In the realm of the polar bear
Please read a travelouge written by Marianne Wanneby, Content Manager at Unlimited Travel Group and one of the participants of the expedition cruise on board Sea Endurance 10 - 17 May.
Sunday 13th of May 2018
It's a remarkable and mighty feeling to wake up in one of the world's most remote places, right in the middle och the Arctic Ocean. Water, sky and snow covered mountains spread out in every direction, as far as the eye can see. The glaciers are magnificent, glorious as a Disney-castle and when the sun breaks through it's almost difficult to breath hence the beauty. The air I breath as I stand out on deck is crisp and clear. Without any doubt the most crisp and clear air I've ever inhaled, and the sun never sets - this is spring in the Arctic.
A good morning without any reception
We have sailed all the way from the port of Longyearbyen to the narrow strait Sørgattet, located in the north-west corner Svalbard, during the night. Our Expedition Leader Elke says good morning through the speakers and tell us that we are close to the passage of Danskøya, where the Swedish engineer André started his ill-fated expedition in 1897. His aim was to reach the North Pole with a hydrogen balloon, but the three expedition members crashed on the sea ice and were found dead on Kvitøya 33 years later.
The reception disappeared already during dinner the night before, dot by dot, and from now on we find ourselves in an analog no-man's-land. There is no wifi, not even a reliable satelite signal, something quite exotic these days. Here, in the Arctic wilderness we are finally able to focus on now, be completely present and really feel the experiences, even with every tiny cell in our bodies.
Dressed and ready for an adventure
After breakfast we line up at deck two. All participants has signed a list with their names on it, are fully dressed with three to four layers, weather proof jackets, trousers, beanies and gloves, warm rubber boots and life vests on top of it. None of us have had this much clothes on since kindergarden. No one really knows what to expect, but we all know one thing - it's time for some adventure! And it is - a open door on the side of the ship leads us to the gangway where the guides receive us and help us into the Zodiacs.
Encounters with harbour seals and walrus
Already during the first Zodiac cruise we get to experience encounters with wild animals. Close to the site where Andrée built the shed where he stored his balloon, on the smooth rocks, six harbour seals are resting. 20 minutes later we step ashore on the old whaler's island, Smeerenburg, and suddenly we are face to face with a whole family of walrus. They lie in a pile, on top, under and beside each other, snorting and breathing heavy as if they just had been working out. But of course moving your 1500 kg body all the way down to the water require some efforts.
Polar bear in sight
After lunch it's time for today's second Zodiac cruise, and despite that many of us still are a bit cold after the last cruise it's impossible to skip this one. Elke has just told us through the speakers that the guides have spotted a big animal on the other side of the fjord, and this can be this expedition's first and last chance to see a polar bear.
It's completely silent as we ride in the Zodiac, and there's excitement in the air. When we get closer to the site where the bears were seen we can't see anything but mountains, rocks and snow. Mountains, rocks and snow. Then, on a mountain slope, approximately 50 meters above the beach a female polar bear is walking followed by her two cubs. It feels like time is freezing. All I can hear is the waves gently hitting the Zodiac, then the shore, and the sound of a camera focusing on the object. I'm sure someone said something, changed their position in the Zodiac, maybe said "I can't see..", but I can't hear any of it. In this moment it's just me and the bears, nothing else.
On the terms of the animals
We stay at a distance large enough to make sure we don't stress the little family. We're guests in their realm and all encounters has to be done on their terms and conditions, not ours. Now the mother stops, sit down on her bum and start to feed both her cubs. It seems like she's looking straight at me through the camera lens. I feel like the experience is close to a religious one - the number of persons in the world who has seen this can't be very many. Her natural and relaxed behaviour shows that out presence, that now consists of another three Zodiacs that gently and smooth have stopped next to us, doesn't bother her at all.
The first day of the expedition hasn't even ended yet, but we've already met the Queen of the Arctic. Amazing! Before we returned to Sea Endurance we also got to see bearded seal, Brünnich's guillemots, kittiwakes, puffins, great skuas and three Svalbard reindeers. And I haven't missed my phone or recpetion at all, not even once.
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 53 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.