Arctic Digital Detox
Susanne Korsvoll, Head of Digital at Unlimited Travel Group and one of the participants of the expedition cruise with M/S Quest in May 2018, is writing about seven days at sea without any internet access.
As part of the digital generation I am constantly connected, often looking for the perfect selfie and with a sense of FOMO (Fear of Missing Out), probably rarely 100 percent present in the moment. Seven days at the Arctic Ocean honestly feels a bit scary, but very exciting too, what will happen during a true digital detox? Maybe you learn something, maybe it is even good for you.
We are leaving the harbour of Longyearbyen and during the evening we arrive at the Russian mining town Barentsburg. Apart from memories of Soviet's greatness this is the place where we find the last traces of 4G connection. It feels important to tell the world that I have visited this surreal place and the last Instagram update takes place here. I wake up after the first night at sea, pick up my phone to synchronize it with my Garmin watch, as I do every morning. An app will show me for how long I slept and my sleep-quality during the night. When I realize my routine is not possible to perform my first though is – how will I now know how I have slept tonight? Quite soon I realize it is ridiculous. Sleep-quality nevertheless feels unimportant, the Arctic morning is spectacular. The sun is warming as the ship enters Smeerenburgfjorden where walrus also are enjoying the sun on the ice. I drink my morning coffee outside, with the sun warming my face - it is the best coffee I have had in a long time. Maybe because I am not reading emails and scrolling through social media while I drink it. I am 100 percent present in the moment. It is hard to understand that I am here, at one of the most beautiful places on earth, in one of the last relatively untouched wildernesses and I feel like from this moment I will always be longing back to the magnificent world of the Arctic.
Day 2 we arrive at Alkefjellet. Fog over the sea makes the view magic and my lungs are filled with fresh air. Someone spotted the first beluga whale of the season, and now we are leaving the ship in the Zodiacs. Thousands of Brünnich’s guillemots are nesting on the rocks. Some Arctic foxes are curiously looking at us from the beach. I realize I have been sitting in the Zodiac for two hours admiring the penguin-like birds, but two hours doesn’t feel like a long time. In the Arctic time is different, since where the experience is everything time gets different.
Day 3 we are sailing as far as we can go before the pack ice takes over. Here we will have a good chance to meet the king of Arctic – the polar bear. The ship anchored in the ice is a powerful sight. It is totally silent and remarkably beautiful here. The guides onboard divide the night in shifts, they are going to stay up all night to watch for polar bears on the ice. 01:30 we are awakened by an announcement. A female bear with a cub have been spotted. Only a few minutes later a dozen sleepy people are gathered on the front deck with binoculars. We can’t see her and the fog is getting thicker. Most people are heading back to bed but I stay, admiring the beauty of the Arctic landscape. I feel completely calm. In about an hour the fog disperses and there she is! She is walking over the ice with her cub behind. She is attentively sniffing the air and when the distance between them becomes too large she calls her cub. For me the first meeting with the queen of Arctic is magic. It feels close and I am not in bed again until 04:00.
Day 4. A new announcement leads to an even closer meeting with a female and her cub. She is only a few hundred meters in front of us on the ice eating her breakfast, a newly catched seal. This time I can look into her eyes. Time stands still. I don’t have time to grab the camera, the meeting feels too important. When she is ready with her meal she nurses her cub right in front of us - a memory I will keep for the rest of my life.
I realize I have been standing outside looking at her for two hours when I feel how cold I am. But we hardly have time to warm up before it is time for a new meeting. There is a male polar bear right in front of us, and the cold is forgotten. It is first when he turns around to continue to walk over the ice I realize I didn’t use the mobile-camera this time either. I was just totally in the moment, enchanted by the meeting with the magnificent animal, humbly grateful for being a guest in his kingdom for a little while.
The polar bear of course is the iconic image of the Arctic, and a meeting with one of the world's most impressive predators is unforgettable. However, the meeting with the king and queen of the Arctic will not be my strongest memory. It will be the stunningly beautiful landscape, the feeling when you after a walk up the hills sit down and let the total stillness embrace you. The feeling of total inner peace. I hope that I will be able to keep the ability of being totally in the moment even after I return home. If I have missed internet-connection? Not for a second. “No service” is terribly underestimated and wonderful!
Since 1999, we have taken travellers on once-in-a-lifetime trips to Svalbard. From May to September our three small expedition ships, carrying only 12 and 50 passengers, explore this magnificent Arctic archipelago. Unpredictability and flexibility are the main keywords when you travel with PolarQuest as the exact route depends on weather, ice conditions and wildlife encounters. Sometimes you might be woken up in the middle of the night if a polar bear has been spotted on the ice.