chilling feet

chilling feet

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Fury and Hecla Concluded

After seeing such an amazing display of the Northern lights, click here for the last post, we woke up to get ready for another community visit on September 6th.

As part of the kayaking crew we got ready a little bit early and jumped in the first zodiac for a quick jaunt in the waters around Cape Dorsett. The boat crew knew there was an old abandoned community across the way from where the current locals are settled in Cape Dorsett. So naturally we paddled up to investigate. After our kayak guide cleared the shore as safe we went up to explore what looked to one day be another attraction to the Cape Dorsett community.

We located several stone structures that were clearly the bases for what once were homes. While we were taking all of this in and grabbing a few snaps of the structures, which you can see above, one of the crew on the other side of the bay was scanning the hills around us for any potential polar bear activity. They radioed over to our guide that there was a possible moving white spot way above us, so we retreated quickly to our kayaks just in case to be safe. Just look at the next picture! It was an area just begging to be explored. Safety first I guess. Once in our boats we went on exploring the bay around Cape Dorsett for a beautifully peaceful paddle.

The waters were stunningly clear and gave us a front row show to all sorts of fabulous rocks over which we were gliding with such ease. Each rock seemed to proclaim it was a special treasure waiting to be found and taken to a gemologist for inspection - fortunes await. Or maybe calling to a sculptor to come and haul them out of them out to unlock their potential as an Arctic Michelangelo. Well I just looked down and enjoyed seeing their beauty through amazingly clear waters. After allowing the peace that comes with such a special kayak to filter through us, we directed our boats towards the shore so we could rejoin the rest of the passengers. What a start to the day!

Once upon shore it was the duty of each person to see as much famous Cape Dorsett art as was possible, and to ponder if any piece was calling to one's heart for purchase. The artists there are known worldwide for their prints in particular. As it turns out the time on the water did not allow quite enough leeway to discern if there was any art Sarah and I needed for our home (OK, future home), but we did have ample opportunity to simply enjoy seeing most of it. Note the pic of the man carving and the other of polar bears already released from greenstone.

When it comes time to getting the right piece I think we will either need to bid on some online, as most of the stellar stuff is sold that way, or just have it made for us. I still have my eye out for an Arctic nativity scene with a snow igloo, baby Jesus, and of course a polar bear with cubs who has come to witness the miracle of Incarnation-though I am not sure it exists... yet. Although something tells me it does.

After our time visiting the community we headed back to our floating home for a special visit. Some of the women from Cape Dorsett came out to the Sea Adventurer to demonstrate a native talent called throat singing. They told us throat singing came from trying to come up with activities while they waited for the hunters to come back from long trips searching for food.

It is certainly an unusual sight to behold for those who have never before seen throat singing. In general two women face each other, one leading the other, in a guttural string of varying pitches and vibrations to a specific melodic tune breathing in and out rapidly with many of the sounds coming from their throat. As a game one of them is trying to throw the other off base from being able to properly follow their lead, which in our experience ends with smiles and laughter as it happens. Click here to see a youtube video of an example.

This performance was done in the traditional garb, which as you can see from the picture is absolutely gorgeous. What a truly special experience! It is difficult to describe and from what I have read so far I believe there is a deep Inuit spirituality around breath and sharing that breath with others, but I have more to read.

We said our goodbyes to the singers and headed off towards our next venture. While in route Gwen, our Eskimo onboard as she always called herself, gave us a talk on her life growing up in the traditional Inuit lifestyle. Pretty amazing hearing the life story of a person born on moving ice whose home was a temporary snow house which no longer exists. She literally cannot even point to a neighborhood as it has since melted into the sea. When her father met a missionary and wanted to be baptized he was told he would need to divorce one of his two wives first. He decided not to at the time because this meant his wife would die with no means to take care of herself. I'll talk more on this and other such topics when I do my post specifically on Arctic spirituality - coming soon, sort of. Gwen also taught us Inuit words on a daily basis, which was really cool. ᖃᓄᐃᐱᑦ is the syllabic said as qanuipit (Ka-nwee-peet) means, "How are you?" She showed us how to write our names too!

So one of the voluntary amenities that comes with a Quark cruise through the Arctic is the opportunity to participate in the Polar Plunge.

