Liber Research Community, a local NGO focusing on land and development research, said it found plots of at least 5, sq ft that were accessible by roads, relatively flat and not included in development plans.
Our destination is vastly closer to where we start than the path we have to take. Under the auspices of the documentary being made about Long Now co-founder Stewart Brand by Structure Films, we are heading to Pleistocene Park in Siberiawhere we will be filming Stewart and a team of scientists while they visit one of the first places on Earth that is being readied for the de-extinction and re-introduction of the woolly mammoth.
After driving to the San Francisco airport with Stewart, we met up with Long Now board member Kevin Kelly, check in baggage, and rendezvous with Jason Sussberg from the film team in the terminal. We immediately see our first flight is delayed an hour. That should be okay, given we had a planned three hours in New York to get to our next flight and have a longer layover in Moscow before departing for Yakutsk.
We quickly learned, however, that the delay might stretch to five hours due to a storm in the North East. Other members of our expedition already had their flights cancelled, and had to take a train and a car through the storm to JFK from Boston.
We could feel the trip unraveling even before it began. But moments later they updated us that the storm was moving out, and our flight would be boarding shortly.
Hopefully this would be the only snafu in our long chain of travel. We made it to New York and began checking in for our next flight, where we got our first taste of Russian bureaucracy at the Aeroflot ticket counter. Even though we had sent our passports to the embassy a month before, and had all the visas affixed, it took at least 30 minutes of mysterious typing to check us in and give us horrible middle seats.
Twelve hours later, bleary-eyed and stumbling through the Moscow airport, we were finally able to meet up with the rest of the group. David Alvarado, the other half of Structure Films, Gerry Ohrstrom, the executive producer, and Brendan Hall, who would be operating the drones and still cameras, would round out the film team.
On the science side was the eminent geneticist George Church from Harvard, who is doing the primary work on de-extincting the mammoth, as well as one of his post doctoral researchers Eriona Hysolli, who would be collecting mammoth tissue on this trip.
Raja Dhir, a young biotech entrepreneur protege of Church focused on bacteria, and Anya Bernstein, a Moscow born Harvard professor of anthropology specializing in Russian futurism. After a few hours of chatting and recharging devices we were back on an Aeroflot plane bound for Yakutsk, the capital of the Sakha Republic.
Kevin Kelly pointed out the marked change in the people on this flight. While the people on our last flight had the fair complexions and chiseled features I normally associated with Russians, the people on this flight looked to have heritage from both Mongolian and Eskimo cultures.
The vastness of Russia rolled by for hours under the plane. We traversed 6 time zones and had only crossed about two thirds of Russia. Our destination, the Sakha Republic or Yakutia, is an autonomous cultural region of Russia that is nearly the size of India and boasts the lowest temperatures ever recorded in the Northern hemisphere.
After landing I was stunned to see that the bags we checked in San Francisco with another airline actually rolled out of the conveyor… all except for one. Apparently the case with all the sound equipment had become separated from us at some point, and Aeroflot did not know where it was. This was a major setback for the filming team, as it was going to be very difficult for the equipment to catch up with us on the remainder of the trip — if it was ever found.
Nonetheless, we headed out to our hotel, the Azimut Polar Star, which was complete with a stuffed Mammoth in the lobby, and had a delicious dinner of Georgian cuisine.
I woke up in dazed disbelief that we had to go to the airport yet again in the morning to board a plane for another 4 hour flight. On the Russian-made twin propeller plane we found they had removed many of the seats and replaced them with cargo bound for Cherskiy, our destination on the northern coast.
Our group certainly stood out on this flight. As we flew north crossing the Arctic Circle and east across two more time zones, there was no sign of habitation. Almost everyone in Yakutia lives in a few major cities, leaving the 1.
As we approached Cherskiy we could see the mighty Kolyma River beneath us, infamous as the region of the Russian Gulag labor camps in the ss, and the watercourse we would be spending the next 10 days on.
We produced our documents. They checked our names against a list and gave our passports back. After walking by scores of derelict planes, we met Nikita Zimov in the parking lot.
With him was Luke Griswold-Tergis, a filmmaker who has spent the last 6 seasons with the Zimovs making a documentary about them and the Pleistocene Park. Generously, Luke was going to be able to loan the film crew some sound equipment while they hoped for their equipment to come in on the next flight — at best two days out.
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