It was just before the time of glasnost and perestroika, and soon Gorbachev would open the windows and begin to air out the old Soviet Union.
A fatal move for Gorbachev; a fateful move for MIR founder Douglas Grimes. A young man with a passion for volleyball, Doug had dreamed of playing the Soviet team, which had long dominated his favorite sport.
Stepping Inside the Daily Lives of Russian Counterparts
His enthusiasm led to a behind-the-scenes meeting with members of the Soviet Olympic volleyball team at an exhibition match in Seattle. He was instrumental in imagining and organizing a goodwill volleyball tour of the U.S.S.R. While the American teams proved to be no match for the Soviets on the court, Doug excelled at making Russian friends and stepping into the daily lives of his hosts and their families.
During Soviet times, ordinary citizens took a calculated risk in speaking with Americans. But once they invited Doug into their homes, they threw caution to the wind. Their far-ranging all-night conversations in countless Russian kitchens surprised him in their intensity and in his open-hearted reaction to them. Doug fell hopelessly in love with Russia.
Doug’s personal journey inspired him and his small crew to begin, tentatively at first, to bring other special interest groups to the U.S.S.R. to meet their counterparts. As their experience grew, a decision was made to found a company that would enable them to continue sharing what they knew about Russia with others. They named the company “MIR,” which in Russian means both “peace” and “world,” and plunged into the world of travel.
Taking Travelers Far From the Familiar
A few years later, fresh out of university and armed with an obscure degree in Russian Studies, Annie Lucas, MIR’s future Vice President, joined up with Doug and his growing team. One of her first undertakings was a month-long foray into the Soviet Union, far from the familiar, that changed the course of her life. She was hooked, too.
Embracing Doug’s commitment to connecting people, the fledgling company supported NGOs and special interest organizations in their attempts to negotiate the red tape that snarled travel to the Soviet Union. Some early MIR efforts included:
- Helping Hawaiian hula dancers take part in a local Siberian dance festival.
- Bringing LAPD officers to meet with Soviet police on the Moscow beat.
- Facilitating “healing through humor” missions that gained access to Russian hospitals and orphanages for Patch Adams and his troupe of amateur clowns.
An early mission to build a small peace park in Tashkent for the Seattle-Tashkent Sister City Association inspired MIR to open the first accredited travel office of an American firm in Uzbekistan, still flourishing today.
Transitions and Transformations
Much has changed over the last quarter century. We’ve come a long way from the days when telegrams or telexes (remember them?) were the only means available to communicate with the U.S.S.R. – and they were subject to a reply time of almost two months. Today our network of key field affiliates is strategically positioned from Tbilisi to Tallinn to Tehran, and is responsive in real time. The grim, utilitarian Intourist hotels have, in many places, gone the way of the telex, and been replaced by gleaming modern properties staffed by friendly personnel who understand international hospitality.
Our deep connections to the stalwart people of the region carried us through the momentous transitions of the 20th century:
- The fall of the Berlin Wall and subsequent collapse of the Soviet Union plunged an entire region into turmoil.
- Yugoslavia splintered into its Balkan components.
- The Velvet Revolution saw the Czechs and the Slovaks parting company.
- In the 21st century, the “color revolutions” swept across Georgia (Rose), Ukraine (Orange) and Kyrgyzstan (Tulip).
We have followed each story closely, in continuous contact with our offices and partners on the ground; we do the same today, when parts of our region experience unrest or political upheaval – inevitable in an area that is so incredibly dynamic and fluid.
As these countries make their ways towards more just and peaceful systems, MIR is there to applaud their progress. Through it all, we remain convinced that there is a charmed circle of curious and pioneering travelers out there who share our abiding interest in experiencing this region before change completely overtakes it.
Our destinations are still vastly under-explored, yet they offer an abundance of enticements:
- Lake Baikal, the earth’s deepest and oldest freshwater lake, teeming with wildlife found nowhere else.
- The bazaars of Bukhara, piled with pomegranates and silvery grapes and stacked with handwoven carpets looking as if they had just arrived on the backs of Silk Road camels
- The sharp mountainsides of the Caucasus, where a small valley can be a whole world to its people.
We invite you to wander through MIR’s website to get a sense of what we have come to value so deeply in this region, and join us on the road to discovery. No one can show you Siberia, the Silk Route, St. Petersburg & beyond like MIR can.