Now you would be surprised how many people opt out of this chance to connect with nature in more of an immersed manner. From where I stood, the prospect to jump in the frigid waters of the Arctic might not come around just every single day. So Sarah and I both literally leapt at the occasion to make an Arctic splash. The crew found a calm part of the sea and then tied a harness too us to make sure we did not drift away, or perhaps have an issue swimming back to the boat in super cold waters - which on this day was -4 degrees celsius or around 24 degrees for those folks from North America. Some of the staff joined in because it was colder than when they had done it before by a few degrees!

Woo! That was a frigid experience and completely worth it. I had grand plans of swimming away from the boat to pretend I was out for just a normal swim in the ocean, but as soon as I hit that water it was all I could do to clamber back aboard as quickly as possible. I was an autopilot and could not keep myself in the water. Yes I am wearing my sweet +Chacos as I sprang from the boat and I am determined to thank them for adding a little bit of warmth while waiting for my turn and protection while climbing back up the cold ladder to safety. I have found numerous uses for these fantastic foot adornments/protectants.

I have added two photos of us on our polar plunge experience for the reader's personal enjoyment. One as we leap with excitement into the water and one as we are in the cold Arctic waters. Especially Sarah's expression should evoke a laugh or two. There will be a few more in the photo album link at the bottom. Enjoy! The hot shower afterwards was nice.

The morning of the seventh started with some talks by our Quark experts. Nick Engelmann started us off with a talk on the evolutionary theories behind where the whale came from and then our Geologist stepped in to share on how much he has learned about Eskimo art. Both talks were interesting and informative.

And then another community visit! Kimmirut was our next stop and it started just the same as our visit at Cape Dorsett, with a sweet kayak paddle. I think I am going to have to get to a point in life where I live near water so I can kayak every single morning. There is something pretty special about starting the day off in such a peaceful way, and yes especially in the Arctic!

Our day in Kimmirut was almost perfect for our kayak/visit combo. Sarah was able to get on land before me and she started searching for a special side project I have - finding a Bible in the language of the places we visit. While I was kayaking she had been with Gwen searching for a Bible we could buy in Inuit. Though at the end of her search she had only found a an Arctic prayer book presented as a Bible, it is now a prized possession of mine. I've actually been using it and find a joy knowing somewhere someone in the Arctic is praying the same prayers. Kind of neat to my religious nerd side. I added a pic of Sarah and the lady who brought her the book. She looks like the sweetest Arctic grandmother ever!

When I arrived on shore I met her and some of the group who informed us of a nice walk we could do up a hill to overlook the beautiful town and the bay. We had just enough time to make our way up before the town put on some demonstrations of the Arctic games for us.

It was a nice exchange from being on the boat and having a chance to jog up a hill and then back down, with a short pause to look around at the landscape. That equation makes for a superb day for sure.

Now I enjoyed seeing the demonstration of some of their Arctic games, but the best portion of the day came from a soccer game we played with anyone in the town who wanted to play. Some people called it futbol. What?.

I am not sure anyone can properly understand how fantastic it was to spend forty minutes playing soccer with an entire community, but it really was something special. Some of this will come through in the photos as you look at the faces. What a fun way to spend time with people. We may live our lives differently and barely understand each other, but the language of soccer is universal. Drop that ball and it instantly turns into smiles, friendly jostling, and an full throttle game of intense fun. These kids could ball!

Kimmirut was a great community visit that ended with hugs and some last minute photos by the zodiacs. Sarah even caught a pic of a young boy
wearing a Chicago Blackhawks hat! Hey they love hockey and it is the best team in the world. I was not surprised to see the team proudly displayed on a hat even in the Arctic.

After getting back on board our "big" boat we shot off into motion for dinner, restful times, and one more talk from our bird girl on her winter spent in the Arctic at a Polish research base with less than ten people! It was an interesting talk with all sorts of fun stories about what happens with such a small group in such confined spaces for so so long. As Sarah and I get ready for our own Winter experience, but at the other Pole, I wonder what sort of odd stories we will come back with at the end of 2017.

