Circumnavigating the world through Human Power while connecting different societies, civilizations and landscapes.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Reflecting on Spiritualism, Shamanism, Love and Dreams

Yakutsk, Russian Federation
"Innermost secret forces"  Spiritual yakut newspaper
Reporter:  Marina Platonova 

Interview conducted on June 1st 2012
Articles published on November  14th 2012

Meeting Marina Platonova (center) and her friend on the trail in Yakutia/ Republic of Sakha
On June 1st 2012, I was asked by Marina Platonova, reporter for the  spiritual Yakut/Sakha newspaper called "Innermost Secret Forces", a set of  reflective and unusual questions on love, dreams, spiritualism and shamanism.

It allowed me then to think about and start sharing some of the experiences I have had so far over these Nexus expedition years.

Now, almost a year later,  and as I am about to depart again out of Ulaan Baatar, Mongolia, thousands of kilometers further, on the next section of my expedition, and while posting our latest video teaser,  I have finally decided to share this article printed in russian with my original answers in english printed below.


Internet link to November 2012 

Для чего решили совершить кругосветное путешествие?
Why did you decide to travel around the world?

In 2006, when Karl Bushby and I planned on crossing the Bering Strait by foot,  and therefore being the first men to complete this crossing Westbound in modern times, we thought that it will take us at least 3 years to succeed.
When we succeeded on our first attempt, and landed in Russia, in the country of some of my russian ancestry, I felt incredibly blessed and decided to formulate in my head this circumnavigation plan.

Indeed, I had been already for many years interested with the idea of cycling through specific parts of the world such as Central Asia, rowing across the Atlantic and kayaking from Seattle to Anchorage.

With this idea of circumnavigating the globe by human power, I would then achieve these dreams and conveniently “connect the dots” along the way.

Чем народ Саха отличается от других? 
How different  are the people of Sakha  from the others?

After having travelled by foot through Alaska and  Far Eastern Russia where I was exposed to Athabascan, Inupiyak, Yupik, Chukchi, Koryak and Eveny  cultures, I was surprised to discover how even more vibrant was the Sakha culture, language and community, even though it had been severely repressed during the soviet regime.

Indeed, Gulnara and I quite enjoyed stopping along our way on the Kolyma Highway (M56) to visit and experience so many Sakha local museums, monuments, prayer flags, totems and wooden statues. A strong testimony to your rich heritage.

We quite enjoyed as well learning how strongly alive is the Sakha language today, spoken by so many Sakha.
Coming over from Anchorage, Alaska, the Sakha have also been the first large northern farming community  that I have encountered since I started 7200 kms ago, and their very much cherishing their herds of precious horses and cows.

Walking down the streets in the center of Yakutsk, I also enjoy seeing  this large and modern growing Russian city with a such large percentage of native Sakha .

Что такое «тонкий мир» (волшебство,мистика)?
 What is a " ethereal world" (mystic, esoteric)?

To me, it is how connected one can be to Mother Nature.
For example, I noticed when I had the pleasure to spend time in a Chukchi and a Yakut reindeer  brigade how connected they were to their dogs, reindeer and land. Sensing every aspect of their lives. 

The soviets tried to eradicate shamanism out of this land. As a result, you now have very few shamans in the Russian Far East but this region never completely lost its mystic expressed through its inhabitants and their deep connection with Mother Nature. 

Finally, I strongly believe in the need for coexisting among human beings of different beliefs/faiths.
In the end, I believe we all aspire to the same.

I am always intrigued to see people in all parts of the world, taking time away from their life, to pray in a communal way, whether it is in temple, church, synagogue, mosque, the middle of the tundra or the desert. 
And that I respect and admire!

One strong example of such an experience happened last year when I was invited to spend a few nights of religious services with a small community of Eveny Baptists in Evensk, Magadanskaya Oblast

Even though I could not comprehend the singing and the shouting, I definitely felt an intense energy while observing and experiencing speaking tongues ceremonies in this communal environment.

В чем сила наперстка,подаренного корякской женщиной?
What is the power ( strength) of the thimble made out of reindeer antler,  given to you by a Koryak woman?

Along my way, I have indeed felt protected by this talisman.

In the past, I have also received other talismans from Grichka, a local gifted chukchi sculptor in Lavrentiya, Chukotka in the form of beautifully carved walrus teeth.
I also noticed that these beautiful pieces often radiate a lot of heat, against my skin! 
Finally, I have very much enjoyed giving some of them to close family members/friends  to protect them as well and being able to share a bit of my experience with them. 

