Beringian Arctic Games - Special Expedition in Chukotka

Some 14,000 years ago the first people walked from Chukotka (in Russia), across the Beringia Land Bridge to discover North America – and beyond. In July of 2014 peoples from the seven Arctic nations will return to Chukotka for the first ever Beringian Arctic Games, coming together to celebrate and compete in skin boat races and other competitions in the picturesque village of Novoye Chaplino on the shores of Bukhta Tkachen. You are invited to join them on this special Beringia Arctic Games Expedition.

When people made their way across the vast plain of Beringia from the Asian to the American continent, they moved by foot. But as glacier ice turned to sea and the Bering Strait came to be, the peoples on both sides continued to connect, sailing the waters in large skin boats. Life in these Arctic regions would have been unthinkable and unsustainable without these Arctic ships.

The oldest of these in the world today is a 500-year old skin boat found in northernmost East Greenland. With a length of 11 meters (some 30 feet), it is narrower than what was usually used in Greenland, resembling more of a traditional skin boat used in Alaska. Whether this skin boat made the journey from Alaska to Greenland is obviously not known, but it is believed to be quite possible.

The first ever Beringian Arctic Games will bring together peoples from all around the circumpolar Arctic. It will be a powerful celebration of this environment, the traditions of land and sea and the rich heritage of one of the world’s oldest and most adaptable cultures. A feature event of these games will be the skin boat races in which the various countries will compete. At the heart of the skin boat races are agility, ability and endurance embracing mental and physical strength – the very essence of all the games that will be played at the event. Strong arms and hands were required to harpoon seals, whales and walrus and then hold on to the struggling animal whilst agile legs ensured one could jump between moving sheets of ice, outrun a walrus or run with caribou to trap them. Events at these games like One Foot High Kick, Musk Ox Push, Kneel Jump, Mouth Pull, Snow-snake and Knuckle Hop all demonstrate on the ability to adapt and survive in this severe environment.

Traditional sports and games, expressions of our indigenous cultures and ways of life are a vital part of human heritage. However, many of the world’s traditional games and sports are swiftly becoming extinct under the combined effect of globalization and harmonization of the rich diversity of world sports heritage.

The Beringian Arctic Games will be a unique opportunity for all of us who join these people to explore Beringia through the prism of its traditional games and sports; be part of building community spirit and instill a sense of pride in this society’s cultural roots. The more people who know about and appreciate these traditional sports and games, the less likely they are to disappear or fade from memory.

This expedition will also be an opportunity for participants to explore other parts of Chukotka, including a significant archaeological site called ‘Whale Bone Alley’ and Providenyia, a former important Soviet military town with a significant port and airfield. We will also visit Egvekinot, a town built by Gulag prisoners in the late 1940s to service an important tin mine. Today it is a busy town as mineral extraction is becoming a significant part of the Chukotka economy. A highlight will be a morning spent with a Chukchi reindeer herding family learning first-hand about this unique lifestyle that is in fact enjoying a renaissance in parts of Siberia.


NOTE: You can join this expedition either in Anadyr or in Nome, Alaska. Those starting in Nome will fly by a charter flight to Anadyr and will join the ship and the expedition members who have travelled direct to Anadyr.

Day 0: Nome, Alaska (July 15th)

Those departing from Nome, Alaska, should arrive in Nome before midday (July 16th) but preferably the previous night (July 15th).

On arrival, you should check in with Bering Air at the Nome Airport who will have details of our charter flight. During this flight you will cross the International Date Line, arriving into Anadyr on Day 1 (July 17th) of the expedition. You will clear Russian Customs and Immigration on arrival.

Day 1: Anadyr (July 17th)

Arrive in Anadyr, the administrative capital of Chukotka. It is situated on the mouth of the Anadyr River near where the river enters the Anadyr estuary. The town was established in 1889 as a frontier post when it was called Novo-Mariinsk. The name was changed to Anadyr in 1920 when the Bolsheviks took control of the town. It has grown in importance over the years and today is a modern town with a population of about 11,000 people. There is much to see in this small town and its environs – monuments, churches, museums and military installations.

You will be transferred to the ship, which will more than likely be anchored in the river (rather than tied alongside the wharf) during the afternoon. Once on board you will be shown to your cabins. There will be a chance to meet fellow expeditioners and for those who have not been on board before, some time to explore the vessel. We plan to sail in the late afternoon for Preobrazhenyia Bay and there will be a series of compulsory safety briefings and introductions to ship and staff after we have sailed.

Day 2: At Sea and Preobrazhenyia Bay

As we steam across Anadyr Bay this morning we plan to complete the briefings and begin a lecture series that will provide valuable background on the games and on the cultural and natural history of the region.

Early afternoon we will arrive at Preobrazhenyia Bay on the Chukotka coast just west of the village of Nunligan. There are impressive bird cliffs and if conditions are suitable we plan to take the Zodiacs for a closer look. There are guillemots, puffins, auklets and cormorants nesting here. At this time of the year there will be a lot of activity and some good photographic opportunities. This evening we continue our journey eastwards.

