The next morning a sense of calm has returned to the ship. We later discover that the staff had been told to be prepared for a crowd of unhappy guests. A great deal of pampering, generous amounts of alcohol, good food and a peaceful nights sleep had worked it’s magic.
We were on this ship for the next 10 days and we were going to have a good time.
This morning the ship pulls into a deep inlet and the zodiacs are prepared to take us ashore where we will go in search of wildlife. In Antarctica we zodiaced into the snow and ice where we could waddle amongst the penguins, walk carefully between the seals and could generally mingle with the wild life, all of which seemed completely at ease in our presence.
Here there was little snow or ice, just a barren landscape. This was not the setting we had envisioned
And there is only one form of wildlife that all of us want to see, and that is polar bears. And we want to get up close and personal with them.
Reality sets in as our expedition leader quickly educates us. Polar bears are not cute and cuddly. They are huge and aggressive and always hungry. A polar bear sees us as possible lunch, and a polar bear can run a lot faster than any of us. In fact they are so dangerous we will not be allowed to go ashore if there is one in the vicinity.
The first zodiac heads for land without one guest on board. Instead it carries a dozen of the expedition team, all dressed in orange so that they are easy to spot, some with an impressive looking rifle over their shoulder, others with large pistols slung on their hips next to a belt of huge cartridges.
The armed guides are going to check the area is clear of Polar Bears. And we thought we would be looking for a place where they were, not a place where they weren’t.
This was definitley not what we had in mind when we forked over large sums of cash to Scenic Cruises, which only goes to show that the Australians are smarter than they look (they would have to be!) and we are not.
Once given the all clear, we venture onshore.
We spend an hour or more walking the barren landscape.
Guards or guides, we are unsure what to call them now, stand on high ground armed with rifles, scanning the area for polar bears
others walk with us armed with the pistols. It feels like a war zone
And all we see is one rather shy reindeer and a chunk of metal from World War II, when the Germans occupied these islands.
Our dreams of snow, ice and polar bears were shattered by the reality of a totally uninspiring landscape.
And reality is our daily routine. It soon turns out, that during the night the ship travels to a different area and we have a morning ramble across a different barren landscape. After a few days we realise that one barren landscape is much like another – barren. We soon begin to suspect that the ship never moves at all.
We are walking the same piece of barren land every day. Those damn Australians really are smarter than they look.
The wildlife is non existent except for the reindeer, but the guides try to pretend the rocks and the flora are fascinating. Every few yards we are invited to gather around a rock while we listen to the resident geologist describe it in detail. My desire to see polar bears, on a scale of 1 to 10 is a 12. My desire to see rocks does not even register on any scale And my desire to listen to a geologist discuss each rock rates even lower. I am here to tell you that once you have seen one rock, you have seen them all. And as we can see quite clearly that it is a rock, we don’t need a guide to point it out.
The real excitement comes when we stumble across a plant, as there are so few of them. The geologist then changes places with the botanist who explains in hushed whispers that we are looking at a tiny green plant with a latin name. We already know that it is a tiny green plant. What we don’t know is it’s latin name, and as we are very unlikely to ever see such a tiny green plant again it seems unnecesary to know it now.
And then excitement turns to fever pitch as we see a flower. I am so carried away by the moment that I actually photograph it for you
It is tiny (just an inch or so tall), it is the most northern growing flower anywhere in the world and it is an arctic poppy.
Thrilling! Our dreams are made of this.
But, dear reader, do not give up on me yet. It can only get better, and it does.