Expedition Avannaa is a 4,000 km journey in a small open boat to the world’s northernmost settlements in Avannaa (Thule Land). It observes and thoroughly records life that exists here today. Its main goal is to make sure that the voices of the northernmost inhabitants are heard.
In the days when our boat was sinking and when our hearts’ ligaments were stretched to their breaking point, we felt that we were just paying a fair price for the moments of living, for the moments of infinite beauty, - for the “stolen moments” that no one can take away from us.
That's why we called our photo exhibition exactly like that: "The Stolen Moments". "The Stolen Moments" are dedicated to the people of Avannaa. Each and every one of our “stolen moments’ we owe to them!
"The Stolen Moments" made its first appearance in Moscow - in the capital of Russia, 1/3 of whose territory lies above the Arctic Circle. No surprise, Expedition Avannaa was not a stranger here. The “Czar” of Russia’s Arctic, Arthur Chilingarov, opened “The Stolen Moments’ photo exhibit and welcomed Expedition Avannaa to Russia. He described Avannaa as “extremely dangerous” but “a worthwhile effort”.
… minutes before unveilling of “The Stolen Moments” photo exhibition in Moscow. Senator Arthur Chilingarov is watching the trailer of Expedition Avannaa on a big screen ahead of him.
He says: “You were damn lucky. I can even say that you were very damn lucky. I am just glad you survived.”
We are standing next to the images of the "red and boiling" sea at Neqip Akia where we were stuck for several days in a bad storm when our captain Ole Jorgen Hammeken was desperately trying to rescue our leaking boats. And of course, this brought up the memories of the early 80-s - of our life on the drifting polar stations SP (North Pole) - and that's exactly what Arthur and I were talking about during the opening of "The Stolen Moments".
As I said, “The Stolen Moments” are dedicated to the people of Avanersuaq, to the Polar Eskimo who live at the top of the world. Without them no “white explorer”, British, American or Russian, would ever be able to “conquer” the Pole. Without them the 7 billion people world will never be the same. Two most famous Russia's polar explorers - Arthur Chilingarov and Dmitry Shparo are paying their tribute to the people of Avannaa.
The interest for Expedition Avannaa in Moscow was immense, and the exhibit produced some"Stolen Moments"of its own. Here you can see Pavel Palazhchenko, the «Voice» of Mikhail Gorbachev, and Yura Abramochkin, the patriarch of Soviet photography who photographed Joseph Stalin, Nikita Khrushchev and everyone else,learning to pronounce the difficult word Q-a-a-suit-sup.
And this is how fashion sometimes starts. The word "Qaasuitsup" is written on my dress made out of a famous yellow garbage bag of Qaasuitsup Kommunia - the world's biggest municipality, the size of France.These bags are the most durable bags I have ever seen in my life. On a rocky sea, we used them for all kind of purposes - even as sleeping bags! They served us as raincoats, I made hats out of them, gloves, table cloths - and now, finally a dress! I know that it will last many seasons and will remind that Expedition Avannaa was a 'green" expedition: along the 4000 km road we did not leave any junk behind ...
So, as days pass, Qaasuitsup, Qaanaaq, Savissivik, and Siorapaluk are becoming the «trendy» words in the Russian capital." Ironically, along with some some standard news coverage, we get into "glamour" and "fashion" chronicles of the local media. The Moscow Times - the oldest and the most influential English speaking paper in Russia, runs a story about Expedition Avannaa and its "Stolen Moments" in its prestigious "Arts and Ideas" section. A Journey to the Ultimate North of Greenland | Arts & Ideas | The Moscow Times
But this is only the beginning. Than things start to happen Unexpectedly - the 'Greenlandic Way". Just two days later The Polar Eskimos "occupy" the Russian Senate as «The Stolen Moments» swiftly moves to the 19th floor of the upper chamber of Russia's Parliament. And from the Senate - to Mikhail Gorbachev Presidential Foundation and Library.
As we are looking at this Moon in Savissivik – the first one after four months of light, I ask Mikhail Gorbachev about Time. What is Time and what does it do to us? Is there any way to know upfront, which moments will stay and which will go? Which ones are mirages and which are «hard core realities»? I ask him all these intimate questions I wanted to ask him since the big storm in Neqip Akia where we were stranded for so many days on boiling sea. He tells me about honey that saved his life when he fell deadly sick as a 6 year old child, about tractors that turned him in a Man, and about miracles that happen to us along the road.These miracles happen to everyone, but most choose not to notice. We share our «stolen moments». His «Stolen Moments» - a new 682 pages memoir, – will be released in a week.
