From Columbia to Colombo.

Hi all!

Now, if you’re not too hot on geography, I’m writing this from Washington, D.C., with the D.C. standing for District of Columbia, don’t you know. There’s another Washington – Washington state – on the other side of the American continent, but without the D.C. There’s a Colombia – the South American country; then there’s Columbia University in New York; there’s Columbo – the TV detective fond of beige sack-like raincoats; and to add to the confusion, round the other side of the globe there’s Colombo – the largest city of Sri Lanka (formerly Ceylon), which is where we’re headed today.

Our three days in Washington whizzed past like a film on fast-forward: As per, we were whizzing about all over the place getting to event after event. And I really mean whizzing – just like a (non-D.C.) squirrel in a wheel – unlike the local squirrels here, which royally, haughtily and languidly stroll about parks as if they own them – not the easily-startled beasts I’m used to.

I won’t tell you all about all the events we took part in here – there’s not much point and it’d probably be pretty dull reading! (Note to event organizers/participants – your events were not dull to me :) I’ll just share with you one comment about the Billington Cybersecurity Summit where I got to speak about cyber threats, more info on which you can read here.

I really enjoyed personally meeting a whole lotta highly placed officials at the event and discussing with them in some detail the topic of cybersecurity and fighting computer maliciousness around the world. I was pleasantly surprised by how much these ladies and gentlemen – on whom a lot of US policy and thus security depends – know about the subject, and especially pleased to discover that their positions are very much like mine. Phew.

Work done, come Saturday we were able to get a bit of sightseeing in. We even managed to visit a couple of museums. The National Museum of Natural History we didn’t think too much of – all those dug-up mastodons and dinosaur bones look kind of unconvincing. While the Air and Space Museum… oh yes – that was more like it. All sorts of interesting stuff to see there, from the Wright brothers’ first airplane to the very latest drone. There are Messerschmitts, an SS-20, a Pershing, copies of Skylab and Apollo-Soyuz, and so on and so on. I decided against taking photos – there are plenty on the Internet. But it’s best to see it all in the flesh, of course.

The White House

More: Columbia-Doha-Colombo …

Kamchatka-2012: Fishes, Not Phishes!

Days 20-22 (6-8). Rafting.

Kamchatka’s hardly known for its rafting: none of the rivers are all that lengthy – only long enough for three or four days rafting at the most. Calm rapids, calm swells. Almost all the rivers I know about here are pensioner-level! Therefore, rafting on Kamchatka is recommended only as an addition to other activities, as a wind-down exercise to allow those blisters a brief respite, and of course to get one’s fill of fresh fish!

Kamchatka Dock

More: The fish menu …

Flickr photostream

Instagram photostream

Kamchatka-2012: Tolbachik and the Northern Fissure.

Hardy tourists are attracted to Tolbachik in high season like… like office workers to social networks during office hours! But this year there were even more tourists than usual – maybe too many. The Leningrad Base we were staying at was filled with more than a hundred tourists from different countries – with groups from Poland and Germany among others. But this is quite understandable really, since there’s so much to see here. Besides the black-red desert and hills of the Northern Fissure there’s also Ploskiy (Flat) Tolbachik to check out – a must …

More: Kamchatka-2012: Tolbachik and the Northern Fissure.. . .

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Star City.

Greetings all!

Here we are again. September. The holiday month of August over, and it’s back to work – which for me means back on the road or, rather, in the plane. This season is set to see me doing my usual globetrotting thing, but with the itinerary including some new countries and new events. Goodo, gotta keep some novelty in there! The schedule needs to stay real flexible as plans can easily change real quick, as experience has shown many times. This year I may even break my previous record – or maybe better put, dubious record – of 100 flights made in a year. This year I’ve already notched up 59… (I keep careful count of them, just in case).

But between Kamchatka and the next whirlwind tour, I really wanted to “lay low in MOW” for a few weeks, get my bearings, regroup, ground myself, and all that – and re-familiarize myself with the abode and city I – on paper – reside in. I figured this necessary as I’d started forgetting which switch is for the kitchen and which for the hall! Thus, today – a story and pics about a trip to a really interesting place in the Moscow Region – the Yuri Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Center in Star City. This place is really something – I highly recommend a visit. A day excursion can be arranged where they show and tell you all, let you poke and prod the various exhibits and climb inside the spaceships in which they train cosmonauts (who keep appearing in the hall walking about to and fro, to the delight of the excursioners).

You can clamber inside the reentry capsule of Soyuz in which cosmonauts return back to earth. The guides go into all sorts of detail about space missions and the landing back on earth, about particular cases, and so on and on and on… I won’t tell you it all here. Best see it and hear it all for yourselves in the flesh.

Training Center Dummy

More: centrifuges, hydro-pool, planetarium and MIR space station …

Kamchatka-2012: Volcanism.

Day 15 (for the second group – day 1). Heading north.

