Camping in Sakhalin

The weather in Sakhalin is warming up nicely, the evenings are still getting longer, the bears are hungry and out in force…which means only one thing: camping season.

Camping in Sakhalin is worthwhile for several reasons.  Firstly, there is the scenery…

…which, if you choose the right spot, can include the sight of early salmon leaping a waterfall.  I never saw this when I camped as an army cadet in the Brecon Beacons.

Secondly, camping in Sakhalin involves driving 4WDs laden down with copius amounts of “kit” which is to be shown off shamelessly to your male companions.  Americans are welcome as they have a habit of bringing along eye-boggling amounts of kit purchased from the USA for a fraction of what it would cost you in Sakhalin, assuming you could even buy it here.  Hi-tec electronic gadgetry from Japan is also popular, at least with the blokes.  Upon arrival at the campsite, all kit is dragged from the cars, unpacked, and assembled willy-nilly around a huge fire which consumes a small forest worth of logs throughout the night.

Thirdly, camping in Sakhalin is forbidden unless all involved (Egyptians excluded) get totally hammered on beer, vodka, coffee mixed with Baileys and Glava, all three in succession, or anything else you fancy.  The drinking is interrupted for half an hour or so whilst everyone gathers around the barbecue and throws on pile after pile of meat, most of which goes uneaten because the Russian Army never showed up to eat its portion.  With everyone fed, the drinking continues and the singing begins.  Usually somebody talentless and tuneless gets out a guitar and does a fine job of keeping the bears at bay.  Once a suitable late hour has been reached, fetching firewood involves going more than a hundred metres into dark forest, and everyone is plastered, those brave souls with tents crawl (or in the case of the Americans, stroll and head for the east wing) into their nylon pods and fall into a drunken coma.  Those who lack a tent or are too chicken to use it cheat their way through the camping experience by sleeping in the back of their Toyotas.  Next time I’m gonna be leaving tin openers with pots of honey around the campsite.

Finally, camping in Sakhalin, like most seemingly mundane activities in Russia, often presents bizarre spectacles which would go sadly unseen were we to sit in dingy bars, crumbling apartments, or remain in the UK.  On our last camping trip a car inexplicably burst into flames on the opposite side of the valley, producing a column of thick smoke.  The bewildered occupants would normally have been rueing the loss of their car and contemplating how to get home again…   

…had their blazing chariot not set fire to the entire hillside, causing the driver and his passenger to attempt to stamp out the flames with their sneaker-clad feet.  As the picture below shows, they were not successful.  This made for a fine afternoon’s entertainment for those, i.e. us, watching from a comfortable distance.

But the fun wasn’t yet over!  Just as we were packing up to leave, for no apparent reason a minibus owned and operated by a Korean seaweed harvester opted to drive across a river rather than simply take the road, and unsurprisingly got stuck.  For our entertainment he rammed the opposite bank a few times without success, before his mate turned up in a jeep to winch him out.

All in all, a fine weekend camping in Sakhalin.  May those to come be as entertaining and bear-free.


16 thoughts on “Camping in Sakhalin

  1. Geez! (to Korean drivers)

    The picture with Jumpin’ Salmon is gorgeous.
    The one of “roadside picnic” gave me immediate indigestion, though (in memory of thousand similar ones I endured).And you’re so right about tuneless singers – they are terribly insistent, too, and won’t quit, even after seeing their audience gradually disappeared.

    It looks like it’s pretty chilly up in Sakhalin now…it’s going to be 80F today in NY; the lilacs and peonies had bloomed and gone.

  2. Hey, Alisa! Didn’t expect to meet you here.
    [why did you stop writing in your blog right after I linked it? busy-shmeesy. where’re your priorities, woman?]

  3. And youre so right about tuneless singers – they are terribly insistent, too, and wont quit, even after seeing their audience gradually disappeared.

    Hey! That’s me you’re talking about!!

  4. Hey, guitars are not for waving around! May I offer you a juicy chunk of meat instead? [yes, I’ve my own interests at heart..excellent method to gag a singing guy, at least temporarily]

  5. >>>Americans are welcome as they have a habit of bringing along eye-boggling amounts of kit purchased from the USA for a fraction of what it would cost you in Sakhalin, assuming you could even buy it here.

    I am a cyclist and sometimes my mates order from a store located in the UK.
    Here is the site
    If you order for more than 9030 roubles, the shipment to Khabarovsk is free and takes 2 weeks via Royal mail and EMS.
    Ebay and American sites are also easy to operatre.

  6. Skinny, its Glayva. Which reminds me, I need to replenish my supply of coffee, Baileys and Cognac… or perhaps its not too late to distill it from my fiancee.

  7. Khabarovsk,

    Thanks for the link, it is most useful. I do some cycling here, some of my friends are dead serious mountain bikers and I don’t think they knew of this site. I’ve passed it onto them already, and I’m sure they’ll deliver to Sakhalin.

    We have had a lot of problems buying stuff from the US and getting it sent to Sakhalin. Most items on sale on Amazon which are not books or music won’t deliver to Russia, and most online shops won’t either. I have tried to buy computer parts, snowmobile parts, GPS software, and camping gear online from the US or Europe, and almost all say they will not deliver. I expect it might partly be to stop them from undercutting dealerships in Russia which have much higher overheads than their US counterparts.

    What most of us end up doing is getting in touch with somebody who is mobilising and getting mountains of stuff sent to his house to go into his sea-freight container. Most people going back to the US or Europe leave with a shopping list of stuff to get for their mates on Sakhalin.

  8. I think your problem is already decided (times change).
    Have a look or let a Russian look at this site:
    They deliver from amazon, e-bay, and many others shops in Europe and the US with charge of 5% of the goods price.

  9. Just discovered your blog through a friend’s recommendation. Reading you was remarkably entertaining and I was amazed by the quality of your photo.
    The weekend you described is so different from the one I just had in southern France! Geez, it certainly raises awareness about different lifestyles in different parts of the world.

    I enjoy the fact that mine is free of bears and drunken tuneless guitar players ! LOL

  10. Quality of the photos says Nathalie from Avignon 🙂 Well Skinny credit where credit is due.

    Nathalie, I hear that ruthless Slovenian bears have been set loose in the French Alps the Slovenian environment ministry spokeswoman Darha Dolenc has charmingly added that the French have nothing to fear from the bears. Ha! Apart from if you keep sheep or happen to be walking the trail with a le rosbif sandwich!

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  13. looks like it was a mega trip. im loving the picture of the burnt out 4×4, up close and affar lol. we did a similar trip back in ’94’ but thats for another day. lets say it gets hairy at points and i found friendships get ”tested”. all in all glad you had fun

  14. This sounds incredible! I love how rugged it looks there, and, like everyone else, want to see the salmon leaping for myself. I am originally from Alaska, so this reminds me a bit of home (though it looks less green). I think my ideal way to visit there would be to bike in. You’d need some pretty good wheels on your bike for it, though, since the terrain looks a little rough.

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