Tuesday, December 13, 2011

500 Words on Adventure

"And I mean it..."

I’m not the most nautical of people at the best of times, and I usually suffer horribly from seasickness. Then there’s the fact that I’m a weak swimmer and - just a little bit - afraid of the sea, especially when I can’t see the shore. So you can perhaps imagine my state of mind when the small inflatable Zodiac carrying me, half a dozen others and one Zodiac driver drifted into the sea fog and the mother ship (actually, a Russian scientific ship leased for the season as a cruise vessel) completely disappeared from view. We were somewhere around 80 degrees north, and if I remind you that at 90 degrees north you are at the North Pole, you’ll understand why the sea around us was creaking and groaning with the movement of sea ice. The weird, faint grinding noises and the slap of wavelets against the Zodiac were the only sounds. The fog was more or less impenetrable. It was bloody cold. The driver, our guide and only hope of salvation, asked “which way is the ship?” Ha ha. Very funny.
I won’t pretend I wasn’t scared, but I was also thoroughly exhilarated. The sea ice of the Arctic Ocean! It was through this that Fridtjof Nansen, that handsome Norwegian explorer, had sailed his egg-shaped ship ‘The Fram’, enabling him to reach his Farthest North (the title he gave to his memoir). Now I had reach my very own Farthest North, and pretty thrilling it was too.
I was to encounter much ice on this trip, around Spitsbergen in the far north of Norway where we began, and in Greenland where we spent several days cruising inside the largest fjord in the world, Scoresbysund, where huge blue-green icebergs defied every attempt to anthropomorphise them. A cathedral? A giant flower? I soon tired of that game, and merely gazed, astonished and cold, from yet another Zodiac. 
Roasted polar bear, anyone?
Yet my Farthest North and the transient beauty of the bergs were not all that this trip offered. Crouching again in a wet Zodiac (you may perhaps be sensing a theme), I spent three hours with my companions gawping in awe at polar bears feeding from the submerged rotting carcass of a whale in a Spitsbergen bay. There were walruses lolling on a pebbly beach, birds without number, arctic foxes, puffins, elusive whales, and - my personal favourite - reindeer! They bounded around amongst the hiking explorers, looking just like reindeer in Christmas story books. 
But if you asked me about the highlight of this highlight-filled trip, I would answer: Ittoqqortoormiit. In this tiny Inuit village at the mouth of Scoresbysund I was offered walrus canapes by Heidi in Greenlandic national dress, met an ancient old lady who was eating roasted polar bear, and a crazy British exile who loved nothing better than to spend several months on the winter ice huddled up with his huskies. Plus, Ittoqqortoormiit was on dry land.

Red Island, Greenland

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