After reading this page, please see Trip Types for costs and itineraries of trips to different Nenets areas
Ian Gillespie, a 54-year old anaesthetist from London, was Yamal Peninsula Travel’s first guest. Here’s what he had to say:
“This was the trip of a lifetime! As a result of his travels and research Ed has unrivalled access to a number of nomadic reindeer herder families on the Yamal Peninsula. As a result I was able to travel to and live with one of the most traditional tribal societies on the planet. Ed has built up such a level of trust and friendship with these private, dignified people that I was accepted almost as a family friend (Ed is a family triend!) and thus gained a real insight into their culture, daily lives and spiritual beliefs. We got to experience the herders working with 10,000 reindeer and were even granted access to a Nenets sacred site, rarely seen by outsiders.
Ed’s organisational skills meant that the long journey by train, all-terrain vehicle and sledge to reach the herders’ camp went without a hitch – quite an achievement in Russia, especially Arctic Siberia! He is fluent in Russian, without which the would-be traveller could not even hope to obtain the necessary permits to visit the region.
All things considered this trip was an incredible experience and has left me longing to return. Thanks!”
Yamal Peninsula Travel’s next guest was photographer Cristian Barnett ( http://www.crisbarnett.com ). Here’s what he had to say about his trip to Yamal:
In April 2012 I travelled with Ed to spent time with his nomadic Nenets friends on the Yamal Peninsula. I had been researching the possibility of travelling to this area to meet the Nenets but until I found Ed the prospect seemed pretty daunting. It was an extraordinary experience to meet and stay with the Nenets on their encampment and to sleep in a chum ( a kind of Yurt ). This is a way of life that has changed little over hundreds of years and it was a privilege to be witness to their day to day life.
Travelling anywhere off the beaten track is not easy but Ed arranged everything perfectly. After arriving in Salekhard we immediately headed off to Yar Sale, driving on a frozen river for much of the journey. On arrival we just had time for tea before making our way by ski-do sledge out to the encampment.
My requirements for this trip were to photograph different people in different places within 35 miles of the Arctic Circle, not only nomadic Nenets but also Russian people living in towns and villages. Therefore, in a 10 day trip starting and finishing in Moscow, this was the itinerary that Ed organised for us: two nights in the nomadic Nenets encampment, followed by a sledge ride across the frozen Gulf of Ob to spend a day at an annual reindeer herders’ festival in the village of Kutopyugan. We then returned by sledge to the village of Yar Sale where we spent two days photographing locals before returning to the town of Salekhard. We spent two days in Salekhard and half a day in the nearby town of Labytnangi photographing a selection of subjects that Ed had prepared in advance, including hovercraft drivers, local researchers, journalists, representatives of various ethnic minorities, a soldier, local musicians, an artist, etc. I was impressed not just that Ed had managed to find so many interesting people but to communicate and behave in a way in which we were made extremely welcome everywhere we went and it was often with sadness that we said farewell to so many new friends.
Apart from being able to fulfil my photographic requirements I enjoyed travelling with Ed because I felt he was along for the ride with me and not just for me. This is an important distinction because ordinarily I travel alone and hate the idea of being on a pampered and inflexible tour. If you like package holidays, cruises and buffet dinners this certainly isn’t for you but if you like independent travel and don’t mind roughing it a bit you will enjoy a heightened experience of local life ( including some serious culture shock, weird foods and maybe a little discomfort ) which may not otherwise be possible.
It may have been possible for me to get out to Arctic alone but I’m convinced that without Ed’s help I wouldn’t have had such and enjoyable and rich experience and certainly would not have been able to spend time with the Nomads ( let alone find them ! ). I can heartily recommend Ed for what is undoubtedly one of the most amazing travelling experiences I have ever had.
After Cristian Barnett in April there was the summer season when snowmobile travel is not possible. The next guest of Yamal Peninsula Travel was Charles-Louis Regiec in November 2012. Here is what he had to say about his trip:
The Yamal tundra during winter time is a truly inhospitable world where you have to deal with extreme weather, complete absence of physical comfort and the many transportation problems. The tundra is also, however, the staggering kindness, strength and dignity of the Nenets people, a fascinating nomadic culture and almost otherworldly scenery. Independent travellers who are interested in people and in the unexpected will greatly value this kind of adventure. It is a place where you experience unknown feelings and love every second of your stay.
With Ed, we travelled by helicopter from Salekhard to Yar Sale village where the nomadic reindeer herders met us. After putting on the traditional Nenets’ clothing (which is the only way to survive there in winter) we started the very long sledge ride to their encampment further to the north. During the ride we enjoyed the Northern Lights and shooting stars, while also stopping at another encampment on the way for tea and food.
We stayed at a nomadic encampment for a few days and got to move camp twice with 50 nomadic people, 10 000 reindeers and over 100 wooden, hand-made, reindeer-drawn sledges. This meant spending all day outside, both times in the bitter cold and wind.
