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About cboyle

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    Cool Cruiser

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    North Carolina, USA
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    Hiking, snorkeling, SCUBA
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  1. I have a word processing app on my Kindle and take notes every day; so does my husband. We also take a lot of photos and that helps jog our memories. Plus the daily program has a lot of information. We are doing an Antarctic expedition on Ponant starting February 3. Maybe we will see the Ocean Adventurer down there! Also, we booked both the Arctic and the Antarctic expeditions well ahead of time and chose two different companies in order to be able to compare the experiences. We would have no hesitation about exploring with Quark again. I am sure you will have a fantastic time! If you have any questions, just ask.
  2. I'm surprised that you didn't see it there. I put a link to this forum rather than posting the entire report twice.
  3. You are both very welcome. When we were planning this trip, I found lots of reviews and information for Antarctica but comparatively little on the Arctic. I hope this helps. If you have any questions, I will try to answer them.
  4. I am very surprised--I always receive a reply within a day at most. The only email I have is the one on their site: info@defrantur.com. I will email Laura and ask whether they are having internet problems.
  5. Day 16: Wednesday, September 25, 2019—Disembarkation, Kangerlussuaq, Greenland to Ottawa, Canada At 12:30 a.m. this morning, Ali woke us all up to see the Northern Lights! We hastily threw on some warm clothes and hurried to the outer decks. The ship was navigating the 120-mile (190 km) long Kangerlussuaq Fjord; we could see the pale green curtains of light above the wall of the fjord to the south. Unfortunately, the display did not last very long but we stayed out for as long as we could see it. I was so excited to finally see the aurora that I was simultaneously laughing and crying. John tried to take some photos; he thought maybe after some Photoshopping, we could see the lights. Alas, it was not to be. I also hoped that someone on the Expedition Team took some shots that would be included in the photo journal. Again, no luck. We had to put out our checked luggage at 7:30 a.m.; it was taken to the Lounge and arranged by cabin deck. After breakfast, we collected our passports and found a spot in the Lounge to wait until the airline officials came to give us boarding passes and luggage tags. Our luggage would be transferred to the Kangerlussuaq Airport and we would claim it in Ottawa. Then it was time to wait for everyone to be checked in, by deck. At 10:15 we watched the 60-minute documentary, "Chasing Ice." Finally it was time to disembark the Ocean Adventurer by our Zodiac groups; Parry was third. Near Kangerlussuaq (“big fjord”), the fjord is silted up, so the ship anchored in deep water; the Zodiacs must follow a narrow channel to reach the Kangerlussuaq Pier. Even though this was a dry landing, we were advised to wear waterproof outerwear for the crossing. This was the only time we wore our unlined waterproof pants over our cargo pants. When we reached the pier, we surrendered our life jackets and boarded buses for the transfer to Kangerlussuaq Airport. It is a 40-minute drive from the pier to the airport. The 1.9-mile (3 km) long airstrip was built by the U.S. during WWII as a refueling stop for military flights between North America and Europe. There were landing craft from that era on the beach near the pier. This is a very small town (population ~500); almost all of the adults are involved with the airport, the hotel or some other tourism-related job. Along the way, our driver pointed out highlights of the area. Even though we had a charter flight, we had to go through regular airport security and some of my toiletries over 3.4 ounces (100 ml) were confiscated. One guest had a bottle of wine and I think he was able to have that placed in his checked luggage. This was a bit frustrating as Quark could have warned us that the liquids rules on the flight back to Ottawa were different than on the charter flight to Resolute, where no inspection took place. Again we had no problem with the luggage weight although we had picked up a few souvenirs on the ship. My bag was 25 lbs (11.3 kg) and John’s was 30 lbs (13.7 kg). Now there was a long wait in an overheated gate area. People were getting pretty unruly by the time we finally were ready to board the plane. Again, there were no seat assignments, so the boarding process was chaotic. It is 1756 miles (2826 km) from Kangerlussuaq to Ottawa and the flight took over four hours. After we arrived at Ottawa International Airport, we went through immigration, collected our luggage and cleared Canadian customs. The local transfer agent met us in the arrival hall and herded us onto buses for the ride back to the Marriott Delta hotel. We were fortunate to be on the first bus, so while John retrieved our luggage, I picked up our key and we were quickly in our room. We had hoped to return to the Bier Markt for dinner but it was closed for a special function. We decided to try the nearby Brixton’s Pub. It was nothing special but did the job for us. The burgers were a bit dry and they had no steak sauce to go with them. (They said they don't serve steaks anymore, so they no longer provide A-1, Heinz 57, etc. for the burgers.) The fries were good and so was the beer. Maybe other items on the short menu were more exciting. Back at the hotel, we made it an early night because we had a 6 a.m. flight to Philadelphia. Day 17: Thursday, September 26, 2019—Ottawa, Canada to RDU Because of the changes in the bus routes, we decided that it would be best to take a taxi to the airport. At this early hour, there was no traffic and the fare (with tip) was only 32 CAD ($25 USD). We were able to check in and go through security right away but there was quite a wait for U.S. Customs and Immigration to open. By the time that happened, the regular passport line was quite long; however, there were only a few people with us in the Global Entry line. It was good to get through those formalities fast because there is only limited seating in the gate areas. Once we arrived in Philadelphia, we had over three hours until our flight to RDU. We decided to use our Priority Pass membership at the Minutes Suites there. Because we are both members, we could use a suite for two hours. This was the first time we had used a Minute Suite and it was wonderful to be able to stretch out and nap. We were thoroughly refreshed by the time we had to go to the gate for our flight to RDU. The flight and drive home were uneventful. This expedition vastly exceeded our expectations because of the wildlife sightings and the superb Expedition Team. We were extremely fortunate to have good weather, sea and ice conditions. I can only wish that everyone who takes such a voyage has an equally good experience.
