© 2019 by Kajsa Silow

Expedition guide on Svalbard
 
First gig for Expeditionsresor in Svalbard, Norway, 7 days in June 2016

"Test job as a guide on Svalbard before Midsummer? For Expeditionsresor. Boat. M/S Stockholm. Polar bears of course. Last time we saw 5, that was few..."

Sometimes you don't need to say much, you just need to say the right things. I think Ola knew that I didn't need much more info than that to say yes. 

"Eeeh I'll think about it".
 

The truth is that I had a sea kayaking adventure coming up and that I needed to postpone by a week, but to my joy I could call him back again later and say "YES". Cus this really was a dream.

Apparently it's things like this that can happen the day after you quit your job, home and don't have any plans. But that's also what can happen after putting dog years of passion and work into creating such a possible scenario. So after an air-strike, we finally flew off and up to the land of my dreams.

So grateful for struggling and bleeding every now and then when I have an aim towards a beautiful dream :)


(This is how happy I was).

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Day 1

You might not be wishing for an air-strike when you're about to fly off to the dream of your life. Little 13 year old Kajsa thinks she has waited long enough when she 18 years later get to maximize her lifelong passion to the extent that she has to pinch herself in the arm real hard but still don't get that this is finally happening. That timing at that aimless notice and then the air-strike that got solved the night before departure, for that timing I will be grateful forever, whatever that might happen in the future.

At the time of writing, the night before midsummer, I'm wifi:ing, editing pictures and writing a book for Expeditionsresor on a floor at Radison on Svalbard while waiting for the air shuttle. My new-climbed forearms are winding down over the keys while my soul is processing all impressions from a week out on the arctic ocean. The rest of the group left yesterday and I fawned my way to a corner at a friend's friends' place for the night, a friend's friend who happen to be a guide and climbing instructor and took the opportunity to teach me all he knows during my extra day on the island. Always chose contacts before hotels, always!

For the first time in years I dare to say that I'm genuinely happy, inside and out, work wise and mentally. I already thought I was, well if I thought I was then I actually was. But for me this has been far more than just a cool experience, a beautiful office, dream trip through amazing sceneries of an exotic arctic paradise. The experience is so much deeper rooted than that. This is love worth fighting for, this is the result of all my life's work, choices, struggles and successes, as far back as I can remember. And like having the week of my dreams wasn't enough, when I got back from the ocean and back to my computer, there were both inquiries regarding new photo jobs, new collabs and a notification that I'd been approved for the guide school in Åre. YES!! 

When I quit my job I was paddling through a heavy upwind and straight out into a flat open horizon. But at least I never stopped paddling, and now I've caught that perfect wave. Everything is clearer than ever. Crystal. But I still don't expect anything and will never know for how long the wave will keep curling. So to quote Stenmark:

 

"I know nothing about luck, but I know that the more I train the more luck I have."

So to my first guide gig, I've revelled in magic all day every day this last week. I've barely slept and I'm on my way back home to spend Midsummer alone at my parents' house doing laundry, work and to repack for Sunday's departure for 5 weeks sea kayaking adventure up in northern Norway. But I never felt better, and what don't you do to take the chance to explore your opportunities :) 

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Day 2

"Oh look, a pen sharpener!"

We're out on open arctic oceans among fairytale-like landscapes. The ocean is bristling with sea animals right underneath our boat. We alternate between enjoying the views and watching out for polar bears, whales, belugas, sea horses, arctic foxes, puffins most parts of the day. So when you hear an "oh look, a..." you instinctively run to deck to scan the ocean super quickly to see what she's found. 

But the fact that it was a pen sharpener made me nothing but happy. When guests serve up charming comments about more or less exotic details on the boat, you can't help but be grateful for the fact that they're totally present in the moment. That's a great mark for an expedition guide. But not long after we heard a new "oh look, a..." . We had just woken up in Virgohamna to get some land under our feet and explore the historical place where André started his balloon adventure. 

"...polar bear!" 

The skinny female polar bear was slowly walking back and forth along the coastline, right at the spot where we were supposed to park our zodiak. The arctic paradise, the animals' kingdom. Highly affected by environmental changes to the warmer era. My first polar bear. And an arctic fox trippin by right behind it. Animal Planet irl. The definition of my kind of star struck! Yet horrifying to see the results of man's consuming behaviors. 