One good thing that will enable this post to go a little bit quicker was a storm that basically left my journal blank for an entire day! Yes I could ask Sarah how her day went and talk about it here, but why should I pretend her day mattered when mine was spent in motion-full agony?

The morning of the 8th we went out in the zodiacs to explore the Lower Savage Islands. During our exploration we did not see much as a whole in the way of wild life. There was definitely a brief bearded seal sighting but my slippery brother did not really feel like showing himself much at all that day. There were plenty of landscapes and rocks to gaze at as we worked through an interesting maze in the Savage Islands. When we stopped to look at the rock in the picture posted here we also looked down to notice tons of tiny jellyfish, and whatever these super amazing pink things are that were floating in the water! I stuck my hand underwater for this shot so I hope you appreciate it.

While I was busy looking at rocks and staring at tiny pink gelatins guess what Sarah and her boat saw? They were the only zodiac to see... yes a momma bear and her cubs. Can you believe it? Well I suppose if someone had to see bears while I'm staring at rocks I want to be Sarah's boat. How cool though!

Back on the boat we spent plenty of time eating, breaking to read or look at passing sites, drinking tea and coffee, and then eating some more. Conrad gave a talk about deep diving animals, which was really intriguing and went into which of the diving animals can dive to which depths and how long they can stay down without breathing. The winner, in case you are wondering, is the stout elephant seal! They are, how should I say it, a unique looking animal with the face only a mother can love. Though there are none in the Arctic so no elephant seals for us.

Once done with all of our eating and resting we went back out for a zodiac sunset cruise around Monumental Island, which was named as a monument in honor of John Franklin. While the zodiacs were doing their thing we went for a short kayak in some choppy waters with icebergs floating off into the setting sun. While bergy bits, yes that's their official name, were floating about our kayaks and we rocked with the waves, the sun shone its last few rays over Monumental island with a magnificent display of orange and red. The zodiac ride back to the silhouetted Sea Adventurer was quite the sight.

Well the 9th of September is the day I missed right up until the end. I wish I had heard what I know was a tantalizing talk from Acacia on harvesting traditional Arctic foods. I am positive I would have preferred listening to Lilliana teach us why the little auk is the king of the Arctic to my confined cabin times. And hearing a talk from Jerry on great Greenland explorers surely would have piqued my historical itch. But this particular trip crossing the Davis Straight was just too much for my sensitive nature.

But I did make it up and about for arguably the most important part of the day - the welcome to Greenland party! Everyone is encouraged to put on their most ridiculous red and white to come and celebrate crossing the international waters as we approached a new country. As seen from the photos it is truly a goofy affair. There are games, team challenges, team chants, a best dressed parade, dancing, and a little bit of imbibing. Look to the picture of Sarah trying to work a cookie from her forehead to her mouth without her hands. I am not sure she was successful on her first try but she did manage to complete the task!

Wow, it's so much easier to sum up an entire day when the time is spent battling motion sickness in a cabin. Surely Sarah has all sorts of fun stories from this particular day but she will just have to share them at another time. Most importantly this enables me to jump to one of our favorite stops on this trip - Ilulissat! Well almost, the 10th was a day finishing our crossing of the Davis Straight.

The closer we got to Ilulissat the more ice would float by us. And when I say ice I am talking about some fairly substantial icebergs. Soon you will see some photos of the ice fjord that comes off a massive Greenlandic glacier, creating the second most substantial ice flow in the Arctic. This means the glacier calves icebergs and then they float down to the sea. If it were possible I would write a thank you note to the glacier as the views we saw due to its production were beyond breathtaking.  But there was not just the glacier to thank. The setting sun was a
major player that evening.

People worldwide stop to gaze at sunsets. I watched just the other day as twenty other people all paused to watched the same sunset over Tumon Bay that I myself had stopped to consider. It is beyond just the pretty colors and a fading ball of burning gases. Something about the sunset reaches into us and touches an inner part of us it can be difficult to describe with words.

In the ancient Hebrew songs about their experiences with God there is a very real struggle attempting to sing about this inner tension. In the 19th Psalm David, the most prolific writer of all the songs, sings of the Heavens declaring God's glory, the skies proclaiming the work of God's hands. His description of the sun is something quite special. A picture not of a fixed burning ball stuck in its trajectory but of a faithful servant lovingly obeying God as it begins each day anew to bring warmth and light upon this planet.