  6. Day 15: Tuesday, September 24, 2019—Exploring West Greenland: Sisimut and Itilleq It was even warmer today; the air temperature was 44.6°F/7°C. Today we would visit two Greenland towns, one large and one small. The first was Sisimiut (population ~5500); the name means "the residents at the foxholes.” We were given a map with points of interest (www.mappery.com/maps/Sisimuit-City-Map.gif) but decided to take the guided walking tour first. Our local guide was a teacher with her 7-month-old baby. We walked past all the sights: Kayak Club, schools, grocery stores, municipal buildings, sled dogs, cemetery, etc. The city was nice and had great surroundings. After the walk, we visited the tiny museum (admission again prepaid by Quark), which consisted of several buildings, including the oldest (1775) surviving church in Greenland. Outside the yellow house near the main museum building, we were offered a “Taste of Greenland.” The foods included seal blubber, dried minke whale skin and jerky, dried cod, red shrimp and reindeer soup. The shrimp and reindeer stew were great. The blubber was chewy—I wouldn't want to live on it. By the time we made it back to the ship, we had only walked 2.8 miles (4.5 km). While we were in town, those who chose to stay on the ship or return earlier had the option of a presentation by a local teacher about his experiences living and teaching in Ittileq and Sisimiut. However we made sure to be back on the ship in time to view a traditional kayaking demonstration. Maligiaq Padilla is known worldwide for his kayaking skills and is the only person in history to win ten Greenland National Kayaking Championships. He demonstrated many of the 35 rolls that must be executed in the competition. This was an amazing performance! After lunch Andrea, the Expedition Coordinator, gave us a short disembarkation briefing before we headed off on the final excursion of our voyage to the tiny community (population ~130) of Ittileq (“hollow”), situated in a scenic hollow on a small island with no freshwater and no roads. Here we were first treated to another traditional Kaffeemik, after which we were free to stroll around this colorful community surrounded by sea, mountains and fjords. The community invited the guides and guests to a football (soccer) match. We did not stay for the game but it was clear from the warm-ups that Fabrice is a ringer and some of the others on the Expedition Team are also pretty good. In the evening, the Captain invited everyone to the Farewell Cocktails in the Lounge. For dinner, John started with pumpkin bisque and I had the pear and Roquefort salad; we both followed that with the rack of lamb provençale. The wines were a Chianti and a good Chardonnay from Montes Alpha. Dessert tonight was a special chocolate buffet. Excellent! After dinner was a slide show “Northwest Passage: Epic High Arctic,” which included photos taken by the Expedition Team and the guests; this photo journal would be available for download about two months after the voyage. Kataisee made all of us in the mitten group stand up to be applauded; later she gave each of us a certificate written in English and Inuktitut. Thankfully, we did not have to sing the alphabet song.
