Unpacking Alaska, 2019

Unpacking Alaska, 2019

I’m always genuinely thrilled to hear that someone is going to Alaska. After many trips to our 49th state, I’ve found that every nook and cranny is wonderful in its particular way. It’s all impressive, and well worth the effort to get there.


Sunrise the first morning.

Ship’s bridge map of our arrival at Little Diomede Island. Note the difference in size between the two islands.


In July 2019, an extraordinary new itinerary was offered by National Geographic/Lindblad tours titled “Bering Sea Wilderness.” On their ship, the National Geographic Orion, I joined my bestie from high school and about 100 other passengers on a 12 day journey leaving from Nome.


The village perches at the bottom of a perfect (and very towering) slope of scree rock.


First, we veered north, and passed through the Bering Straits. The water was uncharacteristically calm, and we were able to nose the ship onto latitude N66.33 (the Arctic Circle!) just adjacent to the international dateline. For a map freak like me, being at those two imaginary lines simultaneously was a big thrill.


The village landing, with Big Diomede Island in the background.


In the middle of the Bering Strait, we stopped to visit Little Diomede Island, Alaska, population 80. It rests just 2.2 miles east of Big Diomede Island, which is as far east in Russia as one can go. (Yes, Sarah, you can see Russia from Alaska! But not from your home in Wasilla...) From our trip notes: “During the Cold War, the section of the border between the US and USSR separating Big and Little Diomede became known as the ‘Ice Curtain.’ In 1987, however, Lynne Cox swam from Little Diomede to Big Diomede and was congratulated jointly by Mikhail Gorbachev and Ronald Reagan.” The residents of Little Diomede are Alaska Natives of the Inupiat people. They offered us an enthusiastic welcome and tours of their town, along with songs and dancing.


Arrival on a foggy morning in Provideniya, Russia.


Under way again, we turned southwest and crossed over the international dateline into tomorrow for a brief stop at Provideniya, Russia. The town, once a large, bustling deep-water seaport, appeared from the early-morning mists as the ghost-town it seems to have become, its population diminished from thousands to less than 2,000 due to social and economic upheavals there in recent years.


A colorful home in Provideniya.


Our course then headed south/southeast and included stops at several islands in the Bering Sea on the way to Unalaska (Dutch Harbor) in the Aleutian islands. Finally, we traversed the eastern side of the Alaska Peninsula (with more island and shoreline visits) until it was time to disembark in Seward.


Provideniya cemetery, with our ship in the distant fog looking small against Soviet-era coal loaders.


None of these places is easy to access without a plan such as this. The experience was brilliant! Soon, I plan to unpack the rest of the journey: other islands, the sealife, and the bears! Stay tuned.

For more about our expedition hosts: nationalgeographic.com/expeditions

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