Farewell to the north

Sunset

After the tempestuous night, the waves are still respectable, but the ship is more steady, the Phenergan is still working and there are sea day lectures to be enjoyed in the lounge. Later in the afternoon we realise that the dusty, shadowy line far off is in fact the coast of Iceland. It is a bit surprising how quickly it has come up and John explains the storm has pushed us along faster than the ship technically can travel. It means that there is a possibility of a landing on Iceland’s north shore tomorrow morning before travelling to Reykjavik, our final destination.

But before that, there is a final party to be enjoyed. The dress up theme is green / Greenland and people are encouraged to find something in their kits that they can put together. I have a number of green clothes that I can share with several people for them to dress up in green. I find my camouflage hat in one of my stuff bags and team that up with ski goggles, a green jacket and the green dishwashing gloves I have been using for kayaking. The combination is, well, interesting! The best styled person tonight and the winner of the prize on offer is Barb, who looks absolutely magnificent as the “Greenland Goddess”. There are games played, there is music and dancing and then, all of a sudden and quite miraculously, there is the aurora borealis. The bands of green light dance on the horizon and flicker on and off. It is a remarkable sight and one I wasn’t expecting to have on this trip. And yet, here it is and I am completely enchanted by it.

Dynjandi Falls

The next morning we go for a landing at the Dynjandi falls. We get in by zodiac and then have to walk along the shore to where the falls spill into the sea and where the path starts going upwards along the falls. I am glad I have taken my tripod as this is perfect territory for nice slow shutter speed photographs of the falls. I hike up the hill where the main falls come down in a pool and gradually work my way down from there, stopping at every point to take photographs. It is a gorgeous landscape, very wild. During the two hours I’m there the wind picks up and by the time I catch a zodiac back to the boat the sea is wild and big waves slap over the front of the zodiac where I am sitting, dousing my tripod. Fortunately my camera is tucked away in my dry bag, but others are struggling to keep their cameras dry.

Dynjandi Falls

Back on board there is lunch to enjoy and then we set course for Reykjavik, while looking out for marine life that we may encounter on our journey. There is also a seminar from Colin, who shares his experience working on returning Keiko the orca back into the wild. A remarkable story and one that had entirely passed my by at the time (Keiko was the orca who played the role of Willy in the movie Free Willy) and has had me exploring the whole issue of captive orcas ever since. And while we weren’t lucky seeing any orcas in the waters on our way down to Reykjavik, we did come upon a pod of dolphins who frolicked around the ship and seemed to take great delight in jumping out of the water.

I make a smart move deciding to pack all my stuff in the afternoon, even though the ship is still moving quite a bit. But had I left it to later that evening, the experience wouldn’t have been very good as the wave motion picks up again and the ship lurches through the waves again. After a last night on the ship, we arrive early in the morning in Reykjavik. There is something special arriving somewhere in a port after having spent several days at sea. It seems so much more enjoyable than being spat out of an airplane at the outskirts of a town, this slow arrival in the middle of town in the harbour.

For all its slowness, the final goodbyes come far too soon and feel decidedly hurried and abrupt as we all board two separate buses to be taken to our hotels in the city. By the time I get to my hotel I feel a bit lost and am already missing everyone. After having settled in and checked up on emails, I decide to head out for a meander through town, trying to get rid of my sea legs and aiming to get one of those famous hot dogs at the harbour for lunch.

It is strange walking through a town and seeing so many people I don’t know after spending all this time on the ship in the company of only a few. I still feel lost and then I hear my name being called from across the street. And there are my friends from the ship and it is a happy reunion as all confess to the same feeling of struggling to adapt to a city. It turns out they are all on their way to the hot dog stand as well and so we join together, standing in line for a hot dog. Once we are eating ours, we say hello to Chris and Sue who are joining the queue. We bump into a few more people as we explore the city together and eventually head out for dinner at a local Indian restaurant, which is absolutely superb.

Jokulsarlon

Late that night, in fact very early the next morning, my friend Heike arrives from Germany and the next morning we set off in a rental car towards the south coast of Iceland. It’s about 4-5 hours drive to our hotel and then we have a another hour and a half to drive before we get to Jokulsarlon, the iceberg lagoon at the bottom of a glacier, which I have been keen to visit. It is an amazing place, like a graveyard of icebergs, drifting in this lagoon, until they get crushed together before they slip out of the small opening from the lagoon into the sea and beach themselves on the black sand.

Seal

We are there very late in the afternoon and lucky enough to get some sunlight for some nice photographs. As we admire the landscape, Heike notices a dark shape in the water and we see a seal coming up every now and then. We then notice a seal closer to us and careful and quietly walk up to it for some close up photographs. No one else seems to have seen the seal. Other people seem to be more obsessed with throwing stones in the water, for whatever reason. Afterwards we drive to the black sand beach and photograph the ice lying beached like big sparkling diamonds on a dark velvet background. Eventually it is time to drive back to our hotel, indulge in an expensive dinner before having a good rest.

