MIR’s 30 Years: Why I’m Sold on Siberia (VIDEO)

MIR’s 30 Years: Why I’m Sold on Siberia (VIDEO)

(Douglas Grimes is co-founder and president of MIR Corporation.)

I’m sold on Siberia. For nearly 30 years I’ve witnessed a world of wonder in this land best known for crime, punishment and exile. That past is tightly woven into the legends and legendary land that is Siberia.

Siberia, In From the ColdI am fortunate to have had my first taste of this place years ago when we arranged for a Hawaiian hula-dancing troupe and their band to perform at a Siberian folk festival in 1988. People came from all over Siberia to Novosibirsk to compete in this festival; our Hawaiian troupe was a highlight. Another early journey to Siberia was just a few days after the Soviet coup in 1991; I was flying to the Kamchatka Peninsula in Siberia’s Far East – a wild, remote region of volcanoes, geysers, and reindeer. My mission was to explore the possibilities for a fishing company that wanted to fish Siberia’s salmon rivers; I will never forget how pristine and untouched it all seemed. The area had just opened up to foreigners and I was one of the first there. With a bare-bones tourism infrastructure in place I needed to figure out everything myself, from arranging the anglers’ accommodations to locating appropriate life jackets for them – not easy in Siberia. By the way, that inaugural fishing trip was a success – and we caught a lot of salmon.

Here are some of the reasons I love Siberia, in all its remote and pristine wonder: 

(click on photo for larger version)

Summertime draws hundreds of reindeer to mountain pastures on Kamchatka Peninsula Photo credit: Martin Klimenta

Summertime draws hundreds of reindeer to mountain pastures on Kamchatka Peninsula
Photo credit: Martin Klimenta

Since those early days in the 1980s, towns and cities in Siberia have changed. The ever-expanding reach of connectivity has enveloped much of Siberia, yet one can still feel “off the grid” in this vast wilderness where so few people live. Rocky roads have improved from large potholes to smaller potholes – progress by Soviet standards. From a traveler’s point of view, there’s greater comfort as more hotels shift from Soviet-era basic Intourist style to ones offering more modern luxury and amenities, what we’re used to in the West. Yet, this region remains off the radar for most travelers. They don’t know what they’re missing.

Cool Comforts of SiberiaAt MIR for years we’ve handled the complex logistics of handcrafted, private journeys throughout Siberia for die-hard overland motorcyclists, for motorists closely following the path of the Great 1908 Auto Race, and even for sun chasers – 350 in all – witnessing a total eclipse of the sun in Novosibirsk, Siberia. Each journey is one of a kind. Handling tough and demanding logistics is our specialty at MIR – not just for Siberia but for all of our 35 countries at the crossroads of Europe and Asia. Specifically, the possibilities for Siberian customized travel are limited only by one’s imagination into this “last frontier,” a place more travelers are warming up to as a doable destination.

Lovin’ SiberiaWhat’s to love about Siberia? It starts with dipping my toes in Lake Baikal, catching sight of the lake’s unique freshwater seals, “nerpas, and hiking part of the Great Baikal Trail. It’s being invited to watch a solemn shaman religious ceremony, go dogsledding through fresh-fallen snow, or visiting Siberian towns that are the stuff of legends and thick Russian novels like cultured and quaint Irkutsk, or once off-limits cities like Novosibirsk or Vladivostok.

A solitary moment in Siberia, on Lake Baikal <br>Photo credit: Martin Klimenta

A solitary moment in Siberia, on Lake Baikal
Photo credit: Martin Klimenta

(click on photo for larger version)

More than anything, what I love about Siberia are my unplanned encounters with locals: an invitation to tea, a conversation about the then-and-now of Soviet times compared to today, singing songs as a Siberian national park ranger strums his guitar, or sitting around a campfire with a “За здоровье!” Baikal vodka toast to health, or perhaps to peace or long life. Such hospitality, friendship and warmth have been with me in my travels to Siberia since my very first visit, back when I felt like an explorer discovering new lands and new peoples. I still feel that way today.

Travel, Clean & GreenSiberia is rich in oil and gas reserves, but difficult to profitably industrialize. That’s in part why so much of Siberia remains what its name reflects, depending on which language you trace its etymology: “beautiful,” “wild lands,” “water,” and “marshy birch woods.”

That makes Siberia ripe for clean, green economic development: travel and tourism. Being among the first foreigners to see Siberia’s Kamchatka Peninsula – “the soul of Siberia” – had a profound effect on me in 1991. Yes, I love western Russia and all that I’ve seen and explored there since MIR Corporation started in the mid-1980s.  Yet, there’s “the rest of Russia” – Siberia and the Far East – so raw, natural and untamed that still strongly resonates with me today. It’s not unlike our pioneer ancestors traveling westward in the United States, but in Siberia they made their way to the “Wild, Wild East.”

Siberia's Kamchatka Peninsula is situated on the "Ring of Fire," with 29 active volcanoes<br>Photo credit: Martin Klimenta

Siberia’s Kamchatka Peninsula is situated on the “Ring of Fire,” with 29 active volcanoes
Photo credit: Martin Klimenta

See Siberia with MIRWhen people ask me about Siberia, I recommend they travel there now while the air is still so fresh, its forests relatively untouched, and its rivers so wild. Siberia is easier than ever to explore, and more comfortable than you might expect. Each time I travel to Siberia there is something new to see or hear about or learn about; it keeps evolving.

MIR offers scheduled group tours in Siberia, ranging from in-depth cultural village encounters to traveling along the Trans-Siberian Railway on local as well as private trains that range from comfortable to luxurious. There’s bountiful onboard food, drink, and entertainment as well as immersive city tours along the way – all making it so much easier to see Siberia.

The Imperial Suite: the best of the best aboard the <i>Golden Eagle</i> luxury private train <br>Photo credit: Helen Holter

The Imperial Suite: the best of the best aboard the Golden Eagle luxury private train
Photo credit: Helen Holter

To help translate the secrets of Siberia to foreign visitors, many years ago I opened MIR-affiliated offices on each side of Lake Baikal, in Ulan Ude and Irkutsk, offering MIR travelers superb on-the-ground local support and expertise. Siberia is far more than a stereotyped harsh place of exile and punishment. It is a place to cherish, learn and explore before the rest of the world discovers its hidden travel treasures.

More on “MIR’s 30 Years”

Learn more about “MIR’s 30 Years” in the stories below, all embedded with videos. They include MIR’s beginnings and the mindset and mission of MIR’s president and co-founder, Douglas Grimes; MIR’s utterly unique travel offerings at the crossroads of Europe and Asia; and Siberia, one of MIR’s favorites specialties.

You can also view the video series of “MIR’s 30 Years” on MIR’s YouTube channel, MIRCorpTravel, specifically under the playlist, “MIR’s 30 Years.”

MIR’s Beginnings

MIR’s One-of-a-Kind Journeys

Siberia, A MIR Specialty

MIR, in a Nutshell

(Top photo: Siberia’s impressive river network includes the Selenga River, dominating the landscape near Ulan Ude. Photo credit: Helen Holter)

PUBLISHED: November 9, 2016

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