I found out this morning on my way to the bus station that the man who took me to the hotel last night was in fact not Alexander Tikameerov. His name was Victor and I never learned the name of his wife. That is something here in Russia that is very different, people don't generally introduce themselves or shake hands or have very formal greetings. I was happy to meet them all the same and they were most helpful in getting me on my way to Petropovlovsk.
They got me to the bus and I paid for my baggage and I have an assigned seat. Details here are very important. I asked Victor to call Katya in Petropovlovsk to explain that I was on a bus in Ust-Kamchastk and will be in Petropovlovsk tonight where I need to be picked up. This was done with my extremely limited Russian and a lot of gestures and their ability to decipher what must be horrendous grammar. Once they are sure that I understand and I am sure that Katya understands, Victor and his wife leave me for my marathon bus ride.
It felt like a marathon for sure. I left Ust-Kamchastk at 7:45 AM and arrived at Petropovlovsk at 10:30 PM. The bus was completely filled, which surprised me. The number of people who wanted to take a 14 hour bus ride on an unpaved road would have been quite a bit smaller in my estimation. There were stops along the way. We stopped at Kluchi, a village at the base of the volcano Klucheskoy. There we had 30 minutes to get food, use the toilet and stretch our legs. We had two ferry rides one on time and the other ran an hour later than the schedule on the shore said it would. We stopped in Mikyeva at a tiny building for dinner. I am not sure what I had to eat exactly but it was filling and the woman there understood that I did not eat meat, thanks to a phrase book borrowed from my sister-in law and brother-in-law. We also stopped a few times where there were roadside bathrooms, pit toilets actually, which was helpful since the bus has no bathroom. This also gave people the opportunity to stretch their legs.
My seatmate was very nice. He looked like a businessman and he spoke enough English to help me with things like how many hours left on the bus ride and how many minutes the bus would be at each stop. I spoke enough Russian to ask questions like where is the bathroom, where can I buy food, what is the name of this or that. He was also concerned that someone would meet me at Petropovlovsk and I am sure he would have helped me get a taxi or to a hotel if I had needed it. People here truly understand how difficult it is to be here and are generally very helpful especially when the person looks as utterly confused, as I believe I do.
So for the second day in a row, by dark of night I arrive at my destination. I am searching the awaiting crowd for signs of Katya. This is ridiculous really because I have no idea what she looks like and I am hoping that I stand out enough that she will see me as the American. Of course, I am also hoping at this point she is actually there. She immediately finds me and begins speaking English. We get my bags, get in her car and she says 'So, what do we do now?' I explain that she can take me to her flat or to a hotel or whatever she feels is best and I put my trust in her to decide the next steps of my fate. I have an overwhelming moment of inner calm when she says I will go to her flat. She explains that she does not have a bed, which is fine because I have a sleeping pad and sleeping bag. She winds her way down some streets and we are at her building. It is another rectangular building like so many others in the towns here. We carry my things to the fifth floor and there waiting inside is another scientist, Marina.
Over dinner, at what is now 11:00 at night, I learn that these two women have just returned from the field a few days ago and she has had eight people other than herself at her cozy flat until just today when she put them on a plane to Moscow. Now, out of the blue, because of a phone call from a total stranger, she has me at her flat. All of this seems normal to her. She finally asks me who sent me. I assumed that someone from the team had called ahead and she knew I would be calling but this is not the case. We talk about the members of the team, many of whom she knows and we discuss how the fieldwork was going and we talk about how and why I am here with her. She must be exhausted just returning from the field and she has so many things to do but still takes me in and takes care of what I need. Marina will be with her only until tomorrow when she flies to Vladivostok, she is a Pollenologist who was in the field with Katya.
When it is bedtime, I realize that when Katya says she didn't have a bed, she meant she didn't have a bed. We all roll out sleeping pads and bags and fall almost immediately to sleep. This really does feel like a movie.