  7. Day 14: Monday, September 23, 2019—Exploring West Greenland: Ilulissat & the Ilulissat Icefjord This morning it was foggy and the ship was plowing through sea ice and icebergs of all sizes. Occasionally the ship shuddered as an iceberg scraped against the hull. The air temperature was 41°F/5°C. Today’s destination was the village of Ilulissat ("iceberg”) and the nearby Ilulissat Icefjord, a UNESCO World Heritage Site—the only one in Greenland. The glacier that produces the ice field is Sermeq Kujalleq (aka Jakobshavn Glacier), the most productive glacier in the northern hemisphere. Sermeq Kujalleq is thought to be the source of the iceberg that sank the Titanic, based on the sheer number of bergs that it calves. The glacier is so far up the icefjord that we would not be able to see its face. Because of the poor sea conditions, the start of the transfer to Ilulissat (population ~4500) was delayed; Parry was the third group ashore. There was a choice either of walking 1.2 miles (2 km) to the trail head at the Old Heliport just outside the World Heritage Site or of taking a complimentary shuttle there. We decided to take the shuttle and save our energy for hiking. We didn’t need an armed guide today. There are three trails (www.kangia.gl/-/media/images/om-kommunen/isfjorden/ilulissat%20vandrekort%20kal.jpg) that start at the Old Heliport: Blue, Red and Yellow; most people took the Blue trail. The first section, the World Heritage trail, is a boardwalk that leads to the edge of the icefjord. There were Team members to guide us along; we walked with Kataisee’s group. It is important to stay on the trails because of the threat of tsunamis. The boardwalk ends at the abandoned Inuit settlement, Sermermiut. From there, the Blue trail continues up the icefjord over boulders until it connects to the Red trail, which leads back into town. We continued on the Blue trail up to an overlook and walked a bit more along the edge of the icefjord, enjoying the spectacular views, before backtracking to the trail head in order to take the Yellow trail. We even spotted a sightseeing boat dodging the icebergs. The Yellow trail passes the cemetery and winds around a headland before it enters town near the Power Plant. This trail gives fantastic views of the entrance to the icefjord and a multitude of gigantic icebergs. This is a fairly well-marked trail but we still missed a marker somewhere near the end and had to cut cross-country. We only met one other guest from the ship; he was enjoying lunch on one of the high points and later caught up to us as we reached the wooden stairs at the end of the trail. We also encountered Erin (Polar Boutique Manager/Guide), who was hiking the trail in the opposite direction, and, as we got closer to town, Tara, who was just starting. Back on the boat, Claire told us that she had run the entire loop before breakfast! Oh to have the energy of the young! Even though we hiked 5.1 miles (8.2 km) today—nearly as far as we did at Eqip Sermia—it did not seem as difficult to me because we could go at our own pace and stop for as many photos as we wanted. On a rock near the Power Plant is a monument commemorating the 250th anniversary of the town; it is a tangle of Inuits, fish and polar bears. From here, we walked to the small Knud Rasmussen Museum. The explorer, who was the first to traverse the Northwest Passage by dogsled, was born in Ilulissat and there is a bust of him outside the museum. There are also other exhibits outside including boats, sledges and a whalebone arch. Inside are various exhibits about Rasmussen and aspects of Inuit life. The stairwell is lined with pelts from different types of seals. A depressing exhibit is an overhead photograph of the icefjord, with lines showing how much it has retreated over the decades. Admission to the museum was covered by Quark; we only had to show our ship’s ID cards. Although a number of people wanted to eat lunch in town, we returned to the ship to eat and relax before our afternoon Zodiac cruise of the legendary icefjord. This was another spectacular 90-minute outing among the icebergs. At one point we received a distress call from another Zodiac and thought that the bad fuel was still causing problems. It was simply a ruse: Claire, Ali, Jesse and Dr. Jane were waiting for us to toast the awe-inspiring scenery with sparkling wine or ginger ale. As we sailed away from Ilulissat, the Expedition Team presented a “Taste of Greenland: Fish & Beer Sail Away.” This was an opportunity to taste Greenland ale and lager, schnapps and tea plus a few other Arctic treats. After the Sail Away and briefing, there was a fund-raising auction to benefit Polar Bears International. Various mementos and souvenirs of the trip were auctioned; bidders were given extra champagne and buyers got a patch to recognize their donation. We had intended simply to donate but I ended up placing the winning bid for some cards designed by Inuit children, a baseball cap and two bags of Greenland tea. Nat was a very entertaining auctioneer! Dinner tonight was a good black bean soup and filet mignon. Wines were a Cabernet Sauvignon from Chile and a Pinot Grigio from Italy. Later the Expedition Team held an Arctic Quiz and other games.
