Day 9, Sedanka Lower camp, No transfer!!

Sunday,  July 31

Today 0 km, Total 3697 km

The morning was a little overcast but with good visibility, we had breakfast and packed our things in anticipation of the transfer to the wilderness float, I was excited at the prospect of an extra day on the float trip. The Guides phoned in and informed us that the cloud base was too low in Esso and we would find out more in an hour or so. They said that it would be a good opportunity to fish the river near to camp, They would fire the gun when the helicopter was on the way and we were to return immediately  when we heard a gunshot.

So it was back to the cabin for a partial unpack, reset-up the rods……  I chose to go upstream and work a couple of the little side channels. I was fishing with the steamer setup as every day there were more salmon in the river.

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Chum Salmon

The Side streams were moderately productive, I picked up some nice Rainbows, a couple of Kundzha and landed a chum salmon od about 22 inches. I continued to fish, still no gunshot, just prior to lunch I caught my first resident arctic char, these fish would become Dolly Vanden if they made their way to the ocean, they were about 10 to 12 inches long and had lovely colouring.

 

Arctic Char

By lunch it was sunny and warm, I returned to camp to find out what was going on, still no news, they were still hopeful that they would fly that day, however on the other side of the peninsular the cloud base was still too low for the choppers to fly.

While we were waiting to see what would happen in the afternoon, the guides shared some small salted and dried fish, they would be best described as fish jerky, I must say that I prefer beef jerky, but it was still quite edible.

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Fish Jerky

While I was sitting down having a cup of coffee in the shelter outside the cook house  I was looking at rips in the roofing felt  from a new angle, it became very clear what caused them. A bear had been visiting!! This only acted to reinforce the feeling of wilderness and how close we were to nature. Discussing this with the guides they said that they have a never-ending stream of bead damage that they have to fix every year.

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A bear came visiting

The afternoon was a repeat of the morning, fish close to the camp and come back when there is a gunshot. This time I fished the far bank of the main channel landing several Rainbow trout and Dolley Vardon. The standout thing that happened during the afternoon was that I managed to get my streamer in one of the over hanging trees, this in its self is not  unusual but I managed to go for a swim retrieving it. The water was very, very cold and flowing quite fast, however there was little danger the bottom is gravely and it is only rarely deeper than chest depth. It was just embarrassing and chilly. The day was still warm so I made my way back to camp, got myself dry, warm and a travel update. The news was not good, the helicopters would not fly that day, so it was unpack, grab a beer and settle in for the evening and see what the next day would bring.

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Day 8, Sedanka Maddle Camp to Lower Camp, My First Dolley

Saturday,  July 30

Today 8 km, Total 3697 km

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A cup of coffee at the cook house to start the day

The day started with a bear sighting, 2 bears, one across the river and a large one eating blueberries up-stream of camp. As usual I was nowhere to be found…. in the shower for the entirety of the sighting.

Breakfast today was coffee and crepe, the camp cooks (for both weeks) did excellent crepes, they could whip them up at a moments notice and they seemed to go with any meal or type of food, with jam for breakfast, sausage for lunch or dipped in the stew for dinner.

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Evidence that the beer had arrived the previous evening

After breakfast the guides announced “We have new plan“, when the guides phoned in the morning they had been told that there was bad weather on the way and we should do the swap with the crew that was doing a wilderness float a day early, before the weather arrived. So the new plan was to float to the lower camp in the morning, lunch there and then jet boated to the lower river do some fishing there, then pack up and fly to the Wilderness float the next day.

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Oystein doing what he does best!!

The mornings fishing was solid, we did a lot of floating and not so much fishing, we landed several good-sized rainbows. I must note that by this stage a “solid” mornings fishing would probably rate as excellent or super excellent in most places, but we were on possible the best rainbow trout fishery in the world, so our levels of expectation of a “good” day were increasing exponentially.

