The polar opposite of Antarctica is, of course, the Arctic. But “the Arctic” is an unfortunately broad term that includes far more diversity than most people realize. There’s Arctic Svalbard, north of Norway; Arctic Greenland and Canada’s Far North, which includes the fabled Northwest Passage.
Then, there’s Russia’s Far East. Long closed to Westerners, the Russian Far East is one of the planet’s least explored destinations. The Kamchatka Peninsula is a geothermal wonderland, while in nutrient-rich waters of the Bering Sea support vast populations of birds, whales and other marine life.
How do you write about a journey to a place that seems nearly as remote as Mars, a region that is 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? That is the dilemma I faced in Russia’s Far East.
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.
One evening, we spotted two nomadic reindeer herders who we brought back to our ship and invited to dinner on perhaps the most beautiful sunset of our voyage. 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.
Oh yes, the trip changed us. Only an uninquisitive being could return from that trip unchanged.