The indescribable silence of Svalbard
I started working with marketing at PolarQuest in the middle of the pandemic, a time when we had to cancel two entire seasons in Svalbard. But then suddenly the day came when I got the chance to visit Svalbard and I could not be more excited. To go on an expedition to Svalbard had for a long time been a dream of mine. I could not imagine that the Arctic would ever exceed my extremely high expectations, but I was wrong!
What I appreciated the most, was the silence. Nowadays, we are always connected, available and surrounded by different sounds, both in our everyday life or on vacation. But in Svalbard, me and my fellow travelers experienced an almost indescribable silence.
I was alone up on the deck as our ship M/S Quest slowly left Longyearbyen in Svalbard. I had just finished a video call with my family and now I watched the service on my phone decrease quickly, until the text "no service" appeared. I put the phone in my pocket and looked up at the most incredible view. Longyearbyen had just disappeared behind us, the rays from the sun were finding their way through the clouds to illuminate a few snow-capped mountains on the horizon and suddenly there it was, the silence!
The nature in Svalbard is truly unique and unlike anything I have ever experienced before. I visited Svalbard at the end of May 2022 and throughout the week I was lucky enough to get incredible weather with almost no wind, a few plus degrees celsius and sunshine every day. Something not that common in Svalbard. Every morning we woke up to a voice in the speaker system. The voice belonged to our expedition leader, Elke, wishing us good morning. She let us know that breakfast was now served and told us what we could see if we looked out the cabin window.
Some of us had adopted a very lovely tradition on board. We always took our morning coffee out on the deck, coffee with a view! Some mornings was so peaceful that you could hardly tell the sky from the sea. The open atmosphere on board and the lack of mobile phones also made it very easy to get to know the other travelers in a nice way. But at the same time, there was always an unspoken understanding among us that sometimes you just wanted to sit by yourself and enjoy nature.
Besides the silence, it was the nature that took my breath away. I've never felt so small before, in a good way. During the entire expedition, we only saw other ships on a couple of occasions and we only met a few other people when we docked at Ny-Ålesund. Besides that, we were alone all the time. I was struck by how varied nature is in Svalbard. One day I was standing on the beach at the foot of huge green-brown mountains, the next day I was on a zodiac cruise next to a glacier, then on top of a snow-capped mountain and another day I did a polar plunge in an ocean filled with ice floes. During a week like this, it is very difficult to pick just a few moments to share. I want to share everything and then some, and preferably in chronological order. I just want to bring all my loved ones to Svalbard so that they can experience exactly what I experienced.
In addition to all the incredible hikes I got to experience during my expedition, there are a few landings that stand out a little extra. One morning we anchored outside a place called Fuglesangen. The plan was for us to do a Zodiac cruise along the coast and then go ashore at this bird mountain. One of our guides said that this is one of the best landings and we will understand why in a while. I did not have very high expectations for this excursion, since my interest in birds is not the greatest, but once again I was disproved. I stepped out of the Zodiac into the ocean on the beach, again thanking my colleagues who had told me that knee high boots are a must in Svalbard. We did a short hike in the white snow and the closer we got to the bird mountain, the louder it got. The birds flew their way as we approached. We climbed up the mountain carefully not to destroy the moss. Some climbed a little higher while others remained at the foot of the mountain. Always in the company of our guides. We sat down and after a while the birds came back, some really close. We sat there for a long time with an incredible view of the endless sea and felt that we really are small on earth. The thousands of birds that joined us here are the smallest in Svalbard and are called Little Auk.
Another very strong memory was when we hiked up a hill in a place called Ossian Sars. On our expedition, we were lucky enough to have a yoga instructor on board. Once at the top, the yoga instructor, Isabel asked if anyone would like to join her in a shorter meditation. Several of us sat down on the ground and with our legs crossed and our hands on our knees, Isabel led us in a calm and quiet meditation. Of course, it had to be a meditation where we didn't close our eyes, because you did not want to miss a second of the view we had in front of us. It was a very peaceful moment together.
On our final day when I once again was standing out on deck. I saw Longyearbyen slowly appear at the horizon, I took my mobile out of my pocket and saw that I had full service again. I was very happy and touched that the first message I received was a photo of my smiling children, but at the same time I couldn't help feeling a little sad that the peace and quiet was now over.
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.