Poetry, a song. My favorite part of the song, however, is the idea of there being a tent prepared for the sun at the end of a hard day of work. I suppose a modern version of having a tent prepared for the sun would be having the guest room ready to roll with the bed made. Don't worry sun, we left a light on for you in our spare bedroom. Please get some rest so tomorrow you can do it all over again.

Well it was definitely time for the sun to close its eyes and anyone out on deck wishes they were half the poet as David. The best we could do was take pictures and stare in awe as massive blocks of ice danced with the fading rays of the sun on the Arctic sea. Looking back at the photos still stirs me and reminds me of the disbelief I felt looking at such a sight. Every ten minutes time was a different piece of art to behold, drastically different from the other now gone forever.

I have shared the photos on a smaller scale but if you click on them they will enlarge for better viewing. It is worth it.

As we drew nearer to Ilulissat the sun found its tent and total darkness engulfed our ship, leaving our captain and crew to navigate a few more pieces of ice before we docked for the night. Yes I was a little more than excited to know we would not only be attached to land all night long, giving us a super steady sleep, but we were able to head off into the town to see what the nightlife of Ilulissat was like.

This was one of my favorite nights during our cruise for a few reasons. As we left the boat we happened to be leaving at the same time as some of Sarah's fellow Quark staff. They are all beyond fabulous as people but there is not much of a chance to really get to know them as they are always working - that is sort of why they are on the boat. Surely by now if you've been reading these posts you know we are a big fan of these guys. This night out in Ilulissat offered a rare chance to spend some time with these folks when there was truly no work for them to do.

In an attempt to get some of the sedentary sea out of our legs we walked through some of the dark hills dotted with homes. While we talked and wandered through the peaceful night I looked up to realize the Northern lights were flowing all around us. Difficult to see with the city and its own lights shinning, the aurora mysteriously swirled all around to give a magical feel to our first Greenland stroll. It was the green wonder was welcoming us to the new country while also reminding us we were in a foreign land with its own secrets.

We finished our walk and headed to a place where we could sit and enjoy some time talking with a brew. Little did we know this place would have a local band singing in Danish and playing some groovy tunes. As this was happening a man and woman got up to dance. Surely we have all head the phrase "dance like no one is watching." These two did some traditional dancing and they were solidly focused on only each other. It was amazing. How rare to see only two people dance while at least eighty others just sit by and watch.

While this was happening Conrad put his arm around me and shouted over the music, "Welcome to Greenland baby! Welcome to Greenla-a-and" I've already mentioned in a previous post how fun it is to be around Conrad when anything good happens. His unbridled excitement washes over anyone nearby and amplifies the experience. We seriously enjoyed meeting him and having him as an Arctic mentor.

Sarah brought in the morning of the 11th ashore in Ilulissat while I headed out for what was supposed to be our last kayak of the trip along the mouth of the ice fjord (we snuck in one more later at our last stop). There were a few things that put this kayak experience in my top three paddles ever. The first was my first time seeing pancake ice. As seen in the picture it is a step in the seas freezing process and it at times resembles small frozen pancakes.

Beholding pancake ice for the first time in person in a kayak was amazing. The real joy, however, came from gliding through it. The water, as you can see, was absolutely still and it gave us a supremely quiet day. The subtle noise made by kayak or paddle pushing through or breaking the ice was a religious experience for me. I found myself involuntarily thanking God for the chance to be alive for such a day. A feeling of complete calm and utter fulfillment filled me as we made our way towards the mouth of the fjord. At one point Becs told us to all just be quiet and listen - so glad she did.

Then just awe. We paddled for thirty minutes in one direction and managed to cover hardly a speck of the fjord's mouth. The massive icebergs were dauntingly huge from kayaks and we stayed quite far away just in case one of them suddenly broke apart or flipped. This can cause mini or proper tsunamis depending on the break. One can understand why our guide kept us at a good distance! We heard some breaking at one point but it must have been further up the fjord as we saw no results of the sound. The team shot taken by Acacia shows the mouth of the fjord behind us. What a kayak!!

