Chukotka Autonomous Okrug is the only part of Russia in the western hemisphere. This is the easternmost part of the Russian Federation, cross the Bering Strait, and you are in Alaska. The fact that people live here in this remote and strategic outpost, seems almost unreal. Until you end up in villages like Enmelen. Lâ€™Austral anchors somewhere in the bay of the hamlet and a shuttle service of Zodiacs zip between the ship and the beach. The sky is cloudy, the sea roars and the sun tries to push away the greyness. We get our rubber boots wet and step into the cold ocean, onto the pebble beach of Enmelen. Left some driftwood, right a piece of whale blubber with a husky dog nibbling away. In the air we detect the smell of seaweed, fish and other mammals from the sea drying in a wooden barrack. 330 people, a mix of Chutchi and Yupik, live here. They survive mainly thanks to fishing and hunting reindeer. They live in wooden, ramshackle, houses, marked by time and by a climate, which can not be called gentle. There is no escape possible: no roads leading to the village and when the sea is in revolt, Enmelen is isolated from the rest of the world. Enmelen means “capricious” in the local language. Enough said.
Somewhere in a house that was once painted blue, women share some local delicacies. Arctic berries on toast, local tea, dried salmon and for the strong eaters: whale. Flush it down with some vodka, it helps. Another bunch of women in traditional attire start to play music and sing, their movements, costumes and dancing is reminiscent of Native Americans, their looks a bit Greenlandic or is it vice versa. Most passengers swap the grey setting of Enmelen and biting wind for the warmth and musical scene of the Chutchi in the community hall. We wander around the hamlet, to the library (shelves with books from bygone time), Internet corner (an old PC in a small room) and a few tables where women are sewing. Boxes with pearls used to decorate costumes, emblems made of angora, carvings made from walrus or horns of the reindeer, … The muddy road just in front of the library is the main road. A young woman with stroller and baby walks by, an elderly man on his even older motorcycle stops and strokes gently the red and cheery cheeks of the baby. Beauty is found here in little things. Less beautiful is the scene on the beach of Enmelen. In the couple of hours we were on land, the wind rose, the waves grew and the ocean got wild. With lots of effort and especially a lot of good will of both crew and passengers, we manage to get away, to escape back to the ship. Waves are crushing in the Zodiac when they get pushed away from the beach and the ride back is one to remember. Everyone sits quietly on the edge of the rubber boats, hood over the head, cameras well hidden against the sea, red cheeks and wet noses. This Chukotka Autonomous Okrug is a corner of the world where you better be strong and courageous. After one day, we already noted that down.