Sunday, July 21, 2013

Thursday July 18th, 2013 - Off the west coast of Greenland

The past three days have been a whirlwind of activity! As I last left off, we were entering our last day of introductory activities and events in Ottawa before heading off to start our ship-based portion in Kangerlussuaq, Greenland.

The two days in Ottawa serve a lot of purposes. They provide a framework for the Arctic and its issues, allow for staff and students to get to know one another and bond, and finally, to allow luggage and other lost items to catch up to the arrived students.

On the itinerary was a visit to the estate of William Lyon Mackenzie King in Gatineau Park, as well as an aerial rope obstacle course and zip-line. The estate was nice; it was a unique look into the individual that was our longest-serving Prime Minister. But what wasn't so nice, was this rope course.

Now don't get me wrong. The course itself appeared to be well built, and the staff were superbly-trained and diligent about safety. But this was most definitely a physical activity, and I was no where near up for it. Put simply, I couldn't complete it. It wasn't the height, dangling 20 feet or so off the ground felt very safe with the many ropes holding us in place. But combined with the extreme heat (+42 degrees Celsius humidex) and my poor physical shape, there was no way I could have come close to finishing. It was so exhausting, I could barely keep standing.

Regular readers of this blog know that I regularly comment on the strenuous hikes and physical activities that take place on the average SOI trip. But this was different. On SOI hikes, when I reached the limit of my endurance, I could stop and turn back. On the ropes course, with people ahead of and behind me, there was no option for that. And to make matters worse, I never even got to do an actual zip-line. Guess I'll keep that on my bucket list!

Wednesday morning meant flight day. As our flight left at 7:30am, wake-up had to happen before 4am. Get the students up, get them on to buses and into the airport, where they had to collect their luggage and go through regular check-ins and security. Somehow, we got everyone and everything on board.

Now having said that, I can finally tell everyone about our special VIP this year. It's nice to have someone come along on expedition who has a bit of "public persona" cachet behind them. In 2010, CBC lead news anchor, Peter Mansbridge, joined us for a few days. This time around we're lucky enough to have Stephane Dion, former leader of the federal Liberal Party and a Minister of the Environment, joining us. He joins 40-some other great and talented staff coming along on expedition. I may not agree politically with his party, but there's no doubt he provides a unique perspective to our students.

We arrived in Greenland with little problem, and before long, we were zipping along the waves toward our floating classroom, the Sea Adventurer. As I recall, I think I mentioned I had travelled with this ship during the Arctic 2011 expedition (although back then it was called the Clipper Adventurer). Climbing back on-board was like visiting an old haunt. It was like I never left. What made me feel even more welcome was recognizing a few of the crew who were onboard two years ago, like Richard and Jane. I've been told that all the crew were looking forward to having SOI, and it definitely made us feel right at home.

And with that, and a seasick patch, we were off. Making our way down the fjord away from Kangerlussuaq, we had a first dinner, briefing and finally collapsed into our beds for a much-needed sleep.

Today was our first landing in Itilleq Fjord, the same spot as our last landing on Arctic 2012. It was a great day for shore activities, with a little mist and a chilly breeze blowing through. As usual, we had a diverse range of sessions for students to choose from; water sampling with dip nets, song-writing, creative writing, traditional sewing, to name just a few. I chose to follow along with glaciologist, Eric Mattson. He had discovered a patch of snow still on the ground here in Greenland, even in the middle of July. Together with a number of students, he conducted experiments on the snow and explored the many facets of this Arctic necessity.

For the afternoon, it was off to the community of Itilleq itself. This small town has only a population of 100 people, so dumping off the entire SOI contingent meant that for just a few short hours, we more than doubled up the population. Students were given an opportunity to explore the community, visit the fish factory (the main resource for many of Greenlandic towns), meet the townspeople and walk around the area. As with all SOI community visits, this will be a memorable stop for the students, as they get to see first-hand what it's like for the peoples who inhabit the Arctic regions to live and work here. There was even an impromptu (and somewhat crowded) soccer game that broke out, along with some Inuit throat-singing and other traditional songs and dances.

It's been five days and as typical for an SOI expedition, the students have bonded very quickly. It's quite amazing how 85 students, who have never met and are from very different backgrounds, mesh so rapidly. It's a testament to the program and philosophy of SOI that this happens.

So tomorrow is a visit to the community of Ilulissat, again, another stop from last year's expedition. It was an interesting visit then, and I anticipate it will be an interesting visit this time around.

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