Kamchatka became the jumping off point for Russian exploration and control of Alaska as well as parts of California and Hawaii. Then in , needing money, Russia sold its North American territories, and Kamchatka stagnated. It served as an occasional place of exile for czarist political prisoners.
The Second World War largely bypassed the peninsula, but the conflict with Japan prompted the Soviet Union to transform Kamchatka into a warren of military installations. During the Cold War, it was closed to all foreigners and most Russians, which helped to preserve it.
The constant tectonic activity means minor temblors roll through every few months. Almost every local there has a bear story. Bears plod through the woods in quest of blueberries, cranberries and honeysuckle berries, which Kamchatkans also collect by the bushel. That was scary. Lobkov, the biologist, says that Kamchatkans think of the bears as too stuffed with fish to be belligerent. Some seen regularly are even given names. But here I am in one piece; I never had a real problem. This August, the numbers of spawning fish was below average, leaving the usually contented bears a little hungry.
Just two days after our trip, authorities suspended trips to one river where an aggressive bear rushed towards a group of scientists, veering off at the last minute. Given its mesmerising beauty, it is little wonder that Kamchatka attracts visitors, but the number that it can support is now the focus of an intense debate because a Russian tycoon wants to erect a tourist village.
The proposed 1, rooms would accommodate some , visitors annually, two to three times the current number. Kamchatkans are divided. Businessmen say it would provide jobs and kick-start a halting tourism industry.
The park would expose people to his beloved volcanoes, he says, plus it is more ecologically friendly than industrial development projects. Kamchatka is rich in deposits of minerals and metals including platinum, gold, silver, nickel and copper. Gas and coal are being exploited as well. Some locals say the mines represent a greater threat than more tourists, especially since environmental inspectors rarely access mining areas. The investors want to own the land for the hotel project, however, which would require removing it from a locally protected nature preserve.
Conservationist organisations call that a dangerous precedent. Travel to Kamchatka is not cheap, especially when booked close to the peak season in July and August.
Cheaper, overland tours need more time. Spontaneous changes to your agenda can run into the headache of special military areas. Getting a new permit from the security services, the FSB, can take two weeks, and the rules border on the absurd. The tour company arranged ours in advance, but when we weighed staying a few extra days in the spa town of Paratunka, we were told that without permits we would have to move from the east side of the town, which is a special military area, to the western side, which is not.
Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky offers a few good dinner options. Our runaway favourite was San Marino for the grilled blue halibut, but Kamchatka Local Kitchen also prepared wonderful seafood. You can find our Community Guidelines in full here. Want to discuss real-world problems, be involved in the most engaging discussions and hear from the journalists?
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PARIS -- French actress Marion Cotillard and several 1,pound Russian brown bears share top billing in Land of the Bears (Terre des ours). Set in the wilderness of the Kamchatka Peninsula, the land of legends and the kingdom of wild brown bears, we follow the daily adventures of five wild brown.
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