AMAZING ARCTIC WITH EASE

By Lisa TE Sonne

Last month, we visited dogs that pull sleds…without worrying about how to feed them.  We saw polar bears in their natural habitat…without needing to bring a gun on hikes to protect ourselves. (Guides set a perimeter of protection before we even began.) We gloried at Northern Lights over our heads in a remote area with splendid stars, but then trundled off to our beautiful suites, not tents on the ice.   We woke up every morning to a hot breakfast—an international buffet and freshly made requests with a cool sense of upcoming discovery!

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 “This is an expedition, not a cruise,” said Expedition leader Anja Erdmann near the start of our voyage, aptly called “Northern Lights and Arctic Sights.

Mind you, she was addressing us intrepid explorers as we sat in plush swivel chairs with plates of appetizers on a ship with fin stabilizers. For outdoor readiness, we each had been given an incredibly warm expedition jacket, with multiple pockets and Artic patches.

“Expedition” means “flexibility,” Anja explained, and the best of reality, not rations and deprivation. With that reassurance, we were ready to see the whites of Greenland, Anja’s favorite polar region in the world as well as the greens in Icelandic towns in the Westfjords that we would visit at the beginning and end of the trip.

We were not given an advance itinerary for the five days set to be in Scoresbysund, often claimed as the world’s largest and longest fjord system.  Depending on weather and conditions (and passenger interests), Anya, the captain, and the rest of the expedition team would choose each day what seemed like the best spots for anchoring and shore trips.  If things go well, at some point, we will pull into at least one spot that no passenger ship has been to before.

Attitude before Age

Anja says she learned long ago not to let the age of someone on the passenger manifest prejudice her thinking. “It may say 80 years old, and then that person takes the hills like a goat,” she laughs. “It is sometimes the people in their 50s and 60s who have a little harder time. They have been working hard and don’t have time to be fit, but in their minds they are still like they were 20 years ago.”

The truth is, the wondrous, other worldly beauties of the icebergs and mountains and sea and sky made me feel like a little kid on a holiday, mouth agape. Wow! And at times, the captivating expansiveness of the landscapes also made me feel deeply ageless – part of infinity.

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Every morning, the view out my window was fantastical and awakening. We were traveling on a floating hotel off one of the least densely populated areas of the world, Dmitri, the hotel manager, had worked on larger cruise ships before.

Many cruises try to keep passengers on the ship to spend money in the shops and casinos,” Dmitri explained. “We try to get you off the ship to spend time in nature and experience the places we visit.” It was the perfect combination: bed turn-down service with chocolates on the pillow, laundry services, AND expeditions to places like Ittoqqortootmitt in Greenland, where less than 500 people live hundreds of miles from any other human settlements with no connecting roads.  These are Greenlanders trying to balance the traditional hunting ways of their Inuit ancestors and the modern technologies and economies of today.

After that, we didn’t see people other than fellow passengers for several days.  Greenland is 50 times the size of Denmark, but has fewer than 60,000 inhabitants and most of them live in the South or west coast. If you are looking for nature not overrun by tourists this trip fulfills.

We did see polar bears, musk ox, Arctic hares, centuries-old Thule tent circles of rocks, Humpback whales, and for those lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time, a fogbow also known as a White Rainbow. We heard the thundering sounds of tons of ice falling into the sea and setting off waves as well as the tinier pops of little icebergs exhaling air bubbles, and the crunching crackles of Zodiaks pushing through freshly frozen sea ice.

Part of the sense of exploration was the other passengers and crew: an international mix so all announcements and menus used English, German, Russian and Chinese. The expedition team included scientists and experts who studied biogeography, glaciology, marine mammals, flora, and a self-proclaimed “real Viking, a direct descendent of Eric the Red, who is the person credited with finding Iceland. We had also our own “Kayakologist” who led seven kayaking trips for those who had signed up before the cruise.  For me these forays on the water were true highlights!

Many of our fellow passengers had booked this Expedition cruise individually, others clearly arrived as a group like many of the Chinese who had their own advance programs of the trip.  Small ship specialists Explor West, an American based group led Dick and Leslie West, offered a package that included arranged days in Iceland’s capital Reykjavik before the trip so passengers in their group were over jet lag and had already knew each other for the voyage.

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POLAR POWER TODAY

While historic polar trips were often about surviving, ours encouraged thriving and jiving (to the tunes of the dedicated musician on board for our entertainment). We could savor a special solitude in the vastness, enjoy  the diversity of people at dinner, and share universal sounds of glee when a new ghost of Northern Lights started dancing in the night sky.

As I write, the Sea Spirit is repositioning this October to the other polar regions, where spring and summer will unfold . Future passengers will be enthralled with penguins and leopard seals, as well as icebergs and glaciers in Antarctica, the Falklands, and South Georgia. Their expeditions will include encounters with people at research stations on the “White Continent” that holds all 24 time zones.

It’s not too early, though, to think about next summer, back in the northern hemisphere and the high latitudes nearer the north pole of our planet. Poseidon also offers “expeditions, not cruises” to western Greenland where the whales, walruses, and people are more plentiful than our East Greenland voyage. I am already fantasizing about going higher up above the Arctic Circle, where the wild life of the sky and sea can be even more dramatic. Poseidon takes people to explore the Russian-occupied Franz Josef Land, Norwegian Jan May, and Spitsburgen off Norway’s Svalbard-archipelago, all areas frequented by great polar explorers of yore and lore. 

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And for those who have no limits of health or wealth, there’s the greatest nuclear icebreaker on the planet, The Victory. One can only imagine what Peary, Cook, or Nansen would have thought of the idea of posing for a group photo when reaching the North Pole and then returning to the ship to take a sauna. Would it be, “Why didn’t I think of that?”

For more Polar routes and adventures, the Poseidon Expeditions phone for the U.S. & Canada is   +1 347 801-2610.  Website: http://poseidonexpeditions.com/

For more travel blogs and upcoming videos about the Arctic trip: www.LuxuryTravelMagic.com, www.LisaSonne.com  and @ExploreTravelerPolar
Explorer and adventure writer Lisa Sonne has taken the ‘polar Plunge” in both Arctic and Antarctic waters, which makes her a different kind of “bi-polar.” She is also grateful to have photographed penguins and polar bears in their natural habitats.  If you want to co-author in Journal books for Adventure and Outdoor travels, take a look at www.LisaSonne.com.

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