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Trip Report: 2019 “Northwest Passage: Epic High Arctic” on the Ocean Adventurer (Quark Expeditions)

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This report includes information on our September 10-26, 2019, “Northwest Passage: Epic High Arctic” expedition cruise on the Ocean Adventurer with Quark Expeditions. Although we have traveled north of the Arctic Circle on several mainstream cruises, this expedition offered the opportunity to experience the Arctic region in more depth and the possibility of good wildlife sightings. We especially hoped to see the Arctic Big 5: polar bear, beluga whale, walrus, musk ox and narwhal. We saw all of those and so much more!

 

This particular expedition was our second choice. Initially, we had picked “Northwest Passage: In the Footsteps of Franklin” from August 27-September 12, 2019. However, that expedition and the one preceding it were chartered by a French company, so we were booted off. We were given the choice of a full refund, of taking selected 2018 Arctic expeditions at a 50% discount plus a free transfer package or of taking a different 2019 expedition at a 20% (30% for premium cabins) discount plus $200 pp OBC. Going on either the Franklin or the High Arctic expedition in 2018 would not work with our other travel plans, so we picked the third option.

 

We booked our expedition through Polar Cruises (www.polarcruises.com). The staff was very helpful in answering questions and handling all the details of the initial booking and the rebooking with Quark. Because of the high cancellation fees for such expeditions, we had already purchased travel insurance for the August departure through SquareMouth (www.squaremouth.com). Because of the circumstances and the fact that the new expedition would now (with the discount) cost less, we were able to cancel the policy for the August departure even though it was past the refund date. We then purchased a new policy for the September departure.

 

Although we could not know this in advance, it was extremely fortunate that we switched to the Epic High Arctic expedition for 2019. After we were onboard, we learned that the 2018 Franklin expedition encountered so much ice that it could only go as far west as Devon Island before turning back (missing Beechey Island); the 2019 Franklin expedition had very few wildlife sightings (no polar bears!).

 

EXPEDITION ITINERARY: NORTHWEST PASSAGE: EPIC HIGH ARCTIC (17 DAYS) [Note: This is the itinerary we followed. Each expedition is unique; the actual sites visited depend on the weather and sea conditions during that expedition.]

 

Canada: Ottawa, Iqaluit, Resolute Bay, Radstock Bay, Beechey Island, Prince Leopold Island, Powell Inlet, Elwin Inlet, Arctic Bay, Dundas Harbour, Croker Bay, Smith Bay, Boger Bay, Ellesmere Island, Kane Basin

 

Greenland: Foulke Fjord, Etah, Qaanaaq, Uummannaq, Disko Bay, Eqip Sermia Glacier, Ilulissat, Ilulissat Icefjord, Sermeq Kujalleq Glacier, Sisimiut, Itilleq, Kangerlussuaq

 

SUGGESTED RESOURCES [Note: Quark provides a map of the polar regions and an “Arctic Reader.” Those items were mailed to us after we made our initial deposit.]

"The Arctic: A Guide to Coastal Wildlife (Bradt Travel Guide)”  (2019) by Tony Soper (Author), Dan Powell (Illustrator)

"Frozen in Time: The Fate of the Franklin Expedition” (2017) by Owen Beattie, John Geiger & Wade Davis

 

ABOUT US

 

John and I (Carolyn) are retired Mississippi State University professors in our late sixties, who currently reside in central North Carolina. Both of us are natives of New Orleans and, as such, are interested in good food (and wine!) and good times. Our preferred souvenir is a small regional or national flag. I already had flags from Canada and Greenland from previous trips but I wanted to obtain a provincial flag for Ontario and a territorial flag for Nunavut.

 

We enjoy both cruises and land tours; often our trips combine the two. We have cruised to or toured all seven continents, primarily in the Americas and Europe. On our trips, we prefer nature and wildlife tours that involve snorkeling, SCUBA diving or hiking. In particular, we will hike for miles to see waterfalls, volcanoes, caves or other interesting geologic features. We also enjoy lighthouses, towers, forts, castles and anything else we can legally climb up for a good view.

 

Previously, we have taken “soft adventures” to the Galapagos Islands on the Celebrity Xpedition (www.cruisecritic.com/memberreviews/memberreview.cfm?EntryID=77850) and to Machu Picchu with G Adventures (www.smartertravel.com/short-inca-trail-machu-picchu/). We have cruised to a number of ports north of the Arctic Circle with Princess Cruises: mainland Norway (Tromsø, Honningsvåg); Spitsbergen (Ny-Ålesund, Longyearbyen), Norway; and Russia (Murmansk).

 

ABOUT THE SHIP

 

The Ocean Adventurer is nearly 50 years old and has operated under several other names, most recently, the Sea Adventurer. CruiseCritic has not updated its review (www.cruisecritic.com/reviews/review.cfm?ShipID=773) of the ship since she was renovated and renamed in 2017; nevertheless, most of the information there is still accurate. More details about the ship can be found on the Quark web site (www.quarkexpeditions.com/en/our-ships/ocean-adventurer).

 

During the refurbishment, the existing cabins and the common areas were remodeled. Six twin cabins and three suites were added, bringing the total number of cabins to 65 and accommodating 128 guests. On our expedition, there were 113 guests; two additional guests missed the included charter flight from Ottawa to Resolute. The guests represented 13 nationalities and spoke seven languages. According to a member of the Expedition Team, the average age of the guests was 67.

 

Among other changes to the ship is a “duck tail” (stern flap), added to counterbalance the two new Rolls Royce engines and improve fuel efficiency. The piano is gone from the lounge and two hot tubs have been added to the Captain’s Deck. The expedition fare now includes all gratuities and wine and beer at dinner.

