Kamchatka II - A Needle in a Million Haystacks


Active Member
At last, I was back on American soil (sort of), on a United Airlines flight bound to Washington, D.C. from Moscow, the flyfishing experience, the wilderness experience of a lifetime behind me. I was physically and emotionally exhausted. I had travelled far and slept little in the previous three days since the grim looking ex-Soviet army helicopter had lifted us off the gravel bar where we had waited in the 90 degree arctic sun for six hours at the end of our seven-day float down an unnamed tributary of the Perozhnikova river.

It was Monday. We had arrived in Moscow from Petrovaplovsk (PK) in Kamchatka after a nine hour flight across Russia. Though we left at 2:30 PM, we chased the sun west across the sub-continent and arrived in Moscow at 4:30 PM. I had been awake since 5:00 that morning when we were rousted from our three hour nap at the guest house in Esso, about 600 kilometers north of PK for the eight-hour, nightmare, gravel-road bus ride to catch our flight from PK.

The Mosocow mid-summer twilight was still seven hours away. I was giddy, thrilled with the flyfishing, excited by the exotic travel, and unable to sleep due to the never-ending sunshine.

The record heat in Moscow was oppressive inside the airport and stupefying outside as I waited for a taxi to take me to central city Moscow where I had booked a hotel near Red Square. I planned to spend Sunday seeing the sites and decompressing before the 20 hour trip to Seattle where I would stop only long enough to do laundry and sleep before saddling up for the 425 mile trip to the St. Joe to catch up with my family and friends. I thought it unlikely that anyone had ever travelled 14,000 miles to fish the St. Joe or ever would again.

There were clearly-posted signs (in English) warning travellers to use registered taxi drivers only. Free-lance taxi procurers worked the exit from the baggage-claim area like trout work a hatch, spotting a likely morsel, working their way through the swirling crowd, and then rising to the overburdened traveller for the take, "Taxi?" I saw many refusal rises but tired and hot, I was unable to skitter away to the far-off official taxi desk when one approached me and the hook was set.

As we waited outside for the "taxi" he had summoned via cell phone to appear, I had him take my picture in front of the airport as I would likely never be there again. My departure would be from the other airport south of Moscow.

We agreed on $90 US for the 40 km trip to the hotel. The taxi - a late model Audi, obviously a private car, pulled up and then the shit started.
As the driver loaded my luggage, the shark said, " I am taxi manager, you pay me now."
"No," I said, "I pay at hotel."
"No," he shot back, "you pay $90 now."
"Pay at hotel."
"Pay now."
I didn't want to have to negotiate my gear out of the car when we got to the hotel or end up dropped in the middle of some Moscovian gulag.
"Get my stuff out of the car," I gestured to make sure he understood, "I'll take a registered taxi."
"OK, pay at hotel."

Worn out, I eased into the blessedly cool comfort of the air-conditioned car and sunk deep into the leather seat. The car was clean, smoke-free (a rarity in Russia) and obviously well cared for. The driver thoughfully cranked up the AC and made sure the rear vents were open.

We quickly passed from the Dacha-laden countryside into the outskirts of Moscow. The block-like Soviet-era buildings, a mixture of concrete and decay, lined the highway, the ground floors partially obscured by unkempt weeds and ten-year old cars. As we neared center-city, the pervasive architectural gloom gave way to the opulence of Czarist Russia. Soaring cathedrals and mosques highlighted blocks of sculptured, heavily-arched buildings that dated from the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Meticulously kept streets were lined with Mercedes, Audis, and Porsches. Here was real money.

My driver didn't have a clue in hell as to where my hotel was. He spoke no English, my Russian was limited to "vodka" and " Russki nyet" (which I'm not sure is Russian). We spent about 20 minutes asking directions and poking down every convoluted side street and alleyway in the area with my head hanging out the window hoping to get a glimpse of the newly elusive Marriot Courtyard Hotel. At long last I saw the sign about three blocks up the wrong way on a one-way street.

Five minutes later as we unloaded the gear I was hit by the sledgehammer realization that in my stuporous haste to get out of the airport, I had left my flyrods in the baggage claim area. The Orvis rod was a gift from my wife and the other, the back up rod that became my mainstay when the Orvis snapped while landing a fish, I had borrowed from a friend. Sheeee-it!!! I'd have to go back.

The driver smiled hugely as I paid him. I suspect that either he'd figured a way to beat the "manager" out of his cut or at least put himself in a better bargaining position. He thanked me again and left.

