02.08.2010 - 04.08.2010
Jan and I are in Olso today and visited a few interesting museums. The Norwegians certainly love their boats and know how to use them. We saw preserved Viking ships as well as museums devoted to a couple of adventurers I have long admired, Fridtjof Nansen and Thor Heyerdahl. They were great leaders, innovative people and outstanding citizens of the world. Heyerdahl, together with veterans from the Norwegian Resistance, sailed the Kon Tiki to test a theory of migration. In 1947, without satellite assistance and no back up vessel, it was certainly a bold adventure over 101 days. He use multinational crews on later adventures and long ago drew the world's attention to ocean pollution.
Nansen was a classic overachiever. He was an outstanding sportsman and scholar. He travelled farther north than anyone previously and was only denied achieving the North Pole conquest by the movement of the ice. His voyage and trek over the ice acquired much scientific data and (like Mawson) he endured incredible hardships to survive. Like Shackleton, he was a careful and inspirational leader and lost no team members. Nansen's distinctive ship, the Fram, which was used in ground(/ice?)breaking expeditions to the north and south poles is well preserved. Amundsen, the outstanding Norwegian explorer, used it to win the race to the South Pole.
Nansen then went on to serve his country with distinction as a diplomat and was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his vital work on securing release of prisoners of war after 1918 and his attempts to save lives from famine.
Tomorrow we're heading off to the Lofoten Islands for four days and then up to the Svalbard Archipelago where we will cruise on a scientific ship for ten days in search of polar bears, walruses, arctic foxes, puffins etc. On Svalbard everyone who walks outside the main town has to carry a rifle to protect against local wildlife.
Interestingly, the other day as we were sailing up from Stavanger to Bergen, we saw the lead news item on Norwegian television was a report on two kayakers attempting to be the first to circumnavigate Svalbard who had their tent attacked by a polar bear. We tried to piece the story together by the visuals and it took some time on the web and talking to locals to get the full picture.
Luckily (?) the bear grabbed one man by the head to pull him out of the tent. Something was said by the victim along the lines of "You'd better shoot it now." His companion then put four bullets into the bear. (Standard advice by the local authorities is to put three into bears and when you see preserved museum specimens looming 3+ metres above you with paws the size dinner plates you have no doubt that this is sage advice. The local Governor will have all dead polar bears investigated and you are in trouble if you shoot them in the back as it indicates you weren't under threat!) The man survived.
So, we knew from prior reading that we would have to be careful on Svalbard – after walking around African campsites over the last two months where there were leopards, elephants and hippos loose we were always careful anyway. But now we'll be doubly so. A guy the other day said that polar bears can smell you a mile away. From time to time visitors will be excited to see a bear a long way off heading towards them and then later concerned/terrified when they realise that it is now running very fast with intent towards them. They are aggressive, and if you are not close enough to your car you are in trouble.