 

Internet access with unlimited data is $50/device for the entire voyage and there were only a few times when we lost connectivity. Otherwise, the connection was quite good. There is also a free intranet, from which the Daily Program and maps can be downloaded; the intranet can also be used to send text-based messages (e.g., with Facebook Messenger). Although the Daily Program is posted throughout the ship, paper copies are not distributed to the cabins, so it is handy to have it on your smartphone or other electronic device.

 

The laundry service is fast; sometimes clothes were back the same day. Prices ranged from $2 for a handkerchief to $8.50 for a dress. There was also a special laundry offer: one bag for $54, two bags for $84 and three bags for $104.

Edited by cboyle
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REVIEW OF THE EXPEDITION

 

Day 0: Monday, September 9, 2019—Raleigh/Durham (RDU), NC, to Ottawa (YOW), Canada

 

We rose very early to drive to the airport for our 6 a.m. flight to Philadelphia (PHL), where we were scheduled to have a 3+ hour layover before continuing on to Ottawa. On the way, I received a text message from American Airlines that our flight was delayed until 10 a.m. Fortunately, I have the AA app on my iPhone and was able to re-book us on an 8 a.m. flight to PHL at no additional charge, so we could still connect with the flight to YOW.

 

We arrived at YOW about 12:30 p.m. John had researched public transportation options and learned that we could take bus #97 to within two blocks of our hotel, with no transfers. One problem was that there was no ticket machine at the airport and, although the fare can be paid in cash to the driver, there is no change given. Luckily, I had some Canadian coins and currency from a previous trip, so I could give the driver $6 CAD for two $2.65 CAD pp (senior rate) one-way fares. [Note: The downtown bus routes changed on October, 6, 2019. (www.octranspo.com/en/plan-your-trip/service-changes/oct-6/)]

 

The Quark required transfer package includes a one-night hotel stay in Ottawa before and after the expedition, as well as charter flights to/from the ship. The expedition hotel was the Delta Hotels Ottawa City Centre (www.marriott.com/hotels/travel/yowdm-delta-hotels-ottawa-city-centre/), conveniently located near many of the city’s attractions. We booked an extra night on our own using the Marriott Bonvoy rate, which was much less expensive than booking through Quark, and were able to have the same room for both nights. Also, John is a Platinum Elite Marriott Bonvoy member, so we received an upgraded Club Level room (odd musty smell) and access to the Club Lounge for complimentary breakfast, evening snacks and non-alcoholic beverages. We also received early check-in, so we could drop our luggage in the room and head out to explore Ottawa (www.ottawatourism.ca) right away.

 

There are a number of interesting museums in Canada’s capital. We chose the Canadian War Museum (www.warmuseum.ca), which explores Canada's military past from precolonial times to the present day. It is enlightening to see events in North American history from the Canadian perspective. For example, the exhibits on the French and Indian Wars only mentioned the Acadians who were deported to the British colonies, not those who were sent to France and from there settled in Louisiana (to become the ancestors of the Cajuns). There is also a large collection of tanks and other military vehicles, airplanes and a car that belonged to Hitler.

 

After spending several hours at the museum, we stopped for dinner at the  Mill Street Brew Pub (millstreetbrewery.com/ottawa-brew-pub/), housed in an old gristmill on the Ottawa River. We asked for a table overlooking the river—a wonderful setting. Their Monday special was a burger with fries ($10 CAD); it was was really good but kind of generic. We each got a beer flight (8 oz each of four beers for $14.99 CAD), which was very good. John likes more body and flavor in his beer though.

 

When we got back to the hotel, we decided to check out the Club Lounge on the 25th floor. This is a very nice lounge, with a great view over the city. One could almost make a meal of the substantial evening snacks.

 

Day 1: Tuesday, September 10, 2019—Ottawa, Canada

 

This morning we had breakfast in the Club Lounge. The breakfast buffet was outstanding—eggs, bacon, sausage, waffles, potatoes, pastries, etc.—and flavorful.

 

After breakfast, we walked down Sparks St. (a pedestrian mall) to Confederation Square, site of the National War Memorial and Canada's Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. There are also other monuments in this area, such as the Valiants Memorial, a collection of busts and statues depicting individuals who represent critical moments in Canada’s military history and the Garden of the Provinces and Territories, with the flags of the provinces and territories in the order of their entry to Confederation. On the other side of the Rideau Canal is a sculpture grouping, the Famous Five: five prominent Canadian suffragists. Across the street is the historic (1912) Fairmont Château Laurier.

 

We still had some time before our tour of the Canadian Senate, so we walked from the Plaza Bridge along the banks of the Rideau Canal towards the Ottawa River. The eight hand-operated locks on this section of the canal provide a lift of 79 feet (24 m). On our walk, we passed the stone lock station (1814) building and the old Commissariat building (1827), which is the oldest surviving building in Ottawa and now houses the Bytown Museum.

 

Guided tours of the Canadian Parliament are free and can be reserved online (visit.parl.ca/sites/Visit/default/en_CA). In the past, both chambers met in the Centre Block on Parliament Hill, which is currently being renovated. For the next ten years, the Senate is meeting in the Senate of Canada Building and the House of Commons is meeting in the West Block.

 

As instructed, we arrived for our 8:45 a.m. tour of the Senate 20 minutes ahead to allow for the security screening. The Senate of Canada Building was formerly Ottawa’s central railway station. Like the Château Laurier, it was built in 1912 to accommodate passengers on the Grand Trunk Railway. This grand Beaux-Arts style building is interesting in itself: the main departures hall was based on the Great Hall of the Baths of Caracalla in Rome and there are many interesting architectural features. There is a nice slide show in the tour waiting area that shows the evolution of the building over the years. The 30-minute tour visits many sections of the building, including the Senate Chamber. It was interesting to learn how Canada’s Upper Chamber functions and how it differs from the U.S. Senate.

