Silver Discoverer, Russia’s Far East: Day 15 – Heading Home To Nome & Our Voyage Recap Of Russia’s Far East
How do you recap a trip where every day was comprised of peak experiences, sometimes multiple peak experiences? How do you write about a journey to a place that seems nearly as remote as Mars, a region that for me was on the other side of the International Dateline and far removed from civilization? How do you choose to illustrate the experiences from the more than 2,000 photos that your index finger was compelled to snap? How do you tell the story of Russia’s Far East on Silver Discoverer?
No doubt, Silversea Expeditions knows that the story of this remote region is a hard one to convey. Words and photos (and videos) can evoke part of what my 17-year-old son Alex and I experienced on Silver Discoverer for two weeks in August, but even I, despite having been there, have yet to fully process all that we did and how what we did changed us.
Oh yes, the trip changed us. Only an uninquisitive being could return from that trip unchanged. The spectacle of nature alone was enough to shift mindsets — more than 100 killer whales sighted one morning as we floated along with them for the better part of two hours; several hundred walruses in the waters around our Zodiacs a few days before; and on another day, humpback whales so close that we could feel their spray as we bobbed around in Zodiacs.
There was much more — spotting 21 brown bear in one day, birds rarely seen elsewhere in the world, uninhabited landscapes, forgotten towns, tribal villages and native people.
No photo does justice to our chance encounter with the nomadic reindeer herders. We had nearly given up hope that we would find them, but on one sunny afternoon, while my son and I were out in a Zodiac with our Russian guide Sergey, there, on the shoreline, through the binoculars, were two lonely souls who were must have been hoping that we would see them. Fortunately, for them — and for us — we did.
Imagine doing as we did, swinging our legs over the edge of the Zodiac and dipping our boots into sea water that came slightly above our ankles, wading ashore, not sure how we would be greeted by these peculiar people, who carried rifles, mind you.
We had heard that the reindeer herders range for more than 1,000 kilometers to bring their Arctic deer to the shoreline so that the graceful animals can sip saltwater. It is an odd notion, but it is said that the saltwater is good for the reindeers’ bones.
Mosquitoes swarmed us as we sat on the tundra talking to the reindeer herders. Well, Sergey talked, and translated relevant bits to Alex and me. We learned that there had been a lot of bear here during the last few days. That must have made sleeping difficult, even more difficult than sleeping out in the open with no tent and no mosquito repellent. How did they live out here, so exposed?
Imagine inviting them back to our ship, where they were applauded by guests and crew as they stepped on board. It seemed an odd welcome, but how else does one greet two reindeer herders who probably had never seen — or imagined — such luxury?
The reindeer herders were invited to dinner on perhaps the most beautiful evening of our voyage, when the sun glistened on the rippling sea as waiters poured champagne and wine and placed gourmet dishes before us. All of us, the entire complement of the ship, dined outdoors by the pool that evening. As the sun descended, we drew sweaters around our shoulders, and slowly daylight began to give way to night, with a half-moon rising over the ridges. It was a sight to behold, an evening to remember.
I had watched the reindeer herders, in their gritty clothes, cutting into their steaks, on tables adorned by white cloths. The two men, accompanied by Sergey and engaged in conversation with him, sipped beer. Could they have imagined that when they stood up on the tundra this morning that they would be dining on Silver Discoverer tonight?
The reindeer herders left shortly before the dinner ended, boarding a Zodiac to be taken back to their “camp.” Of more importance than finishing dessert was to get back to work rounding up a few of their stray reindeer.
They left behind a strong impression, however. Our encounter with a people that you would not likely meet — even if you lived more than 200 years on this planet — was emblematic of the type of experience that Silversea Expeditions strives to create: something memorable and often inexpressible, even for one who professes to be writers, like me.
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