Что чувствовал или видел при церемонии индейского шамана?
What did you see or feel  during the ceremony with a Native American shaman?

In February 2006, I had the pleasure to spend time with Joe Garnie,  a well-respected Inupiyak musher in Teller, Alaska.

Joe Garnie invited me to spend a few hours in his small sweat lodge, adjacent to his home and buried under the snow.

We spent together a few hours talking about a wide variety of topics, mostly quite political where I learned a little what it meant to be an American Inupiyak in the 20th century and 21st century.

The pros/cons of sending children from the village to far away boarding schools in order to receive better education.

He explained to me as well that his sweat-lodge ceremonies were no longer forbidden but still not well regarded by the local authorities which are influenced by the local protestant and catholic churches.

Joe performed a ceremony to welcome me in his sweat lodge and therefore in his life.

After having spent together  a few hours in this very hot and small sweat lodge, buried in the snow, we retrieved to his home where he offered me an ultimate smorgasbord of local favorites: frozen muktut (whale fat), frozen seal meat, dried seal meat, frozen trout, smoked salmon,  and finally smoked salted white fish  with seal oil for seasoning.
A great and interesting evening that I will hopefully never forget!

Что сделал бы в тайге при встрече с медведем?
What would you do if  in the taiga you will meet a bear?

While trekking/skiing/cycling over the last few years, I have seen polar bears and numerous brown bears.
In Russia, I am not allowed to carry any firearms since I am not a russian citizen and therefore can only protect myself with bear pepper spray and flares in the event of a bear attack.

I believe that the Sakha word for bear is “e-err”, which is the same as for “grandfather”.

I have the same philosophy, and therefore treat bears with the respect they deserve, although taking all the precautions that I can take and above all keeping my distances.

Как поступите,если приснится сон или кто-то предскажет,что лучше вернуться?
What will you do if  in a dream, or if someone will predict that it is better  to come back/stop?

This happened in the past.
For example, in November 2008, I returned in Vayegi, Chukotka  to continue my trek.

After about a week, barely making any progress while pulling my sled on a not-yet completely frozen river and having to deal with a very short amount of daylight, I decided to stop my expedition in order to return in mid March 2010 at a much more appropriate and safer time.
This was then definitely the right thing to do: to conceed temporarily to Mother Nature so that I could come back at a better time and move forward more efficiently. 

Как понимаете любовь?
How do  you understand love?

Love  your fellow human beings, your environment, other species and yourself.
Love to share moments of your life intimately with a closer partner, family members and close friends whom you cherish very much.

Мистическое в пути.
Mystical experiences encountered on your way.

Besides the communal religious experiences I have described in one of my  previous answers, I have had also several instances over the years where I have  felt mystical experiences while  facing pressing adversities.

Indeed, it happened that in some instances, when pushed to my physical limits, while pulling my sled through a storm or else, I faced somewhat of "a mental breakdown".  
Often then, exhausted, I would set up camp for the night (if possible or in one occasion rolled myself in my tent) and took the time needed to sit down and collect my thoughts.
The next morning after a good "cooling down" period / night, I was then better able to finally foresee the potential solutions to my problem which I could have never processed the night before, while under stress.
As the French proverb says: “Aide toi et le ciel t’aidera!”
(“Help yourself first and God will come to assist you!”)

Talking about feeling mystical, on several occasions, I have also found, laying on the side of my trail, in the middle of empty landscapes, "God sent" replacement items that I was dearly missing/needing such as a left glove, after having torn mine apart in -30C weather!

Пожелания читателям.
Wishes for the readers.

Use your time on earth very carefully, life goes by extremely fast!
Be kind to others and the environment.
Learn, read and experience the outdoors!

Finally I want to share with you the following.

I was asked last year in Spring 2011, before arriving in the Sakha Republic, the following question:
“What did you learn from the locals that you would apply when you go back or even at home?”

Here is a part of my long reply that I wanted to share with you.

From Native and White Russians:

I was once told that in Chukotka, I needed three things to succeed in the region:
терпение, терпение and терпение!
Patience, Patience and Patience!

I believe that this does not just applies to Chukotka but very much to the whole Far Eastern Russian region where you really need to learn to be able to wait patiently.
Whether it is to wait for a “purga”/storm to pass, to get motorized transport in/out of a village, acting as a "starting point"  or "ending point" to your expedition, or even to simply get an answer to a question.

Over the years, I have also learned to respect the elements, able to wait for better weather to depart.