  8. Day 13 Sunday, September 22, 2019—Exploring West Greenland: Eqip Sermia After breakfast Ali gave a presentation called “There Is No Plan(et) B.” That was followed by an introduction to Quark’s brand-new Arctic Ambassador program, given by Nat (Naturalist Guide/Mandarin Guide). Eqip Sermia, at the upper end of Disko Bay, is an outlet for the Greenland Ice Sheet and is one of the fastest moving glaciers in the region. This is an impressive glacier: the face is up to 626 feet (200 m) high and over two miles (4 km) wide. It also is one of Greenland's most active glaciers. Our route to the glacier was littered with huge icebergs that had calved from the glacier. When a huge chuck of ice fell from the glacier in 2014, it caused a tsunami wave 164 feet (50 m) high. Ali and the Captain had doubts that we would be able to visit the glacier because the Sullorsuaq Strait and Ata Sund were predicted to be blocked with ice. However, we were fortunate and the Ocean Adventurer was able to navigate close enough that Ali could organize Zodiac cruises to view the glacier face from as near as was safely possible. Alas another problem arose! Fuel for the Zodiacs had been purchased in Uummannaq and it was contaminated. Most of the Zodiacs were disabled and had to be towed back to the ship, cutting short our cruise. We did see some calving and were able to observe more from the ship. It was hard to get any photos though! While we enjoyed some wonderful samosas and passable chicken cordon bleu for lunch, the Expedition Team and the ship’s crew was busy flushing the fuel lines and cleaning the Zodiac motors. Ali was concerned that there might not be enough fuel for the remaining Zodiac cruises that she had planned and hoped to buy more when we reached Ilulissat. By the afternoon, enough Zodiacs had been repaired that we could be sent off in our hiking groups for a 5.3-mile (8.5 km) hike to a glacier overlook on a lateral moraine. From the beach, we walked around a small lagoon (where we saw some Pink-Footed Geese), so the trail was fairly flat until the steep climb up the moraine. It was worth it for the great view of the glacier face and we even saw black ice emerge from the bottom of the glacier. The Quark parkas are much too warm to wear when exercising strenuously and lots of us took the outer shell off before starting the climb to the overlook; we just dumped them in piles on the ground. Although I managed to do this hike, I was the slowest in the Charger group. John, however, stayed up at the front of the Charger pack. If there had been any more group hikes, I think I would have gone with the Medium-Fast group. Dinner tonight was styled “Dining with a Glacier: Arctic BBQ Dinner.” The food was good and interesting: boiled shrimp with cocktail sauce, lamb patties, suckling pig with really hard skin, pork ribs, salmon, apple crumble; there were lots of other dishes too. However, standing around shivering is not our favorite way to eat and it was really cold outside! We were saved by multiple cups of Glühwein (hot mulled wine), as well as some South African Sauvignon Blanc and Pinotage. Later there was an Ocean Adventurer Arctic Dance Party outside for those who like to shiver and dance at the same time.
  9. Day 12: Saturday, September 21, 2019— Exploring West Greenland: Ummannaq The waves were worse during night. It was really interesting taking a shower this morning! The rocking and rolling finally stopped when we entered the Uummannaq Fjord. Even so, the dining room was pretty empty for breakfast. It was much warmer this morning—42.8°F/6°C. The first presenter this morning was Ron, the graduate student from the University of Alberta, who was representing Polar Bears International. The talk was about his doctoral research, "Satellite Tracking of Polar Bears." Only female bears can be fitted with a tracking collar because the males' heads are smaller than their necks and the collar would slip off; males have to get ear tags. The collars are designed to last only two years: there is a timed explosive to break the collar, the collar itself is biodegradable and the screws that secure the collar are designed to rust and break. Later I went to Kataisee's presentation on "Inuit Fashion and Cultural Connections." She talked about traditional methods and materials for making and decorating clothing. However, garments made of skins only last about ten years, so most everyday clothing is now made from modern fabrics. She showed photos of some garments made and decorated by her mother and sister. After lunch, we visited the community of Ummannaq (“heart-like”), on Ummannaq Island (population ~1300). As we sailed in, we could see the granite mountain that looms over the town; its twin peaks and red-tinged rock give it a vaguely heart-shaped appearance. These were spectacular surroundings and a pretty town. For our self-guided visit, the ship had provided two versions of the Uummannaq town map, with seven important landmarks numbered: a printed version and a PDF download. Expedition Staff were also stationed throughout the village to help us find the sights. Naturally, the two versions of the map did not agree and the guides did not know which was correct (it was the paper one). Uummannaq has a small dock (#1 on the map), so we could make a dry landing and were not required to wear the Muck boots ashore. However, we both wore them