Kamchatka (Part 2)
Our first full day in the Kronotsky Biosphere introduced us to the our first Kamchatkan brown bear. Although we had watched Grizzly Man and researched the protocols of camping in bear country we didn't feel threatened by this wild encounter. The bear was in a field jammed packed with ripe bilberries and cranberries. It was gorging on this feast with the occasional glance up at us - to sniff the air of humans - and then continuing.
The once-hunter now-ranger МакSим (Maksim) was always armed and loaded. Although we did joke that he didn't sleep nor eat but just drank vodka - he was very alert whenever a bear was within our vicinity. At each sighting he would slowly advance on the bear(s) and beckon us to follow. He spoke very little English. His muted and military demeanour added to the stereotypical stern Russian man from the days of the cold war. During the reform years of Perestroika he had become a ranger as hunting became increasingly less profitable. These days hunting in Kamchatka is more of a pastime than a profession.
From our cabins we had trekked through berry fields and waded though a seemingly endless shallow swampy bog in our sandals before reaching the central depression of the wide Uzon Caldera from the south. It is about 10km at it's widest. The flat was covered with fields of bubbling mud and mineral thermal pools. Amongst the hazardous pools you can make out bear paw prints mingled with vulcanologist rubber wellington boot prints! There appeared to be a very small contingent of scientists and wildlife watchers in this remote land.
Steam clouds bellowed out as we made our way to the UNESCO sponsored cabin. Here we met Aleksandr, a bearded scientist who may have lived his years in this remote region in solitude. He rushed up to us speaking frantically in Russian - he asked who our ranger was and his whereabouts. And then pointed in a northerly direction - our eyes followed the trajectory from this finger tips leading us to stare straight at a bear racing towards us! Maksim appeared from nowhere to planting himself between us and the bear. The bear paced straight passed us and headed for the thermal pools...
Uzon Caldera Vista
After another hearty lunch conjured up by Sasha we headed for a swim in the clay filled thermal pools nearby. The bears were now well aware of our presence and abandoned us for quieter Sunday afternoon elsewhere (not that we knew or cared that it was a Sunday!).
His last look before disappearing over the ridge
Julie says "Clay fight!" - Luba and Lyosha basking in mud and sun!
After the long day, Aleksei and Lyosha fire up the "cooker" back at the camp. We have yet to camp out in our tents... hopefully the weather will hold up when we do!