After checking in, I explained my situation to one English-speaking desk clerks and she called the airline on my behalf. It was late Saturday evening and she was advised to call back after 9 AM on Sunday. I'd have all night to stew about finding the lost fly rods. I didn't have any $90 taxi rides left in me so I'd have to figure out metro and the train to get to and from the airport and then with my limited Russian of "vodka" and "Russki nyet" (which by now I was fairly certain wasn't Russian) somehow find the fly rods. It would be like looking for the proverbial needle in the haystack.

I was awake before six the next morning, driven by the need to act. I decided that rather than wait to call at nine, I'd just get up and go to the airport. As I lay there, an uneasy feeling gnawed at me. I hadn't seen my camera for a while.

I launched out of bed and tore through my stuff. No camera. I took a deep breath and methodically searched all my gear and the room. No camera. All those photographs gone. My heart felt as though it had been torn from my chest. It was gut-punch time in Moscow for the balding, middle-aged fat-boy from the other side of the pond. Giddy? Trip of a lifetime? "Take that," life said.

I remembered that I had taken it from my neck, where it had hung every waking minute for almost two weeks, while I was helping the cabbie scope out the hotel. I had, no doubt, left the camera in his car. If looking for the flyrods was like looking for a needle in a haystack, looking for the camera would be like looking for a needle in a million haystacks.

I headed to the airport to first, find my fly rods, then when that mission was accomplished or declared futile, start my true mission: IMPOSSIBLE, find the the "taxi manager" and hope he could direct me to the taxi driver.

Someday, if you like, I'll tell you of my trip to the airport, an adventure unto itself. For now, suffice to say, needle in the haystack my ass, I found the fly rods.

Here, the story turns cold. No taxi manager. I realized that the camera and the pictures - the priceless pictures it held, was gone. Sick at heart still, but feeling a little better for having retrieved the rods, I decided to cut my losses and put up a W for the day and head back to the hotel.

I laid up in the room for a few hours licking my wounds and then, though my heart wasn't really in it, I walked to Red Square. What I really wanted to do was get the hell out of Moscow and go home. But, after having fucked up, it was time to buck up. I still had my cell phone and could take a few photos to bolster my memories. As you can tell, I had written extensively in my journal and would have my writings to sustain me, though the loss of the photographic journal would haunt me.

Moscow was sizzling with 100 degree heat, among the hottest days ever recorded. Children and young adults played in the fountains that I had seen on TV as the heart of the evil enemy of my youth. Red Square is simply spectacular and I took a few half-hearted photos with my cell phone as I sweatily wandered the square. Thousands of Muscovites, including several wedding parties, milled about the square as bands played and vendors hawked there goods. I was awed at the display of basic capitalism at this one-time bastion of communism.

In the middle of the square, alone in midst of thousands, a familiar-looking man with his wife and son approached me. "Hello, hello." he said with a big smile reaching towards me I thought to shake my hand. "Dima?" I said, thinking he was a guide that I had met in PK though I knew he was on the Zhuponova this week. It was my taxi driver, holding out my camera in his hand. A needle in a million haystacks had found me.

As I write this misty-eyed months later, I'm choking up a little as I relive the amazement, the relief, the wonder, the joy I felt at that moment. I am so grateful for the kindness, the humanity of this man, whose thoughtful gesture to a stranger will remain with me the rest of my life.

For the first and likely last time in my life I bear-hugged a strange Russian man. We did not have a word in common but our communication transcended language.

After a few photos and yet another handshake he turned to leave. "Reward?" I said and gestured paying money. He gestured back no and beaming a great smile, Alexander (as I later learned his name was), a truly decent and honorable man, walked from the square with his family.

Later back at the hotel, I pieced together some of what had happened. He arrived at the hotel just minutes after I left to walk to Red Square armed with only my picture in the camera. The clerk on duty was the same who had tried to help me with my lost fly rods and told him I had just left though she did not know where. He left his name and telephone number.

Whether by calculation he sought me out in the Square or by Providence he was guided to me among the thousands there I shall never know and in fact do not wish to know. I will leave it as one of life's mysteries.

Next installment (courtesy of Alexander): FISH PORN


The Dude Abides
In my years on WFF, this is one of the best stories and trip reports I have ever, ever read. Good on ya for sharing it with us


Active Member
Ahhh fishing in Russia
I see it has not changed. I fished all over the Russia when I worked there in 94-98. Great fishing but a real pain in the arse with logistics. Looking forward to your experience.


For him there whould always be the riddle of steel
If the pic's are anything like your writing it should be epic...................:cool:
I'll be watching for them.

Quote Originally Posted by Jmills81 View Post
In my years on WFF, this is one of the best stories and trip reports I have ever, ever read. Good on ya for sharing it with us
x 3.

I'm just sorry it's taken me so long to get around to reading it.