because those making the hike needed them for the Zodiac pick-up at the end of the walk and I thought they would be warmer on the Zodiac cruise. Parry was the first Zodiac group ashore, where we met the local guide, Erik. He was a last-minute substitute for the contact with whom Ali had made all the sightseeing arrangements; that person had an emergency reindeer hunt to attend. Erik said that both the church and the museum were closed now but might be open later. Ali was quietly and professionally furious because she had been assured the day before that the church and museum would be open for us. We had two hours to explore Uummannaq before the hike or cruise. Our group was the first scheduled to visit a local home for a traditional "Kaffeemik" (#4). This is a bit like an "Open House", except it is more of an affirmation of community bonds than a party. Each visitor only stays about 20 minutes: ten minutes in the kitchen eating fish and meat and ten minutes in the living room having coffee/tea and cakes. We sampled cooked musk ox, narwhal jerky, dried herring, cooked herring, cake with raisins and cake with jam filling. Now we had 90 minutes of free time. The sight on which the two maps disagreed was Little Lake (#5). With so much time to fill, we decided just to walk to both spots. We first walked to the location of the lake shown on the online map; that turned out to be the incorrect one. We arrived at the actual Little Lake, which is the town's reservoir. The water supply was recently contaminated with oil when someone opened a wrong valve; the town's water was currently being supplied by collecting and melting icebergs. Next we walked to the lake location from the printed map; this was a wooden staircase to a nice overlook of the lake and the town. The other four sites were relatively close to each other, so we decided to visit them after we had walked along some of the streets on the waterfront. During our walk we heard a cacophony of working dogs barking; we later learned they were being fed. During the summer, when they are not working, they are only fed once a week. There is a strict hierarchy for feeding the dogs to maintain discipline and again petting is forbidden. When we arrived at the church, we saw Erik and a group of guests standing next to the tiny post office, in front of the museum. The post office was closed because it was Saturday. The church (#2) and the museum (#3) were still closed and Erik had been unable to find anyone with the keys. The gift shop (#6) and the cafe (#7) were also closed today. Erik had managed to find someone to open the Blubber House; it was once used to store blubber and the outside walls are insulated with stones. Now it seems to be a community center for displays of work by schoolchildren and local artists. Those included models, paintings, stuffed birds, reindeer antlers, a musk ox skull and, most impressively, a narwhal tusk. Between the Blubber House and the church are three traditional sod houses, with outer walls made of sod blocks and stones. We walked around a little longer but, with everything closed, there was not much else to do. This posed a real problem for those who needed a WC; there were no public facilities available, so they had to return to the ship for relief. There were two tables set up near the harbor selling expensive handicrafts. I checked those out, then John and I found a bench nearby and watched the activity in the ice-choked harbor, where three people were struggling to pull a boat ashore through the ice. All our walking around time amounted to 2.1 miles (3.4 km) Finally it was time for John to head back to the church for the hike and for me to return to the landing site for the Zodiac cruise. The cruise took us through ice along the coast of the island. At one point, we saw a lot of the dogs we had heard earlier, tethered on the side of a hill. We even saw a small iceberg flip over. The cruise continued to Qasigissat Bay, at the base of Ummannaq Mountain; this was the pick-up point for the hikers. It is also the location of "Santa’s Summer House", which is a small, green turf hut built for a Danish TV show about Santa Claus. A highlight of the cruise was a wet landing at a small islet in the bay that is used for butchering whale carcasses. There were many skeletons here; Grigory was not sure but thought they were pilot whales. I was really glad I had worn the Muck boots so that I could go ashore here! While I was on the Zodiac cruise, John did the easy 1.7-mile (2.7 km) hike with 40-45 guests. Erik led the hike but it seemed to take a long time because he stopped for every question; he was a really nice guy but loved long answers. The trail was well-marked by cairns and orange circles. The hikers got to go inside the Santa House, which is decorated with a Christmas theme. Although we were not afforded the opportunity to visit it on this trip, the Qilaqitsoq archaeological site is near Uummannaq. Eight fully dressed mummies, which date back to 1475 AD, were discovered under a rock outcrop there in 1972 by a pair of hunters. These mummies are now exhibited at the Greenland National Museum in Nuuk. Tonight for dinner, I had the marinated vegetable salad and the five-spice duck breast. Both of the wines were from Australia: a Chardonnay and a Shiraz/Merlot blend. The Bar Talk tonight was “Svalbard, Land of Ice and Bears” by Tara.