Then back to town! With not much time to spare and wanting to see the ice fjord from a trail that heads up alongside of it, Sarah and I shot off up through town and to the boardwalk. Seeing the impressive ice flow from the water was nothing to seeing how its vast body continue inland further than we could see or even hike in our allotted time. As a person contemplating the sheer size of space from earth finds their thoughts to be utterly underwhelming when peering deep into that same universe through a high powered telescope, similarly we were blown away by the ice fjords sheer immenseness. It is not every day we can be so near such a giant beast of nature.
We took several moments to just stop and marvel over the ice, listening for movement, and breathing in the scene with wide eyed disbelief. If my memory serves correctly the ice fjord went another forty kilometers inland before it found its source at the glacier. Just take a peek at a map of Greenland and it will quickly become clear what is meant by meeting the glacier. Most of this country is entirely covered by thick ice. Just take a look!
Sarah and I enjoyed a great hike along the fjord and then headed back into town. We made it back in time to check out two quaint museums and then it was back on the boat for the next part of our journey, which started with a zodiac cruise along the fjord mouth. The zodiacs are able to get much closer to the ice as they are more stable and can get out of dodge much more quickly than a kayak should anything happen.
Not only are zodiacs better suited for those reasons but they are also able to keep up with whales a little bit better than kayaks. YES, I got to see my first wild whale in person right in front of a beautiful ice fjord. Sarah was able to see a few on her way down to Antarctica but she was still super excited when we spotted some humpback whales nearby. There were at least two and there was speculation later as to whether or not one was a calf. How amazingly graceful these sea mammoths are as they breach the surface for air before heading back down. They were not in the mood to show off their flukes but we got a wonderful show just the same.

After the cruise with the whales and alongside the ice we hopped back on board our vessel for an outdoor dinner cruise, which makes sense when the scene is just too beautiful to go indoors. Warm drinks, delicious food, spectacular ice shows, and yes I kept on jumping up to look into the distant for my whales. Finally I spotted them and watched until they were almost out of binocular range. And no lie, just as they were almost too far for me to marvel over them anymore, they dove down and showed off their flukes! To my knowledge of all the time we watched them not one person saw a fluke and it was only as we parted ways they finally showed them.

Perhaps it was just that they were not diving deep enough for all that time for their flukes to break the surface, but I of course took it as a personal favor and even a waive goodbye from them. Always thankful I said my own goodbye and turned share my joy with those around me.

Thus we ended our time at Ilulissat and then capped of our evening with a fun talent show, which included both passengers and staff. You never know what hidden talents people have squirreled away.
This brings us all the way to September 12th and the last two days of our first cruise with Quark through the epic Arctic waters. Because our next trip started in the same area and moves through some of the same places for those first two days I'm not going to post anything about it here, except for a few photos because I just love the photos.

At the bottom as always will be a link to more photos in a google album. And BTW there are videos of the whales to the persistent who find them. Feel free to look through them at your leisure whenever you might fancy seeing some icebergs or other such sites.  I'm going to have a few more photos posted here as a teaser for the photo link with a comment or two. As always thanks for reading and joining us on our journey through life. We hope the stories and photos have been fun to follow. Our next post will be the start to our second cruise - it's much shorter but has some amazing tales!!

Total distance for our first Quark cruise - the Fury and Hecla Straight - 2,752 nautical miles!

During our last kayak we practiced a few things like rolling our kayak, at which I failed miserably. So then I decided to practice flipping off our zodiac.

Conrad and Sarah stop for a shot in front of the giant iceberg we passed just as our outdoor dinner ended. Love that guy!

Sarah stops to play with some pups. They are not working dogs yet so you're allowed to pet them. But one day they will sled dogs!
Just loved the hike at Ilulissat. The boardwalk turned into trails and they were equally magnificent, always calling for you to go further. +Scott Smith would have loved seeing all these trails heading off into the distance.

 One more shot of the ice fjord.

I really like the angle of this shot as you can just look off and see the ice fjord moving around that bend, but in reverse direction as it was coming towards the right of this shot - well very slowly.
Ilulissat as we came back from the hike.
A church with a view.
See you guys down the ole dusty trail.