Travel to learn, stay well
It is hard to describe the feeling of joining a ship on a journey to uncharted waters, but I will do my best. This trip takes me from Murmansk in the far west of Russia to Anadyr in the far east, just off the North Pole and through the heart of polar bear and walrus wilderness.
A trip like this takes planning; it’s not just a mystery escape booked on a whim. Just getting a Russian visa was adventure enough, let alone the journey through alien airports and surviving crazy taxi drivers playing high-speed Russian roulette on near-empty roads.
But the day has finally arrived, and it’s easy to spot fellow Arctic adventurers on the final leg from Moscow to Murmansk on Russia’s national carrier Aeroflot. The local passengers applaud loudly as the plane touches down on a sun-kissed landscape that belies its position as the largest city in the Arctic Circle.
As we wait for our bags, fellow travellers seek each other out on the hunt for a conversation rather than a string of basic Russian words. To speak in your native tongue, even after a few days of being immersed in another language, is relaxing and comforting.
Despite their jet lag, the characters and characteristics of my fellow travellers shine through like the midnight sun.
It’s a rare breed who books this type of trip on a Russian icebreaker for a month. Almost like a rite of passage, the adventurers quickly establish their pedigree and place in the pecking order by reciting past voyages, conquests and challenges. Over breakfast – in a surprisingly swanky hotel set against a backdrop of Soviet-style buildings – we meet passengers who have just arrived after spending a successful month travelling the passage we’re about to embark on.
There is a camaraderie of collusion that exists among seasoned polar explorers who seek the same buzz of remote landscapes, wildlife, weather and isolation. Just like the birds that many come to see, there seems to be a pecking order as people subconsciously strut their plumage by recounting previous trips or relating their expertise in varying fields from photography, painting and whales, to geology, history and navigation.
As the ship’s doctor and a member of crew, I amin a privileged position as I view these people not only as experts but as potential patients. Personality and potential risk crosses my mind as I assess each person and listen to outstanding stories over foreign breakfasts.
The excitement is palpable even in those who have journeyed non-stop from the other side of the world to satisfy this extraordinary and addictive cruising life. People will make lifelong friends and not only experience wonders like seeing 63 healthy wild polar bears in one day, but they’ll learn from each other.
Learning is one of the five major keys to wellbeing, along with connecting with others: participating in the Arctic hikes will deposit much into my fellow 123RF travellers’ wellbeing bank accounts.
As ship’s doctor, health and wellbeing is a priority when it comes to ensuring the guests can enjoy these incredible excursions ashore and return to the ship for more. There is no better way to travel than to freshen up in your cabin, enjoy some camaraderie with the crew and fellow travellers, then set sail for another epic wellbeing escape on our beautiful planet. ● Dr Tom Mulholland is an Emergency Department doctor and GP with more than 25 years’ experience in New Zealand. He’s currently on a mission, tackling health missions around the world.
Travel is a fantastic way to learn. And if you’re lucky enough to see a polar bear while you’re at it...hey, even better.