The tusky tenors of 'walrus island'

In today’s newsletter: the call of the walrus in remote Alaska; Hawaii welcomes back travelers; globe-trotting by radio … and lost among the giants in Dubai.

This article is an adaptation of our weekly Travel newsletter that was originally sent out on October 22, 2021. Want this in your inbox? Sign up here.

By George Stone, TRAVEL Executive Editor

Some travel stories are about things you’d never dream of doing. It’s almost a relief to trim a few what-ifs from your bucket list. But then you see a story like this one, and you start to wonder: Would I?

The appeal was powerful when photojournalist Acacia Johnson pitched her tale about an isolated isle in Alaska where the walrus sing. Partly because she would be the one to travel 30 miles by boat from the Yup’ik village of Togiak into the exposed waters of the Bering Sea to reach Round Island (the next point of land is Russia, more than a thousand miles away).

There she would camp at Walrus Islands State Game Sanctuary (pictured above, look closely at bottom right to spot the walruses). The sanctuary is a seasonal home to thousands of Pacific walruses (including this male, below), whose haunting chiming sounds “like a softly ringing bell.”

But there was a catch: “Round Island is ideal for experienced campers accustomed to bad weather,” Acacia observes, with the élan of a 19th-century travel writer. “With eight wooden tent platforms overlooking the sea, a composting outhouse, and a large cooking tent with a picnic table and a propane stove, it has more infrastructure than any other walrus viewing area in Alaska.”

What the island lacks in creature comforts (above, the cook tent), it makes up for in actual creatures, including some 250,000 nesting seabirds and the tusky tenors Acacia came to see and hear. Established as Alaska’s first wildlife sanctuary, the island now helps protect the Pacific walrus (melting sea ice is changing where they eat and rest). A state-run program permits travelers to visit the island between May and August.

“At first I wasn’t sure if this could be a travel story,” says photo editor Gail Fletcher. “I feared it might be too inaccessible. But I was mesmerized by walrus and knew readers would be, too.” (Below, Pacific walruses approach the shore at sunrise.)

“The Indigenous Yup’ik people—who have hunted walruses here for over 5,700 years—call Round Island Qayassiq: ‘place to go in a kayak,’” writes Acacia. “Committing to the journey helps the walrus and the people who depend on them. It keeps the place staffed and protected. Walrus may not be an endangered species yet, but they are worthy of attention and conservation.”

Which means the bucket list grows and grows and ...

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INSTAGRAM OF THE DAY

Lost among the giants: In the background are the skyscrapers of Dubai on a foggy day. In the foreground (look closely) is the daughter of photographer Neelima Azad, dwarfed by this otherworldly landscape in the desert. Azad captured this with a 70-200mm lens on a Nikon D750 camera.

Related: A panorama view of Dubai’s Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest building

TODAY IN A MINUTE

The ‘oldest map of the stars’? That’s what the British Museum is calling a bronze disc unearthed in Germany in 1999 and widely considered one of the most important archaeological finds of the 20th century, the BBC reports. The Nebra Sky Disc will be displayed in the London museum in February, as part of an exhibition on Stonehenge.

‘Africa and I’: That’s the name of a documentary about a Moroccan traveler who journeyed 18,000 miles through 24 countries on the continent in nearly four years. The hope, Othmane Zolati tells Quartz, is to change negative stereotypes about Africa, even in his North African nation.

Aloha: After a drop in Hawaii’s COVID-19 caseload, the state is welcoming back vacationers and business travelers starting November 1, the governor says. Hawaii will still require proof of vaccination or a negative COVID test within 72 hours of arrival to avoid quarantine, Forbes reports.

THE BIG TAKEAWAY

Helping autistic travelers: The Great Outdoors, with its unpredictable sounds, sudden movements, and dodgy WiFi, has never been a first choice of parents with kids on the spectrum. But these days, more parks and recreation centers are seeking recognition as Certified Autism Centers, writes Judith Newman, who has an autistic son. To be certified, 80 percent of all personnel must receive specialized training on dealing with people on the spectrum. (Pictured above, photographer Lisa Winner shows her son’s ability to “rest” anywhere instead of melting down or running away. Above left, in the snow at South Lake Tahoe, California; above right, poolside at Chico Hot Springs, Montana.)

READ MORE

LAST GLIMPSE

Aural travelers: A cup of yerba maté in hand, writer Jordan Salama explores the world nightly, with a computer or smartphone and a site called Radio Garden that connects listeners to thousands of live-streaming stations worldwide. “Move your mouse and maybe you’ll land in Bujumbura, Burundi; in Dibrugarh, India; at the edge of Norway’s Arctic; or on the rim of the South Pacific,” Salama writes.“Seemingly no matter how large or small the broadcaster—and no matter how urban or remote the location—if it emits a signal online, it can appear on the site, and you can listen in.” Enjoy! (Pictured above, a DJ spins at Radio Radio, a club in Amsterdam that’s now also an online radio station.)

TURN THE BEAT AROUND 

This newsletter has been curated and edited by David Beard, Jen Tse, and Monica Williams. Whether or not you’re tuning into radio worldwide, we’d love to hear from you at david.beard@natgeo.com.

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