One of the main attractions to this rather unique itinerary on Aurora Expeditions’ Sylvia Earle was the visit to Jan Mayen, a Norwegian island located literally in the middle of nowhere. It was, until I got there, a “That’ll be interesting” sort of thing. But when I arrived, it was “This is place is incredible!”
I think the best way to describe Jan Mayen is that if you saw a movie using these landscapes you would conclude they were over-the-top CGI images that could not possibly be real. But, alas, they are very real.
Jan Mayen is the northernmost active volcano in the world. It is a very small island located 370 miles northeast of Iceland, 310 miles east of Greenland, 1,078 from Svalbard, and 860 miles from the North Pole. Yes, it is truly in the middle of nowhere.
Our voyage to Jan Mayen was met early on with ice…lots of ice…and it is very unusual to find that much pack ice so far south. Over the one and half-day journey we encountered a second band of pack ice, lots of fog, and, surprisingly almost flat calm seas the entire way.
Aurora Expedition’s top-notch expedition team took the time to give some excellent lectures, including an serious safety briefing on polar bears; making sure the guests truly understand how dangerous they can be and how it will affect what we will do when we reach Svalbard. This was followed by a biosecurity check of our clothes (to be sure we do not bring invasive species into the area).
It was then a work day for me as I had a bit of catching up to do; not only with clients, but writing my articles. I did, however, leave enough time for a great nap!
I awoke at about 6:00 am, about four hours before our scheduled arrival at Jan Mayen to dense fog. I thought there is no way we are making the landing. Ugh.
Back to sleep for an hour and still dense fog and an announcement – in true expedition fashion – that the intended landing would be moved to the afternoon and the zodiac cruise would be in the morning. OK, we are going to give it a go!
As we arrived the fog started to lift and my jaw dropped. Jan Mayen’s cliffs are breathtaking and unlike anything I have ever seen – and it only got better when we headed out in the zodiacs. The cliffs were filled with fulmars (they look like seagulls), guillemots, and a few puffins. But that wasn’t the best part.
The thing that grabbed me was that literally around every turn the cliffs and view changed dramatically.
And then there was an “Eric Moment”. As our zodiac came around a cliff and a beautiful stone beach appeared. I spontaneously said, “That looks like a great place to make a landing” and that is what we did. I popped out of the zodiac and started to explore this stark awe-inspiring place.
When I hit a large expanse of black sand that would take quite a while to traverse I thought it best to head back to the zodiac.
Apparently, the local authorities (the Norwegian military) didn’t authorize us to make a landing there, so when I raised my head and saw the assistant expedition leader with the look your mother gives you when you are in BIG trouble. Oh Boy! I headed back to the zodiac fast!
(Somehow back on the ship – where rumors flourish – some were erroneously saying I just jumped out of the zodiac and it was all my fault. When the staff went to apologize to me, I said, “Let me think if I care. Nope! It was an amazing experience they didn’t have! And, importantly, the expedition team cared.)
After lunch, our “authorized” landing was happening. We were met on the beach by the station commander, Cecil. She was scary. I am so glad it was our assistant leader and not her that ordered me back to the zodiac in the morning!
The plan for the landing was expanded because the aircraft that was supposed to arrive – thus making the other side of the island out of bounds – was turned back due to fog. Now – as our expedition leader explained – a “leisurely” 3-hour stroll across the island starting on the western side and ending on the eastern side at the modest military base. (I was given strict instructions not to walk on the airfield!)
It wound up being a six-mile hike in loose sand and gravel with numerous rises and false impressions of where the hike would end…which became fondly known as the “death march”. Oh, but the views…those amazing views!
About four miles in we saw signs of human life: Humorous signposts for a bus stop at the airfield (for Iceland’s Flybus), a moose crossing, and lumbering (none of which obviously exist on Jan Mayen).
All we knew was that the hike was to end at a curious window where we could purchase souvenirs. (Huh? A souvenir shop in the middle of nowhere…and one we can only peer at through an open window?)
I don’t know how many “tourists” versus military visitors reach Jan Mayen a year, but between its remoteness and challenging weather/seas, it can’t be more than a few hundred.
What a truly amazing hike it was with the incredible, surreal, landscape which changed constantly…finishing with our being picked up by zodiac on a small beautiful black sand beach.
Yes, I did take photographs, but as I have said often, I “Put the camera down!”. Jan Mayen was just too big, too beautiful, too…well, you get the idea. There is not a photograph that is truly worthy of this magnificent place. And, for sure, the words, “The picture doesn’t capture it” will be uttered by everyone who shares one with a friend at home.
With two sea days following, and the internet beginning to wane, it was time for me to clear the decks of all of my work and writings to date and enjoy the beautiful and very comfortable Sylvia Earle!
Next up: Svalbard!!!!