Weathered, dirty, torn and absolutely not glamorous, the flag of Expedition Avannaa - 4000 km later - is now in the good hands.
I ask Mikhail Gorbachev what he thinks of our journey. I also ask him: what makes people happy? Why do we have to travel so far to find happiness? Why do we always have to pay such a high price for it? So, he tells me about Love. I am breaking in tears in his arms. I listen. And I learn from him.
Mikhail Gorbachev is known as a man who had changed the world. But he also changed my own life by once inspiring me to leave the big city behind and to go back to my roots, to the land of my ancestors, to the Far North, in order to discover wisdom. And today he is saluting to the people of Avannaa, and along with them all northernmost nations living on top of the world - including my own one, in Komi Land, in Nenetsia, in Russian Tundra.
And finally, a few images - just few - from "The Stolen Moments' photo exhibition in Moscow.
If Expedition Avannaa had a face, this would be our face. Like in an open book, you will read here everything you may want to know about us - about Expedition Avannaa. There is very little we can add to that.
The Great Polar Bear Hunter
What to do on Sunday night in Aappilattoq? Go for a picnic! Sharing seal and mattaq on a lonely shore with the great polar bear hunter - this is what illuminates imagination and cements friendship for years to come.
Summer in Qaanaaq
Summer is eternal in Qaanaaq. We live through these stolen moments of infinite beauty that does not exist in our everyday world. We live through them, and then all of a sudden our normal, routine world retreats, diminishes and finally disappears entirely, and the new, infinite world takes its place. And we call it Life!
In Polar Bear Country
Polar bears are on watch in Neqip Akia, but so are we. Someone - when the rest are asleep - has to be on alert.
Red, Blue and Boiling
The Red Sea in Neqip Akia is boiling. For the third day we are swinging on the waves that are just too big for our small, open and heavily loaded boat. During the night time were dragged by the wind and currents back and forth across our hiding enclave in Nekip Akia Fjord. This is a "window" view from our small open boat. We are paying a "full price" for it and we know this a "fair price".
Judith My Love
Judith, the granddaughter of the Great Polar bear hunter Qaanngaaq Nielsen, lives in Savissivik - one of the most isolated settlements on Earth. She is only 7, but her 'stolen moments", her stories she shared with us, can turn a rock into a lemming.
Qaanaamiut - the people of Qaanaaq still live the old way - the communal way, which is about love and mutual assistance.
God is great, but Mattaq is too! Community still matters here. This great narwhale will feed everyone in Qaanaaq for the days to come.
Return of the Moon
Some things come as a surprise. Like this moon in Savissivik. But of course, you have to pay a full price for it. And we did.
Aappilattoq = The Red Spot
At 5 am, after another stormy night on the sea, we climbed up the slippery rocks of Aappilattoq Island, leaving our battered boat behind. There was no one in sight. Soaked, cold and miserable, we were desperate for a shelter. And the shelter there was! Just one call away: “Welcome to Aappilattoq”, said our friends. “Feel at home”.
Dreamers of Nuussuaq
Hungry and wet, after 10 hours on the rocky waves, we land in Nuussuaq. It's after midnight. Where to go and what do to? There is not a single person on the shore. And then out of nowhere appears a man. We don’t know him, but upon seeing our misery he invites us to his house. Now we have shelter, food and a hot tea which at this moment we need the most. This man happens to be Nikolai Kristensen. He is an artist who lives with his young grandson in a house that has so many treasures that one could spend days, weeks and even years observing them. And even then he would not see them all.
This is a story of a miracle being born out of nothing. Expedition Avannaa is like Nikolai Kristensen’s bead dresses. When you look at the artist's room, you see all these kittle bids spread chaotically around. They look like dust – nothing special. They are small, meaningless, and even boring. They are not beautiful. But then something happens, they somehow get together, one by one, and miraculously turn into a masterpiece that one can not understand, analyze, or neither plan. Nikolai Kristensen does not make plans, designs, or outlines. He makes his dresses out of these cheap little beads and out of pure love of his heart. The same with Expedition Avannaa. All these small moments of life that we witness along the way are probably not really exciting, or unusual. They are rather boring, routine and sometimes non-appealing. But then of course, something happens, and all of a sudden all these "stolen moments" – boring as dust – quickly get woven into a cosmic fabric of a new Life.
