We gathered around Richard listening intently to his instructions about the Anadyr Russia immigration process, “Russians don’t smile much, so you shouldn’t either. When you go through immigration, just try to be solemn and not too loud and fit into their culture the best you can.” I thought about my past travels to Russia and the Russian stereotypes I encountered; he was right, there wasn’t a lot of smiling going on. Thanks to growing up in the cold war era with Russia as our enemy, passing through Russian immigration always puts me a bit on edge. It doesn’t help that I always seem to be traveling to the obscure parts of Russia that require a bit more finessing than the normal border crossings arriving in Moscow airport.
Traveling to Anadyr Russia via Nome Alaska was certainly obscure. Anadyr is a little known city in the extreme northeast of Russia, and the administrative center of Chukotka Region – a region very few foreigners are allowed to visit. Not only does it require a Russian visa, and a letter of invitation, but it also requires a special entry permission document to Chukotka. I was traveling with Heritage Expeditions who specializes in travel to the Russian Far East who assisted me with obtaining the Chukotka invitation. Richard worked for Heritage and was preparing us for our journey before we left the airline hanger in Nome. Over rolls, coffee, and fruit Richard continued to explain how everything would work when we landed in Anadyr, did a short city tour, and made our way to board the Spirit of Enderby Ship. Plus, he made sure we had plenty of snacks in our bags just in case immigration took longer than expected.
Travel to Anadyr Russia
“In May 1988, a Bering Air aircraft lifted the 41-year-old “Ice Curtain” between Alaska and the Soviet Union. The historic flight and opening of the airways between western Alaska and the former Soviet Far East represented the fulfillment of a goal that had long existed in the thoughts of many Alaskans and Russians alike.” –Bering Air
As I stepped into the Beechcraft 1900D twin-engine turbo prop with my passport in hand a smile crept across my face. I realized that this was the smallest plane I had ever flown in for an international flight crossing continents; the thought was exhilarating. I wondered if this was what it’s like to be uber rich like Pdiddy or Donald Trump – people with their own personal jet who can fly from continent to continent. However our plane didn’t even have a toilet, luckily it was only a 90 minute flight.
Boarding the short Bering Air flight
As I’m dosing off the pilot turns around and taps me on the knee (I told you this was a small plane). I open my eyes and he’s motioning for me to come up front. *Side note for all of you who know me and know my love of pilots, this is not some weird fantasy come true – yet it would have been a great story.* I didn’t have a window near my seat, so he kindly showed me the first view of Russia that was peaking out of the clouds through the front window of the plane.
As I stood there between the pilots I was astonished. When I was 12 years old I was terrified of Russia, the cold war dominated the one television set and 3 channels we had. In made-for-TV-movies there was a constant undertone of nuclear war talk, silos, the mushroom cloud, and roach survival. Back then if you would have told me that in my adult life I’d be viewing Russia’s border from the front of a small plane window I would have assumed I had gone into the military. But in a strange life twist, instead I was a tourist on a luxury cruise itinerary to remote Chukotka Russia. I just kept thinking, maybe one of my nieces will be traveling to Iraq one day for a big trek, or North Korea, or Afghanistan to go experience the poppies in bloom.
The Shortest Longest Flight in the World
I had flown the longest flight in the world before, but this was definitely the shortest flight one could take with the biggest time difference. This little 90-minute flight over the Bering Strait requires you to set your watch 20 hours ahead! You’ll travel across the International Dateline from Nome, Alaska to Anadyr Russia which means you lose a day when you cross the International Dateline.
I’ve traveled across the International Dateline before a number of times, but never on a 90-minute flight. In fact I doubt there is any other flight in the world that can be so short but so long as the same time.
Russian customs agents met us at the little plane on the tarmac when we arrived in Anadyr and led us through the non-smiling process of immigration. I remembered what Richard advised and tried to only look and act emotionless so that I could just get my passport and be on my way. Most of all I tried not to look like a blogger or journalist of any kind. Yet without even speaking Russian I could tell by the immigration officer’s reaction when she took my passport and started to page through it that her comment she made to her comrade was, “damn, this woman travels a lot”. After a few technical difficulties with my entry and 15 nail-biting minutes where I tried to not look like a blogger, not smile, or react in any way – finally heard the familiar sound of my passport being stamped and I made it in. It’s weird how Russia still intimidates me so much. It sort of explains my grandparent’s views on African Americans it’s hard to change what has been learned and embedded into our dna at a young age.
Even though I have moved ahead in time, as I walk around the town of Anadyr I realize I have really went backwards in time. As our guide Katya led us around Anadyr I felt as if time stood still here since the cold war. The architecture and the day-to-day life felt like I had just drove the Delorian back to 1980. Chukotka is a closed region of Russia that has had limited contact with the rest of the world and I suddenly felt like I too had limited contact with the outside world – and I sort of liked it.
An old barge rusted and sort of sinking in the port
A man sits at the port on the steps of a rusted building
Anadyr is the eastern most town in Russia/Siberia and it’s population of 13,000 lives in the extremes. Even in July the highs are only in the low 60’s. However the day we arrived it was a picture perfect sunny day. Whales and seals were playing out in the Gulf of Anadyr as we took a local rusty ferry from the airport into town.
What to see in Anadyr Russia
A walk around town in the summer is the best way to see what Anadyr has to offer. The familiar communist, rectangular, non-descript buildings dotted the hilly landscape of Anadyr, yet it had a new twist that I hadn’t seen before – color. Gone were the typical concrete flat gray colors and instead each building was like a rainbow. And at the end of each building where there were no windows, there was a mural pertaining to the area; a whale, a native person, a polar bear, etc. The colors provided a nice contrast against the gray tundra backdrop and would most certainly provided a bit of energy in the heart of winter when this town goes dark.
There were also the typical austere Russian military monuments and memorials all over the little town that honored the regional history. But then we came across a surprise; there was a monument of a dapper looking man and his dogs. No military or government reference – just a normal looking guy. When I asked our guide Katya about it she explained that it was a famous Russian writer. This was definitely a side of Russia I hadn’t experienced before – colorful buildings, murals, and statues paying homage to writers!
The most notable tourist attraction is the church that sits atop a hill and overlooks the harbor. The Holy Trinity Cathedral was built in 2005 and it’s made entirely of wood. It’s one of the largest wooden Orthodox churches in the world. It wasn’t simply a wooden frame, the entire inside of the church was wood too; the alter, all of the carvings, furniture, everything. No wolf was going to blow this little church down.
The town also had a museum, a few hotels, and coffee shops but don’t go there expecting tourism infrastructure.
Departure to Wrangel Island
That evening as the old rusty barge took us, a crate of fresh fish, and boxes of supplies out to the Spirit of Enderby anchored in the middle of the harbor, my mind was swirling in time and jetlag. Russia always seems to stir thoughts of my past up, but it also make me think about all of the change we see through time.
The Spirit of Enderby a anchor in the Gulf of Anadyr
We arrived on the ship, met the crew, and were reunited with our luggage from the airport. I said goodbye to my last pieces of connectivity with the world, and said hello to my little ship cabin. Immediately I went to the top deck of the ship to experience our departure leaving the colorful town of Anadyr behind and heading towards the Bering Strait. I looked at my watch trying to get oriented to my new time zone. I had a feeling that just like the sun in this part of the world in the summer, I wouldn’t be getting much sleep thanks to the excitement of the journey.
Bon Voyage from the top deck!