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Chilling the drinks at the lower camp

After lunch we set off down stream in the jet boats, Jordan identified a likely spot and I worked one  bank with a mouse while Oystein worked a central riffle. Unbeknownst to me Jordan had spotted a Cherry Salmon lying in the riffle that Oystein was fishing, he expertly directed where to cast and then I could hear great excitement. By the time I got there Oystien had the fish under control and shortly had it in the net. There was great excitement as the Cherry Salmon (Oncorhynchus masou, also known as the masu salmon or masu) is the rarest salmon species on earth and is only found in some rivers the flow into the north-western pacific ocean.

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Having his (and the Groups) first Cherry in the net, Oystein is being super careful not to lose it prior to photographing it.
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Jordan and Oystein and a Cherry Salmon, all super happy (except the salmon of course)

Once all the excitement had settled down we were back to fishing, I changed back to my streamer outfit and started to work a deep slow pool that was holding Salmon. Shortly I had landed my first Dolley Varden . They are beautiful fish that are also hard fighters, they dont jump as much as the Rainbows but they do a “death role” as they get close to the net. Oystein had also never seen a Dolley Varden before, he inspected it and in he  said in his classical Norwegian accent “is that a Dolly Parton,… you know, like the big singer” 🙂 . The Dolly Varden (Salvelinus malma) is a sea run arctic char. Within the next hour I had landed my 2nd and 3rd and 4th Dolly and my 2nd sockeye salmon, this specimen was far fresher and still silver from the sea.

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Me with my second Sockeye salmon, this one a lot fresher than the last

 

Dinner that night was classic russian fair, it started with borscht followed by BBQ skewers, spices roast potatoes and tomato, capsicum and onion salad.

 

 

Later that evening some of the guys sat down for a supper, consisting of a piece of cold meat, a slice of tomato with salt and a shot of vodka, and then, a piece of cold meat, a slice of tomato with salt and a shot of vodka, and then a piece of………. and so on infinitum. They were a little slow the next morning and claimed to have been “Russianed”

 

Day 7, Sedanka Middle Camp

Friday July 29

Sedenka Middle Camp

Today 0 km, Total 3689 km

The Sedanka middle camp is the most rustic of all the camps,it is none the less comfortable, the cabins, shower room and toilets were on the mid terrace of the river with the cook house and accommodation for the staff on the upper terrace. There is currently a new shower/drying room under construction.

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View of the Cabins from the Cook house
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View of the Ablutions block and river

The fishing this day was on inflatable boats powered by 30HP jet outboards, the use of Hamilton type jet attachments on the outboard motors is the standard practice in the fishing camps in Kamchatka, the main reason is they draw about 5 cm blow the bottom of the boat and if they hit a rock they are not damaged. As I discovered the sound of the motor hitting a rock was a common one.

We motored up Motor upstream to fish the water we had passed but not fished the previous day. The morning fishing was steady with several decent rainbows landed, the highlight was probably one of the spring fed creaks that we stopped at, the water was welling up from the ground out of the laver beds, it was crystal clear, drinkable and at fridge temperature.

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Cold spring Creek

In what turned out to be the final stop for the day we had seen a number of Chum Salmon in a lie and decided that we would attempt to catch some (one). We all attached streamers of some sort, I used the black and white Dali Lama. we spread ourselves out, I was on the north bank in the down stream position while Oystein and Alex were on the south bank equally spaced above me. My plan was to start to swing my steamer about 5 m upstream of the pod of Salmon, do two casts and move down a step, continue doing this until I bumped one on the nose and annoyed it enough so that it would attack the fly.

On the first cast I lost a solid fish and landed a 20 inch rainbow on the second, this continued, I was getting a take every cast and landing fish at regular intervals. The landing of the rainbows was relatively simple as I was fishing my 8 weight Greys with a 0X tapered leader and a 15lb tippet, I could just pull them in. After about 5 min a “Oy why aren’t you moving down, we will be on top of you in two casts”,  reply “I would if I could get my Streamer through the trout and in front of the Salmon”.  It took me half an hour to work through the pool in which time I had landed some 14 decent rainbows but no Salmon.

