Oksana and I have been strategizing a semi-elaborate trip to Russia since last year. Until a couple weeks ago, the plan was to:
1) Coordinate three weeks off from our respective jobs in August,
2) Fly to Petropavlovsk-Kamchatski,
3) Spend time with Oksana’s family while finalizing the sale of her parent’s apartment,
4) Fly to Moscow/St. Petersburg to play tourist,
5) Return to the States.
Due to unforeseen complications with visas, money, and our jobs, we were forced to come up with a new, slightly different plan:
1) Go to Hawaii.
You may be craving an explanation; this is a desire which I can fulfill.
You would think that a short hop across the Bering Sea to P-K would be relatively inexpensive. You’d be wrong. You might also think that, in post-Soviet Russia at least, getting a tourist visa shouldn’t take more than six weeks. Bzzt. Wrong again. Thanks for playing.
The first hitch in our Russian travel plans turned out to be the cost. Oksana and I could buy round trip tickets to Anchorage for only $600, but to get from Anchorage to P-K, it’d cost us another $1350. Each. When we realized that the price of flying to Moscow would take the fares from about $4000 to almost $6000, we recalibrated and dropped the Kremlin from our itinerary. Besides, who wants to fly that much, anyway? I hate sour grapes.
Moving on. Did you know that, in order to get a Russian tourist visa, you can’t simply send a passport and money to the nearest Russian consulate? Well, that’s not exactly true. You can, but not before you’ve been invited to Russia.
Shouldn’t have been a problem – I’m married to a Russian citizen that was more than willing to invite me along, but, noooo. She couldn’t just type up a note and send it with my passport. “Invitations” are specific forms which must be submitted to, and processed by, a proper “agency.” We could never get through to the Stateside Russian consulate to find out of there were any agencies in the U.S., and the only one in P-K is open only one day a week. From 2pm-4pm. +Insult -> Injury: Forms can only be submitted in person.
You can imagine how backlogged they are. Despite the best (read: hostile) efforts by Oksana’s sister-in-law, the P-K agency wouldn’t budge. Not only did they refuse to give us a timeline, they would only guarantee that our form wouldn’t be looked at until July 29th – a mere seven days before we had planned to leave.
We talked about chancing the visa (Hope; thy name is vain), trying to postpone our trip (Too hard to secure complimentary annual leave from our respective jobs), or sending Oksana by herself (What if the apartment doesn’t even sell?), but neither one of us liked any of those options. We began looking for alternatives; I’ll have to wait for another year to visit the motherland.
Oksana and I talked about other vacation spots. We didn’t want to just stay at home (though the reprieve from the endless succession of 8-hour work days would, admittedly, still be nice), and Oksana was adamant in her desire to go someplace sunny and… snorkely.
Visiting my family on the East Coast is always an option, but I was sort of set on seeing someplace new (an possibly exotic). We looked into Fiji (too expensive — $2000 each from Seattle), Thailand (not sure if it has recovered yet after the tsunamis), the Florida Keys (hurricane season), and the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico (visa troubles for Oksana again, just when I was getting excited about the possibility of practicing my Spanish again, too!)
With time running out, it became obvious that we were going to have to find a place associated with the United States. We briefly entertained the notion of going back to the Caribbean, but we’d been there on our honeymoon – also in hurricane season. Puerto Rico? We didn’t do enough research to get excited about going there.
At one point I said to Oksana, “You know, if we just say ‘screw the cost,’ we could go to Hawaii.” Her face lit up and reminded me of the time I suggested a trip to Disneyland. Half an hour later, she had found round-trip, Juneau-to-Maui tickets for both of us for under $1100. I did a quick mental calculation and discovered that two weeks in $100/night hotels would be an additional $1400 dollars — $1500 LESS than just the airlines tickets to P-K.
Problem was, we didn’t know much about Hawaii. To the bookstore! Oksana bought a Lonely Planet guide that morning and, after spec’ing out the hotel situation, decided to commit to buying our plane tickets. Unfortunately, in the eight hours or so that had passed, Orbitz lost the cheapest fares. It was only another hundred bucks or so, but Oksana beat herself up the procrastination. At least until I reminded her that by 9am the following workday, we’d have already earned the difference. No big whoop.
So… we’re going to Hawaii, and we’re excited! Of course, I have only vague ideas about what we’re going to do while we’re there. Our travel plans typically extend only as far as the arrival at the airport, but since we get in after dark this time, I’ll probably reserve a car and a hotel room. For one night, anyway. No sense tying ourselves down – we’ll most likely be island hopping after a few days of snorkeling, biking down volcanoes, diving under waterfalls, driving along majestic highways, bodysurfing, and sunbathing.
With any luck, I’ll be able to spend the evenings watching beautiful sunsets in the invisible glow of free wi-fi. If so, expect more pictures and words here.
Hurry up, August!
P.S. If anyone has any suggestions (particularly with links to back them up), please share!