Travel to learn, stay well

Sunday News - - WELLBEING - DR TOM MUL­HOL­LAND

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.

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