 

Before our tour of the House of Commons, we had time for a 90-minute Rideau Canal boat ride (www.ottawaboatcruise.com/tour/rideau-canal-cruise). The ticket kiosk (28.27 CAD pp, senior rate) is outside the Senate of Canada Building, next to the Plaza Bridge; tours depart from the other side of the bridge.

 

The Rideau Canal National Historic Site (www.pc.gc.ca/en/lhn-nhs/on/rideau) is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This historic waterway consists of rivers and lakes connected by canals and is the oldest continuously-operated canal system in North America. It extends 125.5 miles (202 km) from Ottawa to Kingston, Canada. The tour boat cruises approximately 4 miles (6.4 km) from the Plaza Bridge to Dow’s Lake. During the ride, there is commentary pointing out the various sights along the canal, including buildings, bridges and parks. In the summer, the canal is popular for recreational boating. In the fall, the canal is drained and trash is removed. Then, as the weather gets colder, water is allowed back and freezes over to become the “World’s Longest Skating Rink.” It is also possible to walk along the canal on the Rideau Canal Walking Path (www.pc.gc.ca/en/lhn-nhs/on/rideau/activ/sentier-trail) but we did not have time for that today.

 

We still had some time before our House of Commons tour, so we made a short visit to the historic (1846) Byward Market (byward-market.com/en/home/). This popular tourist attraction includes a large open market, as well as shops, eateries and other services in the market halls. We especially enjoyed the colorful displays of fruits and vegetables. I chanced upon a souvenir shop that had an Ontario flag but not one for Nunavut.

 

From the market, we walked through Major’s Hill Park (ncc-ccn.gc.ca/places/majors-hill-park) to Parliament Hill. Although the Centre Block is surrounded by construction, we could view the Peace Tower, which was built to honor Canadian troops killed in WWI. The 40-minute guided tours of the House of Commons begin in the new Visitor Welcome Centre between West Block and Centre Block. As with the Senate tour, we needed to arrive 20 minutes ahead of our 12:30 p.m. tour to allow for the security screening. This tour was similar to the Senate tour, with information on the function of Canada’s Lower Chamber and features of the historic West Block. A particularly interesting feature of the building is the central courtyard, which was covered by a glass dome roof  and transformed into the temporary assembly chamber for the House of Commons. The original walls of the building form the walls of the chamber and there is even a gargoyle inside. During the restoration of the Centre Block, the Books of Remembrance from the Memorial Chamber have been temporarily moved to the West Block. It is heartbreaking to look at these huge books, which contain the names of Canadians who have died in military service, especially after visiting the War Museum.

 

Our final sight today was the Notre Dame Basilica (notredameottawa.com), a Roman Catholic basilica. Begun in 1841 and completed in 1880, it is the largest and oldest standing church in Ottawa. It is across the street from the National Gallery of Canada, which had a giant sculpture of a spider outside.

 

After our day of touring, we decided to have an early dinner. The Bier Markt (www.thebiermarkt.com/en/locations/ottawa.html) was an excellent surprise! We started with a plentiful order of non-greasy beer-battered onion rings. The beer was delicious, better than at Mill Street Brew Pub. We tried a hoppy IPA and a really good amber ale, which was almost porter-like. John had the mussels cooked in beer, which were tiny and sweet with bacon, and a huge serving of delicious fries. My pork schnitzel, served with Emmental cheese spätzle, braised red cabbage and stout pan gravy, was also great and filling.

 

By the time we returned to the hotel, there was a long queue of guests waiting to check in (5-9 p.m.) with Quark’s local representative. We decided to relax for a little while and let the line diminish before picking up our luggage and cabin tags and collecting our bright yellow parkas. The shipment of parkas for this expedition had not arrived yet, so we only tried them on to verify the size; we would have to pick them up in the morning. Back in the room, we experienced a moment of excitement when I looked at the cabin tags and saw we were in the Owner’s Suite! I knew that had to be a mistake and, sure enough, those guests were listed right below us on the manifest. After getting that corrected, we turned in to be ready for our early wake-up call.

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Day 2: Wednesday, September 11, 2019—Ottawa to Resolute Bay, Embarkation

 

This morning was the most disorganized of the entire trip. We were supposed to put our luggage outside the hotel room door by 3 a.m. and meet in the lobby to identify it from 4-4:15 a.m. When we left our room at 4 a.m. to check out however, our luggage still had not been collected. We decided to drag our luggage down ourselves and leave it with other bags that were waiting to be taken out to the buses. Then we went to pick up our parkas.

 

When we returned to the crowded lobby, people were milling around in confusion, not knowing what to do next. I found one of the local reps, who explained that we needed to stand outside by the curb next to our luggage and make sure it was loaded onto the bus; after that we could board the bus for the transfer to the airport. The hotel porters eventually took our bags out to the buses; we had to load them in the baggage compartment ourselves. It was about this time that the local reps started calling the names of the two missing guests (who had never checked in at the hotel) in the futile hope that they might somehow be on the buses.

 

We finally left for the airport at 4:45 a.m. and arrived there at 5 a.m. We did not depart from the main passenger terminal; I think the bus went through a gate near the end of runway 07/25. The First Air charter plane (a 737-400) did not arrive until past 6 a.m. and we walked across the tarmac to board. There is no assigned seating on these flights; I ended up between John and Ron, a graduate student from the University of Alberta who was representing Polar Bears International. Our flight finally took off around 6:30 a.m. and landed at Iqaluit just before 9:30 a.m. Despite being warned that there were strict weight limits for our checked (44 lbs, 20 kg) and carry-on (11 lbs, 5 kg) bags, they were never weighed. All that worry for nothing!