…as you live a life you notice that you need less and less stuff…. As a result, you get freer and happier, after all. But then you learn that there are things…some random…in whose absence you can’t breathe freely, or maybe even … can’t survive at all: even for a day, or for a minute. You get to know these things in Savissivik.
One has to climb high up on the rocks to see the cemetery, the children picking berries - the last ones in the season - the horizon, the narwhales, and the hunters in a kayak. From these rocks one can see Time: the past, the present and possibly even the future.
3970 is the postal code of Savissivik. Well, it's actually the postal code of Pituffik, of the American Base .... Savissivik has none of its own.
He is is The Priest. He does not judge, and he does not scold. He forgives, he adopts, and he accepts all of us - including the most hopeless ones.
Our People in Qaanaaq
Northern Greenland has a great past, but what about the future? While politicians debate, please meet Expedition Avannaa's most ardent supporters in Qaanaaq. They know the way!
Puikkarneq = A Mirage
Soaked to our bones, thirsty and sleepless, after so many weeks on sea, we are now ready to accept and adopt. But of course, we can’t give up on dreaming. And the time passes, our dreams get wilder and wilder. At times, the border between a dream and a reality simply dissappears.
Let's Fly to The Sun!
Let's fly to the Sun! These are the very first steps of Expedition Avannaa on the very slippery surface of the mighty "Sermersuaq" (the Greenlandic Icecap). 4000 km still to go! Many storms ahead, but the first steps are the most difficult ones.
And yes, of course, this image is about our wildest dreams and ultimate desires, but it also about reflectivity. As I am standing here on the ice sheet, my keds are full of water. You see that ice is not really white, it does not really shine, which means it reflects less light. Sermersuaq is darkening = melting.
Other Side of Qeqertat
This is Qeqertat which means “island” in Avanersuarmiutut. A tiny village 63 km east from Qaanaaq, in the inner part of Inglefield Fiord. Only 20 people live here permanently.
In Melville Bay
While the parents are enjoying the sun, the baby is on alert. “This is an extraordinary image, says our Captain Ole Jorgen Hammeken as Expedition Avannaa goes through Qimusseriarsuaq (“The Big Dogsled Stretch”, known in the West as “Melville Bay”). One has to spend very much time in the nature to reach the state of mind when you can get close to these normally very shy and easily intimidated beings. And you are not the same person after such an encounter. Even if it looks so given, it is not. It is extraordinary”.
Our small open boat may be too small and too open for the sea like that. But we chose to travel this way - the Greenlandic way - to be able to see the smallest things, the nearest things.
One Sunday in Savissivik
Savissivik is not a place; it's a state of mind. it's still a pure thing, and the purity is its major value.Today our morning starts with a baptism of Qaerngaak Nielsen's grandson. This is a happy day in life, but also a hope that the tradition that thrived here for Millennia will continue.
Road to Paradise
When we are on the move, we live like Greenlandic dogs: we sleep in the cold, and we eat only every other day. But should we complain? By no means. What may be seen as a hardship by some, derives straight from the spirit of our “purely Greenlandic” expedition and it reflects its free unobstructed mind. In other words, we have nothing to complain or feel sorry about.
Ilulissat - the "town of icebergs" - is a hot place now. Almost a tropical one - with so many rains and mosquitoes. So, what tomorrow?
Nowhere in Avannaa
These humangous structures – as high as some skyscrapers in Manhattan seem to be lifeless, but in reality they are homes to billions of tiny and not so tiny creatures, from iron bacteria to snow algae.
True Blue Frozen in Time
Expedition Avannaa travels during the night time, the quietest hours on sea, but each morning we face a turbulent white capped sea again. But now the sea is almost flat. in Inglefield Fjord.
Morning in Ilulissat
Expedition Avannaa starts its journey North in Ilulissat - a town of many great people, many great icebergs and many great boats!
Three men and one woman travel 4,000 km in a small open boat “the Greenlandic way” - the hard way. They eat when they are lucky and sleep in the deadly cold in "communal style”. They travel with no modern equipment or protection from the outside world. Their mission is to make sure that the voices of world's northernmost inhabitants are heard.