Once I had passed the salmon lie, skipped ahead and I switched back to my 6 weight Hardies with a 1X leader and 12lb tippet and fished a mouse (Mr Hanky), I continued to have reasonable success. Oystien worked the gap between me and the Salmon lie (also with a Mr Hankey)  with considerable success, every time I looked back he was landing or loosing a fish. Once I had finished my stretch of the river, Jordan (the guide) suggested that I run the streamer through the pool the Oystein had just fished, to see if I could pick up a big rainbow that had been ignoring the Mouse. I worked my way down the pool picking up a few useful rainbow but nothing huge, as I neared the end of the pool, I probably had another 5 or so casts to cover the rest of the water, I hit a large fish. There were no exploratory taps, just thud “I’m here”. It was big and strong, it didn’t get aerial like most of the rainbows, I was hoping that it was one of the Chum Salmon that we had been chasing earlier. Some ten minutes later it was in the net, my first Salmon, a 24 inch Sockeye, I was ecstatic. We were quite surprised that it was a Sockeye as we had mainly seen Chum in the river. It was a great way to end the day, in the hour and a half I had landed over 25 fish including my first Salmon.

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My first Salmon, a Sockeye

When we got back to camp we toasted my first Salmon with vodka as we were out of beer. The beer had not been sent on the helicopter with the rest of the provisions and there had only been some leftovers at camp one. No beer in camp was a major problem, but being as resourceful as they are the camp crew had a plan, a couple of Sat phone calls it was underway.

Fishing Rods ready for action and Bob contemplating the world

Anatole organised some beer to be available in Tigil which is a small township some 90km downstream of Camp 3, during the day Little Sasha (the camp hand from the lower camp) would then take a Jet boat from the Lower Camp down river to Tigil pick up the beer and return to the Lower Camp. Then once we had finished the day’s fishing Big Sasha (guide) took one of the inflatable jet boats down to the Lower Camp and shuttled the beer up to the Middle Camp “no worries the plan works

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The first sign of beer arriving

In the mean time Brian took his “no it’s not a drone” Areal Photography Vehicle and got some areal shots of the camp and river. Apparently it must not be refered to as a drone as many people associate drones with the (American) military and he would not be able to get it through customs (or even get arrested) in many countries if the documentation said drone. so I am now edumicated it is a APV not a drone.

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A classic portage of beer!!!

The Beer arrived, dinner was eaten, fire was warm, the midges went to bed at dusk, we were all happy.

Fried Chicken and Potato for diner washed down with a shot of Sugar Free Aguaediente

Day 6, Sedanka Upper Camp to Middle Camp

Thursdays July 28

Today 12 km river km, Total 3701 km

Today was the first Float day of the trip, the plan was to float down to middle camp that was some 12 river km away, with a shallow with a lake at 1/3 distance. The lake was hard work for our guide Sasha as the wind was against us and there was no current to help him.

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The rafts prior to landing at the Upper Camp

We stopped at the end of the lake and fished the mouth of the river, it was here that I was broken twice and Oystein lost what may have been the biggest fish of the trip. It was unidentified and huge, that is the way fishing goes and it doesn’t count unless it is caught. When catch and release is involved the term caught is a bit rubbery, for this trip (for myself) I  defined caught was one hand on the leader and one hand under the fish, the driving thing was always to get the fish back in the water as quickly as possible. Since I was fishing barbless hooks or hooks with flattened barbs the fly often fell out as soon as the tension was off the line, either in the net or as soon as you lifted the fish.

 

 

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Toasting the Catch and a day well done.

