South through the Bering Strait we sailed over night. The pastel dawn gave us hints of Big Diomede Island off our port side. All morning we sailed toward Lorino, during which naturalist Rich Kirchner taught us about the various wildlife adaptations to the Arctic environment. The photo team, National Geographic photographer Corey Arnold, photo Instructor David Cothran, and undersea specialist Peter Webster surveyed photography submitted by guests the day before.
Our time in the wild lands of Wrangel Island is behind us and we are re-entering the world dominated by people. On the sunny shores of Lorina, first we were greeted by the children. One of the many dogs that ran the beach smiled as we came ashore and approached us for a friendly exchange. The people of Lorino Village live a life that marries new technology with old-world convention: Theirs is both an internet-connected, cell-phone-equipped community, while also one of traditional maritime subsistence, bound by and founded upon whaling.
The town shows the mix of cultural norms that have sustained over time. Soviet-era buildings sit squarely in the town’s center. Wooden benches perch atop a wave carved hillside to allow whale spotters a chance to sit while they search. Large-wheeled, decades-old, off-road vehicles blast rap music. Yamaha outboards clutching aluminum skiffs sit next to walrus skin boats with oars instead of paddles. The language is Russian, the culture is Yupik and Chukchi, but the berry jam is universal.
The warmest of greetings surrounded us on a sunny beach. Traditional dancers danced between flags of Russia and Lorina. A competitive round of tug of war ensued, followed by javelin tossing.
We laughed, we smiled, we took pictures, we petted the puppies, we tasted the food and shook hands.
I am more alien here than I was on Wrangel Island. The wilderness is the greatest equalizer. Here, in Lorino, I am aware of my clothing, its style and newness. I am aware that I represent my culture. I didn’t feel that in the wilderness, and I put it on now like an overcoat or a uniform that speaks before I do.
I am here to see the differences and to look into the eyes of Lorino to get past those differences. I’m here to see if that is possible.