 

Iqaluit ("place of many fish") is the capital of Nunavut and about 7700 people live there; the airport has six gates. Only small planes can fly into Resolute, so the guests were divided into two groups, which were scheduled to depart at 10 and 11:45 a.m. Departure for the first flight was delayed until 10:55 a.m.; we were on the second flight. There was no time to tour Iqaluit; everyone was instructed not to leave the airport building. While waiting, I was delighted to find that there was a gift shop in the airport and it had exactly one small Nunavut flag. I had been sure that I would need to buy one on the internet. Eventually, we boarded the plane (a high wing, four-jet RJ 85) for the 2:42 hr flight to Resolute. That made our total flight time today about 5:40 hr, equivalent to a flight between RDU and SFO.

 

Before this trip, we had not really appreciated the huge distance from Ottawa to Resolute: it is 2108 miles (3393 km). The distance from New York to Miami is 1089 miles (1753 km) and from RDU to LAS (Las Vegas) is 2026 miles (3260 km). So the distance from Ottawa to Resolute is nearly twice that of New York to Miami and farther than from RDU to Vegas!

 

At latitude 74.6973°, Resolute is 1062  miles (1709 km)  from the geographic North Pole and is the second (after Grise Fiord) most-northern civilian community in Canada. It is located at the north end of Resolute Bay, on the south coast of Cornwallis Island (www.arctic.uoguelph.ca/cpe/environments/maps/detailed/islands/cornwallis.htm) in the middle of the Northwest Passage. Cornwallis Island was one of the last known places circled by Franklin before his expedition sailed southward and disappeared.

 

After arriving at the airport, we were bused to a building where there were refreshments and some local souvenirs on offer. Although our travel documents said we’d have a chance to walk around this small (population ~870) Arctic town and the locals provided a map, nobody seemed interested in doing that. Once everyone was gathered there, we stood or sat around until some of the Quark Expedition Team showed up to fit us for our Muck boots and Zodiac life vests. Some people donned waterproof pants for the short Zodiac ride to the ship; we just stuck our pants legs into the boots and fortunately did not get splashed.

 

Once onboard, we picked up our ID cards at Reception; those go into a pocket on the left sleeve of the parka and are scanned when you embark or disembark the ship. We located our cabin and got out of the parka, boots and life vest; there are a convenient shelf and hooks next to the door for those items. We had booked a Main Deck Twin Window cabin, located midships on the port side. It was exactly what we had expected from the photos on the Quark website: small but very comfortable. Our cabin steward was Leland from Nicaragua, who was very friendly and efficient. We had a little trouble programming the safe and he quickly came to help.

 

There is a chair, tiny desk and mirror in the cabin; I moved the ice bucket and box of tissues from the desk to the shelf under the sink in the bathroom to have more space. There was a handout on the desk about the internet service; John signed up for one device. The cabin door can only be locked from the inside, so there was another handout urging us to keep our valuables in the safe. We had plenty of room in the wardrobes for our clothing and gear. Even though there is an exposure suit under each bed, our luggage easily fit there. There is a night table with two drawers between the beds and the ledges under the windows also made convenient storage spaces for small items.

 

The modern bathroom seemed much smaller than usual for a cruise ship and the door is badly positioned in relation to the sink. The only real storage is the shelf under the sink, which holds extra toilet paper, more tissues and sanitary disposal bags. Other amenities are vanity kits (cotton pads and sticks) and shower caps. There are dispensers for hand soap and lotion next to the sink and for shampoo/conditioner and body gel in the shower. The shower has both a stationary and a handheld shower head. Bath linens are mat, towel, hand towel and face cloth. There is a heated towel rack, which is good because the bath and bed linens are only changed every three days (more often on request).

 

After inspecting the cabin we toured the ship. That doesn’t take long: the Lounge, Bridge and Observation Deck are in the bow; the Dining Room, Gym and Clinic are in the stern; Reception, Library, the Polar Boutique and the Clipper Bar are midships.

 

Later we went to the Lounge to be welcomed by the Expedition Leader, Alison (Ali), who introduced the other 21 members of the Expedition Team and gave a safety briefing. The Expedition Team is integral to a great expedition cruise experience and our team was outstanding. The guides’ specialties included history, geopolitics, ornithology, photography, marine biology (2) and Inuit culture (3). Our three naturalists doubled as Mandarin (2) and French translators; some of the guides spoke those and other languages as well. For those who took part in the water sports program, there were two paddle guides and a kayak guide. All of the Team’s onboard presentations were excellent and the Lounge has multiple screens so you can always get a good view of the slides/videos. Team members made an effort to rotate among the tables during meals so that they could interact with the guests and answer questions.

 

After the briefing, we had to choose our Zodiac boarding group, each named for a polar explorer: Amundsen, Franklin, Parry, Rasmussen. We wanted Franklin simply because we are so interested in the tragic story of his “Lost Expedition” but we settled for Parry. Disembarkation rotates among the groups, so there is really no advantage to being in any particular one.

 

Later in the afternoon we had the mandatory safety and lifeboat drill; the Muster Stations are on the open deck, next to your assigned lifeboat. The serious life jackets are kept in bins near the lifeboats. After this, the ship headed south into the Lancaster Sound.

 

Open seating dinner is usually served from 7:30-9 p.m. There are 126 seats In the Dining Room, with four-tops, six-tops and a few larger tables; the only table for two that I saw was reserved for Captain Gorodnik. We chose a four-top near a window and liked the service team (waiter, Kharisma from Bali, and bar and wine steward, Ramir Jr from the Philippines) so much that we sat there for almost every meal.

 

The three-course dinners had smaller servings than Princess but they were adequate for us. Choices were somewhat limited: two soups, two salads, three mains and two desserts. Sample plates of the starters and mains were displayed at the entrance to the Dining Room and the Maitre d’ was standing close by to answer questions and accommodate special dietary needs. There were some “always available” items: Caesar salad, green salad, chicken, salmon, steak, ice cream and a cheese plate. The quality was okay, with the fish dishes being much better than the beef (which was tough, except for filet mignon). There are two wines (a red and a white), which were different every night and served generously. Tonight we enjoyed the octopus salad, sea bream and a cheese plate.

