When I woke up on Day 8 of our Norway/Arctic Circle cruise on the National Geographic Explorer, I pulled up our room darkening shades (remember we are in the land of the mid night sun in June) and wow, I look out and see chunks of ice in the water.
I know I’m not in Kansas. Yes, that’s a cliche but I can’t resist.
I pull on several layers of clothes and head to the Bridge.
One of the cool things about the National Geographic Explorer is that they have an open bridge. This means that guests can hang out in the part of the boat where the captain and crew run it. The visibility is great and it is wonderful to see the captain and crew handle our 365 foot state -of -the -art exploration ship.
This morning it was filled with naturalists and guests all very quietly, with binoculars glued to their noses, staring at the frozen white landscape. Yes, we are in polar bear country. The goal is to spot one.
They are to hard to see. White against white. It’s very quiet and I can feel the intensity as these folks search for a bear. Some people came on this trip just to see Polar Bears. Some one says, “I see something at 3 o’clock…..The whole group moves to that side of the bridge….and it is determined that what has been spotted is a reindeer. (I’m happy. How many of us have seen them in the wild? )
Reindeer, while interesting, are not what we came to see.
Soon, the quiet is replaced with an erie thumping noise accompanied with the shudder of the boat. We are hitting ice chucks. This ship, a former Norwegian ferry boat, has been outfitted to handle the ice but it is a little disconcerting to a fair weather sailor like me.
I get used to it though and peer off at the mountains, the snow, the ice. Some one points out a baby seal and another bear tracks on floating ice. I’m fascinated with the play of the light on the water, the color of the ice–blue under water– and the many reflections of the wild terrain around me.
Soon, a tiny yellow shape is spotted and identified as a bear by one of the guests (it’s a big deal–who spots the first bear of the season) and the captain turns the ship and we head towards the big fellow.
He wasn’t very active but we got close enough to see him stand up and look around a few times, than lay down for a nap. We kept our distance, one of the principles of NG/Lindblad trips. No stressing the wildlife.
Later, after breakfast I found myself a comfy chair in the library at the top of ship, a glorious spot with floor to ceiling windows and rows of travel and wildlife books on shelving running down the center of the room. I settled down to read, edit photos and gaze endlessly at the spectacular and somewhat hypnotic setting. I can’t get enough of it.
I barely got started when our Expedition Leader made a potent announcement over the loud speaker. “Good morning , we have just spotted another bear off the port side of the boat.”
Guests donned layers of arctic gear, grabbed cameras and binoculars and headed for the various decks to check him out.
We were not disappointed. He turned out to be a very curious bear who meandered over to us. No sounds were heard on the various decks except for the continuous clicks of digital cameras. Soon the ship stopped. The captain turned off the engines. We could savor the magic moment of seeing a polar bear in the wild, very close to the ship. I found myself holding my breath. Couldn’t believe that this was happening.
We watched him in his natural home, clamoring over the ice, looking up at us, taking a nap and then wandering off in search of his next meal.
During the course of our voyage, 12 bears were spotted along with whales, birds, seals and walruses. Truly a memorable experience.