In the case of an emergency, the chances of a rescue are in the Russian Far East very limited and therefore I have learned to become somewhat “risk–adverse”, especially while traveling alone. 
For example, when threatening “purga” clouds approached, I learned to stop promptly and safely set up camp for the night while I still could.

Of course, I have had several occasions where I had to push through nights and storms to make it to the next village but those were occasions where I felt I was obliged to do so.

 After having lost over the last few years a tent to a stove fire and two tents simultaneously to a storm/ "purga" with my trekking partner at the time (!), I learned to be very careful and methodical with my gear while either trekking or setting up my camp.

I have also learned to be more grateful for the somewhat easier comfortable life most of us can attain in the western world.
It now often amuses me to hear Europeans and/or Americans whining about a few hours plane delays when I have seen Russian villagers waiting up to a month to catch a flight back home!
Or when I was told that a 280 km truck transport could take anywhere from 2 to 30 days!

I have continue to learn from the locals whether they were Athabaskan American Indians, Inupiyaks, Inuits, Chukchis, Koryaks, Evens, white Americans, Ukrainians, and Russians, about their way of life, cooking, beliefs, hopes, fears and regrets …

I have  learned to listen very carefully to the locals for any indication on what better route/march to follow, taking into consideration the relief, vegetation and climate I was about to experience.

Russian, Koryaks and Chukchis also taught me the art of welcoming impromptu guests at all times of the day or night! Often able to share at a moment notice, a cup of tea, biscuits, cheese, bread and kielbasa to new guests and even sharing their 2 days old delicious borscht for their closer friends.

I have also learned to communicate in a new and refreshing way with my hands when needed, or in my elementary Russian which I am constantly trying to improve…

Often, when I come across people who have heard quite a lot about me through common friends and/or local media; I notice that they often do not divulge this at first, but rather prefer wait and see me, struggling in my elementary Russian language, explain what Nexus Expedition is all about.
It almost felt then as if I was passing a "test", where they wanted to see how I was going to describe myself and my expedition to them.

Needless to say that Far Eastern Russians very much respect self-made MODEST men/women and quite dislike anything that could resemble bragging.

So, contacts are often quite lukewarm at first and rapidly become much deeper, kinder and more meaningful once I have passed this initial  "test".

Older far eastern locals also, quite well used to an isolationist Soviet regime, often quite dislike being photographed and even more video filmed, let alone by an unknown foreigner!

Along the same line, as I am progressively improving in my broken Russian, I am able to converse about more and more contentious topics such as international and national politics where I have recently learned that I need to tread very carefully, as anywhere else in the world, making sure that I do not brush wrongly the ego of patriot Russian friends.

I have learned that sometimes, it takes an incredible amount of time to scratch the surface, gain people’s trust and being able to better understand a multicultural small town, such as Evensk in Magadanskaya Oblast where coexist  mainland Russians, Koryaks and Evenis.

There are definitely (and somewhat thankfully) no travel guide book for most of the Russian Far Eastern region.
As a result, I have simply learned to entrust the people that surrounded me, being willing to experience almost everything once, letting them guide me from one door to the next, whether it meant eating some raw reindeer bone marrow or including me in a religious sect speaking tongues ceremony.

I have also learned to better respect the people I came across and learned to better listen to their stories, whether it was the hard time they spent in Russian jails or their contraband of Russian икра (ikra- salmon roe) and cамогон (Russian homemade potent alcohol). 

Similar to a chameleon, if I wanted to learn more, I needed to be accepted by all, or at least by as many as I could…
Once in Anadyr, a Russian friend told me in reference to another standoffish foreigner: “If Russians don’t like you, they won’t help you, no matter what you are willing to pay them!” and this is definitely true!

In Western Russia, money might be more a driving factor but in the Far Eastern region, it is a different ball game, where respect and friendship matter much greater!

On a sadder note, I have continued to learn the ravages that alcoholism has done in this northern part of the world (Alaska and Far Eastern Russia) among natives as well as among Russian and American expats. It amazes me to see how many people have either lost their lives, hands or fingers due to alcoholism or alcohol related accidents….
I have met once a man who even severed his own left hand with a butcher knife during a violent act of drunken debauchery (yes, that is sadly true!) while others have had to be amputated as a result of having passed out drunk, gloveless while laying in a –40°C blizzard.

From the natives:

While I was fortunate enough to be able to spend twice three days in company of  a Chukchi and a Koryak reindeer "brigade"/team of  herders, I have very much learned to appreciate their simpler and modest way of life.
I have learned to better appreciate the traditional arduous way of life some of them are fighting to save. 

