Published on Current Concerns No 19, by Niels Peter Ammitzboell and Barbara Hug, november 2010.
For many Europeans, the Russian Far East remains an area that lies beyond any field of vision as they lack the most fundamental geographical knowledge about it. A journey to the Russian Far East represents an experience, which will certainly be remembered more intensely than any trip to the Maldives or to Thailand. Those who cherish traditional reservations against Russia – which are probably remnants of the Cold War – might have to change their minds when visiting this part of the world.
We had decided to visit the Magadan area and the Kamchatka Peninsula – primarily because we were interested in nature, bird- and wildlife, in the ecological conditions and the life of the people there in general. An unreserved visit to this world region opened up our eyes for an ecological rarity.
We spent the month of June with members of the Magadan Institute of Biological Problems of the North and the Kamchatka Institute of Ecology in order to become profoundly acquainted with the ecological conditions, the fauna and flora, the volcanoes, the bird life on the islands in the Sea of Okhotsk, and concomitantly the people’s living conditions. The tundra with its small lakes and huge wetlands, the taiga, intersected by wild rivers, extended forests in the central part of Kamchatka, the enormous rivers intersecting the peninsula for more than a thousand kilometres – and who would ever forget the graceful but powerful volcanoes, which frame the east coast of Kamchatka as if they were a string of beads. The vastness of Russia is always fascinating and the black Coast of the Pacific is always overwhelming.
Magadan can only be reached by ship or by airplane; it is a vibrant city, which must however import all vitally necessary goods via ship or airplane. Yakutsk is 2,000 kilometres away, and using the road can not be recommended. One hardly meets wealthy people but real poverty neither. Snow might fall in the bright nights of June, the roads are empty, there is hardly any traffic in the streets. It is a very special impression to walk through a nearly day-bright city at night, the wind blows heavily from the sea and you feel a soft hail on your face. The uninhabited areas begin directly at the border of the city, first the forest, then the coast, the deltas of the Shirokaya and the Yana rivers. Westward along the coast we pass by the mountains, on muddy roads, which in winter are difficult to drive on for usual passenger vehicles; in summer, however, enormous amounts of dust are blown up because of their dryness, so that approaching cars are hard to see. A seaquake with a tsunami destroyed the coastal road, and advancing on the elevated dams is somewhat cumbersome. Occasional fishermen’s settlements are situated along the coast; small boats take long journeys out on sea in order to fish the favourite king crabs. Ebb-tide and flood dictate the time for the fishermen’s boats to go out on sea. Fog, wind, storm, ice floes – everything must be mastered. And the tundra … Blue lakes, crystal clear water, and the brightly-coloured tundra still without mosquitoes at this time of the year … //
… Clean water in abundance from the fountains and rivers is always there in Kamchatka. This is also a reference to the ecological quality of this large peninsula. One could even speak of an ecological jewel.
The seasons determine life in the Russian Far East; ice and long winter months require a concentration on cultivation, sowing and harvest in a few summer months. Now, in the middle of June, the gardens are freshly harrowed, sown, and the potatoes planted around all the little houses. Supplies of firewood or food are a matter of course for the people in the Russian Far East. Complaining about not being able to obtain a luxury fruit or about the lack of comfort is useless; a car with a lot of electronics would perhaps be admired, it is of no use however. We admired our driver, who mastered each necessary repair of the vehicle. And within the course of the four weeks we made friends with our Russian companions – friendships, which we will never forget. (full text).