I didn’t really know what to expect when I set out to The Arctic. – there’s no frame of reference or point of comparison. Our group spent 10 days carving through the waters of The Arctic archipelago of Svalbard on the Sergei Vavilov.
The expedition team, headed by award-winning photographer and Exodus leader Paul Goldstein, were friendly and knowledgeable. Each had their own specialism; from polar bears to walrus and ice formations to north flora. During the team’s passionate presentations I became a sponge. The photographic slideshows from Paul of his Exodus adventures were a highlight, eliciting so many ‘ahhs’ and ‘wows’ that it became comic.
On an Exodus photographic trip an itinerary doesn’t really exist – you follow the ice, you follow the wildlife. Our first venture into the landscape on zodiacs started off with baby steps; a polar bear fast asleep on a rock high above us. My camera lens, or lack thereof, couldn’t quite get a grip on it. But following the baby steps were giant strides… Our second zodiac cruise found us sitting with bated breath as a mother and two cubs picked their way along the tundra. We watched, floating voyeurs, cameras clicking. I think most of us were perfectly prepared for this to be our one great polar bear encounter, but instead it seemed to act as a tipping point for a plethora of wildlife moments of which I’ll pick just a few…
I was fast asleep when a voice sounded over the tannoy – a polar bear had been spotted. I hastily pulled on layers of clothing over my pyjamas and ran upstairs to the deck, binoculars at the ready. My stupefied fellow passengers merely pointed over the side of the ship. I leant over and there he was, an enormous bear strutting around just below me, wagging his head in curiosity and wriggling around on the ice. Without exception, the best moment of my life. Another cruise resulted in a close encounter with a walrus, which popped its tusked head out of the water about a metre from our zodiac and one of our walks resulted in a Disney-esque moment when a herd of bugged-eyed reindeer wandered right up to us to get a good look. A photographic feast. And of course, there was the lone bear on the iceberg…
A trip to Monaco glacier turned my world blue. Crags of towering, cobalt ice– each pixel, completely and overwhelmingly stunning. Dave, one of the leaders, told me this was because the bugs that lived in the ice had blue blood and they’d all been squashed. For a second I believed him… It’s really a masterpiece of nature – the ice absorbs every colour but blue. This backdrop offset thousands of kittiwakes, a maelstrom of wings and cries. Accompanying this symphony was the undercurrent crackling of the melting ice.
On the day that we entered the ice, I just sat and stared for hours on deck at the acres of sparkling white, a frozen jigsaw puzzle that split and cracked as we moved. The ice was the stage for our Arctic barbeque and our cocktail celebration when we passed 80 degrees North.
My trip to The Arctic was the easily the best thing I’ve ever done; the sheer scale and beauty taught me the insignificance of being.