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Get to know your neighbors

Posted by Tom Haines, Globe Travel Writer  September 26, 2008 10:14 AM

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BeringLaunch.jpg
Sarah Palin explained again last night how close Russia is to Alaska.
If you're still curious about just what goes on up there, and how different two pieces of land separated by the 50-mile-wide Bering Straight can be, read here for a story that traversed the strait as part of a series documenting geographic and cultural divides.

Two islands near the middle of the strait - Big Diomede (Russia) and Little Diomede (US) - are only a few miles apart.

Still, most of the time there's just no getting from one country to the other.

alexeibering.jpg

Palin invoked the intrigue of Russian spy flights and U.S. reaction to them: "...as Putin rears his head and comes into the airspace of the United States of America, where - where do they go? It's Alaska."

Civilians face more limited options.
A bit on that, from the story:

Inside the tired terminal of the Provideniya airport, a Russian customs officer, who the evening before had walked into a public sauna wearing only pink sandals and whipped himself with birch branches, stoically searched baggage.
Russian and American patrols continue to monitor closely the strait's boundary. The only legal crossing for most has remained an occasional charter flight from Provideniya, a two-day snowmobile ride south from Lorino, to Nome, Alaska.
RussianSide.jpg An American twin-prop airplane lifted quickly to 8,000 feet and soon crossed the International Date Line, also the Russian-US border. Beneath a scatter of clouds, the strait was covered by a jigsaw puzzle of ice, dark cracks separating sweeps of snow.
In the summer of 1648, the Russian explorer Semyon Ivanovich Dezhnev made the first recorded passage by an outsider through the strait, which later became a route for Yankee whaling ships. Sea traffic was forced to one side or the other as the Cold War tightened a border drawn between two islands, Big Diomede on the Russian side, Little Diomede on the American.
Since 1991, indigenous groups on both sides have begun cultural exchanges, with some again making rare crossings in skin boats.
The strait also has become a destination for oddball adventurers from afar. One man tried unsuccessfully to pedal across the ice on a bicycle. A woman who attempted a summer crossing in a bathtub lashed to 2 x 4s with inner tubes at either end fared no better. Both had begun their trips at the edge of Alaska, on the western tip of the Seward Peninsula, on a point of land beneath a high ridge and the sweep of the Bering Strait, home to the 152 residents in the village of Wales.

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Photos: Essdras M Suarez/Boston Globe

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