12 June, 2017
To sail to Russia's Far East is to bid farewell to the modern world and say hello instead to active volcanoes, hungry grizzly bears and playful orcas. This part of the planet is so wild and remote that only the vicious Bering Strait lies between the end of the land and Alaska.
We embarked on a month-long voyage with L'Austral, a new high-tech expedition ship owned by Ponant, the luxury French cruise company. The unknown region of Chukotka was on our itinerary, along with the Kuril islands, Sakhalin and the Kamchatka peninsula. If Russia on a world map looks a bit like an animal on the run with its tongue sticking out, then Kamchatka is the tongue. This 1,250km stretch of land is caught between the Pacific and the Sea of Okhotsk.
There are few people here, and nature is at its most grand and impressive. The peninsula has one of the most dynamic landscapes in the world - home to glaciers and more than 300 volcanoes, of which 29 are active.
While our ship took care of our every need - we were offered plates of salmon caviar and cups of vodka - Kamchatka itself proved to be a rugged land of adventure. Our expeditions involved scrambling across craggy rocks to visit indigenous settlements, keeping a watchful eye out for whales, walruses and bears along the way.