Ice diamond Ice washed up on the black beach

The next day we drive back (most of) the way we came, stopping at several waterfalls (Skogafoss and Gulfoss) and Geysir where we watch the boiling water spouting up. It’s a cold and windy day, so we don’t stay too long in each place, also because I want Heike still to have a chance to do some shopping in Reykjavik before the shops close. We have an early Indian dinner (again!), before we have to get up very early for our flight to Frankfurt. From there I have another leg to Sao Paulo.

And so the journey finishes, as it always must. This trip has had a profound impact on me and I feel incredibly privileged to have been able to do this and see what I have seen. I hope there will be opportunities in the future as well, provided the Arctic stays this way a bit longer. But climate change is impacting on this extraordinary place and I fear that before too long what we currently know as the Arctic will disappear and change into something less magical.

Ittoqqortoormiit and Denmark Strait

Ittoqqortoormiit

It’s quite a mouthful, isn’t it? But that is the name of the small village we are scheduled to visit on our last day in Greenland. Before that there is another outing on the cards, in Hurry Inlet, but all that goes by the wayside during the night. As John reminds us, this is expedition cruising, and sometimes, things don’t work out to plan.

Early in the morning I wake up from a thumping noise. At first I think it is the anchor, but then I realise it is actually ice. Given I haven’t been very good at getting up early for photographs and how I’m awake anyway, I figure I might as well get dressed and head up to the panorama deck with my camera to see what it looks like outside.

Ice pack sunrise

Outside it is stunning. There is barely a soul around at this early morning hour, but the light is spectacular. With the sun rising it casts a golden glow over one side of Scoresby Sund, while gently illuminating the mountains on the other side of the fjord system. So there is plenty of photography to be enjoyed, while the ship moves slowly through the ice pack.

As John later explains, the ship hit pack ice at 2am in the morning. As it was dark, the decision was made to stop the ship until first light when an assessment could be made. That assessment at 4.30am was not overly positive. Captain Oleg judged it could take up to three days to work through the pack ice. Access into Scoresby Sund, only opened a few days ago, appeared to have closed up again. At first light the ship started probing her way along the ice pack to find a way through, which were the sounds that woke me up. It turned out that the ice prop was thick on both sides, but thinner in the middle, like an hour glass, and eventually the ship managed to find its way through.

By then, the Hurry Inlet excursion was off the program and attempts were made to see if we could visit the village of Ittoqqortoormiit in the morning instead of in the afternoon as per the original plan. As we moor off the village, the communications continue and we patiently wait until we get word that disembarkation will start at 10am. We are also to bring our passports if we want a Greenland stamp in it. We learn that we are only the second ship to make it to the village this season. The sea ice has kept more ships from visiting so far and our trip is really the end of the season here.

Polar bear skin drying

The village is a collection of colourful houses dotted over the hills. When we land we get handed a map and a list of place that can be visited. I start off at the weather station, to see the release of the weather balloon at 11am. From there I descend into the village and buy some postcards in the local supermarket. A somewhat different selection of products, and I am particularly amused to see the rifles and bullets for sale in a small aisle in the back, next to the female hygiene products.

Preparation of the weather balloon

I move through the village, visiting various art and souvenir places. I am very taken by a beautiful pair of seal skin mitts, lined with Arctic hare fur. They are the perfect fit and wonderfully warm, but I could never bring them into Australia and in Brazil one really does not have any need for such mitts. Reluctantly I put them back on the shelf.

My meanderings finish with a group of Greenland dogs, one of which has a litter of eight puppies. They are all asleep on top of each other, occasionally waking to snuggle closer against one of their siblings and promptly falling asleep again. It is now close to “last zodiac time” so I have to head down to the harbour to catch one of the last zodiacs returning to the ship.

Greenland puppies

After lunch we sail along the outer edge of the ice (to avoid getting caught again) to see if we can spot polar bears. But it soon starts to rain and there isn’t a polar bear in sight. After a few hours captain Oleg decides to to point the ship towards Iceland. There is weather coming in behind us and we are advised that we will be in for a rough ride tonight and tomorrow as we cross the Denmark Strait.

The rough ride is no exaggeration. With Phenergan on hand I knock myself out again as soon as I can after a half-eaten dinner. But even with the meds I can feel how the ship rolls endlessly during the night and at times it feels as if I am standing up in bed and the next moment on my head.

In the morning it is still rough, but the intensity is diminishing from the Beaufort 9 it was and I manage to have a shower and breakfast before heading up to the panorama lounge.