This morning we visited the magical island of Yankicha.
The indigenous people of the area, the Ainu, would visit this stunning lagoon caldera to hold their Sharmanic ceremonies, but regarded it as too precious and mystical to permanently occupy. The unfortunate Sharman trainees, when tied over a volcanic fumerole for three days, probably wished the island had never been occupied at all.
As for me, the magic begins before we even leave the ship. As one of the last to board a Zodiac, I’m rewarded with a spectacular sighting of large spotted seal.
The Zodiac journey into the watery caldera is shrouded in an atmospheric fog that never completely lifts. With steaming fumeroles, rare whiskered auklets and adorable Arctic foxes (introduced many years ago for the fur trade), this place is truly special. At one stage, I’m spread-eagled, photographing tiny flowers, when I feel a tug at my boot and find a curious Arctic fox gnawing at my rubber gumboot. He lets go and watches me for a while before wandering away.
Yellow sulphur crystals line steaming vents, the wooden ruins of an old research camp grace the shore and steam blends with fog to complete a bewitching ethereal scene.
The Zodiac ride back to the ship takes us past hundreds of auklets – a suitably climactic end to a very special journey.
Words by: David McGonigal