  10. Day 11: Friday, September 20, 2019—At Sea Finally a sea day to rest up from all the Charging! With no excursions, there were a number of other activities offered. First was a presentation by Fabrice on "Ecological Consequences of Sea Ice Decline." This talk focused on how various species in the food chain might react to reduction in the sea ice, which would be beneficial for some and detrimental for others. Next we had another mitten session with Kataisee; the group continues to grow. She wanted all of us to get to the same point on our mittens before we decorated the backs with beaded stars, which would represent all of our ancestors. After that, Claire spoke on "Squabbles and Conflicts: Geopolitics of the Arctic." This talk dealt mostly with competing claims to territorial waters by the five countries that directly border the Arctic Ocean. One case involves the boundary between Canada and Greenland, which was set by treaty as a line equidistant from each country. However, both countries claim a tiny island that falls on the boundary. Each year, a Canadian military unit visits the island, raises the Canadian flag, drinks a bottle of akvavit and leaves a bottle of Canadian whiskey. Some time later, a Greenlandic contingent arrives, raises the Greenland flag, drinks the bottle of Canadian whiskey and leaves a bottle of akvavit. After a lunch consisting of an outstanding lentil-spinach stew, we had a 90-minute pause that was quite suitable for a nap. The activities resumed at 3 p.m. with a BBC documentary, "Operation Iceberg – Birth of a Berg"; we skipped that. However we did attend the following ice cream social on the aft deck. There were three flavors of ice cream and three of sherbet, plus various sauces and toppings. It seemed strange to be eating cold ice cream, all bundled up, shivering and watching icebergs float by. The next talk, by Gigory, was "Thriving in the Cold: Nature’s Adaptations to Survival in the Arctic." He discussed the general rules that animals in cold climates tend to be larger, have shorter extremities and have more spherical bodies than similar species in warm climates. An exception is the Arctic fox, whose tail is almost as long as that of the red fox. When the Arctic fox sleeps, it wraps its feet and nose in its tail to keep them warm and breathes through its tail to help warm the air it takes in. At the daily recap and preview, Ali discussed the village we would be visiting tomorrow afternoon and offered two options: a Zodiac cruise or a 1.5-2 hour hike. I decided to sign up for the cruise and save my energy for the more interesting hike that Ali promised at an upcoming village; John decided to do the hike. Throughout the afternoon, the seas had become progressively rougher, with 3-foot (1 m) swells. We noticed barf bags deployed extensively throughout the public areas. The dining room attendance was notably diminished; Kharisma told us that 14 of the 65 cabins (>20%) had requested room service. Fortunately, John and I have never (yet) had any problems with seasickness. We enjoyed more good soups (smoked fish chowder and cream of mushroom) and sea bass with white beans. The wine was a good 2011 Chilean white from Rothschild (Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonney, St. Emillion blend)—pretty good but still young. The activity tonight was “Arctic Art Uncorked”: wine, music and art.
  11. Day 10: Thursday, September 19, 2019—Northwest Greenland: Qaanaaq Thule, at the foot of Mount Dundas, was another base camp for Peary's and Rasmussen's expeditions. The U.S. relocated all the native inhabitants north to Qaanaaq (population ~650), or New Thule, in the early 1950s, when the Thule Air Base was built here. At first an intermediate stop for transpolar flights between North America and northern Europe, the air base became part of the Distant Early Warning System in 1961, when a giant radar site was installed. It was another bad day for kayaking, so the Chargers again needed two Zodiacs. There were a lot of icebergs, so the ship had to maintain its position 1 nM offshore. It was low tide and there were many rocks and mooring lines that had to be avoided at the landing site. Samantha turned off the motor and tried to paddle in, but the shore team had to wade out and pull our Zodiac ashore. Ali said later that a number of people complained about how long the transfer took; the locals are building a jetty where small boats can dock, so this might not be a problem on future visits. Aymie was our our gun carrier/guide and led us first to the cemetery outside of town. The roads in town were icy and we had to choose our path carefully. The graves were all either fenced or outlined in rocks and many were covered with artificial flowers. It was sad to see so many tiny graves of infants and children. A number of graves belong to descendants of Peary and Henson (his teammate), who evidently left more than footprints as they passed through this area. We later learned that every summer the town must estimate the number of people who will die in the coming winter and prepare the grave sites while the permafrost is still soft enough to dig into. We had also been warned not to approach any of the local Greenland Dogs since they are working animals and might not be friendly towards us. Unfortunately, this included the really cute puppies that seemed to be begging to be petted. In order to protect this special breed, by law no other type of dog is allowed north of the Arctic Circle. It is also the law that dogs older than six months must be chained or tethered on a long lead. If a dog is running loose or were to bite one of us, it would have to be killed. Next we walked back into town to begin a hike up to an overlook on a ridge above the town. Three of the group decided to skip the hike and perhaps I should have joined them. The ridge was not that high (750 ft, 228.6 m) but the route was quite steep and there were lots of small rocks and gravel, which were a problem for me in the Muck boots. Even though I had a hiking stick and stripped off my outer jacket, head covering and gloves, I was sweating buckets. I ended up being the last person to the top (shepherded by Dr. Jane). At least I made it up and got to be in the group photos in front of the inuksuks (cairns) on top. On the way down, I again had problems with the footing and at the steepest section of the scree slope, I had three guides helping me. How embarrassing! Of course, I waited until I was almost down to slip and land on my left side, which alarmed the doctor who thought that I had broken my arm. I was fine but did manage to chip my glasses. To add insult to injury, the view from the ridge was not substantially better than the one from the cemetery. This was the least interesting hike of the trip—just a long, rocky slog. Even John was achy afterwards. John was waiting for me near the bottom of the ridge, so Dr. Jane did not have to babysit me anymore. We paid a short visit to the Qaanaaq Museum, with samples of meteorites (including an iron one about the size of a basketball) from the nearby Meteorite Island. There were also displays of minerals found in the area, traditional Greenlandic costumes, a model of a traditional tent, a kayak, a sledge and other artifacts. The museum is housed in the trading post that Rasmussen established in 1910, which was moved here from Thule. The total hiking distance today was 3.6 miles (5.8 km). As we sailed past the location of the Thule Air Base, we could glimpse some of the radar domes in the distance. After lunch, Bertie gave a presentation on "Greenland: Exploration & Transformation." This was followed by another session with Kataisee to hem the cuff of our mitten and apply a beaded design along the cuff; the mitten group now numbered 25. After that was a presentation, "Ice is Nice," with Alice. Dinner was eggplant Parmesan, which was just okay. The wines were Italian Pinot Grigio and Valpolicella; those were also just okay. Later a documentary, “Vision Man,” about an 87 year old Inuit hunter, was shown.