 

During the day we landed far more fish but they were a bit smaller, probably and average of 18-19 inch. I fished the same fly for the majority of the day, a Mr Hanky which is a mouse pattern. Fishing the mouse pattern is great fun, it is fished down stream like a Scottish wet fly but it is on the surface, you can see the fish trying to kill it, they go over the top and force it under the water while trying to crush it. In the Sedanka the Rainbows tend to jump a lot once hooked, it is a great show.

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A new and a not so new Mr Hanky

I have uploaded a photo of a new and used Mr Hankey to show the damage the fish do to the fly.

Dinner was its usual hearty affair with a cheese and tomato soup and Plov, which is a local pilaf type dish.

Day 5, Sedanka Upper Camp, First Fish

Wednesday July 17

Today 0 km (walking doesn’t count), Total 3689 km

Species of fish Caught 2 (Rainbow Trout, Longest 26 inch, Kundzha, Longest 24 inch)

After a hearty breakfast we split into out fishing groups with our guides, for this day our group consisted of Oystein, Alex and our Guide was Slava. We walked an hour to one of the upper tributaries of the Sedanka, when we arrived at the point that we wer going to start fishing I looked across the river and saw a bear!! it was only about 60m away, I was instantly torn, I knew that it was dangerous and we should make noise, be big and scare it away however I wanted to observe and photograph a bear as I had never seen one in the wild. I alerted the others, but by the time I had my camera out it had seen us and was heading upstream and away from us. The bear incident was over sadly I have no photos and that was the last bear I actually saw on the trip.

So down to what we came here for FISHING, I started with a black and white streamer  called a Dali Lama, which is more like a fluffy brick than a traditional fly, it is 6cm long and weights about 2 oz,

Dali Lama
Two Dali Lama’s

Within 10 min I had hooked and lost a large fish and my Dali Lama, I had been broken on a 1X (12lb) tapered leader! I replaced the Dali Lama with a Sculpzilla and was soon into the fish again.

Sculpzilla

Soon I had landed my first fish, a large Kundzha, (Salvelinus Leucomaenis Arcticus which is also known as White Spotted Char or Eastern Siberian Char). These char resident to the waters (unlike the SuperKundzha which is sea run)  are aggressive fish who compete with the Rainbow Trout for food, they will take any fly that a rainbow would.

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A nice Kundzha
This was shortly followed by my first Rainbow, a 24 inch specimen, the largest one I have ever caught, this record had been equaled and broken 4 times before the end of the day.
Lunch consisted of a hearty sandwich with bread, fresher but not too dissimilar from the stuff on Aurora Airlines. Not unexpectedly this freshness did not last.
It was not long after lunch that I hit a purple patch landing amongst others a 25 and a 26 inch Rainbow and a 24 inch Kundzha. I can’t describe what fun it was and how ferocious the fish are, you have to be careful of your knuckles, one moment you are stripping line and the next the real is singing and you are wondering if you have sufficient backing.
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A very fat 26 inch Rainbow

 

 

We got back to camp by mid afternoon and I had landed 14 fish over 20 inches, wow.

During the day I had been struggling to cast the mouse so in the early evening I went fishing below the camp with Bob and Sasha as a guide. The mice are huge and have a large amount of wind resistance and a different action to normal flies and the large streamers. With practice my casting improved but as the evening progressed the wind got up and I struggle to get the mouse up wind and under the bank. Getting the mouse under the overhang on the grass and bushes beside the river dramatically increases the number of takes that you get. I believe that this is because the big fish live under the bank and when a mouse drops into the river it follows them out and eats them.


When I returned to camp the rest of the guides were preparing for the float trip to the middle camp. The rafts had to be inflated, the frames assembled and lashed to the rafts.

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The camp consisted of 3 cabins that comfortably slept 2 people, each of the cabins had a shower and toilet, the showers were only warm when the fire for the hot water had been lit. There was a kitchen and dining room in one building, and a shower block / drying room in another, this was complemented by a couple of outhouses and permanent tents for the guides, cook and camp hand.