I have also learned  how hard it is to date and/or look for a spouse when you are a  Koryak living in a remote village, where everyone around you  is or might be a distant relative!
This  might partially explain why one sees so many “metisses” in the region, potentially a conscious or subconscious way to regenerate the gene pool with either some White Mainland Russian, Even, Ukrainian, Tatar or even Turkish blood!

From the white Russians:

I have learned more about what defines the Russian дуща (soul) as well as what it meant to be a “Russian expat” / mainlander living far away from his Материк (matirik/mainland).
I also learned what is meant to be nostalgic of the Soviet pass.
Potentially nostalgic indeed  because for some of the western russian settlers in the Far Eastern Russian region, it meant "better financial times" when one could have been better off.
Although, sometimes, I wondered if this nostalgia was not also a reflection of them simply missing their younger years.

I have also clearly learned how frustrated are  some of the 2nd generation white Russians settlers who envy and miss the life their parents had under an heavily subsidized soviet regime.

Often unable to now find good work in the region, they cannot even afford to buy a plane ticket to move themselves and some of their more precious belongings to the Материк (mainland).
Indeed,  the sale of their isolated and obsolete Far Eastern apartments could only often fetch $3,000 max, making it quasi impossible to start a "new life"in another part of Russia.

White Russians settlers also taught me the weekly ritual of ваия (banya)!
Learned how: "В ване ьсе равню!" "In the Banya, we are all equal!"

I have also continued to learn the notion of not giving up…
In 2010, after having trekked just a few days out of Vayegi, Chukotka,having  the back of my ankles burning with large bleeding blisters,  facing a strong 48 hours purga/storm  and dealing with a difficult mostly unknown trekking partner, I became then quite alarmed with the amount of mileage I still needed to cover that season…
To be able to move forward, I reminded myself then the need  to set small and intermediate goals that I could more reasonably conceive and achieve, instead of getting alarmed by thinking of the Nexus expedition route that still needed to be accomplished.

I have learned as well to always keep my tent completely secure and locked on to my anchoring sled, until it was completely dismantled, therefore avoiding any potential chances to have it blown away…

I have learned NOT to feed dogs along the way, no matter how enticing this might sound…
Indeed, they could quickly start to follow you for hundreds of kilometers which would make then their forced repatriation to their home village, somewhat of a complicated matter.

I have learned to never refuse a cup of tea, pr a  meal offered along the way, which often could become the invitation to the start of an enriching friendship.
On the same note, I have also learned to never turn down an invitation to a local municipal or private homemade banya!

I have also learned to never refuse gifted food items (whether it was юкола- Koryak dried salmon skin, Пирожки, caribou meat, dried delicious корющка fishes, or dried berries) or intriguing gifts such as  a long view, binoculars, a hat made of seal fur, shoe polish or even a tie!
They all had/have a purpose in the end…

I have learned to believe in Russian "Судьба" / Fate, Destiny! to justify if something was meant to be or not, and whether meeting someone on the trail was also meant to be or not….

I have also learned the importance of gaining contacts in the Russian Far East.
When a friend/new acquaintance was telling  me to contact person X or person Y, upon landing in the next village, I definitely followed suit!
It often meant a welcoming home, a warm bed and even potentially a great meal!

I have learned as well from my Far Eastern Russian friends, used to their remoteness,  how to makeshift with what you got…
For example, while in Slautnoye, Kamchatka Koryak Okrug,  I had to modify a replacement 2 seasons low-budget tent  to be able to face efficiently incoming snowy days on the trail, while sewing synthetic patches on top of its mosquito screens…

I have learned to better appreciate a more philosophical approach to life:
“We will get there when we get there!” and deeply learned to appreciate the journey along the way.
And I also learned to better respect and listen to a wide spectrum of persons and personalities.

After having spent a week on trail with three roaming dogs, I feel that I have also changed quite a bit in relationship to dogs.
Indeed, I strangely feel now much closer to them, much more attentive and forever wondering what are their deep canine philosophical thoughts.

And since you ask, I still wonder if a Russian husky communicate better with a Russian poodle or a Canadian husky? In other words, do dogs communicate according to their geographic location or their creed?
But, that’s a whole different question, way beyond the scope of Nexus Expedition…

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for sharing this with us. I have learnt so much, namely the further you travel from a city the friendlier the people you meet become. Good luck on your journey. Mark