it was obvious that the airport and its surrounds were not affected. There weren’t even any puddles, so I wondered just where all that water had come from.
(At the hotel that evening, I checked it out on the web where I learned that it was the Amur River that was in flood. In this part of the world, that river forms the border between Russia and China. Some 20,000 people had already been evacuated by then and another 36,000 were due to be moved away. The flooding was reported to be the worst in 120 years.)
On arrival at the airport, I had gone to the “official taxi booth” to hire a taxi for the 6km drive to my hotel. But what does the word official mean when an obvious tourist arrives in town? I was fleeced with a R600 fare. I had a feeling that was the case but I wasn’t sure as there was nothing to check the price by. I KNEW it was wrong when the next morning’s reverse fare was R300! Only AUD10 instead of AUD 20!
I had booked myself into the Hotel Zarina, but what would Zarina be like? Khabarovsk is quite a large city with a population of 600,000, so I thought the hotel would probably be OK. On arrival, I presented my booking reservation sheet and passport only to be asked for my complete hotel reservation list since my first day in Russia. I tried to explain that I didn’t have any such sheet as I had been travelling with a group and that we had spent nearly all the time camping in the wilderness. The lovely lady (was it Zarina?) eventually asked if I had any of my boarding passes. These I could find, except one; this is perhaps why I keep such things. “Zarina” was now happy but she wanted to keep my passport until the morning – to make sure I paid, I suppose.
The hotel offered free WiFi so I was back in contact with the world. There had been nothing in the way of contact by mobile or anything else since I arrived in Russia. The tour crew all had mobiles hooked into the Russian system but even they had had very limited coverage and they knew exactly where to stop to get a connection. I’m glad I hadn’t bothered to take my phone.
The room at the one year-old Zarina Hotel was more than adequate for an overnight stop. All the linen including the towels etc. were large, white and fluffy. There was a kettle and a couple of tea bags, a flat screen TV, which I didn’t even turn on, and tons of that most important commodity, hot water.
Khabarovsk is a thermal-water city with large lagged pipes running along the roads delivering hot water to the residents and businesses. It appears, from what I saw, to be a very much more vibrant city than PK. It has a trolley bus that runs from somewhere to the airport. Bright street lights and business establishments had decorative lights all over the place. There was a feeling of life rather than of decay.
Next morning, my taxi arrived at 06h00 to take me back to the airport. The sky was still pitch black. Since I had to leave the hotel before the allotted breakfast hour, I was handed a box full of all sorts of goodies to have for my breakfast. I’d keep them for later.
At the airport security scanner, I was given the third degree . The babushka wanted to see into my backpack and into my suitcase. Nothing untoward was found, but the job had to be done, of course, in the name of security. The difficulty was being able to understand instructions in Russian when my total Russian vocabulary ran to a total of seven words!
It was just 07h00 and light was creeping into the sky as I waited for my flight to Vladivostok to be called. As we left, we flew over a small amount of flooding but were soon in cloud so I couldn’t see anything more of the world below.
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At Vladivostok, the plane was parked on the tarmac so a bus was necessary to transport us to the airport. On the way we passed these two interesting aircraft. They turned out to be Ilyushin 11-76TD hospital planes which belong to the Ministry for Emergency Situations. I guessed they were en route to Khabarovsk to help in the flood evacuations.
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These Ilyushin 11-76TD planes are certainly big beasts.
I had to sit for ages in the arrivals hall in Vladivostok waiting for my onward flight to open for check-in. This connection was not a good one. I had seven hours to wait. My next destination was to be Incheon in South Korea for another overnight stop. And I simply had to catch this plane to make sure I was out of Russia before my visa expired at mid-night that night.
With all those hours to kill I watched the Arrivals door as plane load after plane load of passengers came wandering through. People watching is one way to make the time pass at an airport! You could tell the first time visitors; they were somewhat bewildered and lost. Others were met by loved ones with hugs and kisses and bunches of flowers. One guy even had a bunch of sausage balloons made into the shape of flowers. All gifts were well received. There was some excitement though. One passenger received some extra attention when there was obviously something wrong with her documentation. Very heated exchanges were still taking place as she was escorted from view. I have the feeling she was put straight back onto the plane she got off!
During this interminable wait I decided to attack my breakfast box. This helped to pass some of the time and by now I was beginning to feel a bit hungry. So what was in that box? Lots; fruit juice, an apple, a bread roll plus a slice of black bread, yoghurt, a slice of sausage, jam, butter, a boiled egg and a sachet of instant coffee; all good, BUT no spoon for the yoghurt or knife for the butter and jam! So what to do?
I had to come up with the best solution under the circumstances, and to allow myself a bit of decorum, I sat well away from other passengers, The yoghurt was quite runny so I drank it; well most of it anyway, and used my finger to retrieve the rest. Not delicate, but when needs must! That same finger spread the butter and jam. What had people done before knives and forks were invented, I thought?
What seemed to be half-a-day-later, I was finally able to check in and sat waiting to board my Asiana jet for the 2h40 minute flight to Incheon.
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Various aircraft sitting on the tarmac at Vladivostok.
My next enforced overnight was at the Egarak Residence House at Incheon Airport in South Korea. Just a few minutes in a shuttle bus was all it took to get there. The “House” was in the International Business Centre so it seemed quite strange to be going into an office complex to get a bed. My room had three beds in it, was rather basic, but was OK for a one night stay. Definitely nothing to right home about!
Early the following afternoon a short flight took me to Beijing. For once there was an acceptable transit time of just over two hours before my Air China flight was to take off just before 17h00 for Sydney. That two hours stretched to three due to a last minute aircraft change. I hoped the Aussie captain would be able to make up that much time during the night so that I would not miss my bus in Sydney. Even if it did, the buses between Sydney airport and Canberra run every hour. All I needed to do was get back to Canberra in time to record my vote in the Federal Elections. I had heard nothing of that since I left home three weeks before. What bliss. How I hate all the hype on the run up to elections! Just who do you believe?
The flight to Australia took me back to Incheon, well almost. Wouldn’t it have been nice if the jolly thing could have picked me up there instead of me having to fly all the way to Beijing and then back again! Oh, the vagaries of air travel and the routing that goes on.
We did in fact make up the lost time and arrived in Sydney a bit earlier than scheduled. I caught my bus and walked in my front door in Canberra at 11h30. Time to make a cuppa and reflect a little on the trip.
And what a great trip it had been. I knew that the Kamchatka Peninsula was a wild and woolly place but it was much wilder and woollier than I had ever expected. It is a huge area with a very low population density. I think there must be more bears, and definitely more mushrooms and toadstools, than people. Kamchatka is very much an adventure destination, but one I’m so very pleased that I’ve experienced.
I know that many of you who are reading this will never have the opportunity to go to this far wilderness outpost in the world. So I’m glad that I’ve been able to share the experience with you in both stories and photos and hope that you have enjoyed the journey with me from the comfort of home.
Please join me again when I next venture somewhere ‘off the beaten track’.
All Photography Copyright © David Young of jtdytravels
This tour was organised by Silk Road Adventures of NZ
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