Today we said goodbye to the Tolbachik base camp and headed back down the mountain in our 4WD bus through the mud to our next destination: the village of Esso. The morning started off foggy with some rain showers, but just before we left, the sun burned off the fog and the nearby volcanoes appeared through the mist. We quickly loaded up and headed down the road. For some reason, we seemed to get through the nasty parts of the road much more quickly than when we went up, perhaps gravity was helping us along. We had to make a quick stop at the village of Kozyrevsk to replace the tire that went flat. Then we drove to the river to once again cross on the rickety ferry. Our timing was a little off as the ferry crew went on a lunch break right when we arrived. So, we decided to have lunch ourselves while we waited for the ferry to load us up. Lunch was served on the bumper of our 4WD vehicle.
After lunch, we crossed the river and continued on to Esso. Esso is home to the native Evans people of Kamchatka. It’s a sleepy little hamlet referred to as the “Switzerland of Kamchatka.” I wouldn’t exactly compare it to Switzerland, but it was a serene place nestled in the mountains. We stayed in a lovely guest house in the center of town where we all had a very welcome shower. Esso sits on some natural hot springs and the extra hot water in the showers felt great.
After getting cleaned up, we walked to the Evans museum to learn about the history of the native people who inhabit this region, including their Shamanism religion. Afterwards, we walked to a community center and watched a demonstration of native folk dances. The dance troupe is internationally known and put on a wonderful 1-hour show. They wore beautiful native costumes made from reindeer hide and sang native songs.
We returned to lodge for dinner. Valerie and Roy were both suffering from some bug, so they decided not to eat. They both appreciated sleeping on beds after having to endure four nights at the Tolbachik camp on their very thin borrowed sleeping mats .
The next morning started off cloudy and rainy again, but the sun soon came out through the clouds. We planned to head out at 8:00 am for a long 400 km drive to Malky Hot Springs. We were all packed up and ready to go on time, but the 4WD was not cooperating. A busted hose required us to extend our stay in Esso a couple of hours while the guys looked for a replacement. Meanwhile, Valerie and Roy used their cell phones to try and locate their lost baggage. Roy called a friend in the US who is “good at getting things done.” Valerie called her dad and brother to see if they could prod, or threaten, Aeroflot to get her bag through customs and on to Petropavlovsk (our guide had told us earlier in the week that the bag was stuck in Moscow customs and nothing could be done to get it out). Our cell phone was in my big bag which required me to unload the bags out of the back of the bus since my bag (of course) was on the bottom. It took several attempts to get through via cell phone, but it finally worked and Valerie was able to talk to her dad and leave a message for her brother. So now we had Roy’s friend and Valerie’s family working on the problem of the lost bags. We’ll see what happens but expectations were quite low at this point.
With our 4WD as good as new (well, running anyway), we headed down the road for the drive to Malky Hot Springs. We stopped in Milkova for lunch and a tour of the museum that we had missed on the way down because of our late start. Valerie made several more phone calls with both her brother and dad who were having a tough time getting through to someone at Aeroflot who would speak English with them. We arrived at Malky at 8:00 pm and the camp was quickly set up so anyone interested could try out the hot springs. Several large pools of hot water had been diverted at the side of the river, offering soaking pools with different temperatures.
Valerie and I reluctantly decided not to go to the hot springs because we were trying to fix a broken zipper on our tent. Fortunately, our driver Sasha came to our rescue with his trusty pliers and in no time at all, he had fixed the pesky zipper. The Malky Hot Springs camp was really busy with weekenders from Petropavlovsk who were enjoying one last weekend before school started. The locals were enjoying the warm water of the springs and there was lots of music and drinking going on as well. Several nearby camps stayed up all night partying. Shortly after we all settled down for the night, whizzes, flashes of bright lights, and loud bangs directly over our tents got our attention. The neighboring campers were setting off some serious fireworks and a couple of out-of-control pyrotechnics whizzing very close to our tent made us a bit nervous that our tents would catch on fire. I definitely needed to use ear plugs to get any sleep. I used the “Pad of Pain,” as we had lovingly nicknamed Valerie’s borrowed sleeping pad, so she could get a good night’s sleep on my Thermarest pad. I wasn’t overly comfortable on the thin pad, but I was able to get some sleep.
The next morning we had breakfast, packed up the bags, some people had a quick soak in the hot springs, and we headed down the road to our next volcano climb. We stopped just outside Yelizovo for lunch and once again, we got on our cell phone and tried to find out more information on Valerie’s lost luggage. We even tried calling our hotel in Moscow to see if they could help, but they weren’t much help either. Roy, who’d been riding with our cook in a separate car, showed up at the lunch spot with a big smile…and his luggage! Delta Airlines had really come through for him by having a representative personally walk his bags through customs. Valerie was seriously jealous but happy for him, and a bit happy for herself because Roy would let her have his borrowed sleeping bag – two bags ought to do the trick of keeping her warm.
After lunch, we drove on down the road to the base camp for Mutnovsky and Gorely volcanoes – volcanoes we would be climbing in the next several days. The camp was on a wind-swept plateau just below the mountains. After setting up camp, we did a short hike up a ridge where we had a good view of both volcanoes. The tops of both mountains were shrouded in clouds. As we were going into the cook tent for dinner, Ruslon, our guide, pointed up towards Gorely and showed me where it had started “erupting” a few days earlier. We could see a significant steam plume coming from the crater. We were getting excited for our upcoming visits to the volcanoes!