 

We cruised our way over to Hamiltonbukta to get as close to the glacier front to experience the huge size, the colors, contrasts, sounds and the movements of the ice. If it calves we might be ni a bad place for a huge wave, so we have to stay 200m away. Something I'd love to experience! But still not. Just like many other things up here. In the evening we continued our way up to pass 80 degrees north, which is about 1200 km from the north pole. 1200 km is  a little bit less than my paddle will be this summer. That's kinda nothing :) A truth that deserved champagne!

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Day 3

"I could work like this, all day, all year round"

When we woke up on our 3rd day we had stopped at Wahlbergöya. It was really windy and kinda challenging to get to land with the zodiak without getting everyone all wet. Getting to land is always exciting on Svalbard, you never know when a 40km/h fast bear can pop up behind a desolated house to an old research station. My eyes scan the area with great focus without interruption and my hand stays close to the case of the warning gun. "For the guests", I think to myself to stay calm. I feel strong, secure, safe, focused and protective as assisting tail guide. When I reminisce on my first time visiting Svalbard when my sister and I hiked up Sukkertoppen, I know exactly what has happened. There and then I was super scared and very anxious. Why? We didn't bring a gun or safety. Just the fact that you got a course in Svalbard's safety and have the chance to scare the bear off if it appears, makes you enjoy your time on land instead of putting yourself to risk. 

We take a seat on a log to enjoy the sun after yesterday's foggy weather and observe the sea horses 50m away. They don't do much but it's still (in my opinion) one of the most entertaining things you can do! This is no made up story, this is no Animal Planet, this is the live shit and you have no idea what will happen. And watching creatures live is like going to a consert - you simply experience things that can't be described by text, photos or film. Then we drove back to the boat to head off to find what everyone's been waiting for - ice. This time of the year it's hard to find, but if you find it your possibilities in seeing bear increases a lot. The reports stay positive and the excitement is high, and soon we're cruising among sheets of ice and ice bergs, observe two more polar bears and a lone sea horse soaking up the sun on an ice sheet. It's a massive experience, the Arctic never stop giving the sense of being reborn. Every day, every view, every animal, every weather, every long lived dream. Maybe it's because its nature is so clean, empty and untouched. And to share this with a boat filled with 12 excited guests! My words to my colleague came straight from the heart. That thing about working as a guide is something I think I really would enjoy doing all day, all year round! 

Right before midnight we'd made our way to Bråsvellbreen, a huge glaciere with a 180 km long glacier front, which makes it the longest on the northern hemisphere. We're moving slowly, the midnight sun is bright and warm, and we all aboard have taken a seat on deck to enjoy this beautiful magnificent piece of art. 

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Day 4

"Pfft!"

I turn around and see Jonas wiping off his mouth. "Birdshit?" I ask and only get a laugh as response. But no wonder, above us fly180000 birds who breed on Alkefjellet. 

"It's almost like Skansen, but like, irl!" a guest exults before heading back inside. Me and my guide colleague Jonas can't stop watching that enormous wall of centimeter-wide plateaus for squeezing birds and eggs to share. I've only seen it on Planet Earth and it's a too great of experience to stand there with the risk of getting shit-shots for celebration. 

"Of course the two guides are found last on deck!" A guest comes back out to get some more bird time. Maybe that's exactly why we do what we do. Because we love it. This is far from planted gardens and zoo's (which I don't even support), this is a totally different experience, the real thing, remote and difficult to access, the wild, the free, the unaffected real life far away from daily human influences. It's quite powerful to stand right in the middle of it. 

When the bird-cliff ended we went to Krossøya to get a peak of the island's two crosses. We got shooed away by the arctic terns who didn't like having us there, so with respect we just had to walk back to the boat and decided to take a dip in the zero degree water instead.

 

We moved on and anchored by a dead still and quiet Kinnvika. The ocean was so blank that we could see ourselves in the mirror for the first time haha, and so quiet you could hear hearts beat. The landscape was grey, rough, and with my guns near my body it felt as if I'd touched land on a historical book from the war. We walked closer to get a better look at the desolate research station for magnetism, weather and radiation. Here we had houses and hills everywhere, so a bear could be sleeping just anywhere nearby. So our safety routines are always the first focus, even though my ego made me happy that it was Jonas' who scanned the area for bears and not me :) 

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Day 5

"It's beautiful over there, let's hope for some sun!"