Each of the three Camps on the Sedanka were similar, all had a resident camp hand and dog. The camp hand and dog lived in the camp all season, the dogs are of the Laika breed and are specifically bread to protect the camps from bears, more on that in coming days.

I was very glad for a hot shower and dinner. The food is best described as solid and rustic, dinner consisted of stew, mashed spud and salad.  All was simple and tasty and most importantly yummy.

Day 4, Petropavlovsk to Sedanka Upper Camp, Hello Mil8

Tuesday July 26

Petropavlovsk to Sedanka Upper Camp by Mil8 Helicopter

Today 441 km, Total 3689 km

The Day started with Breakfast and meeting my roomie Oystein. Breakfast was up to Martha’s usual delicious standard, Natural yogurt, berry conserve, cured salmon on dark bread, boiled egg and fruit. It is a meal that epitomizes fresh and organic, the yogurt is made from milk from the neighbours cow, the berries and greens from Martha’s garden, locally baked bread and cured salmon. It was a perfect start to the day.

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Breakfast at Martha’s

On thing that I was slightly worried about was that I had to share a room or tent and fish with some one I had never met for two weeks, what if he was a pain??? I needn’t have worried, I instantly liked Oystein, we had a very similar outlook on the world and he had a great sence of humour. He was from Norway and was worried about the level of his english, he had nothing worry about.

After Breakfast we were take to PK airport to collect the rest of the group and transfer to the heliport. The area the airport was cayos about 10 fishing groups (60 to 80 people) all with similar gear being drafted into their correct parties on the correct busses with the correct bags. I followed the advice and kept a sharp eye on my bags, no problems there. There were several false starts with people, loosing, finding and re-finding misplace bags, and the issuing of fishing licences to the correct people, but finally we were on the way to the heliport, a 3/4 hour trip including stops. The fly shop was meant to send the fishing flys for Oystein for the trip somehow in all the cayos they were not to be found, this was causing much concern to Oystein, we assured that there would be no problems and that our fishing flys were his fishing flys.  He was still a bit upset which was understandable as I would have been in the same situation.

It was at the airport that I began to realise what a special thing fishing in Kamchatka was, there were at least two professional photographers and one of the pre-eminent American fishing writers at the airport, all going fishing and working.

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Departure heliport 360°

Once at the airport we were greeted by some of the guiding team and got the first up close and personal look at a Mil8 helicopter which would be our mode of transport to and between the camps and float. I call it a heliport but in reality it was just a grassy paddock with a hut and fuel tanker, I suppose it keeps the landing fees to a minimum.

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Securing Mil 8 cargo door

The Helicopter trip was an experience, a slightly un nerving experience, I just had to keep telling myself they do this all the time. The Mil8 is a huge helicopter, but we there were 15 passengers and 3 crew, a huge pile of luggage and the supplies for 25 people for a week. From the outside it looked like the gear wouldn’t fit in the helicopter let alone the passengers, however they have done this before and it all made it in before the cargo doors were shut and tied up with a piece of string, just for safety!!

 

We flew for about 1 1/2 hours and landed at the Esso Helipad, once again it was just a grassy filed with a couple of fuel tankers and a hut. Once we landed the air crew set to work to refuel and do some work on the chopper, the water separator was drained, the cowlings came off the motors and we stood arround waiting. The helicopters are flown with a crew of three Pilot, co-pilot/mechanic and load master, the theory is the mechanic always flys with his helicopter as he can fix it where ever it is and most importantly he is unlikely to allow the helicopter to fly if it is un airworthy and he is on it, some comfort!!

Waiting, waiting, lunch, waiting, waiting 3 hrs later the camp hand for the wilderness float arrives with a smile, gear bag and gun!!. Very little explanation was given other than he had got lost in the vodka triangle (like the Bermuda triangle) but don’t worry he is a good man. As soon as he arrive we all boarded and off we went to  the Upper Sedanka Camp where we were dropped off.

