A shore excursion was planned for Kapp Lee, but gale force winds gusting upwards of 35 knots put paid to that idea. Landing aborted.
A zodiac cruise was to take us along the face of 45 km long Bråsvellbreen glacier on Nordaustlandet island. But the sea was full of shattered and fragmented ice floes – it would have been too dangerous to try to manoeuvre the boats among them. Zodiac cruise cancelled.
Another shore visit was planned, this time to Diskobukta on the island of Edgeøya, to a canyon where there is, we were told, a profusion of birds, arctic foxes, reindeer. But before the zodiacs were launched, someone spied a white dot the size of a pin-head through one of the spotting scopes on deck – a white dot that moved. It might only have been the size of a pin-head but it was enough to call the landing off. It was a bear. And it was making its way up the canyon – yes, that very same canyon where we would have been headed. Landing aborted.
The ship carried on and eventually we went ashore at Alkehornet. It was raining lightly; things weren’t looking particularly promising. But Paul was determined to find an arctic fox and set off briskly up the mountain with a select fit few volunteers (which didn’t include me or Tony).
The rest of us mooched round, looking at reindeer, looking at flowers, looking at birds. The weather cleared up a little. The drizzle eased.
Then someone noticed a fox running down the mountainside – and it was carrying something in its mouth.
Was it going back to its den?
Where was the den?
Were there cubs there?
Where did it go?
We scouted round for likely locations – and quite by chance I happened to be standing next to a woman who suddenly said, Look! And there was the fox, mere yards away, framed between two boulders below us. The fox looked up at me – and then it was off, presumably on another ‘shopping trip’.
I watched it scamper across the slope opposite and turned to someone else to point out where it had gone – but he just said, Look down. Three cubs – dark grey and only a few days old according to one of our guides – had come out of a crevice between the rocks to explore the outside world. They took a few faltering steps, had a bit of a rough and tumble, and then went back inside to the security of the den.
Our guides advised us all to draw back some distance and to be quite still and absolutely silent so the parent wouldn’t be put off returning. Clad in pillar-box red waterproofs, however still and quiet we tried to be, we were never going to be inconspicuous or blend into the hillside! I didn’t see the cubs come out again – or the parent return – and after a while, agreeing that we’d been very, very lucky indeed, some of us went back to the ship.
Meanwhile Paul and his select group of fit few were racing back down the mountain …
On the return flight from Longyearbyen to Oslo, not only did everyone again have to get off at Tromsø airport and go through Passport Control, this time we also had to collect our hold luggage and then take it round to the airline desks to have it checked in again and put back on the same plane. There must be some sort of logic there somewhere.
But that was nothing compared to the chaos at Oslo airport the following morning. We went early – 5:30 a m for an 8 a m flight – and found the Departures Hall in complete disarray. The whole area was awash with conflicting tides of people milling around, alternately looking perplexed and exasperated, or queuing for what they hoped would be an appropriate check-in desk. Most of the DIY check-in machines were out of action. I tried a couple but they wouldn’t recognise our booking reference. Other people found that they could print their boarding passes but not the luggage tags. Manned check-in desks were almost non-existent. Announcements were unhelpful at best: ‘Don’t leave your baggage unattended’, but no explanation for the chaos or to tell you what to do or where to go. Airport staff were conspicuously invisible.
After a full two hours on our feet – sliding across queues in some instances, joining different queues, out-staring other queuers as we queue-hopped, slipping under barriers – we finally made it to the departure gate – and the plane.
Amazingly the flight took off more or less on time. Belatedly there was an announcement that there had been a ‘technical problem’ at the airport. Most people had probably already worked that one out for themselves!
Pictures can been seen at https://www.flickr.com/photos/52323463@N06/albums/72157670546875342