Day 3 to 4: Novoye Chaplino – Beringian Arctic Games

The village of Novoye Chaplino, located on the relatively sheltered Bukhta (bay) Tkachen, is the perfect venue to host the Beringian Arctic Games. There has not always been a village on this site. It was built in 1960 under a Soviet programme to consolidate native villages and Inuit families from Cape Chaplino and Unazik were relocated here. Unfortunately the site was not well researched as although it is in an attractive setting, there are no sea mammals nearby, so hunting is well nigh impossible and the hunters have to make long trips to find them. The village was further renovated and modernized when Roman Abramovich was Governor.

The vessel will anchor and there will be continuous Zodiac shuttles to and from the ship allowing you to enjoy the games and watch the Barida (or skin boat) races. There will be traditional foods and dancing for you to enjoy. On the Saturday evening (Day 3) after an early dinner there will be an opportunity to visit the nearby town of Provideniya. During the Soviet regime this was a bustling and important sea port and military town (in fact the most important in the northern Russian Far East). Today it is only a shadow of its former self.

Since the collapse of the Soviet regime in the 1990s there has been massive depopulation. Our local guides will show us around and describe what it was like during its peak. A highlight of the visit will be one of the best museums in Chukotka.

Day 5: Whale Bone Alley and Gil’mimyl Hot Springs

We will have sailed from Novoye Chaplino after the closing ceremony last night to an anchorage off Yttygran Island to the north. Here is one of the most significant and intriguing archaeological sites in the Arctic. This place is known affectionately as ‘Whale Bone Alley’ due to the large number of whale bones spread along the beach in the form of a pathway. The site dates to the 14th century and its origins and purpose have been the cause of much debate. It was almost certainly a ceremonial site as well as being used for meat storage. What is puzzling is the lack of any substantial settlement in the vicinity, which suggests that it was possibly a communal site situated here because of the abundance of whales nearby.

This afternoon we intend to make a landing near the Gil’mimyl Hot Springs. They are a short walk from the coastline but well worth the effort. After a soak in the springs we can explore the tundra for plants and wildlife. We will rejoin the ship this evening and sail for Egvekinot.

Day 5: Kolyuchin Island/Belyaka Spit

This morning we land at Kolyuchin Island, where there is an abandoned Polar Research and Weather Station. There are also some terrific bird cliffs where it is possible to get some great photos of puffins, guillemots and gulls. Polar Bears are also known in this region but their distribution varies from year to year depending on local ice conditions. This afternoon we will make a landing at Belyaka Spit – it is an interesting site – and we plan to be here tomorrow as well.

Day 6: At Sea

We are at sea all day today as we make our way back westwards towards Kresta Bay. We will take the opportunity to recap the many experiences we have enjoyed. Our lecturers will continue the series of lectures about Chukotka, its people and its wildlife. It will also be an opportunity to download the many photos you will have taken and catch up on diaries and emails to friends and family.

Day 7: Egvekinot

There is more to this small town on the shores of Kresta Bay than first meets the eye. It was built by Gulag prisoners in 1946 as a port to supply the Iul’tin mining complex some 200km inland. Prisoners also constructed the road to the mine. Today the Iul’tin mine complex is closed but the town and Port of Egvekinot is the terminus for a new road through to Pevek and its associated gold mines and a lot of prospecting. The town has an excellent museum which we plan to visit. Egvekinot is only a few miles south of the Arctic Circle and today we will travel by Ural (a 6WD ‘go anywhere’ Russian truck) to the point inland from Egvekinot where the circle cuts across the road to the reindeer herding village of Amguema and beyond.

Days 8: At Sea

This morning we join a family of reindeer herders to learn and experience first hand as much as we can about this intriguing lifestyle that has been part of Chukotka for centuries. The practice was extensively modified under the Soviet collectivization programme, then almost died out after Perestroika. It is enjoying a renaissance and this is our (unique) opportunity to gain rare insights into this fascinating culture. This afternoon we continue our journey back to Anadyr. There will be final presentations and a recap of this expedition with a special farewell dinner.

Day 9: Anadyr

We will wake this morning as we enter the Port of Anadyr. After breakfast passengers will be taken ashore either to the airport to catch a flight out today or to the town if staying on a few extra days.

NOTE: Departure Information

Those returning to Nome, Alaska will join a charter flight that will depart Anadyr around midday and, because of the International Date Line will arrive back in Nome on the evening of the previous day (July 24th). However, we strongly advise that you do not book any onward travel from Nome until the following day to allow for possible delays in the charter flight.

Those returning to Moscow can either be transferred to the airport or hotel in Anadyr, depending on their flight times. To allow time for disembarkation procedures we do not recommend booking flights before 13:00hrs.

* Itinerary may be subject to change

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