Adventures on the Arctic (part 2)
It is the second day cruising. On the way, cruising south along the western coast of Spitsbergen island we can appreciate the “pointy peaks” mountains that gave the name to the island of “Spitsbergen”. William Barents discovered the archipelago while on a voyage expedition in search of a northeast passage to Asia back in 1596 and was the first man to see on this stunning landscape.
The first zodiac cruising was in front of the amazing Samarinbreen glacier, a two-kilometre wide mountain of ice. We were still cruising south along the western coast of Spitsbergen island and the plan was to have the first zodiac expedition here. With our sub-zero waterproof jackets on, at around 9.30 am, we set off.
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As the sun gained its way through the clouds, suddenly it was a really bright and sunny morning. We could even hear the little and not so little pieces of glacier, the noise of the ice cracking little by little. There were some guillemots birds and other special Arctic birds paddling in the waters too.
In the afternoon, because of the bad weather the expedition leader re-schedules the landing for a trip to another glacier where we spotted a solitary bearded seal sunbathing on a stone of ice. The landscape is amazing going towards the glacier formation in between the mountains and the fjords.
That evening, we had a lecture about Arctic birds. It was interesting to have an overview of all the birds that we had seen that day and others that we might encounter on the way. Then, there was the welcome drinks from Sacha, the captain from Russia. We had punch and little canapés for the occasion.
We were sailing to arrive to the south-eastern island of Edgeoya and Barentsoya. The cruising at night was a choppy one, apparently. I must have slept pretty well because I do not recall any disturbances to my sleep. I did see when I woke up at night some paper bags put all along all corridors in case someone got suddenly ill but I didn’t feel any signs of sea sickness at all.
It was very cloudy at the start of the next day; but then the sun made an appearance. Our first landings were at the sandy beach of Dolerittneset (Edgeoya Island) and Sundneset (Barentsoya Island). We had time to explore this “treeless plain” called "tundra", typical vegetation and landscape of this regions of low temperatures.
As we were approaching the second island we saw walruses (two young males) on the shore, resting and doing almost nothing. These amazingly big creatures with protuberant tusks caught our attention for a long while. We had cameras and eyes fixed on those animals looking for any movement. Just for one second did the two lift their heads to show us their tasks.
We also spotted arctic foxes: sleeping, then running, a little curious at times and playful with themselves even. Once of them was to catch a goose. There were also reindeers who didn’t seem too bothered about our presence.
As we were leaving the island to head back to the zodiacs, one of us discovered a very big paw print in the mud from a polar bear!!! Was he still around? That was all we had seen of a polar bear so far. Was it a sign that our first sighting of polar bear was approaching? Maybe… In fact the next day, was going to be a truly Arctic day with BIG polar encounters…
Our third expedition day began with the ship venturing slowly along the waters of the Barrent Sea towards Kvitoya Island; there was very thick fog on the horizon and carpets of pack ice. Nevertheless, the weather and ice conditions were good enough to allow us to get to this remote and wild island: we were at 80 degrees latitude north, less than 900 km is the North Pole!
As we are approaching more and more to Kvitova, the weather becomes more misty and hazy and so the atmosphere becomes more dramatic: empty, harsh and so magical!
Suddenly, we see appearing in the horizon the most iconic beast of the Arctic. We were so excited, It was a young female polar bear, beautiful and of a quite extraordinary size. She was pointing up with her black nose. Apparently bears have a tremendous sense of smell; they can smell seals even beneath the snow...
At the recap that night, we learnt from the expedition leader that in the 19th Century, Spitsbergen was used as a point from which to access the North Pole. One of the numerous attempts and expeditions to get there was in 1897 with an air balloon. They never got there and no one knew what happened to them until 30 years later. An expedition was doing research in the island and discovered some remains of the air balloon plus the diaries of S.A. Andree’s Arctic Expedition. Having been to this island and seen how remote and isolated and cold it is I can hardly imagine how any human survival could happen. “Kvitoya” in Norwegian means “White Island” as 90% is white ice. For me one of the highlight of the trip was to reach this Island.
From that day on lots of more polar bears encounters followed; at Kvitoya island from the zodiac; on a cliff grabbing birds, a polar bear mum & cub,- about nine different sightings in all. One of the best was on the 4th cruising day. We had not finished breakfast when we are called to go outside to see a massive polar bear standing close to us.
He got closer and closer looking comfortable and inquisitive eventually coming to less than three metres from the ship. It was great moment: big flat pack ice pieces, the still foggy sky and the bear watching us. All of us, the expeditioners, the staff, the crew were gathered focusing on one single thing: the polar bear.
The polar bear was also playing around, going from one pack ice to another, into the water and out again. Then rolling on her back and then sliding forward on her belly and chin - apparently technique to get the water off herself. What a memorable moment.
It is our fifth day and we wake up navigating along one the biggest glaciers on earth, the 160km long glacier Brasvellbreen. We get closer to it with the zodiacs and spent time around the giant formations of ice. As we passed through those big sculptures of nature we learned from the expedition leader their different “stories”. The glaciers are formed by an accumulation of snow over many many years, and its “age” can be tracked by the lines- similar to those on the inside of tree trunks.
That afternoon, we went for another landing and as we are approaching to the beach slowly we saw about 30 walruses huddled on the shore. They were initially sleeping but then they started to move a little and some activity initiated. We spend what felt like hours watching them making all sorts of noises like snoring, or breaking wind… So funny to watch them to literally roll over the shore towards the water in a very coordinated way. They move by rolling over on themselves, a clever technique for their big puffy bodies.
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