Yesterday, we celebrated my birthday by having a beach day. We heard that after a storm, amber, or янтарь, from the bottom of the ocean washes up on a short stretch on beach in the small seaside town of Starodubskoye. Fortunately for those looking for amber, Typhoon Chanthu just hit Sakhlin the day before, so with that in mind, we set off on our adventure. After waking up a little too late, we ran to the train station where we found out the train we needed wasn’t running that day. We’ve gotten used to the fact that we’ll never figure out how the train works, so we instead headed for the bus to the town of Dolinsk (#112, leaves every 20 minutes, 115 rub/person). The bus ride lasts only 45 minutes and takes you northeast of Yuzhno Sakhalinsk, past both heavy industry and quiet farmland. Along the way, we saw our fair share of rainbows, which we took as a sure omen of the luck we would have finding amber at the beach.
As if taunting us, the bus dropped us off right in front of the train station. The train station also acts as the main bus station and conveniently had a schedule of buses to local towns, including Starodubskoye. We waited a short while for the next bus and hopped on (#116, leaves every hour, 31 rub/person). Although we should have ridden it until the last stop, we got a little too excited and got off as soon as we saw the ocean. Getting off early wasn’t the worst idea, though, since it was only one stop from the end and we got to see a cool sunken ship along the way.
We stopped by one of the houses alongside the road to ask where we could find amber and were greeted by a sweet babushka. Little did we know, she wasn’t as demure as she first seemed.
Meet Galya, a feisty babushka who loves Sakhalin, Putin, and her dog, Nyusha. We thought she would just show us the way to the beach, but she decided that she would be our personal guide for the day. We started our adventure by searching for amber. She showed us how to dig for amber through the kelp and debris that had washed up because of the storm. Once you dig into it a little, the amber actually shines in the sunlight and is pretty easy to spot. The amber was everywhere and we soon realized we didn’t even need to dig for it; it was just laying on top of the piles of kelp.
We worked up quite a sweat after searching for amber for a few hours because it was such a clear and sunny day, so Galya suggested that we go for a swim. We timidly put our feet in, having already experienced the freezing Ohotsk Sea. She kept insisting that we get in, that the water wasn’t cold, and that she always went swimming even in the winter. I reluctantly agreed and went in, but I was too slow for this babushka. She grabbed my hand and began dragging me in despite my screams of agony. I eventually got used to it and enjoyed it, but it was tough getting in at first!
My dip wasn’t done yet, and as soon as we got out she scooped up a large piece of kelp floating by us. Since it was my birthday, I needed a crown, and just like for her own sons’ birthdays, I needed to be crowned with a giant piece of kelp! I wore my seaweed crown with pride as the new king of the beach.
Galya wasn’t only friendly with us; she seemed to enjoy helping out anyone who was on the beach. There were a few women there who had never been to the sea before and asked Galya if it was possible to eat the seaweed that had drifted up. Rather than giving a simple yes or no, she went into a whole teaching session, showing the women how to collect, dry, and process the seaweed. She readily jumped into the water, helping the women collect seaweed and by the end of the day, they had a huge pile to show for their successful gathering. Galya was also extremely generous and said that you couldn’t come to the beach without having smoked fish and bread, sharing with us fish that her sister had just recently caught and smoked.
We easily spent he whole day just chatting with Galya, collecting amber, and sunbathing. We talked about her family’s history in Sakhalin, Russian politics, anything and everything. With the sun starting to set, we decided that we should start our journey home. However, right before we left, Galya had one last surprise. Since the tide was coming in, the local fisherman were reeling in their nets. While we were chatting, Galya noticed a glint from the sea out of the corner of her eye. Apparently, a fish from one of the nets had drifted loose and washed up on shore. Mid-sentence, she grabbed Anna’s hand and dragged her to the shoreline to look at the fish. Without hesitating, she picked up the fish and told Anna to hold it, saying it would be a good memory.
Although Galya also mentioned that seals often came to the beach, even barking at her while she was sleeping on the beach, no seals came that day because of the typhoon the night before. Oh wells. All in all, it was an extremely memorable birthday! We’re so lucky to have met such an awesome friend on our adventure! I’m thankful that I got to have such a unique experience and I’m looking forward to hopefully another fun and crazy year!
This is an easy trip from Yuzhno Sakhalinsk. Transportation one way takes around 1 hour and costs 146 rubles per person. The Dolinsk-bound bus schedule can be found here. Walking from the bus station to the beach takes 5 minutes down the only road next to the sea. For those looking for the bus schedules, below is a picture of the schedule for all local buses in Dolinsk.