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Aurora Expeditions – Goldring Travel Checks It Out: Part V (Two if by Land…and a WOW When We Got to Sea!)

Aurora Expeditions takes its responsibility to educate and engage its guests in Environmental Responsibility seriously.

Aurora Expeditions sunset views - photo by Golding Travel

There is an integrated approach that provides a consistent (and, if you desire, persistent) awareness that can add significantly to one’s appreciation of not only the beauty of where you visit, but the fragility.  I wish there was more of this throughout the expedition industry.

Aurora Expeditions shoreline excursion views - photo by Golding Travel

Throughout the ship there are not only reminders, but moments that are intended to keep engagement high. For example, each deck is dedicated to a woman who has had a significant environmental impact with writings and photographs intended to draw you in. 

Each deck is dedicated to a woman who has had a significant environmental impact - Aurora Expeditions photo by Golding Travel

Recognized women who have had a significant environmental impact - Aurora Expeditions photo by Golding Travel

Similarly, each zodiac is named after a woman of science.

One day a week fish is not offered on the menu as a reminder of the devastating impact of overfishing. I understand the messaging, but the issue is not with eating fish, but rather which species and whether there is a responsible fisheries management program for them. I was involved with such studies when I worked for the U.S. National Marine Fisheries Service and, along those lines crafted a program – as part of my annual Goldring Travel Culinary & Cultural Journeys – with the New England Aquarium designed to educate on that point.

Personally, I wish there was less beef and cow milk production, as that is a huge polluter worldwide, and a focus on utilizing our oceans responsibly for alternative protein sources.  But, alas, it is a complex issue and just making people aware of the issue is a good first step.

Aurora Expeditions Citizen Science Projects - photo by Golding Travel

Aurora Expeditions also has a multi-faceted Citizens Science Program. While I haven’t yet seen it in action, there was a detailed presentation of how guests can participate in bird counts, whale identification, water clarity, cloud identification, etc. studies. Assisting scientists by collecting data for them in these remote areas provided another vehicle for engagement…and maybe looking up at clouds or down at the sea with just a bit more reverence once at home. Good Stuff!

Aurora Expedition exploring Patreksfjordur & seeing birds - photo by Golding Travel

As yet another part of Aurora Expedition’s efforts, our second day was exploring Patreksfjordur and a Voluntourism program.  We headed to a beach for two hours of beach cleanup in association with a local environmental project. It was a long drive on a cloudy day and two hours on the beach was far too long, but it did give me time to wander along the beach, check out tidepools, do some birdwatching, and stretch my legs while looking for things polluting the beach.  

Aurora Expedition exploring Patreksfjordur - photo by Golding Travel

I walked to the left while literally everyone else walked to the right. I found nothing of note – other than a rope with some fishing next tangled in it near my starting point.  Those that went right removed about 200 pounds of debris from the beach…a week after it had been done by another local group.   Pollution, even in these remote areas, is ubiquitous and a very serious problem!

I understand another cleanup is to happen in Svalbard. While these efforts are not mandatory, I think it is a great way to have guests think just a bit more about it when they get home as well even if they don’t participate.  (Everyone did on our sailing.) Bravo!

Aurora Expeditions Puffin spotted during beach cleanup - photo by Golding Travel

After the beach cleanup, it was another long drive.  We arrived at what was to be a highlight: The nesting site of tens of thousands of Puffins just above some striking bird cliffs.  I excitedly hopped off the bus and headed right up the hill in a damp, cold, fog with lots of wind. On my right were the cliffs, just a few feet away, and on my left were tufts of grass that were perfect for puffin nests. Overhead and to my right were kittiwakes, razorbills, and a lone raven soaring in the brisk wind.  But: No Puffins!

Aurora Expeditions capturing images of birds in the fog - photo by Golding Travel

The fog was so thick that getting a clear photograph from 20 feet was impossible. Nonetheless, I continued up the hill for three-quarters of a mile, heading higher and higher, with the fog getting more dense. Eventually, the birds were no longer flying overhead…and there was an eery silence. And then I couldn’t see three feet in front of me. Not only was the futility of continuing up the hill evident, but so was the fact that without being able to see in front of me – especially with the strong winds – one misstep and I could be headed over the cliff!

So down I went, only to see – at the parking lot at the bottom of the hill – a group huddled around three puffins nesting in the cliff that would peek out from time to time.  Not exactly the dream, but I guess for some it was. 

Unfortunately, even though there were virtually no puffins and the weather was terrible, we stayed there for over two hours. Our time there should have been cut way short. Nature doesn’t always cooperate. I have had amazing luck and back luck. But one thing I know is trying to make something out of nothing doesn’t make nature do what you wish it would.

And just to add to my misery of the day of long bus rides and too much time at two locations, we stopped at an old abandoned ship for about 30 minutes. You know the one: The one when you were a kid that your parents wouldn’t stop at because it was nothing other than an old rusty ship. Ugh.

Fortunately, I knew the next day – our last bus day before our expedition would truly start – was going to be spectacular!  And so it was!

Aurora Expeditions immaculate waterfall views with Goldring Travel

As we sailed into Isafjordur, gone were the clouds and fog. Our morning was filled with brilliant sun, no wind, and a short ride to the Dynjandi Waterfalls.

The last time I was there, it was – you guessed it – cold, windy, and rainy.  While there was an opportunity to walk up beside the falls, once I got past the paved pathway, I was definitely thinking that breaking my neck on the muddy stone trail in gale-force winds was just not worth it.

Oh, but today was MAGIC!  I climbed almost all the way up but took time to stop along the way and just take in the beauty.  Words just can’t describe it.

Aurora Expeditions Beautiful waterfall views with Goldring Travel

Aurora Expeditions Multiple Beautiful waterfall views with Goldring Travel

Aurora Expeditions rainbow views with Goldring Travel

As more people were coming up the falls I thought it best I head down so as keep the pristine views in my head…and heck, I saw there were birds by the shore so I wanted to check them out.

A pair of sleeping Harlequin Ducks completed my visit.

Aurora Expeditions Harlequin Duck spotted - photo by Golding Travel

And, then, just as quickly, the bus tour became a bus tour again. We were off to the oldest “original” bookstore in Iceland. I am not exactly sure what that meant, but I did not come on this journey for an overpriced bookstore in a tiny town that seemed all but abandoned…until another bus tour arrived. (On the positive side, I did pick up a few bars of Icelandic licorice with milk chocolate!)

Finally, I was back on the Sylvia Earle in time for lunch, a nap…and the beginning of our true expedition.  And what a start it was!

After dinner, while sitting in the Observation Lounge, shortly after we crossed the Arctic Circle, I spotted a humpback whale. (Can you believe that people thought I was making it up? LOL That is until they realized I wasn’t.) Oh, but that wasn’t the highlight.

Aurora Expeditions View of the arctic sea and ice - photo by Golding Travel

The highlight was a band of multiyear ice that had drifted over from Greenland; very unusual to see so close to Iceland.

Aurora Expeditions View of the arctic sea - photo by Golding Travel

It was exciting, beautiful, and, of course, very cool watching the captain and ice master navigate through the ice utilizing Sylvia Earle’s ice-hardened hull to push massive pieces of ice as a sort of shovel, clearing our way…as the sun was getting as close to setting as it would at midnight.

Next up: One Amazing Day!

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