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15 Mar, 2010 03:22

The globe: taking the road less traveled

Exploring new frontiers in a world that offers a myriad of glorious tourist destinations may seem like a nuisance, but Vladimir and Allan are professional travelers who make discovering uncharted territories their goal.

“Nowadays, humans are thinking about traveling to other planets, which is great but we feel like we still haven’t fully explored the place where we live,” explains Vladimir Koklychev, a member of the Russian Geographic Society.

For the past five years this US-Russian team, of which Vladimir Koklychev and Allan Engstrom are members, has been trying to find the remains of a group of Russian sailors who were among the first Europeans to see the Alaskan coast. Fifteen of those sailors paid for the discovery with their lives.

Engstorm says it is the challenge itself that drives him to repeat the feat that saw such a great number of people perish.

It’s a combination of the curiosity of tackling what has been described as an impossible riddle to solve in the history of Alaska – what happened to these men. And it has remained unsolved for 260 years,” explained Engstrom.

The spirit of people like Vladimir or Allen dates back to a bygone age when national geographic societies helped to define national borders. But even in an era when you can circle the globe in less than 24 hours, the Russian Geographic Society still has an important role to play.

You can open the Google Earth page and see almost any corner of the world, but the world still has plenty of unexplored corners,” says Ekaterina Popova, Press Secretary of Russia’s Geographic Society. “And no satellite, no technology can ever replace human curiosity and the spirit of adventure.”

Founded in 1845, the Russian Geographic Society always enjoyed the patronage of the country’s elite. In fact, it is currently chaired by the country’s Prime Minister, Vladimir Putin himself, who has proven to be a true travel aficionado. In the eight years that he served as President, Putin visited 74 countries – more than any other Russian leader before him.

But despite his impressive travel resume, Putin is always quick to display his preference for the motherland. When asked during a televised Q&A session what he liked most of all, Putin’s reply was terse: ‘Russia.’

He also found time to visit the Board of Trustees of the Russian Geographic Society, making some important statements.

Talking about Russia’s policy in the Arctic, Putin criticized the “absolutely unfounded reaction” triggered.

“We have been working within the limits of the rules formulated by the United Nations and on the basis of maritime law,” he stressed.

Another burning issue he touched on was the environmental problems of Lake Baikal, which he called to be solved “quietly and without excessive politicization.”

“It is necessary to create conditions for stable development of the region and the town of Baikalsk, where over 14,000 people reside.”

As for the Geographic Society itself, he called for representatives of Russia’s big business to support the Society.