Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Return to Kamchatka, Week 1

View from my office window at the
Institute of Volcanology and Seismology
Ah, it took me some effort to get to the English version of Blogspot... now called blogger?

It's the deep of winter in Kamchatka (in Russian we would say "on Kamchatka" because it's a peninsula, or logistically an island) so it's hard for me to say "in" Kamchatka). This is my third winter here, the prior two being sabbaticals (2001 and 2010), this current one sponsored by the U.S. Fulbright Program
"The Fulbright Program is the flagship international educational exchange program sponsored by the U.S. government and is designed to increase mutual understanding between the people of the United States and the people of other countries."

My two primary objectives during this six-month (!) visit are to conduct research and writing with colleagues, particularly Tanya Pinegina, and to work with students and young colleagues on their technical English, likely using examples from natural hazards such as earthquakes, volcanoes and tsunamis.  And of course to represent the U.S. and learn more about my Russian counterparts.

Kamchatka is not an easy place to reach from the U.S., particularly in winter, even though it's not far at all from Seattle, my usual home. At times there have been direct summer flights from Anchorage, mostly for hunters and fishers, but also for volcanologists and seismologists (and paleoseismologists like me) and for petroleum workers going on to Sakhalin.  Alternatives from Seattle include going west, e.g., via Seoul (and once via Beijing!), with intermediate stops in Vladivostok or Khabarovsk.  And about as far from Moscow as you can get!  I've been told that if you misbehaved in school in Russia (USSR), you would be sent to the back corner, also known as being sent to Kamchatka.

So this time I flew via Moscow, that is: Seattle-Amsterdam-Moscow-Petropavlovsk.   [Petropavlovsk-Kamchatskiy on the scale of this map is near the southeastern tip--the first bay north--more later about PKC].  My itinerary put me at Sheremetyevo Airport in Moscow from about 5 PM to 5 PM, technically 24 hours, but not really, given logistics of arrival and departure, so, even though there is now a train into Moscow from Sheremetyevo, I opted to stay in a hotel attached to the airport, joined by my colleague, co-author, friend and common visitor to Seattle, volcanologist Vera Ponomareva.
View of my departure terminal from my hotel room.
Well, what to do besides enjoy eachothers' company and get some sleep?  Of course we had to go to the local Starbuck's, near the entrance to the train from the airport terminal.  There has been so much development at Sheremetyevo since I was last here.  Just the short corridor from my hotel to the train entrace had three different coffee shops, a couple small eating places, souvenir shops, and of course ATMs and phone stores.  I bought a Russian cell phone and a Moscow sim card, later replaced by a Kamchatka sim card upon arrival in Petropavlovsk.

Back to Starbuck's, it had its familiarities and its differences, particularly all the drinks written out in quite fancy cyrillic, except for one board in English.  The coffee-master, Olya, had been to Maryland for training; she and her baristas seemed very excited to hear that we had been to Pike Place Market (what is it like?) and to the original Starbucks.  We had breakfast there and also stopped by in the afternoon for a latte.  I am afraid I am something of a Starbucks "snob" -- I bought some coffee to bring with me to Kamchatka.

from Vera's cell phone--JB breakfast
Vera choosing a pastry at Starbucks
Baristas at Sheremetyevo Starbucks
I struggled a bit with ATMs, perhaps mostly because my usual ATM card, from a credit union, does not have a chip.  So I ended up using a Visa card that had a chip.  As for the rest of the time that I wasn't sleeping (I took 5 mg of melatonin and slept nearly 10 hours!), we had cheese and other goodies and red wine before sleeping, and champagne and more treats for "lunch" before I headed back to the terminal for my departure for Petropavlovsk-Kamchatskiy.

I've been here on Kamchatka a week as of today --we are a day ahead of the U.S, my flights took 24 hours, I had 24 hours in Moscow, and I lost time flying east... I left on Sunday 8 Jan and arrived Weds 11 Jan! This blog will say it's 17 Jan because my computer is on Seattle time, but it's 18 Jan here.

View along wall outside my flat.
The basics of Petropavlovsk have not changed, I am still getting settled and learning my way around what changes have occurred since I was here in 2010 winter (I was here briefly, also, in 2011 summer).  One big change is that with a cable under the Sea of Okhotsk, we now have broadband internet, and I have it in my flat, so that is where I am now.  I plan to use my own laptop here at home, and a computer in my institute office -- one way to learn more Russian is to try to use Word new version (I still use old on my laptop) in Russian!  That's how I learned CorelDraw back in 2001!

I arrived just before a snowstorm, with strong cross-winds at the airport leading to a very exciting landing.  I have great respect for Aeroflot pilots!  It was warm the first few days, now it is colder than -10 celsius (that's about 14 fahrenheit, not bad at all).  Tanya took me to buy snowshoes and we went snowshoeing in fresh snow with another colleague, tectonic geomorphologist Andrey Kozhurin.
Snowshoeing on Kamchatka by Tanya Pinegina

I got this image from the web; it IS Kamchatka
Sunday, Tanya took me to buy ski boots-- she already had skis and poles for me to use (for cross-country--I have at home but too tricky to bring with me), and we went cross-country skiing.  I didn't bring my camera, which is too bad because at the same time on the same trail, there was a ski-joring competition with dogs!  The huskies seemed to be having more trouble than less-furry breeds, probably because the temperature was just above freezing.    Doggies did not seem to be doing a great job, perhaps they are still in training.

Typical birch forest, near Lesnaya
 cross-country ski area
All righty, the sun is rising--it's 9:30 AM --time zone is a bit shifted, and of course we are pretty far north, ~53 degrees.

Tasks for this week include organizing my papers for working on paleotsunami and tsunami records from Kamchatskiy Bay region, and getting set up with teaching/advising students in technical English.

And some more winter sports and time outdoors.  Did I say I love snow?


  1. Fascinating blog, Jody. Thanks. I look forward to more. (I miss cross country skiing. Did a lot of it when I lived in Massachusetts. But maybe it's not such a good idea for an old fart with cranky knees now.)

  2. Broadband internet!
    Have fun and let me know if you need any contribution from me, or if you'd just like to Skype.