Kamchatka is an incredible place, a true frontier country. Peninsula at the far east of the Russian Federation, it is a great one and a half times Italy with less than 400 thousand inhabitants, naturally concentrated in the capital and in the very few major urban centers. The wild nature, even unexplored, is predominant with green landscapes characterized by many volcanoes, even active.
Lake Kurile, in the southern tip of the peninsula, is the place with the highest presence of bears due to the important concentration of red salmon. Kamchatka, in fact, is the most important breeding site for salmon from all over the Eurasian continent; in some ways almost the equivalent of Alaska, from which it is divided by the Bering sea, but wilder because it has remained more isolated and less touristy in the centuries.
The Kurile lake perfectly represents the wildest aspect of the peninsula: it can only be reached by helicopter or by a long and truly exhausting off-road journey.
Because of bad weather (the helicopter could not take off from Petropavlosk, the capital where we stayed for three nights hoping that the weather would change) I experienced this trip in the first leg: it was endless but an incredible experience. We have crossed endless trails with bears, disconnected roads, rivers, stretches of sea and even outposts of civilization; mostly remote fishing villages and the remains of what were perhaps small cities in a recent past, now fallen into ruin, perhaps due to the collapse of the military bases that resided in this piece of land facing America in the old Soviet Union. In these places it really seemed to be in a post atomic setting … incredible atmospheres, photographed from inside the big off-road vehicle that transported us under a dark sky, without stops so as not to waste time .. Apart from the night stop, necessary, where with a cold and a crazy humidity I found myself sleeping on a wooden plank placed as a bed in the off-road, between the Russian driver and an old German woman, part of my own photographic expedition. Anyway I slept well and in the early morning we started again.
Arrived at the lake camps – to sleep and eat, only in the evening – in a tented camp, guarded by a park ranger outpost. The camp, equipped with essential services, is protected by an electrified fence, given the continuous and visible presence of bears. To photograph, at dawn, always exposed to cold humidity, wind and often rain, a boat takes you to beaches, normally near the estuaries of small rivers that enter the lake and the salmon go back. Accompanied by a single armed ranger, you can go outdoors, without any cover, always with a strong presence of humidity if not rain, a few meters from the banks and a few meters from countless adult bears intent on fishing without interruption. The puppies, however, tender and awkward spend all the time playing games giving hilarious and beautiful shows.
You can thus witness the most incredible ups and downs of these large mammals that while fishing, or fighting or playing, are incredibly fast and agile as well as truly water lovers where they spend most of their time. Their speed, power and endowment of huge and sharp claws, together with the proximity, makes you think that if they wanted to assail you and get really bad despite the presence of the armed ranger. They do not really care about your presence and continue to focus on fishing. So normally … except on two occasions a few hours away, in which a great dominant mom, with four puppies in tow, suddenly snarled (I was the outmost of the five photographers lining up in a row) attempting an assault, certainly not convinced…. otherwise it would have been trouble. However, to make the plantigade desist was also the readiness of the ranger who launched him against a smoke and bright stick, a tool that obviously does not like bears. As for me I will never forget the growl of that mother bear that worried about her children too close to us reminded us that there are the masters there, the bears, and the wild nature that hosts them.