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Who doesn’t want to travel the world, discover dramatic landscapes and unique wildlife, experience local cultures and food? We are interviewing American Martha Madsen – hailing from Homer, Alaska – owner of the Explore Kamchatka Guest House, a woman behind many exciting adventure tours in Kamchatka, who has lived on the peninsula for 21 years.
Q: You run an adventure travel company and a guest house. Has this always been your dream job?
Actually no, in Homer, I thought I had my dream job, Curator of Education at the Pratt Museum, one of the best natural history museums in the country. This experience inspires me to create tours that provide adventure, knowledge and understanding and I hope appreciation for Kamchatka. So I adapted some of the practices in museum education to the visitor experience in Kamchatka.
Q: What got you started in the business?
Once I settled in Kamchatka, I worked at a small Russian company where I got my feet wet in creating adventure and educationally based tours. I also reached out to US sustainable and adventure tourism experts and brought them here to share their knowledge with me and other Kamchatka colleagues. Around the same time, my husband and I bought a house bigger than was needed for the 2 of us, so we decided right away to start a guest house. We’ve been doing that now for 17 years and have had guests from over 70 countries. In 2000, I opened an Alaskan business, Explore Kamchatka and contracted to work with some trusted colleagues. I’m still together with my longest partner, Diligans Kamchatka, Ltd. for over 15 years now.
Q: What’s your favorite thing about adventure travel in Kamchatka?
We like to help make amazing ideas possible. We particularly enjoy providing logistical support for unusual and demanding routes that have been accomplished by some of the world’s foremost adventurers and groups that have a particular abiding interest. Kamchatka is a haven for nature documentary film makers, authors, researchers, and photographers, and we have assisted over 3 dozen projects to explore and expose Kamchatka’s nature and culture. Of course we rely on and love our perennial partners who send groups of people with an interest and the abilities to ski, hike, climb, and ride to Kamchatka’s most remote corners.
Q: When you are developing a new tour for your customers, what do you look for?
We (myself and my local Kamchatka outfitters) try to understand what the customers want to do, and what they are ready for, as far as experience and interests. Then we try to fit the tour with their budget and Kamchatka’s amazing nature and culture. Given Kamchatka’s limited road access, many tour firms offer the same experiences to the most accessible locations. So we try to find unique places and elements to add to an itinerary so that our trips are even better than the many other available options.
Q: What is the best piece of travel advice you can give to Americans who come to Kamchatka?
For the Americans who come, if they don’t speak Russian, work with a Kamchatka tour company to provide logistical help for the trip. Look at the Kamchatka Explorer, an informational site and publication online to get up to date information and fine photographs of real people enjoying the peninsula year round.
Remember that weather in Kamchatka can be capricious and understand that this can sometimes cause weather delays or changes in your trip. These changes are for your own safety. Buy travel insurance. Bring photographs of your home and family, share with your hosts about your life. Take advantage of the opportunity to show your Russian hosts in every encounter, that people from our two countries have a lot in common and can be friends.
Q: You are a strong advocate for supporting conservation and reducing environmental impact. What are your tips for visitors to practice responsible tourism?
Bring a personal refillable water bottle so you don’t need to buy plastic bottled water! Tell your outfitter here not to use disposable dishes and utensils. Live the “leave no trace” ethics and if your outfitter here doesn’t understand, explain why.
Q: What’s on the horizon for you in 2016 and beyond?
Our guest house is becoming more sustainable with the installation of solar collectors, which will supply some of our heat energy for hot water and heating the house. We will be opening a 2nd house on our street, with our partners so that we can house more guests in comfortable, cozy conditions.
Our wonderful bear naturalist partner Reno Sommerhalder from Canada/Switzerland is returning to guide several trips to Kambalnaya Lake, and we have several dates available for Bears and Volcanoes tours combining Kamchatka’s 2 iconic resources for amazing adventures in July and August. We are looking to open new trekking routes into Bystrinsky Nature Park, in cooperation with the park. These routes will be available in August and September, when the bugs aren’t so thick.
To learn more about schedules, tickets, and fares from Alaska to Kamchatka, click here.
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