Don’t you think it’s fantastic that there is a word in Greenlandic (nuannarpoq) that means in essence, “to take extravagant pleasure in being alive” or “I am full of delirious joy in being alive”? I think we need something equivalent in English.
Starting a couple of days ago a photo sharing system was implemented here on the ship so everyone who is willing to can upload their best pics and anyone who wants them can have them. This is especially nice for people like me who don’t have high quality cameral equipment and telephoto lenses. So, today I wanted to start sharing some of my favorite photos taken by my fellow adventurers. To start with here are some polar bears and walruses that we’ve seen over the last 10 days or so. These images give a much better feel for the experience of seeing these incredible animals in their own habitats. I am so glad these creatures share the planet with us. Credit for these images goes to Steve Kent.
Yesterday’s hike was quite spectacular: 3-4 miles on spongy tundra, mud and rock only to find a spectacular glacier at the end of it… Everywhere you turn it is a photo you have to take and yet the photos just don’t do it justice. Our geologist on board told us yesterday that the rocks around us in this fjord are over 1 billion years old…
This afternoon our ship reached 80 degrees North latitude which was one of the objectives of this journey. Getting there required several changes of plans and changes of course in the days leading up to today in order to avoid bad weather, wind and heavy moving ice but today we arrived at the destination. There’s not much to tell other than to say that this is an incredibly beautiful place… not in the lush, soft way that places like Virginia are beautiful… but in an ancient, magnificent, harsh kind of way that words can not adequately convey. So… I’ll stop writing now and (hopefully) offer a few photos that I hope will give just the slightest taste of this place.
We are currently sailing up the East coast of Ellesmere Island (still in Nunavut Territory) so I thought I’d take the time to show you a little bit of what this ship, the National Geographic Explorer, is like. Compared to any commercial cruise liner it is very small and built for education and research and reaching little out-of-the-way places like the Arctic and Antarctica. The National Geographic Explorer is a state-of-the-art, ice-class expedition ship that accommodates 148 guests plus the crew. If you want to know more here’s a LINK. Speaking less-technically… it’s a lovely ship with great stabilisers so the roll of the ocean is minimised quite a bit… tho’ anti-nausea medication is generously provided 🙂 In addition to the basics like cabins and a dining room there is a library, a computer room, a “chart room” where you can usually find a map that shows where the heck we are, a “lounge” which is where all the presentations are given (and there are a lot of presentations/talks on every imaginable subject to do with life in the Arctic: animals, ice, geology, archaeology, undersea studies, botany and more), a shop and very small gym. Here are a few images to give you some idea of what it’s like to live on this incredible ship.
Today began with an amazing Polar Bear sighting followed by the opportunity to get really close to a big group of male walruses who were relaxing on a beach in Fram Fijord on Elsemere Island. The limitations of my camera are definitely frustrating but the good news is that a photo sharing file has been set up so, hopefully before too much longer, I’ll be able to share better images (taken by fellow travellers who have really good camera equipment) with you. But even with my iPhone images I think you can imagine how completely amazing it is to be so very close to these creatures in their own habitat.
This morning we were given the option of either signing up for a hike on Philpot Island or an hour-long zodiac expedition exploring the shores and coves of the island. Then before an hour went by the next announcement let us know that there would be no landings on Philpot Island because a Polar Bear had been spotted right next to the beach we would’ve landed on… yet another change of plans! So, most everyone took the opportunity to go out on the zodiacs and it was great! … we got close to come big icebergs, saw walrus on the rocks and twice visited that sleepy Polar Bear that kept us off shore… ha, ha! Unfortunately the sleeping polar bear and sunning walrus were too far away for my iPhone camera but I did hear there will be a photo share site set up soon so that I’ll be able to nab some better pics of the critters we’re seeing to share.
So many things happen here in a day that it’s difficult to keep up and tell the entire story. Yesterday first stop was Beechy Island where an Arctic Expedition in the mid-1800’s was lost and there remain graves for 3 of the crewmen… a long story to tell another day. Next destination was Radstock Bay but as we were headed that way someone spotted an elusive Bowhead Whale so we turned around and happily were able to see it’s spout in the distance before resuming our travels. At Radstock Bay we went ashore on the zodiacs and got to see the remains of the homes/huts of a population of pre-Inuit people called the Thule. They built round houses of bone and skins and snow which, according to our resident archeologist, were small and cramped but probably quite warm and cozy. The land there looked barren from a distance but as you walked across it you could see that it was full of life. The Arctic is basically a cold desert but there are plants and birds and mammals everywhere you look… well, that is if you know what you’re looking for and how to find it. Fortunately we have lots of experienced wildlife spotters with us so we don’t miss too much.
Tho’ there were some Polar Bears (ursus maritimus) in the distance yesterday, today we got to see 3 bears very close to the ship. Each of them were on a different ice floe… one had killed and eaten a seal and was literally lying on top of it. The other 2 bears were, I believe, hoping to share in the kill but that was not to be. In the end the 2 bears with nothing to eat ended up in the water together swimming and playing like siblings which, I suppose they might have been. The biologists with us said they’d never seen this behaviour and were completely surprised at the whole situation. For me it was just a thrill to see these extraordinary animals in their own habitat and they did not seem to be disturbed in any way by our ship which respectfully and slowly crept up on them and then left them in peace.
Tho’ my photos are grainy and not very good I hope you can see how incredibly close they were and imagine how wonderful it was to see them.
Just below the 2 bear pics is a shot of the chart showing where we are (as of a few hours ago) and where we’ve travelled from. It’s 11 PM but still light… sweet dreams!
Today our ship’s objective was to find ice… lots of ice. Next was to find Polar Bears. We did both… tho’ the Polar Bears we saw were mostly swimming between ice floes and my camera was not able to capture them… I know that today was just the first of many Polar Bear sightings to come! It’s an interesting experience to spend a good part of the day just watching out the window with no other plan for the time being than to have the opportunity to see beautiful creatures in their own environment. The ship is very respectful of the animals that are sighted and never chases or otherwise pursues them… but the ship will change direction in a heartbeat to see something that has been sighted. There are so many knowledgeable naturalists and enthusiastic observers on board… we are in very interesting company!