If you ever happen to one day find yourself in Kamchatka, specifically in Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky, and you have a free day on which the weather is good and the wallet is sufficiently bulging, then it’s perfectly feasible to have yourself a fantastic day to remember. What you do is organize a helicopter excursion and head north – to Klyuchevskaya Sopka and back. Such a day-excursion comes highly recommended – a total mind… flip – is guaranteed!

As mentioned – you need to sort yourself a helicopter, which really should be ordered in advance. After having done so, you pray for fine weather on the day of your trip. It’s a good idea to take spare batteries with you for your cameras and similar kit, as you’ll find you use them pretty much non-stop.

I’ve been lucky enough to have been on numerous helicopter excursions all over the planet – but in terms of the sheer overload of impressions, Kamchatka leads by a mile.

En route we flew over several volcanoes (including an erupting one, but which by next season may die down), the hissing caldera of the Uzon volcano (with a touchdown and excursion), the Valley of the Geysers (touchdown & excursion), the Kluchevskaya group of volcanoes, and the Northern Fissure (where we walked along the peaks of red hills). Unforgettable!

// For those in need of more details re all the below-listed, click here, or search the net.

1. Karymsky, 1536m – a permanently active volcano:

Karymsky Volcano

More: An unforgettable day …

Kamchatka-2012: The Battle for Mutnovka.

Mutnovsky volcano and environs (locally known simply as Mutnovka) are made up – handily – of three birds (killed with one stone) and a bonus track.

First, there’s Mutnovka itself – an active volcano of indescribable beauty, a canyon, ice cap, craters, streams, steam vents, sulfuric springs, and so on and so forth. Second, there’s Gorely – also a volcano, but nothing like Mutnovka, so also very interesting and visit-worthy. (By the way, right before our last trip here, in 2010, Gorely suddenly started to hiss and gurgle – so we gave it a miss then, just in case.) Third, amazing lava fields, caves and tunnels. And the bonus track? I’ll get to that a bit later…

The great thing about the place is that all four sights are close together: you can walk among all four quite easily in minutes, not hours.

Mutnovsky volcano

More: The weather takes a sharp turn …

Kamchatka-2012: Rocking the Ksudach.

Days 3-4-5. Ksudach.

We flew from Kurile Lake to Ksudach by helicopter. We could have got there by foot of course, but, first, no one knew the way; second, we couldn’t find a crazy enough guide; and third, no one really fancied battling through the dense undergrowth. Oh, and fourth: the whole route is cut with bears. Maybe next time we should prepare beforehand and work out a passable route – one that would also take in Kambalny volcano. From Google Maps it looks rather tempting.

Ksudach
Kambalny Google Map

More: Building the paddling pools inside the volcano…

Kamchatka-2012: History. And Why You Can Never Trust a Bear.

Day 3. Kutkhiniy Batiy

Before Russians settled on Kamchatka it was populated by Itelmens, Koryaks, Evens, Chukchi and Aleut. The first Russian expeditions to, and settlements on, Kamchatka, and the peninsula’s becoming part of the Russian state all took place in the seventeenth century. Then the Crimean war kicked off, which in 1854 reached as far as peaceful Kamchatka. That was followed by the Russian-Japanese War in 1904… But for a complete history of Kamchatka, have a look here.

But let me tell you an Itelmen legend about the creation of Kamchatka and how the Kutkhiniy Batiy came into existence, as told by our guide – a local hunter.

Kutkhiniy Batiy

More: Once upon a time there lived a hardworking raven called Kutkh …

Kamchatka-2012: Bears.

Day 2. Bears, Bears Everywhere – Not One to Fear

Kurile Lake is famous not only for its surrounding scenery and nearby volcanos, but also for the local demographic situation with bears – that demographic being: there are loads of them!

They roam around camps either on their own or as family units – moms and their little ones. The camp we were in had a perimeter fence all around it separating the camp from the surrounding bear-inhabited wilds. The fence is just a little bit electrified – enough just to give the big furry mammals a bit of a scare, nothing more – so the bears generally won’t fancy breaking through said fence with all their weight and might. As we were told, bears touch unknown objects with their noses, and a light electric shock is enough to correct bears’ “auto-pilot”. They take no notice of the folks inside the fence and carry on with their lives undisturbed, even grazing just a few meters from the barrier.

We observed how outside the perimeter everything was relatively peaceful – all the bears mulling about appeared to be in good, calm spirits… until one elder-bear started to pester a younger and weaker member of the sleuth – with the result that the latter, having had enough of this harassment, decided to go for flight as opposed to fight – via (understandably) the shortest route possible, which happened to be right across our camp. It was as if he’d forgotten about the fence, charging at it at full speed. Poor thing. He was soon reminded about it, that was for sure L. He was ok though, just a little startled!

// According to an old folk tale, “A hippo has poor eyesight, but given his size – it’s hardly a problem for him.” :)

Bear

More: Bears’ kindergarten …