The Village People
Location: Kurilisk Village - Iturup Island
by Wayne Brown
Another excellent day! Odyssey is still off Iturup Island. Iturup is the largest of all the Kuril Islands. We are about 73 miles south of our landing yesterday at the "Bay of the Bears" (Day 11). We are anchored in front of the village of Kurilisk. Kurilisk is the largest village in the Kuril Islands. Kurilisk is one of four villages on Iturup. Sergey tells me that over 3,000 people live in Kurilisk. Sergey has arranged permission for us to go ashore and visit the village. He has even arranged for a special music and dance performance at the music and art school!
We will be going ashore using our Zodiacs. Kurilisk has no docks, so Odyssey cannot unload passengers directly on shore. We have to use our Zodiacs. Sergey has gone ashore in his Zodiac and gets permission for us to start bring our boats in. He has found a landing for us on a small sandy beach. The beach is along the river that runs through the village to the sea. From Odyssey it looks like a short run in a straight line from the ship to the entrance of the river. In my Zodiac I discover that getting to the river is not as easy as it looks! In the bay in front of the river are lines of fishing nets and scattered propeller-busting rocks! I have to have someone stand in the front of my boat to help guide me through this confusing maze of nets and rocks.
At the entrance to the river to can see clearly down to the bottom. It is probably only about 1-4 feet ( 1-1.3 meters) deep. Hundreds of large pink salmon are swimming rapidly back and forth, like they can't decide whether to swim back up stream or out to sea. It seems like they know about the nets waiting for them if they try to swim back out to sea!
On the black sand beach some Russians have come to meet us. One woman wearing a red dress talks to us in English. She is an English teacher on Sakhalin Island. (Can you find Sakhalin Island on map?) She works in Kurilisk in the summer at a fish processing factory. Her name is Nadia and she is here to be our guide and translator in the village.
Nadia first takes us to a special welcoming ceremony for us at the music and art school. This special school goes from elementary through junior high school. In the auditorium girls in traditional Russian costumes (like in Petropavlosk - DAY 2) offer us bread and salt. After we sit down we are greeted by the mayor of town. He says we are the only Americans that have visited Kurilisk this year. The mayor thanks us for bringing the sunny weather. He says it is normally foggy and rainy in the summer.
After the mayor greets us the students put on a special music and dance performance. They perform plays and songs in Russian. We don't know what they are singing, but the music is nice and they smile a lot. One high school girl surprises us by singing an American song in English!
After the performance in front of the school some local villagers have set-up some tables and are displaying things they have made to sell. There are colorful carved and painted wooden spoons and dolls, knitted place mats, purses, hats, and some things I am not sure what they are.
Nadia takes us on a walk through town. There are no sidewalks, so we walk in the street. The streets are rough, dusty and not paved. They are just dirt and rocks. I can see that the houses are tiny and made of wood and black tar paper. All the houses have little fenced-in gardens growing vegetables and colorful flowers.
The people are curious about us. They pretend not to stare at us. I use the few Russian words I know to say "hi" and "thank-you". Nadia takes us by a some small stores and a small Russian Orthodox church that some workers are fixing. We walk up a long, steep flight of stairs to get to the upper part of the village on a hill. Here we see an old building that is the local cinema. Nearby are some apartment buildings.
Past the apartments is a brand new building made of steel. Nadia tells us this is the new school. It is for elementary and junior high students. This school was donated and built by an Amercian company in 1998. There are 400 students and 32 teachers here. It is late afternoon and the students are all gone, but the principal is here and he gives us a tour of the school. This is a surprisingly nice school. This school is nicer than some of the schools where my wife, Karen, and I do our Ocean Adventure assemblies at back in the US! There is a big gym with a basketball court. In the gym some students are taking an after-school karate class. The classrooms are large and look like classrooms back home except that all writing on the chalk boards is in Russian! The most surprising thing about the school is the computer lab. It is a large classroom with two long rows of about a dozen computers. This little school in this remote little village on this remote little island in the middle of nowhere has a computer room as nice as any in the US! (You can e-mail this school to meet some of the students and find out what life is like in a tiny village in the Kuril Islands. Click on this address to e-mail the school: email@example.com).
The sun is getting low on the horizon and it is time to return to Odyssey. Nadia and some of the girls in town come down to the beach to say "good-bye". I had fun in the village and the people were very friendly. I'm sorry I have to return to the ship. It would be fun to explore the village and the volcanoes around it. I am also sorry to go because Odyssey will be leaving the Kuril Islands now. I hope I don't have to wait another nine years before I can return to the Kuril Islands.
Tomorrow we will be in Japan. Iturup is near the coast of Japan's northern island, Hokkaido. We cannot fly home from the Kuril Islands because there are no large airports here. We have to fly home from Japan. I am excited about going to Japan. When I visited the Kuril Islands nine years ago I did not visit Japan. This will be my very first time to visit Japan.
Now it is time to say "Dah-svee-dahn-yah" (Good-bye) to the Russian Kuril Islands.
PS - Join me tomorrow for the last day of the expedition as I visit Japan, go sightseeing and meet some of the people that live there.
Kurilisk Village - Iturup Island
Position: 46º 06' N / 150º 09' E
Midday Air Temp: 60ºF
Weather: sunny, scattered clouds and gentle swell.
Water Temp: 43ºF
Kurilisk village. The large white building in the middle is the music and art school. Our landing was along the river on the right side of the photo.
This is a typical Kurilisk house. It is made of wood. The black on the outside is tar paper. Inside the fence is a flower and vegetable garden.
This is the new elementary and jr. high school. (You can e-mail students here at: firstname.lastname@example.org)
In front of the school Ivan, and his friend, Michael, take Ivan's baby sister for a walk.
Nadia and some of her friends say "good-bye" to me as I am getting ready to return to Odyssey in my Zodiac. The girls are holding pictures of Odyssey we gave them.