 

A great advantage of an expedition cruise is that members of the Expedition Team are constantly on the lookout for wildlife. Just as we finished dessert, they announced a polar bear sighting. Everyone abandoned the Dining Room and rushed to the decks. Indeed, there was a polar bear moving along the shoreline!  The expedition was off to a great start!

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Day 3: Thursday, September 12, 2019—Exploring Canada’s High Arctic: Radstock Bay & Beechey Island

 

This morning we got up about 45 minutes before the official 7:15 a.m. wake-up announcement so we could enjoy a hot shower after a VERY  good night's rest.

 

Breakfasts were served buffet style, with many hot and cold selections. There were usually fruit smoothies, 3-5 juices, hot and cold cereals, breads and pastries. The cold buffet  included fruits, yogurt,  cottage cheese, smoked salmon and smoked trout. The hot buffet offered dishes such as scrambled eggs, bacon, sausage patties, corned beef hash, baked beans, potatoes and more. Each day there was a  "From the Galley " cooked to order item (e.g., omelets), which is ordered from your waiter, and a station for pancakes or waffles. Everything was carefully labeled: contains gluten, contains dairy, vegetarian, type of meat.

 

After breakfast, we had three mandatory briefings: Zodiac Safety, Environmental Guidelines (AECO) and Polar Bear Safety.  Because of the risk of polar bear encounters at all of the landing sites, an armed team is sent ahead to establish a perimeter and stand watch. We were instructed to return to the landing site immediately for evacuation, if the Captain were to sound a long blast on the ship's horn.

 

Gearing up for the landings is an experience in itself. Over our basic underwear, we typically wore a base layer LS shirt, a light or heavy LS  fleece shirt, light long underwear bottoms or running tights, liner socks and wool blend mid-weight socks. That was topped with the Quark parka, life vest, insulated waterproof cargo pants and the Muck boots. We covered our hats with a windproof balaclava and wore fleece glove liners under waterproof gloves.

 

Note that the Quark parkas are waterproof and extremely well-insulated. The liner and the outer shell can be worn either together or separately. Both layers were needed for warmth on the Zodiac cruises but together they were much more than necessary on the long hikes, especially when we had to wear the life vests on shore. Fortunately, there are straps inside the shell so that it can be removed and carried like a backpack; it was still a hassle.

 

This morning we had our first landing, at Radstock Bay on the southern coast of Devon Island (www.arctic.uoguelph.ca/cpe/environments/maps/detailed/islands/devon.htm). Ryan, Guest Services/Guide, was our Zodiac driver. The landing site is dominated by the sheer cliffs of the 650-foot (198 m) Caswell Tower, a popular research location for observing polar bears. Once ashore, we visited an impressive Thule archaeological site on the edge of an old beach. There were remains of several structures built by these pre-Inuit peoples: tent rings of a summer camp on the lower beach and larger rock-walled winter houses further back in the tundra.

 

Lunches were served buffet style, with many hot selections, and there was always a “Chef’s Special” at the pancake/waffle station; a sample plate of that was on display at the entrance. The cold buffet  included several prepared salads, the makings for DIY salads and various fruits. Again, everything was labeled for those with dietary restrictions.

 

In the afternoon, we landed at Beechey Island, which is connected to the southwest corner of Devon Island by a gravel spit. As the ship got closer, we saw a bearded seal and a mother polar bear and her cub from quite a distance. No need to go to Churchill!

 

This site was of great interest to us because it is where Sir John Franklin made his encampment in the winter of 1845-46; some rock tent rings mark the spot. Three of Franklin’s crew are buried on this remote windswept beach; the graves were discovered in 1851 by search parties looking for signs of Franklin’s expedition. During the 1980s, the remains of these men were exhumed by forensic anthropologists trying to learn more about the fate of Franklin and his men. A fourth grave belongs to a searcher who died in 1854; it is set apart from the others. There are also stones marking an empty grave that memorializes a French searcher (Bellot), who disappeared in the ice in 1853.

 

After viewing this somber site, we had the choice of either a Zodiac ride or a hike to another historic site on the island, Northumberland House. We chose to hike with the fastest group and speed-walked about a mile with Franny (Expedition Guide). Northumberland House was constructed in 1852-1853 during the British Admiralty's final effort to find Franklin and his crew. Although it had been seven years since Franklin’s expedition began, it was hoped that survivors might return to Beechey Island and find shelter and provisions there. The building is now a ruin surrounded by scattered lumber, barrel rings and tin cans. Above the beach are memorials to Franklin and other polar explorers. Between the two sites we walked about two miles (3.2 km), according to our hiking Garmin.

 

For dinner tonight we had curried lentil soup followed by New Zealand leg of lamb for me and grilled barramundi for John. Dessert was chocolate cake.

 

Before dinner every day there is a 45-minute “Recap & Briefing” that summarizes the day’s expeditions and what we might expect tomorrow. After dinner, there is a light “Bar Talk” or documentary in the Lounge; these can be seen live on the cabin TV. Tonight’s talk was by Michael (the Kayak Guide): “Tales from the Desk of an Arctic Vagabond.”

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Day 4: Friday, September 13, 2019— Exploring Canada’s High Arctic: Prince Leopold Island & Powell Inlet

 

This morning we took a sunrise Zodiac cruise with Yukie (the Logistics Coordinator) to Prince Leopold Island, off Cape Clarence at the northeastern tip of  Somerset Island (www.arctic.uoguelph.ca/cpe/environments/maps/detailed/islands/somerset1.htm). This tiny island, with glorious 850-foot (265 m) cliffs, was spectacular, illuminated by a gorgeous sunrise. Lots of birds nest in the cliffs, including black-legged kittiwakes,  black guillemots, Arctic skua and glaucous gulls. We saw a pair of northern ravens hunting; one caught and ate a juvenile kittiwake.