  12. Day 9: Wednesday, September 18, 2019—Northwest Greenland: Etah Today was supposed to be similar to yesterday, with presentations in the morning and an expedition in the afternoon. However, the ship encountered less ice than expected, so we reached the next anchorage, at the entrance to Foulke Fjord, much earlier than planned. Thus the daily program was revised to include two expeditions instead of just one. The Captain had to anchor outside the fjord because there are no sounding charts for this area. After breakfast, Sam presented “Photography 102." He gave hints on photographing birds and on taking better photos with our smartphones. (Shoot raw (app) not jpg. Turn on grid. Adjust for highlights. Use HDR. Walk closer, don't zoom.) The second presentation was canceled so that we could Zodiac over to the peninsula near the mouth of the fjord for a tundra hike. Once again we chose the "Charger" group, which was only eight people (I was the only woman) this time; Bertie was our gun carrier/guide. The advantage of this hiking group is that it is first ashore and thus most likely to spot wildlife before it gets spooked by all the people in yellow jackets. This group also walks farther. There was a tremendous amount of seaweed washed up on the rocky beach here. While we were waiting for our group to get organized for the hike, another gun carrier/guide, Jimmy (Marine Biologist/Guide), went rummaging in the seaweed and found a walrus skull. We hiked up several rocky hills before reaching terrain with the grassy hummocks characteristic of tundra. It is hard to hike in the Muck boots; a few people brought their hiking boots and changed into them for the hikes. John suggested that I try using a hiking stick and I found it very helpful on the rockier parts of the hike. Bertie told us that based on his telescopic reconnaissance from our ship, he thought we might have a surprise on our hike. And sure enough, as we got higher, Bertie spotted five Arctic hares sunning themselves on a slope, with another hare standing guard higher up. As we got closer, they ran higher up the slope; John got some great photos and video. Later we saw another group of about eleven hares, with three or four keeping watch. Altogether we saw at least 20 Arctic hares. There were also a lot of remains of hares that had become fox lunches; in one spot, we were able to assemble a fairly complete skeleton. This morning’s hike was 1.6 miles (2.6 km). After lunch (tough roast beef), we took a frigid 6.4 mile (10.3 km) Zodiac ride in our walking groups to the abandoned settlement of Etah. Grease ice (aka oil ice), which looks like an oil slick, was forming on the water. We hoped to see musk oxen during the ride but the search was futile. Etah, at 78° 18.5’ N, was once the most-northerly populated settlement in the world. It was too extreme even for the Inuit so they eventually abandoned the community there. Etah was also a base camp for several Arctic expeditions, including Rasmussen’s journeys to the northern coast of Greenland and some of Peary’s failed attempts to reach the North Pole; it is still occasionally used as a spring and summer hunting camp. There is not much to see, only a few small huts in various states of disrepair. Farther up the valley are several lakes below a glacier. Because conditions were not favorable for kayaking today, some of the kayakers joined the Charger group. We now had 12 (with a few more women), so we needed two Zodiacs to get ashore. The scouts reported that musk oxen had been spotted up the valley. Once everyone had gathered, gun bearer/guide Jimmy headed across the tundra and up a ridge; he hoped to use the ridge as cover to observe the two oxen (which are actually related to sheep, not cattle) without scaring them away. We got really close, but we could only see their hind quarters. From this angle they really look like haystacks, with big, low, shaggy, bulky rear ends. Higher up the valley, we saw two more nicely visible, not so close but looking at us! John got some photos and videos. We continued walking up and down rocky moraines towards the glacier, circumnavigating the glacial lakes. There were many remains of musk oxen and caribou. When we crossed a frozen glacial stream to get to the south side of the valley, I had a better appreciation for the Muck boots. The side moraine here was the worst footing—all big rocks. As we were walking along the edge of a large frozen lake, we flushed an Arctic fox, still in his dark summer coat. He ran across the ice, stopping occasionally to make sure we weren't chasing him, before disappearing on the other side. John again managed to get some photos and videos. We made it to the glacier face and took a group photo. After heading north along the glacier, we came to a deep ice overhang, where we took another group photo. As we walked back to the landing site, we saw many more remains of musk oxen and caribou, including the bloody remains of a musk ox that had been hunted and butchered relatively recently. Once we were back at Etah, we had a short time to view the surviving buildings before cruising back to the ship. This hike was 2.7 miles (4.3 km). Wonderful scenery and wildlife! Glad we were in chargers group! Dinner tonight was potato-crusted grouper or braised beef short ribs. Wines were a Shiraz from South Africa and a Chardonnay from Hungary. After dinner a documentary, “Village at the End of the World,” was shown.
