Monthly Archives: April 2012

Kamchatka: the Town of Ozernovsky

On the coast of the Sea of Okhotsk, on the southern bank of Ozernaya River, at the tip of the Kamchatka Peninsula lies the southernmost settlement of Kamchatka, the town of Ozernovsky. A town of 2,500 people lives and breathes sockeye salmon. The Ozernaya River has the largest run of sockeye salmon in Asia and the whole economy of this town revolves around it. Without fish, there is no work, no life.

Located about 140 miles from Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky, the regional center, Ozernovsky was founded in 1907. Most buildings are dilapidated, dating to the Soviet times of the 1940s to the 1980s. Dirt roads, hardly passable after rain, connect Ozernovsky to the village of Zaporozhie, located on the opposite side of the river. Pictured above is a kindergarten, located in Zaporozhie.

About half dozen companies fish for salmon in the river and along the coast. A number of processing plants process the fish on-site and load finished product on trampers, cargo boats that transport fish, waiting just off shore. Rusted parts of one of such vessels still stick from the intertidal and lay scattered along the coastline. The story goes that about 5 years ago, a 200-foot vessel was anchored offshore when a major soccer game started on TV. The crew decided to move closer to town for better TV reception, but a storm picked up, and by the time they’ve realized they were being pushed on shore by waves and wind, it was too late to save the boat.

The town’s coastline is actually litered with rusted boats and unrecognizable metal parts. Old cards scatter the grasslands around town, giving it a ghost-like appearance.

One day I was exploring the hills south of town. I came across an old cemetery, overgrown with wildflowers. Red stars on metal peaks adored more patriotic graves. The cemetery looked forgotten, as if the people who were supposed to visit it have also died or left town. A little further down the bluff, a non-functioning lighthouse came to view. It piqued my curiosity. Only when I sat down on a bluff did I see a rusted sign with a radiation warning (pictured below). As I later found out, the lighthouse contained batteries with plutonium, or such, that are still scattered around the site. But do not worry, I was told, it’s probably safe if I don’t touch anything.

Also see Part I: Kamchatka and Part II: Kamchatka: the MI-8 Helicopter.


Kamchatka: the MI-8 helicopter

The bobbing of the taxing plane on an uneven tarmac meant I have finally landed in Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky, Kamchatka. My stop here was only temporary. After a few days of waiting in an old Soviet-built hotel for the weather to clear, I was given the green light. The MI-8 helicopter, the workhorse of the Russian aviation of the Russian Far East, was taking me to Ozernovsky, a town of 2,000 people on the southwestern coast, about an hour away as the crow flies.

The MI-8s were originally designed for military use, but are now widely used to carry people and cargo all over Kamchatka. They are not cheap, costing about $2,500/hr. For that amount of money, you’d think it would be at least a comfortable ride, but half a dozen times I flew on them last summer, I had to balance myself on containers of food, duffel bags, wood pellets, or be stuffed as a sardine with about 15 other people. There are two benches that sit 8.


Washington industrial photographer

It takes three people to fly and navigate them, although I sometimes wondered if it was part of job security. Photo below, taken by Tikhrun Shpilinuk, was taken on one of our flights about a kilometer up in the air.

But Kamchatka is about the landscape. A very active region, full of mountains and volcanoes, criss-crossed by rivers, it is a sight of beauty and awe. Frozen in winter, under a thick blanket of snow, it made me appreciate how wild and severe it was. Almost every mountain top had bear foot prints descending into the valleys below.

By May – June, the white blanket is yanked off by the Spring, revealing lush green fields that burst into bloom by August. The transformation is as unbeliveable as it is breath-taking.

Also see Part I: Kamchatka.