Monday, October 1, 2007

GEOGRAPHY SPOTLIGHT SERIES! let's hear it for the kamchatka peninusula!

Please let me draw your attention to that seldom-talked-about place called the Kamchatka Peninsula. It is roughly half the size of British Columbia, but has the advantage of not having to share a border with Alberta! Imagine how few cowboys are on the loose. It has a history similar to the conquest of the American West by the colonials; the Russians even set up a company called the such-and-such-America company during the colonial period-- it was part of their American territories along with that little patch of land we now call Alaska.


Can you imagine this paradise lost that awaits us? Think Vancouver Island WITHOUT all them Spotty-faced British Immigrants! Paradise! Think British Columbia without all those pesky highways and towns dotted all over it! Paradise! Think the Straight of Georgia except there's no boats- just dolphins and whales and eagles! Paradise! Think Vancouver except there is no over-grown logging camp with a post office and coffee truck full of red-neck construction workers building cheap-facades for lego-like housing! Paradise! Think skiing Whistler-Blackcomb without having to bump into Seal and his Gazelle-Victoria Secret Model! Or walking through a tacky tourist trap they call a ski village! Paradise! Think of the Kootenays without all those be-robed neo-hippies in their ashrams! Paradise! Think of the mighty Fraser River without all those Grow-ops along the banks because weed grows au naturel! Paradise! A land where there are no exclamation marks! Paradise [!]
One problem, though. The area gets a major earthquake-- enough to raze the entire West End of Vancouver in one wobble-- almost, say, twice a week. Take a look at the map, it's like California will be-- after the San Andreas Fault has cut and run and left it to dangle in the Pacific.In fact two of the most catastrophic-able earthquakes recorded by humankind occurred here. But hey! I think we'd get used to it.
See, the Kamchatka River and the surrounding Central Valley are flanked by large volcanic belts, containing around 160 volcanoes, 29 of them still active. Thus, the peninsula has perhaps the highest density of volcanoes and associated volcanic phenomena in the world, with 19 active volcanoes being included on the UNESCO World Heritage List. Not that anybody is capable of knocking down a volcano, but I guess we might as well preserve it, yeh, just in case?


The highest volcano is Klyuchevskaya Sopka (4,750 m or 15,584 ft), while the most striking is Kronotsky, but if you like volcanoes as much as most hot-blooded Montrealais, then you are just like me. How's this for a nice tip? (Here we see Sopka, only about 100 feet shorter than Mont Blanc! Makes Mount Fuji look like a bump on a log.) Some German-sounding guy was the first one to climb it, and you would think it would be way popular amongst trendy rock-type people, but the last expedition that gave it a try ten years ago had to turn back down fleeing or face being gobbled up by fresh flowing ravines full of molten lava. What's the big deal about a few rivulets of steaming magma? Lava is not that hard to accept! Oh well, the fact is that not all of them in the party made it to safety. Makes you wonder why they called it a "party."


Kamchatka contains probably the world's greatest diversity of salmonid fish, including all six species of anadromous Pacific salmon (chinook, chum, coho, seema, pink, and red salmon). Biologists estimate that a sixth to a quarter of the world's Pacific salmon originate in Kamchatka. [So take that! British Columbia!] Kuril Lake is recognized as the biggest spawning-ground for red salmon in Eurasia. In response to pressure from poaching and to worldwide decreases in salmon stocks, some 24,000 square kilometers (9,300 sq mi) along nine of the more productive salmon rivers are in the process of being set aside as a nature preserve. That's a mighty big campground.

During the Crimean War (you know-Charge of the light Brigade, Flo Nightingale etc) the French and the Brits were on the same team! They came past Kamchatka and fought a bloody battle with the main garrison the cossacks had established. The feisty Russians held off the Galls and Anglos despite being outnumbered by several factors, and the Frenchies and Brits decided to call it a day, and try take the outpost the following year. Deal is, Moscow had abandoned the garrison, much like the Frenchies had abandoned Quebec, and so when the Brits and Frenchies arrived the next time, they found nothing but old rope and rafters. What is striking, is that the attackers turned around and that was it. How come they didn't settle! This place is paradise! That was our opportunity as Brits and Frenchies. There would have been no need to try and keep New Zealand which is a terribly positioned place--way out in the middle of nowhere. Here is a paradise island that is actually attached to the mainland. The Frenchies have a word for it- they call it an almost-island, or Presque-isle.
With Moscow abandoning the peninsula, or at least not exactly turning it into Disneyland, the remaining European-type people blended into the background by mating with the local natives over the course of two centuries. Them folks even speak a special sort of Russian there, with it's own slang and urban street talk (except they have no large cities).
World War II hardly affected Kamchatka except for its service as a launch site for the invasion of the Kurils in late 1945. After the war, Kamchatka was declared a military zone. Kamchatka remained closed to Russians until 1989 and to foreigners until 1990. So for further enquiry into this land of intrigue I invite you to check out your local adventure travel company and ask for something entirely non-local!

(all info shamelessly lifted from the following:)

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