 

After breakfast, a series of talks were scheduled. The first was by Fabrice, the Ornithologist, about “Arctic Wings: An Introduction to Arctic Birds.” He showed a dramatic video of a gyre falcon taking down a heron. The gyre falcon is the largest species of falcon and is the one used all over the world in the sport of falconry.

 

He was followed by David (Bertie), the Historian/Guide, who gave an interesting presentation called “Franklin’s Footsteps? A Northwest Passage Mystery.” This was about the Franklin Expedition and the subsequent attempts to find survivors or learn the fate of the men. He was nearing the end of the talk when Ali interrupted with the news that Cedric (Inuit Cultural Educator Trainee) had spotted a pod of orcas on the port side. The room immediately emptied as everyone rushed to the open decks. There were at least four individuals in the pod and Captain Gorodnik changed course to give us lots of time for viewing and taking pictures. John got some great photos and even some video.

 

By the time the ship resumed its course, lunch was ready. John had some fish and chips and I had a salad. Kharisma thought we are on a diet but it was too much for us to have three large meals a day. We were already eating much more for breakfast and lunch than we normally would at home.

 

As the ship crossed Lancaster Sound back to Devon Island, Cedric again made a fantastic wildlife spotting. Narwhals! Lots of them but in the far distance! With the sunny day and calm seas we could see the sun glistening off their backs. With binoculars, we could see their little spouts, lack of dorsal fin and bulbous heads. John saw a tusk on one of the last animals seen! He could see the tusk stretching along the water and only knew that’s what it was because he knows narwhals have tusks. Unfortunately, it was not possible for him to get any photos.

 

After that excitement, the ship continued on to Powell Inlet, on the south side of Devon Island. As the ship proceeded through the inlet, the guides announced a polar bear sighting. Everyone ran out on deck to see and, even though it was at quite a distance, John got some fuzzy photos.

 

The afternoon excursion was a Zodiac cruise in the inlet with Alice (Naturalist Guide/Mandarin Guide). For once John bested the guides by being the first to spot a polar bear along the shoreline. We motored over there and observed the bear for a long time until it decided to climb far up the side of the cliff. John got lots of great photos and video. Today Parry was the last Zodiac group to disembark and earlier groups had seen three walrus hauled out on a rock outcrop farther up the fjord. By the time we got there, only two of them were still around; they were in the water but we could still see their heads and breath. When John blew up one of his photos, he could see their tusks.

 

After tonight’s Recap & Briefing, the Captain’s Welcome Cocktail Party was held. Captain Gorodnik introduced all his officers and department heads while we enjoyed a glass of champagne. The officers wore their dress uniforms and the Expedition Team wore white shirts under their usual vests. Some of the women guests wore dressy blouses but everyone else wore casual clothing.

 

For the Captain’s Welcome Dinner, we chose the Maui onion soup, grilled branzino with tomato-parsley risotto and strawberry mousse for dessert. The wines tonight were a Chianti and a Pinot Grigio. The onion soup was okay and the fish was actually quite good.

 

The program tonight was “The Terror-Episode I” (first season), loosely about Franklin’s expedition; later episodes of this series would be available on the cabin TV. John and I had watched the first couple of episodes at home but stopped once the story line changed from semi-historical to supernatural horror.

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Day 5: Saturday, September 14, 2019—Exploring Canada’s High Arctic: Elwin Inlet & Arctic Bay

 

This morning it was 35.6°F (2°C) and clear.  We had another sunrise Zodiac cruise in Elwin Inlet. This fjord is on the eastern side of the mouth of Admiralty Inlet on northwest Baffin Island (www.arctic.uoguelph.ca/cpe/environments/maps/detailed/islands/baffin.htm).

 

The inlet is lined with high cliffs composed of many differently-colored strata, reminiscent of the Grand Canyon. Some of the cliffs had pinnacles and spires and were topped with a dusting of snow. Our boat driver was Sam, the Photography Guide. He gave us some advice on photo exposure and composition. The only downside from my POV was that we mostly stayed in a particularly beautiful spot so we could watch the light change while the sun rose higher; the other Zodiacs went much farther into the inlet. The only wildlife we spotted was a seal and some gulls.

 

We were starving by breakfast and ate so much that we later skipped lunch.

 

After breakfast, Sam gave a nicely organized presentation, "Photography 101." This was primarily for dummies like me who mostly take photos with our iPhones. However, it was also a review for the more experienced, covering the three main camera functions, composition and the pixel histogram.

 

Later in the morning there was a talk  by Kataisee, one of our Inuit Cultural Educators, on "Arctic Bay: Past, Present & Future." Kataisee is a native of this small hamlet (population ~1000); its Inuit name is Ikpiarjuk (“bag” or “pocket”), referring to its sheltered location. She first demonstrated how to carry and nurse a baby in the amauti, a traditional woman’s garment. After that she talked about the history of the town in terms of her ancestors and her personal life story. She is the 12th of 14 children and she was excited about visiting her 99-year-old mother and her one-year-old great-granddaughter (who would be getting the doll used in the demonstration).

 

Around 2:30 p.m. we cruised in the Zodiac to Uluksan Point, where we were welcomed by the community elders. These included a number of Kataisee's relatives (mother, sister and SIL) and a male elder and his wife; they were all dressed in traditional garb except for the SIL. This was the first expedition ship to visit since 2015, so quite a lot of other people came out to greet us as well.