  13. Day 8: Tuesday, September 17, 2019—Exploring Canada’s High Arctic: Exploring Smith Sound in Search of the Northern Pack No wake-up call this morning! During the day the ship would try to cruise as far north as possible, exploring both sides of Smith Sound, the passage between Ellesmere Island and Greenland. The hope was that we would meet the edge of the pack ice north of 80° latitude. Early in the day it was sunny, giving us great views of really big icebergs all over. Later the sun went behind a cloud layer. Before lunch, Fabrice gave a presentation on “Ecology of Sea Ice” and Bertie talked on “Roald Amundsen: A Passage from Pole to Pole.” After lunch Kataisee spoke on “Inuit Languages” and we learned how to write our names in the Inuit alphabet, Inuktitut. Later she told the mitten group that she wanted us to learn the Inuit alphabet song and sing it for the other guests. Easy for her to say! We found the ice pack at 80° 00.508’ N, near the upper end of the Kane Basin. At this point, we were about 690 miles (1110.5 km) from the North Pole, the same as the northernmost part of Svalbard. That was good for us to reach that far north but bad for the planet since the Arctic ice is shrinking. Our Zodiac maneuvered through open leads for quite a ways spotting seals. We also got off and walked on the pack ice (and snow) and drank hot chocolate kicked-up with Godiva chocolate liquor. After that, we motored the short distance into Greenland waters and saw harp seals jumping. No immigration agents nearby to stop us! After all but two of the Zodiacs were lifted, it was time for the Arctic Polar Plunge. John and I stripped down to running shoes, bathing suit and robe. Then we padded over to the Zodiac loading room with a few other brave souls, most of whom had already done this at least once on other Arctic/Antarctic expedition cruises. Dr. Jane was standing by to resuscitate us and Samantha was piloting the rescue Zodiac. After being signed in and doffing the shoes and robe, I was strapped into a cold, wet belt. Then I climbed barefooted down the rough, very cold, metal stairs down to the very cold, metal Zodiac loading platform. There the belt was attached to a rope so that my body could be retrieved for repatriation. Next I was helped across the Zodiac and onto a pool ladder for the jump (more like a backward splash for me) into the 30°F/-1°C water. That is very cold water! The air temperature was a brisk 28°F/-2°C. The photo of the grimace on my face as I exited the water is a permanent reminder of how much I enjoyed the dunking. After being hauled out of the water, across the Zodiac and back onto the loading platform, I was barely conscious that John was standing there, ready to plunge next. I hastened up the stairs, where I was given a towel to dry off a little before getting back into my robe. By the time John got back aboard, I had collected a commemorative patch, downed a large shot of celebratory vodka and gathered up our shoes in preparation for a dash back to the cabin and a hot shower. We didn't notice the vodka until half hour later! We were both surprised to find that the bottoms of our feet had turned white! It took some time in the shower for our feet to turn from white to purple before eventually returning to their normal pinkish color. I had been extremely hesitant about doing the plunge but ultimately was glad that I worked up the nerve. John was downright giddy afterward and actually wanted to go again (he didn't). Only 23 of the 113 guests and 3 crew took the plunge; many of their plunges were much more photogenic than ours. For dinner tonight, John had pan-seared corvina and I had roast game hen; the fish was better. The wines were a trocken Riesling from Germany and nondescript Merlot from France. The Bar Talk tonight was “Sea Kayaking Expedition on the East Coast of Greenland” by Aymie (Paddle Excursion Guide). During the night, the ship’s clocks were set forward another hour to be on West Greenland time.
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