NWS Client Mone's First Foray to Svalbard

Mone Petsod

02 Nov 2018

Wildlife, wilderness and natural wonders await...

The name drew a blank stare when I mentioned my destination. No-one had a clue what or where Svalbard was. I had never heard of it myself until three years ago, when the name appeared on the flight monitor as I was flying from North America to Hong Kong. After learning that polar bears outnumbered the human population in Svalbard, I was ready to pack my bag.

Despite some misgivings about my 81-year-old husband’s health and stamina, we arrived in Longyearbyen on a cold, blustery evening. It was the beginning of a voyage that took us to a world far beyond anything I had ever imagined.

Throughout our time in Svalbard, the sun that did not set below the horizon gave me a surreal feeling. At 78°13’ N, 6° 23’ E, Longyearbyen was the northernmost point on earth that we had visited. Little did I know that our fearless expedition leader, Chase, and the valiant MS Malmö and her crew would take us to 82° 45' N, 6° 23' E, merely 800 km/500 miles away from the North Pole.

The MS Malmö was crunching, breaking, scraping and straining her way through sea ice when suddenly, our expedition leader announced that the captain had a surprise for us on the port side of the ship. A ladder. Onto pack ice. We were going to walk in the realm of polar bears! Initially, my husband said he was not climbing down that steep ladder. But seeing how excited everyone was as we climbed down and walked around on the crunchy ice, he suddenly went back to our cabin to don a life jacket and to everyone’s surprise and delight, began to climb down the ladder.

Such surprise and delight greeted us every single day in Svalbard. A blue whale frolicked in the fjord soon after we left port. A gorgeous mother bear and her two cubs performed for us on the beach for what felt like hours before she gently led them away over a knoll. A large group of juvenile walrus greeted our zodiacs as we zoomed forward.

More and more walrus kept on swimming toward us. After we landed on the beach I turned around and there they were, a few metres away, jostling for position, snorting, diving, resurfacing, looking at us with their red beady eyes.

Another mother bear frantically leading her two cubs from a bird cliff suddenly jumped into the sea right before our eyes and quickly swam away; she knew that the land was about to slide from beneath their paws. From an iceberg, a beautiful bearded seal with the most striking colouring and soulful tear marks watched us approach gingerly through the ice floes.

One glorious day under the deep blue sky, several hardy souls led by our indomitable captain plunged into the icy fjord. Their faces upon resurfacing were priceless. Where was a hot tub when we needed one?

Ten days on the MS Malmö gave us only a glimpse into this fascinating archipelago. But the images like no others will be etched in my memory for the rest of my life.

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