Traveling Through the Ring of Fire: Volcanoes in the Russian Far East
Pulling off my boots and socks and rolling up my pant legs, I step into the hot water at Proliv Senyavina on the Russian Far East’s remote Chukotka Peninsula. Soaking my feet in what must be the world’s most remote footbath, I sit on the tundra and watch the steam from the hot water rise into the sky.
Situated in the Ring of Fire, the Russian Far East is a land of harsh landscapes, steaming hot springs and active volcanoes. Evidence of volcanic activity is everywhere, and these springs are just one of many scattered across the Russian Far East.
Petropavlovsk Kamchatsky: The City of Volcanoes
Volcanoes themselves are also everywhere. In Petropavlovsk Kamchatsky, the population center of the Kamchatka Peninsula, our guide jokes that people in the city fear nothing since they live in the shadow of many active volcanoes.
With 29 active volcanoes on the Kamchatka Peninsula, I realize these people must be courageous to live here. My respect for these brave people is only reinforced after our guide tells us that Petropavlovsk Kamchatsky is the world’s second-largest city, even with a population of over 180,000 people, that is not connected to the rest of the world by roads.
In fact, one of the volcanoes located closest to the city might soon erupt. “We’re expecting news from Avachinsky Volcano that is beside the city,” says Anna Goldzahn, an expert in volcanology, based in Petropavlovsk Kamchatsky. She says that many local earthquakes in the area are currently giving out warning signs. “The last visible eruption was in 1991,” Goldzahn tells me. This active volcano, which has erupted over 15 times since the mid-18th century, is likely to display some volcanic activity soon.
Goldzahn is not concerned about the city, however, because the volcanoes are a safe distance away. “Kamchatka people have been living here for about thirteen to sixteen thousand years,” she explains. “All our settlements are in a safe position.”
At the Vulcanarium, Russia’s very first volcano museum, I marvel at the way these ruptures in the Earth’s surface have shaped the land and people of the Russian Far East. At this popular science educational center, locals and visitors alike can come to learn about the formidable forces of nature that loom over the town.
Exploring Volcanoes up Close
In Petropavlovsk Kamchatsky, others from the ship choose to participate in a day trip to hike up a nearby volcano. I know that getting up close and personal to a volcano, which is such a great force of nature, is truly incredible. And in the Russian Far East, hiking is not the only way to explore one.
We choose to drive by Zodiac into volcanic craters filled by the sea, such as at Yankicha Island in the Kuril Islands. In places like Cape Kuyveveem, these nimble boats allow us to explore the towering cliffs and their strangely-shaped basalt caves that have formed as a result of volcanic activity. The unusual shapes and colors capture my imagination, and my head swivels around, unsure of what beautiful site to look at first.
And this is not the first time that someone has been completely entranced by the captivating beauty of the Russian Far East. On Atlosova Island in the Kuril Islands stands Alaid Volcano. It is so beautiful that native people told a scientist in the 18th century that the other volcanoes on the Kamchatka Peninsula had exiled Alaid out to sea, due to its striking beauty.
Inspiration for Local Legends
For the entire voyage, volcanoes capture my imagination, just as they have for the people of the Russian Far East for generations. It is no surprise, then, that the native people of the area have incorporated volcanoes into their stories.
To the Koryak people on the Kamchatka Peninsula, the volcanoes that dot the landscape are the lovers of the first woman to live on Kamchatka. Their hearts still long for her. To this day, the volcanoes in the Russian Far East are still active because of their undying love for her.
To other groups in Kamchatka, such as the Itelmen, volcanoes are places where demons dwell, and the fire that erupts from the mountains are the fires of the demons. Chukchi folklore additionally tells of the creator Kutkh and how his footsteps became the valleys in between the volcanoes of Kamchatka.
In every story, volcanoes are shrouded by powers more significant than the people who dwell among them. After visiting this fiery land, I understand why. The Russian Far East represents nature at its most potent.
The Kamchatka Peninsula has more active volcanoes in one area than anywhere else on the planet. For the rest of the voyage, as we sail through the Ring of Fire, I feel almost transported to another time when the Earth was young, and volcanic eruptions formed the land.