Saturday, October 8, 2016

Bering Island in the Commander Islands

Day 10 Sept 21, 2016

We crossed to the Commander Islands, which were discovered by Commander Vitus Bering when his second expedition to the east of Russia to find the route to America, shipwrecked in 1741 on the largest of the four islands, now called Bering Island. He died there with some of his men primarily of scurvy, but Steller and a group of 46 men built a smaller ship out of the remains of the larger, managing to get to Avacha Bay in Kamchatka (Petro-Pavlovsk), the next year.

After an extremely rough night during the crossing to the Commander Islands, we awoke to a relatively calm sea anchored outside of the town of Nikoskoye. However, due the presence of a large Hapag Lloyd ship with 200 people on it, Rodney, the expedition leader decided that we should reverse our itinerary and come back in the afternoon as the town would be too crowded. Instead, we went to see the fur seal rookery at the Northwest Cape. We hiked across the rolling thickly vegetated tundra to the a viewing point that was set up by the scientific research team that works there (they have a few huts, a vehicle, and there is a semblance of a road. Other than the research team, this area is uninhabited. At the viewing point, could see a boundless number of fur seals, some sea lions, and a few otter sunning themselves on the beach, except for the pups in what is called a "kindergarten" frolicking in the sand. After climbing up a cliff for a better view (and many more!), we then returned to the ship.  

After lunch we went to Nikolskoye. We walked on real roads to the museum in the more picturesque tumble down older section. The museum was interesting because of the relics from Bering and the history of the Commander Islands which were largely populated after Bering's discovery by those in the fur trading industry because of the sea otter, arctic and red fox, and sable pelts. A Russian-American trading company settled Aleuts in Nikolskoye to hunt for them as they knew the terrain and hunting methods. After the museum which had a skeleton of a sea cow (a sea animal like the manatee), we went to the studio of a local artist, Sergei, who had an even better skeleton! He also had the frames of two Aleut kayaks hanging in his gallery. He makes fairly nice etchings of local people. Walking through the town, there was a contrast between the older poorly maintained buildings and the bright new aluminum buildings that have sprung up all over eastern Russia (rather like the buildings that Roman Abramovich introduced in Chuchotka). There were nice playgrounds for children, a new hotel, a World War II memorial, and surprisingly a statue of Lenin. We returned to the ship on the zodiacs to a calm sleep anchored near the coast.     

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