The deep level of trust between Ed and the Nenets reindeer herders to which he brings guests is what makes these trips possible, and guarantees guests the opportunity to experience the real nomadic lifestyle of the Nenets at close quarters.
Photo by Charles-Louis Regiec – facebook.com/charles.louis
In February 2013 Jongwoo Park, a photographer and film-maker from South Korea, and his assistant Seongu Yuk, visited the Yamal through yamalpeninsulatravel.com. Here’s what Jongwoo had to say:
I wrote to Ed explaining my desire to shoot a film about the Northern Lights on Yamal. He recommended the best time of year for this and took me and my assistant out to stay at a nomadic Nenets encampment in the tundra for ten days. Every night we were treated to magnificent displays of Northern Lights. During the day we photographed daily Nenets live, such as herding reindeer, lassoing reindeer, moving camp on trains of reindeer sledges, strangling a reindeer then eating raw meat and drinking blood straight from its carcass. We visited several nomadic camps in the area, as people’s reindeer had got mixed up with others so had to be separated, which was quite a sight!
We also needed to film people recounting Nenets legends about the Northern Lights. This was beginning to seem impossible, as only older people who don’t speak Russian still know these legends. However, finally, on the last day when we were already back in Yar Sale village, Ed found us a woman who was able to recount a long and colourful Nenets legend about where the Northern Lights came from.
Many thanks for all your help! I look forward to my next trip to Yamal with you!
Also in February 2013, an international group of bikers participated in an event called The Ice Run. They covered 1800km of Siberian wilderness on old Soviet motorbikes, finishing in Salekhard, the capital of the Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous Region. I was their fixer at the Salekhard end of the race. Here is what the organizer had to say:
“Ed assisted me with the logistics for the finish line of the Adventurists’ Ice Run 2013, acting as fixer, trouble-shooter, and of course interpreter. His knowledge of the Salekhard region, its customs, politics and personalities, and how to get things done, was invaluable. His language skills are flawless, allowing me to hold nuanced conversations and negotiations with other contractors and partners. He was an energetic crew member, well able to cope as plans changed, people made unexpected requests and challenges arose. He combines a healthy insight into what’s ‘normal for here’ and an understanding of the expectations and needs of international tourists and travellers.”
In February and March 2013, Arman Alizad, star of the series Kill Arman which aired in over 100 countries, came to Yamal to shoot an episode of a series he was working on for Channel 4 in Finland. Here’s what he had to say:
Ed took us out to an encampment of nomadic Nenets reindeer herders on the Yamal Peninsula to shoot one episode of a series we were filming for Channel Four in Finland. We got loads of incredible footage in this extreme, isolated environment and had a great time with our friendly Nenets hosts. Ed is an amazingly skilled and experienced guide who was always one step ahead of our need concerning what we needed to capture on camera.
A word of warning – a trip to Yamal is not going to be a walk in the park. We had to spend many hours outdoors in freezing temperatures, travelled long distances by snowmobile and slept in the cold chum. It was by far the most physically difficult of all the trips we made for this series. But Yamal and the the trip to the Nenets will definitely steal your heart. Our journey was one I will remember for the rest on my life. Be ready for the experience and the trial of a lifetime.
In April 2013 Per Michelsen, a photographer from Norway, came to the Yamal Peninsula and the Polar Urals. Here is what he had to say:
“In April 2013 Ed organised a trip for me to live with nomadic Nenets reindeer herders on the Yamal Peninsula and in the Polar Ural mountains. I got plenty of amazing photos, some from smaller camps of 1 – 3 chums, some from a huge camp of 8 chums, 100 sledges and 10,000 reindeer which I migrated with, and some from a 3-chum camp high up in the Polar Urals. Reaching these isolated, traditional nomadic people is not easy, but Ed’s organisation was flawless – many thanks!”
Here is a link to Per Michelsen’s photos from Yamal and Polar Urals.
In September / October 2013 Nicholas Drofiak asked me to organise a trip to the Ket people and the town of Igarka in the Central Siberian Arctic, located a 3 day train ride and a five day boat ride from Moscow. Here’s what he had to say:
Ed was my translator and fixer on a trip I made overland from Moscow to the arctic Yenisei in the north of Krasnoyarsk Krai. I’m a researcher and doctoral student, and needed to be able to carry out some fairly complex interviews both with a Ket linguist in the village of Baklanikha, and with museum staff in the town of Igarka. Ed was not only able to negotiate booking the various forms of transport (well night impossible without fluent Russian), but he took the time to read my research plans so that by the time we reached Baklanikha he understood and could explain exactly what it was I wanted to do: not easy, considering my project straddled architecture and linguistics in addition to being itself in a sense an artwork. I couldn’t have found anyone better to travel with. On top of all that we both had a terrific time, saw days of spectacularly vast skies and taiga scenery, and met some extraordinarily generous people. An incredible trip. Thanks, Ed.