 

Kataisee's sister demonstrated how to use an ulu (Inuit curved knife) to scrape the blubber from a harp seal skin and then remove the fur. The blubber is used in seal oil lamps and the cleaned skin is stretched and dried. The skin is then cut into ovals to form the soles of traditional Inuit boots. Before the soles can be sewn to the boots, the edges have to be chewed to soften them. There was a tent made of seal skin (still with the fur) and igloo windows that were made of seal intestines inflated, dried and sewn together.

 

Later the male elder played a drum while he and his wife sang. Some of the younger men demonstrated various high kick games that involve kicking a small target suspended from a line; those games require considerable acrobatic and balancing abilities. Two young women performed throat singing, sort of a competitive singing endurance game. Finally, we were offered tea and bannock bread (like a scone).

 

From there most of us walked about 1.68 miles (2.8 km) along the road into town, although there was a shuttle for those who needed it. John and I passed the cemetery, the town hall, the housing authority and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) station. We also visited the Co-op, which had a few souvenirs (flags!). There were wolverine pelts ($900 CAD) but we couldn't legally bring that back to our son at U. of Michigan.

 

For dinner tonight, John started with Caldo Verde (chorizo soup with spinach and potatoes), which he thought was OK; that was followed by the bacon-wrapped pork tenderloin, which he considered the best dish of the cruise. I had a Caesar salad (lots of anchovies!) and the grilled mahi-mahi. The food continues to be half the size of Princess portions. The blueberry cheesecake was 1/4 size! It’s better this way, though! The red tonight was 2014 Cune Rioja and the white was also a Rioja (probably a Viura and Sauvignon  Blanc blend).

 

For the Bar Talk tonight, Jesse, another of our Inuit Cultural Educators, explained how he uses Inuit contemporary art to inspire social change.

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Day 6: Sunday, September 15, 2019— Exploring Canada’s High Arctic: Dundas Harbour & Croker Bay

 

Finally no early morning wake-up call! We would be able to sleep in a little and have breakfast before setting  off on an excursion. The temperature outside was 32°F (0°C) and skies were mostly sunny with winds about 5 knots.

 

During the night, we had cruised north and east through the Lancaster Sound, back to the southern shore of Devon Island. Now we were anchored off Dundas Harbour. The plan was to land on the southern side of the peninsula, explore the abandoned RCMP outpost there, walk or take a Zodiac ride to the other side of the peninsula, and view some well-preserved remains of Thule summer and  winter houses before returning to the ship. About 30 people chose not to walk and five people stayed on the ship.

 

Guests were asked to chose a walking group: “Chargers”, Fast-Medium, Medium-Medium, Slow-Medium, Contemplative. The first two groups would walk faster and farther, with fewer stops for photographs. We chose to “Charge” with Ryan and Cedric; there were about a dozen people in our group, including Ron (the grad student). After waiting for everyone who wanted this version of the walk to come ashore, Ryan gave some commentary about the dilapidated wooden buildings of the outpost. There were a number of bones arrayed in front of the main building; Ron and Cedric agreed that one skull was from a female narwhal. We proceeded up the slope to the tiny graveyard, the most northerly in Canada. The RCMP returns every year to tend the graves of two of its constables who died (one by accident, the other by suicide) here in the 1920s.

 

We slogged across the peninsula on rocky and uneven terrain to the main part of the harbor. When we got to the other side, we were amazed to see beluga whales feeding near the shoreline, both the white adults and the gray juveniles. We spent a lot of time watching them from above (some no more than 20 feet away!) until we had to leave and meet up with the other groups. As we approached the second landing site, we encountered an excited Fabrice, who had a telescope set up for observing the gyre falcon he had spotted on the cliffs above. John was able to get some nice photos with his new camera. The hike today was 2.1 miles (3.4 km).

 

We never did make it to the Thule sites because Ali then announced an impromptu Zodiac cruise to the end of the harbor to view more of the belugas. We jumped at the chance to go and were rewarded with the sight of a huge pod of these amazing animals frolicking, spouting and feeding. Grigory (Marine Biologist/Guide) estimated that there were at least 300 belugas in the pod.

 

Back on the ship, John had coconut crusted fish for lunch; I don’t remember what I had. The fish dishes have usually been best choice.

 

The ship then relocated to Croker Bay, 32.1 miles (51.7 km) west of Dundas Harbour. Here we did a Zodiac Cruise to explore the inner reaches of Croker Bay and approach the South Croker Bay Glacier, one of the two calving glaciers in the bay draining the main Devon Island ice cap. This was a stunning fjord with many beautiful icebergs of different sizes. Samantha (Naturalist/French Guide) pulled in a piece of ice that we all joked should be brought back to the ship for drinks. We also saw several seals in the water.

 

One of the appetizers tonight was white asparagus; the mains were a skewer of mixed meats or grouper Veracruz. Dessert was supposedly Bananas Foster—OK but not authentic. The wines were a young but drinkable Chilean Chardonnay and a Chilean Carmenere. After dinner, there was popcorn and a movie,”The Journals of Kurt Rasmussen.”

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Day 7: Monday, September 16, 2019—Exploring Canada’s High Arctic: Smith Sound, Boger Bay & Smith Bay, Ellesmere Island

 

Since we got everyone on board after yesterday afternoon's excursion, the Captain had been making top speed toward Boger Bay on Ellesmere Island, 267 nautical miles away. Because of the distance to be traveled, any excursion would not occur (if it even did) until late afternoon. Exactly what it would be would depend on the weather, possible landing sites and wildlife (i.e., polar bears) conditions once we arrived.

 

This morning the air temperature was again 32°F (0°C) and skies were overcast with winds about 5 knots. With no morning excursion, we had several presentations scheduled.

 

The first was by Grigory, on "Life of a Polar Bear," or as he prefers, "Master of Ice." This was a good talk with lots of great photographs.

