A polar bear attacks: The best skipper on the island (part 3)

A tourist years earlier had been fatally shot by a piece of ice that exploded out of a collapsing ice cliff.

“He’s the best skipper on the island,” our guide from Better Moments told us.

It was the third time we’d heard this, and the third skipper we’d had, so the island’s boat captaincy leader-board must have been hotly contested and in constant flux.

It might be true though: after all, we hadn’t died yet on any previous trips. That’s more than you can say about the tourist years earlier with another company who had been fatally shot by a bullet-sized piece of ice that exploded out of a collapsing ice cliff. So much for not being allowed to die.

We were 12 passengers on the dock that evening, (a relative term given that it never got dark), and we exchanged pleasantries as we changed our boots for the Crocs to be worn on board (the horror! The horror!).

Among us was a professional animal photographer, a seal fanatic since the age of two, who travelled the world taking photos of walrus and seals. Talk about nature versus nurture, but was it only a coincidence her first name was Celia? 

The boat motored out into Adventfjord, and almost immediately slowed: a minke whale spotted not far from the harbour. It was an auspicious start, our guide Arien assured us.

The sky was partially cloudy, which filtered the sunlight into a golden colour. It was the perfect conditions for looking at glaciers, bringing out the green and blue shades that are washed out in direct sun.

We chugged past a bird-nesting cliff, where a pod of 30 belugas skirted the shore, their pinkish-white backs the colour and size of hormone-pumped chicken breast.

Onwards to a small inlet where a smattering of reindeer studiously ignored us from the shore, while two others grazed high up an improbably steep cliff behind a cabin.

The guide likes to escape here sometimes, take a week away from the big smoke of Longyearbyen. And since a bear recently smashed all of its windows, the hut life is more refreshing than ever.

Entering Billefjorden, we scanned the shoreline and steep snow-covered cliffs for bears, or in my case, stood out the back drinking a beer and forlornly tried to operate the digital camera I’d last used in Kenya back in 2006.

Continue reading Part IV, In Pyramiden’s shadow

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