One of the nice things with being colleagues with a crew such as the one on M/S Stockholm is that they never get sick of it. Every time they cruise the same route the landscape will have changed so much that there always is something new to be found. At 4 am we reached a grey and rainy Holmiabukta, but it was still smashing beautiful. So magical, and that all so clear, dark turquoise ocean and a glacier that had just calved. A fresh trace of a polar bear was making lines along the coast and we stopped for a long time in the zodiak to just wait and see if the bear would appear. After a little while we were welcomed by 10 seals instead, swimming around the boat and rested on the stones. But the bear never showed.

"A dream has become true" I hear a soft voice whispering behind me as we sit quiet in the zodiac to observe the seals. It's moments like this that makes me do what I do, to give of my time and knowledge to people who want to fulfill their dreams and share all these magical moments. 

An hour later we reached the Magdalena glacier and Gravnäset and got welcomed by a sea horse as we reached land to visit a whale station from the 17th century and take a walk along one of Svalbard's biggest graveyards. It started clearing up and we ended our stop with a calm, sunny zodiac cruise among black guillemots alongside the beautiful ice blue glacier!

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Day 6

"How far away can you see?" (guest)

"Far!" (captain)

When you're traversing a wide open ocean far up north on the globe, meet the same 12 people an no one else every day, and have time to watch and contemplate the same view from different perspectives during a slow movement forwards, many hidden thoughts get brought up to life. At 3 am we reached civilization for the first time since we left Longyearbyen. We berthed at the research village Ny-Ålesund and the sun felt warm as a Swedish summer day! For the first time on this trip we got a longer leg stretch as we visited Amundsen's mast, and we took the opportunity to send postcards to our loved ones from the world's northernmost post box. The animals we'd met so far weren't that into hugs and being pet, so I was happy to spend a little time with some alaskan huskies that I met before I got back onboard. When we left the dock the ocean started to bobble quite heavily and the boat leaned 40 degrees each way. Being a Swedish surfer I got super excited and wanted to jump straight into the big arctic ocean with my board and take the opportunity to surf on the top of the globe. Omg, can you just imagine that feeling?! 

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Day 7

"Let's go further."

The wind calmed down by the evening so we got a good and steady night's sleep on the boat, and in the morning we reached Pyramiden, a recently shut down mining hamlet where the only ones who still live there are the guides that get visits by people like us. The happy and fun guy above, Denis, showed us around the area for a few hours. 

His words repeated every time we'd stopped, and they got stuck in my head and left an echo that rest of the day. Our last day at sea, so wistful. If I was in charge of decisions I would've lived on the boat for a lot longer, of course. The dream I'd had since I was 13 has now become reality. For work too. But, let's go further, all dreams come to an end. So also this, even if it continues as soon as I land back in Sweden. And for that I'm so happy, happy that I can create and take my opportunities so that I get to experience my dreams - that together with 12 other dreamers! :) 

 

For our last day between Pyramiden and Longyearbyen we were accompanied by a huge gang of whales that swam right next to the boat, and among them was a beluga! A BELUGA! For 7 days we got to experience everything you could ask for in the Arctic, and this work trip is something I'll remember for the rest of my life. And if you're a nature nerd like me, and especially a polar one, then I guess you can relate hehe.

When we reached land we had a last dinner together with champagne tasting and 5 course meal at Huset, one of Svalbard's most legendary places (om food porn!). No one of us seemed to want this trip to end so we went straight from dinner to spend a long night on deck, and in the morning we had a long brunch at Kroa together. The other flew back home but I stayed for another day, a day filled with post production of pictures, writing and copy, and a little bit of climbing. But it was quite a good thing I didn't have time for more than that, I sure had some impressions to process! And only 2 days after getting back home I'll be on my way up to northernmost Norway for that 5-7 week sea kayaking adventure.

With a big happy thanks for now Expeditionsresor, see you again in August for another guide trip up on Mt. Kilimanjaro! 

 

Let's go further, hehe.

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