September 01, 2010

Salmon Island

The road from Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk to the Kura River in the southern part of Sakhalin Island takes longer than it should. The pavement ends just past of the village of Taranay, and those who wish to proceed along Aniva Bay toward the southern tip of Sakhalin must do so on the gravelly beach, so soft and unpredictable that even the most agile all-wheel-drive vehicles slip and slide. Those who dare to make such a cumbersome journey along the southern coast typically come for one reason: salmon. 

Our mode of transportation is the legendary Gaz-66, a two-ton Soviet-era bus originally used to ferry soldiers across even the roughest terrain. Revered for its simplicity and durability, the bus derives its nickname, shishiga, from a mythological female creature that dwells in the forests and swamps, occasionally rising to the bank to lure unsuspecting travelers into impenetrable places. 

With three river crossings between us and the Kura – the Uryum, Tambovka, and Ulyanovka rivers – the shishiga is our best hope for reaching our destination. River mouths, at least those untouched by concrete walls and rock jetties, constantly morph with changing tides, fluctuating flows from upstream, and unpredictable weather conditions. 

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