It was time for proper introductions of the seven of us that would be traveling together for the next 13 days, but wait there were eight of us.  This news was relayed to the Russian guides, the reaction was scowl “Fuckety, fuck, fuck, fuck,………… Fuck….. (smile) … Don’t worry this is Russia we have new plan!!!” That was the end of the problem.

So the crew was

Myself, an Aussie, Oystein a Norwegian, Bob an American, Gene an American and the four Yellow Dog Fly Fishing Crew , Tom the host, Brian the photographer (Bryan Gregson Photography), James from Old Souls fishing shop in Cold Springs New York, and finally Alex who is the Colombian internal man of mystery and possible the most interesting person in the world.

It was a rare privilege to spend time with all these people, they all are at or have been at the top of some thing, whether it be work, sport, fishing and or a combination of them. All have lived interesting lives, all are very different in upbringing and backgrounds. This diversity and world of experience allowed us to roll with what ever the trip threw at us and just get on with it (when in doubt fish). This acceptance of each other and what was going on made one of the best groups of  people who I have ever traveled with. The same can be said of the Guides and camp staff, they didn’t even complain about my incompetence  as an angler  (I generally consider myself quite competent angler but compared to the sublime skill of some of the group I was nothing 🙂 ) .

 

Finally we settled down for a well-earned beer to plan the next day, at this point the Lead Guide, Jordan walked up with two large boxed of fishing flies. They were Oysteins , Jordan had been looking after them since the beginning of the season. Finally we were there and ready to go.

 

Day 3, Petropavlovsk

Monday July 25

 

Martha’s Guesthouse

Today 157 km, Total 3248 km

Today was my day to explore the local area round PetropavloskiKamchatksi (PK), Martha had spoken to some of the local tour companies and had found  a boat tour to an area south of PK, the weather forecasts was good so I got Martha to book it for me. The tour was for 12 hours leaving at 9:00am and returning at 9:00 pm, I paid cash and didn’t wight down the cost, but it was arround 8,000 rubles ($120 USD) so it was not y any means expensive boat excursion.

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Typical buildings near Meeting point in PK

Martha organised me a taxi to the Meeting point (1,400 Rubles for a 45 min trip),  where I met the tour operator and proceeded the last couple of hundred meters to the Dock. From there we ware taken to the boat that was a Cruiser about 45 foot long, of a make I had never heard, its layout and feel was similar to any number of western makes of that size.

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Making our way to the Boat

There was no one else on the boat who spoke English, this did not worry me as the crew and other guests were helpful and friendly. On a side note the Russian sailors knew what Port  and Starboard ment.

The basic program for the trip was to motor to a point of interest, stop have a look, go for a dingy ride, then motor to the next spot and so on. We were fed and watered at regular intervals. The highlight of the food was a bucket of fresh Kamchatka Crab that the crew prepared and cooked. We ate them with our fingers and they were rather messy, but very yummy.

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Kamchatka crab ready for eating

 

During the trip we got to see Basalt pillars that were home to the nests of thousands of sea birds including Puffins and Sea Eagles, a colony of seals, do some fishing and see a couple of ship wrecks.

On the subject of fishing I caught my first fish of the trip, it was a rather inauspicious start, a 0.5 lb flounder, 🙂 I was so underwhelmed by the whole thing I forgot to photograph it or record any of the fish on the trip, doesn’t matter though I wasn’t there for sea fishing and it was just a little bonus.

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Seals basking in the sun

 

The trip home was the first real hiccup of the trip, the cab who was meant to pick me up was not there, and my phone had less than 10% battery left, I hurriedly rang Martha. Between her and the people from the boat they managed to find another taxi that would take me the 45 min back to Martha’s guest house in Yelizovo.  This was my first experience of “Don’t worry this is Russia,  we have a new plan” This was a recurring theme of the trip, it only added to the adventure.