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Full Circle

Day 13: Kodiak Island to Petropavlovsk

Michael Palin - Full CircleAboard Flight 203 from Anchorage to Petropavlovsk - from America's last frontier to Russia's last frontier. Our airliner bears the striking, folksy livery of Alaska Airlines - on the tailplane the huge head of an Eskimo, weather-beaten features smiling out from beneath a fur-trimmed hood, and along the fuselage cartoon bubbles curl out from the windows which read: 'Swell', 'Good Choice' and 'Thank you'. We've been very lucky to get aboard. It is their last flight of the season.

Our route across the North Pacific traces, in reverse, that taken by the Danish explorer Vitus Bering in 1741 when he was employed by the Tsars to try to find out if Asia and America were joined by land. In 1740 he reached the Kamchatka Peninsula and founded Petropavlovsk, which he named after his two ships, the St Peter and the St Paul. A year later, he sailed some of the stormiest waters in the world to reach what is now Kayak Island, a mile or two off the Alaskan coast, before being forced to turn back by bad weather. To prove he had crossed continents, he brought back an American blue jay and a species of raspberry not found in Asia.

In the twentieth century the spirit of exploration and expansion was replaced by suspicion and secrecy. After World War II the Russians developed Kamchatka as a military region and it was closed to foreigners until 1990. Now the historical cycle is turning again, and with bewildering speed. On my seat I find a copy of an English-language publication called Russian Far East Update. It's aimed at foreign businessmen and paints a stark picture of an economy desperate for outside help.
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PALIN'S GUIDES

  • Series: Full Circle
  • Day: 13
  • Country/sea: USA
  • Place: Kodiak - Alaska
  • Book page no: 28

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