Eastern Russia April 20, 2016
Just a few hours heading north in the Pacific Ocean and you go from relatively mild early Spring weather in Japan to sub-zero snow in Russia! We visited Korsakov on Monday, on the island of Sakhalin, about halfway between Japan and Russia in this area of the world. This island was settled by the Japanese during the Edo period (approx. 1600-1870), but has been the subject of contests between Japan and Russia since that time, through the end of WWII, when the island was awarded to Russia. Not many people live on the island, and much of it is forested. The island industries include farming, fishing and tourism – this island is a haven for birds, seals and other wildlife, so lots of people come to take in the natural wonders.
The island also holds many Daccha – the summer houses of the Russians. We passed many on our drive – small houses on small plots of land, with vegetable and flower gardens ready for planting when the weather thaws.
We travelled to the capital city of the island (Sakhalin), and visited a Russian Orthodox Church constructed in the “old” way – no nails, just wooden pegs holding the logs together. On our trip we passed many churches, some with the colorful and picturesque onion shaped domes.
We visited the Anton Chekhov Museum, and learned more about this writer (who was also a physician). Chekhov visited Sakhalin in 1890, to interview convicts in Russian work camps; he wound up staying for three months, taking a regional census in addition to compiling the prisoner interviews which ultimately became “Sakhalin Island.”
While in Sakhalin we also visited the Regional Museum, which was established by the Russian population during a period when the Japanese ruled the island, to preserve and commemorate Russian history and its people. The Museum is in one of the only buildings on the island that retains its Japanese style architecture.
After another rough night on the sea (lots of ice and lots of speed to make up for the very lengthy immigration processing we experienced at Korsakhov), we have arrived at Petropavlovsk, one of the most isolated large cities in the world (no roads connect it to the outside world). The captain wasn’t entirely sure we’d be able to anchor and visit this island, as the weather is sometimes too inclement to permit tender service. He told us today that last night “we drove the boat like we stole it” in order to make time.
Petropavlovsk was isolated from the world until 1991, especially during earlier years when it housed Russia’s largest nuclear submarine base and military radar installations.
Petropavlovsk is surrounded with natural beauty in the Kamchatsky Peninsula, a mountainous region on the Bering Sea that is part of the Ring of Fire (the circle of volcanoes that encircle the Pacific). This peninsula has 68 active volcanoes (that’s 10% of the world’s active volcanoes), 5 nature reserves, the world’s densest population of brown bears, and a thriving fishing industry.
While on this part of our journey, we’d learned a bit about Vitus Bering, who founded Petropavlovsk (which he named after his two sailing ships in 1740, the St. Peter and the St. Paul). Bering was a Dane who explored Russia and the Aleutian Islands, trying to ascertain where Alaska ends and Russia begins, or whether they were connected by a land mass. The 53 mile gap that we call the Bering Straits is now the water that separates Asia and North America.
Looks like we’re in for very cold weather for the next couple of weeks, but we hope you are all enjoying the start of Spring, and we will be too, very soon!
PS – the sad end to our story – the wind at Petroplavask was so strong that the tender boats could not safely get passengers to the dock, so we spent the afternoon on the ship, and most of the passengers were somewhat thankful that we didn’t have to brave the cold wind (you can tell some of us are getting old).