 

Next Kataisee got us started on a "Traditional Mitten Making Project." This was supposed to be limited to the first 15 to sign up, but an additional three just showed up and Kataisee had enough materials for them too. For this first session, we overcast the thumb and palm pieces together; we also put some running stitches along the top of the back piece so we would be able to ease it to fit the thumb/palm section.

 

That was followed with a talk on "The Law and Geopolitics of the Northwest Passage" by Claire, the Geopolitics Presenter/Guide. This was primarily about Canada's efforts to establish sovereignty of its Arctic archipelago (against claims by Norway) and to claim the Northwest Passage as an inland waterway (against U.S. claims that it is an International Strait). She also touched on the problems of tourism, as exemplified by the Crystal Serenity, which carried 1700 guests/crew from Anchorage to NYC through the Northwest Passage in both 2016 and 2017.

 

All day we had been cruising north through Baffin Bay, along the east coast of Ellesmere Island (www.arctic.uoguelph.ca/cpe/environments/maps/detailed/islands/ellesmere.htm), the third-largest island in Canada. The shoreline is a series of glaciers and the water was full of icebergs, some quite large.   Settlements, all quite small, include Eureka, Grise Fiord (Aujuittuq) and Alert, a weather station and military outpost.  Cape Columbia, at latitude 83°07’ N, is the most northerly point of Canada.

 

In the late afternoon as we cruised through Smith Bay, the spotters saw two polar bears, but they were very far away. This is a rarely visited part of the world and was the first visit to Boger Bay (an inlet off Smith Bay) for the ship’s staff and captain. There is no electronic chart, just a paper strip chart on depths to the bay entrance—a real exploration!

 

As we approached Boger Bay, polar bears were spotted on both the port and starboard sides. Unfortunately we were not able to spy the mother and cub swimming off the port side. However, the male bear devouring his kill (likely a ringed seal) on a blood-drenched iceberg provided an unforgettable "National Geographic" memory. As the ship got closer he polished off the seal, raising his blood-stained face to keep a watchful eye on us. When he had finished, he slipped into the water and swam away.

 

As usual, Ali was not able to predict our excursions until she could observe the wind, weather, sea and ice conditions as well as the presence of polar bears. Since this was literally unexplored territory, the captain elected to keep our ship outside of the bay itself. The Excursion Team took the Zodiacs out for long rides in search of possible landing sites.

 

In the late afternoon, Ali had found a likely site to land! She decided that at 3:30 p.m. we could do a touch-and-go Zodiac cruise among the icebergs and along the face of a glacier, with a brief landing at the foot of a glacier.

 

Today we learned why a complete waterproof outer layer is essential. With 20-knot winds, choppy water and the Zodiac zipping along during our long ride in, there was a lot of spray—my left hand and leg got splashed. Samantha was the boat driver today.

 

Our glacial target seemed to have retreated slightly since there was dry land at its foot. Nevertheless, it was spectacular walking in front of and onto the glacier itself. This was an outstanding example of expedition cruising; we were literally going where no one had gone before. And we always had armed guards on the surrounding hilltops watching for polar bears.

 

Later in the afternoon, the Excursion Team prepared traditional Nunavut “country food.” There were five versions of Arctic char, cooked and raw beluga blubber, cooked caribou and two kinds of caribou jerky. We tried all of it. Arctic char is much like salmon. Beluga blubber cooked is tasty but raw is blah. Caribou is not bad, but caribou jerky is just jerky—guess it lasts a long time but really chewy.

 

Dinner was baked cod and seared pork loin, accompanied by a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc and an Italian Montepulciano d'Abruzo.

 

Tonight’s Bar Talk was by Samantha, "I Gave Blood Today: Stories of Arctic Research in the Canadian North.”  During the night, the ship’s clocks were set forward one hour.

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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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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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 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.

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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.

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Thank you very much for writing such an interesting detailed review of your Northwest Passage cruise.  I am working my way through it, savouring every word!  What a memorable adventure cruise you have been on!  Your report will be a valuable resource for passengers planning a future cruise in the region.

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On 12/20/2019 at 9:23 AM, maryann ns said:

Wow! Just wow! Thanks so much for posting this.

 

16 hours ago, MMDown Under said:

Thank you very much for writing such an interesting detailed review of your Northwest Passage cruise.  I am working my way through it, savouring every word!  What a memorable adventure cruise you have been on!  Your report will be a valuable resource for passengers planning a future cruise in the region.

 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.

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4 hours ago, cboyle said:

 

 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.

Might be a good idea to put your valuable report under "Other Cruise Lines", under name of the ship and company, as well, as I always search there in the hope of finding small ship cruises.  I've never looked under Eco and Expedition Cruising before, but will now.  

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5 minutes ago, MMDown Under said:

Might be a good idea to put your valuable report under "Other Cruise Lines", under name of the ship and company, as well, as I always search there in the hope of finding small ship cruises.  I've never looked under Eco and Expedition Cruising before, but will now.  

I'm surprised that you didn't see it there. I put a link to this forum rather than posting the entire report twice.

 

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2 minutes ago, cboyle said:

I'm surprised that you didn't see it there. I put a link to this forum rather than posting the entire report twice.

 

Oops, sorry, so you did.  I wondered how I found your report.  It is that time of year, when I'm doing ten things at once. 

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3 minutes ago, MMDown Under said:

Oops, sorry, so you did.  I wondered how I found your report.  It is that time of year, when I'm doing ten things at once. 

I understand completely.

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Your report is amazing! Thanks so much for the fantastic detail of each day. You either have an incredible memory or take in very detailed notes as you go through the day! Kudos to you.

 

I was very excited to read your log, as I am due aboard Ocean Adventurer on Feb 5 for an Antarctic Expedition. Sounds like Quark and Ocean Adventurer treated you and all passengers very well.

 

Thanks for sharing. 

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