Martyn and Di Bevan of Northamptonshire, England, couldn't believe it when they got the call: they were the winners of an 18-day arctic expedition with Quark Expeditions®, on board the authentic Soviet icebreaker Kapitan Khlebnikov. They'd entered the contest sometime earlier, after reading about the “£1-million holiday giveaway” in the Telegraph newspaper, recalls Martyn.
“All I had to do was fill out an online survey of very general questions,” he says. “The contest was ending Sunday and this was Saturday afternoon.”
Two and a half weeks later, they got the call. But they initially thought it may have been a telephone solicitor trying to sell them a timeshare condominium.
“All she said was, ‘I'm pleased to tell you that you've won a holiday!” says Di.
Photos courtesy: Martyn & Di Bevan
Arctic Expedition Proves an Incredible Learning Opportunity
Once they confirmed it really was true, Martyn and Di set out to learn everything they could about the Arctic. Although they were seasoned travelers, they'd never thought of traveling to either of the Polar Regions.
In mid-August, they flew to Ottawa, Canada, and spent a few days touring the national capital. When the time came to begin their journey, they boarded a charter flight to Kangerlussuaq, Greenland, where they were taken by Zodiac to Kapitan Khlebnikov, a sturdy ship that has transited the Northwest Passage more times than any other vessel.
Their first stop was in Sisimiut, one of the fastest-growing cities in Greenland. While ashore, they were able to experience the local culture and food. Martyn says he'll never forget trying seal blubber and whale skin while there.
The Ilulissat Icefjord features the fastest-moving and most productive glacier in the world. It was the first time both Martyn and Di had seen icebergs, and within 2 hours of arriving, they were cruising in a Zodiac for a closer look.
“You can't explain to people what that looked like,” Martyn says. “Then somebody just said, ‘There are some whales.' All of a sudden there were 3 humpback whales – only 80 meters away! Really, really, really close. And not at all intimidated, because there must have been 4 or 5 Zodiacs in the vicinity, with their engines off.”
Di was impressed with the respect that the Zodiac pilots showed the whales. “They were not edging closer and closer,” she explains. “They always remained at a respectful distance so the animals didn't feel intimidated.”
Wildlife Out of this World
The couple saw and photographed lots of arctic wildlife throughout their arctic voyage. Martyn got an amazing shot of an arctic hare. They also saw some polar bears: the first was about half a mile (1 km) away, and the second was caught sleeping on an ice floe. But the third time they spotted one, they got really lucky.
“We came upon this massive ice sheet and spotted this polar bear in the distance, but it had moved away and most of us had gone for lunch,” says Martyn. “One of the tour guys came and told us, ‘You really need to stop eating and get on the bow. The polar bear is there.' The ship was stationary, and this polar bear was 10 meters below us!”
The polar bears weren't the couple's only amazing sightings – they saw muskoxen, lemmings, seabirds and … an astronaut! Their expedition featured Canadian astronaut Colonel Chris Hadfield and his Generator Arctic science variety show. Martyn admits to not knowing much about Canada's most famous astronaut prior to the trip, but he learned a lot about him during the 18 days they traveled together.
“A surreal moment was Chris Hadfield in the bar with Danny Michel, a Canadian musician who was part of the team,” Martyn remembers.
“They just informally started playing music and singing, and of course the bar was free and people were just having, you know, a really great time. And I stopped and thought, ‘I'm in the Arctic, I've only had half a glass of wine, we've got an astronaut singing with popular Canadian singer Danny Michel, who performs at concerts, and this iceberg is floating by … how do you explain that?'” he says.
Colonel Hadfield celebrated a birthday during their arctic adventure, and Martyn and Di were sitting across from him when he received his birthday cake.
Too Many Adventure Travel Highlights to List
Both Martyn and Di have a long list of highlights from the trip. What tops Di's list was standing on pack ice while armed guides kept an eye out for polar bears. Martyn says another surreal moment was visiting the graves of several members of the lost Franklin expedition on Beechey Island.
“I stood by myself and it was like deep gloom, the black sea,” he says. “It snowed early, so there was snow everywhere, and I said to somebody, ‘It's like standing in a photograph.' You know, you see these marvelous photographs in magazines, and you just stood and there were no sounds, no vapor trails, and it was so quiet. It was surreal – it really was surreal.”
Which may be the way the couple would best describe their trip. They both had a wonderful time, and Di said that while the Arctic was not anywhere on her radar as an adventure travel destination, their memories and experiences will remain with her for the rest of her life.
If you're looking for an expedition experience, she has some advice: “Just don't think about it. Just do it, because you won't be disappointed. It will be such an experience – it's like nothing else you can ever do. Especially for us, in the landlocked Midlands in the U.K., there is nowhere where you can get that experience. It was something that you never, ever regret doing.”
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