When we went to bed last night, all was calm and quiet. Something seriously changed overnight. At one point in the late evening hours, we were awakened by a rather insistent car horn loudly honking. Valerie’s first instinct was that the volcano was about to blow and we were being told to get in the 4WD vehicle to be evacuated from camp. I guess that makes sense given the copious amount of smoke that was belching from the volcano when we went to bed. I poked my head out of the tent and saw that there was a large truck and a smaller car having a difficult time passing each other on the road. Why they were traveling in this area in the middle of the night was beyond me. We went back to sleep.
At some point later in the night, the weather took a turn for the worse. The winds were ferociously pounding the side of the tent and we awoke to the realization that we, and everything in our tent, were covered in a fine layer of dirt. The zippers on the tent doors were broken which caused volcanic sand to come pouring into the tent with every gust. We decided to turn ourselves around in the tent so that our heads were away from the side of the tent where the sand was entering. We fitfully slept the rest of the night.
At around 6:00 am, we heard a voice yelling “geet up,” “weather bad,” “we go to otel now.” The night before, the plan was to sleep in a bit and leisurely prepare to depart from camp. Overnight, the wind started raging and was a steady 50-60 mph, with gusts probably going to 70 or more. The guides had spent all night trying to keep the cook/eating tent standing but they finally gave up early in the morning and dismantled it. I stuck my head out of the tent and it was a full-blown wind storm with almost no visibility.
We very quickly packed our bags and tents. The wind was so strong that it was all we could do to get our tent packed. Valerie sat on the deconstructed tent while I stuffed it bit by bit into the stuff sack. We carried all of our gear about 50 yards to the 4WD vehicle where we quickly and haphazardly loaded everything in. As we drove away from camp in exhausted silence, I looked around the vehicle. Looking back, I wish I had taken a picture of this forlorn and pathetic group of people. Everyone’s faces were covered in black volcanic sand. The sand had gotten into our eyes, noses, and completely filled our ears (it would be days before we got it all out). Ah yes, these are the memories of adventure travel trips that make for good stories later.
We headed down the road toward the Paratunka Resort with a brief stop at a creek with a “wishing tree.” Wishing trees are where people hang bits of cloth with their wish written on it.
By late-morning, we arrived at Paratunka. It was a lovely, modern hotel with thermal hot spring pools right out back. The first thought on everyone’s mind was a hot shower. I could not believe the amount of black volcanic sand that was left in the bottom of the shower when I was done! That had to be one of the best showers of my life! While some of the group soaked in the thermal pools, napped or caught up on email, this was more time for us to try to find out what had happened to Valerie’s bag. She called her father who had been desperately trying to get information from Aeroflot. He was so frustrated he couldn’t see straight. Then she called the Travel Assistance number for our travel insurance policy. The most we could find out was that the bag was still stuck in customs in Moscow and the only way to retrieve it was to personally pick it up from customs when we returned to Moscow in 3 days.
After a wonderful dinner, we tried out the thermal pool before heading back to our room and a good night’s sleep. We were so thankful for a comfortable bed in a hotel that was far away from the high winds and blowing sand of the Gorely Base Camp.