Our luxury cruise ship, Oceania cruise line’s Insignia, sailed into the northern most city in the world – Longyearbyen, on the isle of Spitsbergen, on the territory of Svalbard of Norway (long enough title, huh?). Today, worthy of an exotic cruise, we completed an excursion of epic proportions I would highly recommend to any of my clients up to an adventurous challenge.
The day is a beautiful summer day in Longyearbyen, 6 degrees Celsius and cloudy, with just a hint of polar wind. I was picked up by the van, given a float suit (always a sign of good things to come) and we headed for the boat. This was not your typical watercraft, made by Polarcirkel; this extremely high-speed boat had saddle style seating. We headed out to Isefjord, a place with soaring mountains and glaciers all around; it was spectacular (though very cold!). I saw birds, including my first close up sighting of a Puffin! We arrived on a seaweed-covered beach and proceeded to take off the float suits and prepare for the hike.
The guide pointed to where we were going (approximately 2 kilometers), I didn’t realize at first that was just the point where we would start ascending the mountain. At this point, I was no longer cold whatsoever. I am in quite good shape and I was starting to feel quite tired. The surface is all loose slate and gravel, and we were jumping across streams of glacier melt and climbing over rocks – this is not a beginner's hike. We climbed straight up the side of a mountain, a distance of about 600 meters (1,800 feet). Geologically, every centimeter of elevation equaled about 1,000,000 years of time. Our boat looked like nothing more than a spec of dirt on my camera lens from the halfway point.
At the top we got started on our mission: to find reptile fossils from 150,000,000 years ago. This area was once submerged under the sea, until what would be the island bumped into Greenland and was driven to the surface. The animals we would be finding were those that gradually came out of the sea to live on dry land, some of which returned back to the sea. We were given chisel and shovel and sent out to dig. I recovered many fossils, mainly shells and ammonites. They have found large marine reptiles in the area previously, which are now at the University in Longyearbyen. We proceeded to hike back down, and have a wonderful hot lunch and black currant tea. I then realized something…. I don’t have my phone. My guide was wonderful, he offered to climb back up and get it. I had, in my most tired point, managed to leave it on a rock. He grabbed his rifle, and ran back up the mountain (in Svalbard, it is law that you must carry a rifle anywhere outside of town due to the risk of polar bear attacks). While the guide was back up the mountain we boarded our boat for a trip to the bird cliffs. Thousands of nesting sea birds find spots on the rocks where they raise their young. We had a glimpse of one seal as well. We returned for our guide (and my iPhone) and took a chilly ride back to the dock, and to a welcome site, our luxury cruise ship. This was a day I will never forget! At this point I thought the eventful part of the day was over -- I couldn’t have been anymore wrong.
About 1:00am I looked out of my veranda and saw we had sailed into a thick fog around the tip of Svalbard. Visibility was no more then 10 meters, so until it happened, I couldn’t see it. We sailed directly into the polar ice pack. Ice surrounded the ship like ice cubes in a glass. It was a sight right out of Titanic, no visibility and nothing but icebergs. As the ship bumped into them, those on lower decks described sound as similar to the gangway being extended, to me it was like chimes on a church clock. The captain expertly navigated us through it to safety. It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience and nothing short of awe inspiring. I promise, pictures will be coming.
The top cruise lines of the world, like Oceania Cruises, certainly offer some of the most amazing opportunities to explore our planet.