Monday, 23 February 2015

Nikolskoye, on Bering Island
- a far, far-eastern Thule

At 55º N, the far-east russian village of Nikolskoye is a long way south from the Arctic Circle; nevertheless, its condition of isolation in a tundra-covered treeless cold island lost in the Bering Sea makes it a possible radical Ultima Thule for some adventurous sailor bound to the distant East.

Nikolskoye (Russian: Нико́льское) is a rural locality located on Bering Island, one of the Commander Islands chain, in the Kamchatka District of far east Russia. The Commander Islands belong to the Aleutian chain.

Bering Island, some 90 kilometers long and 24 kilometers wide, is the largest of the Commander Islands and is located to the east of the Kamchatka Peninsula in the Bering Sea. They form the Aleutskiy Region since 1888.

The sub-arctic treeless Bering Island is rather desolate, covered by grassy steppe, and its coast alternates between cliffs - wuth waterfalls here and there - and sandy beaches - most are rookeries for seals and other sea mammals.

Steller's arch - one the best known geological features.

Fedoskinskya Waterfall

Freshwater currents like this one are rich in pink salmon.

Salmon abounds in rivers and pounds.

Salmons in Gavanskaya river.

Nikolskoye, at the mouth of Gavanskaya river, is the only remaining inhabited locality in the island, apart some huts for temporary use in natural life observation and study.

Nikolskoye sits by Gavanskaya river's estuary.

Nikolskoye (or Nikol´skoye) was founded in 1826 by Aleut settlers who were brought there by Russian fur traders.

The current economy is based primarily on fishing, especially the harvest of salmon caviar, birds and eggs, berries, mushroom gathering, and government services and subsidies. Other basic goods arrive by ship.

Almost the entire island is a nature preserve. There is virtually no harvest of marine mammals due to strict protection.

A mix of dark huts, and a few coloured more recent buildings, like the red hoofed new school uphill.

Population :   ~800

Coordinates :  55°12′ N, 165° 59′ E

The long wooden staircase from uphill down to the ocean.

The administrative center of the islands has preserved traditional Russian style; some houses of the 19th century remain in reasonable state.

They may look dull from outside, but are comfortable enough, heated and well-insulated.

One of a few shops - most of the time half empty. A small grocery offers freshly baked bread in the morning.

The inhabitantis of Nikolskoye often wait anxiously for the next ship, hoping for a cargo of fruit and vegetables, flour, salt and sugar...

Usually the local shop, after a recent shipload of food, is quickly emptied because people take full cardboxes  of all they can manage to buy. One day full, a month empty, that's the local shops' rythm.

This was the old trading post when fur trade was active on the island - mainly arctic fox.

Motorbikes from soviet era still work for a tour of the island, but SUVs are arriving.

Nikolskoye has one kindergarten, a school, a district hospital, a cultural centre and a museum. There are weekly flights from and to Petropavlovsk (Kamchatka).

The brand new Hospital.

And the newly built school.

Russia recently went on an improvement spree here, painting and fixing up some old buildings, building a new church for the village and creating a lookout honouring Vitus Bering, who wrecked in the island's shore commanding his ship 'St. Peter'.

The church officially opened in October and took about two years to build.

This is presently the most easternly Orthodox church in Russia.

Interior decoration - all painted on wood.

The Bering Memorial

The Commander Islands received their name after Danish explorer Commander Vitus Bering, who died there in 1741 after his ship wrecked on Bering Island, at the time uninhabited, on his return voyage from Alaska.

Vitus Bering, the true 'Viking of the Pacific'.

Cannons from Bering's ship were recently recovered, and are now displayed on the hill overlooking the Bering sea.

The Aleut natives

The population is divided roughly evenly between Russians and Aleuts, who call themselves Unangan.

Aleut folk culture to a certain extent survives thanks to the Museum of Local Lore, Children's Art School and a folklore ensemble.

Nina Kiyaykina, a Russian aleut-born from Bering Island, directed the Museum from 1992 to 1998.

She is also a skilled basket-weaver and teacher of aleut traditions.

Nikolskoye has a subarctic climate; not so cold as it might be due to the warm sea currents, nevertheless tress can't grow on its land, and winters can be freezing at -20º C.

The Aleutsk Regional Study Museum

The house was built in the last century by an American company, for the former fisheries' management in Commander Islands.

The Aleut Museum was created in the mid-1960s. Initially the exhibition was devoted the two expeditions of the Danish explorer Vitus Bering, and Aleut traditional culture.

It has broadened since then to materials on geological past of the island and the ancient colonization of Beringia, the History of the settlement of the islands since the time of the Russian-American campaign, and the "American period" when the last Aleuts arrived.

Aleut mask.

The 'Iqyax', or aleut kayak. They are said to be the best kayakers ever.

Picture representing Bering's shipwreck at a beach in the Island.

Museum site:

Sergey Pasenyuk, a local adventurer and artist.

There is also an eccentric resident artist who has a gallery overlooking the bay. A hunter, ethnographer, naturalist, artist, writer and, on top of all that, a yachtsman, Sergey Pasenyuk has crossed the Pacific Ocean single-handedly on several occasions.

Sergei Pasenyuk built an oceanfront small house, painted the walls, hung in nautical charts and his drawings.

He likes to philosophize with visitors over a beer or a vodka, to paint landscapes in summer, and in winter he listens to the rustle of the waves.

Inside his wooden barn house, he displays a variety of objects, either local or from his sailing travels, as well as his own drawings:

The Iron Girl sculpture is his most famous work.

An Angel with a lantern, barefoot 'Assol' tells the sailors 'farewell, happy return'.

"Assol" is a beloved character from a traditional russian tale about sailors and fishermen.

The watchful girl in red dress illuminates with her lantern the Gavanskaya's estuary emptying into the ocean. 

Some flora and fauna of Bering Island

Wetlands by the Gavanskaya river, near Nikolskoye.

Willow Ptarmigan (Lagopus lagopus). The island is rich in nestling bird species.

The famous blue fox - in fact bluish gray.

The fox is now a protected species, no more under extinction threaten.

Berries are most welcome, an important source to eat fresh or in bottled jams or compotes.

Danish navigator Vitus Bering sailed northward through 'Bering' strait in 1728 and determined that Asia and North America were two separate continents.

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