"We returned from the hardest, most eventful, and exciting trip of our lives, from Svalbard. I am now immortalizing our experiences and observations, so this writing is not a “user manual” on how to go, where to stay, where to eat, etc....…
Svalbard is beyond the Seven Seas and the Arctic Circle, well above the cold Siberia. This latitude also grazes the upper edge of Greenland. Our expedition was a massive adventure.
After several transfers, we arrived in Longyearbyen in the evening, where the northern snowstorm hit us in the nose, so we got the Arctic welcome. At baggage claim, it was already clear that the locals think much more professionally about the weather and clothing. I thought they must have been through a few snowman-building sessions as well; this came from the 30 cm fur gloves, the multi-layered boots, the Russian-style hood, and the overalls - not at all market quality - pulled down to their waist indoors.
The bus dropped us off at an industrial park; the driver said the accommodation would be “somewhere” forward. In technical mountaineering pants, I felt like a dropped terminator in LA’s suburbs. Luckily we found the patent little Russian hostel on our first try.
The next day, we got into the swing of the place. We visited an ice cave, an underground river in the glacier (a river in the river). We went on a Snowcat, which is not even remotely similar to our Bobcat. Passing through a rickety wooden door, we descended with crampons to the “ice marble palace.” We found terrific arches, ice benches, fractals, and an ice pagoda. Returning to the Snowcat, we drank hot syrup, which is not usual at home.
The next day we visited a coal mine, where they mine the coal needed to produce steel parts for BMW and Mercedes. In the gallery, we touched on the Arctic World Archive. Interestingly the collection is analog, not on film negative but positive. The other “end of the world waiting” station was touching the old seed bank (Svalbard Global Seed Vault). We only saw two doors because the seed bank is not visitable, but there are exciting collections behind the doors.
We also played a miner’s game, crawling in the gallery and walking a lot in the tunnels. Coming out of the mine, we faced that although we crawled and walked for hours in the depths of the earth, we only visited one of the eight mines’ 0.5%. We didn’t envy those miners’ lives who spent all day sliding and sidling in a 1-meter-high tunnel to extract coal.
It seemed fun, so we walked 6 kilometers daily in honor of -27 degrees Celsius. It was so cold outside that the postman carried even the net. (This last one was just a joke. Don’t move out because of this!). 😊 We checked out everything from the northernmost: the northernmost church, the northernmost post office (and most importantly), and the northernmost Coop.
We visited two museums and drank pálinka at the northernmost sundial (which doesn’t work for half a year because it’s dark). We took pictures with OSB and steel bears. The polar bear probably didn’t have time to scare us because we only saw it on signs, but still, the danger might be real. In Longyearbyen, all cars are always left open so you can escape inside if a bear attacks. The bear comes at sixty, so there’s not much time to think about it to look for door handles to mess around with. Get in the car. You can still make your will there. (Unfortunately, one person dies every year from bear attacks). I also read that you have to put aside all classic brown and grizzly knowledge with them. So if you run from a polar bear on the Arctic Circle, set this knowledge aside! This one is white and starts with ice in its name. It would help if you were suspicious of that.
But this bear thing is partly a tourist magnet too. I once saw two small and large moving beans in the distance with binoculars which was supposedly a mother bear with her cub (I hope not stunt).
The population is entirely inhomogeneous partly because the number of tourists slowly exceeds that of locals. We had Russian Inuit and Norwegian hosts too. They also come over from Iceland to work here.
They trained us in snowmobiles. We sped at fifty on the snow savannah until sunset. We reached the island’s marlenka cake corner Templefjord. We picnicked at sunset opposite Russian Pyramiden. During the picnic otherwise, a friendly escort picked up his rifle (in case Bear came) and then handed out cake and hot coffee. The coffee and cake came in handy (the bear didn’t).
Our biggest experience was dog sledding. Respect for furry buddies. Teamwork, determination, perseverance, madness, craziness. I can only talk about it in superlatives.
The landscape was picturesque… It showed another face in the morning fog sunshine orange color of the setting sun night darkness. We were fortunate because we caught clear weather with infinite visibility. The extra and free experience was northern lights which framed the house wall opposite our accommodation, and mountains stretching in the background.
Some of us climbed up to the torso of the northernmost railway line, where frozen footboards reminded us of a former mine track line. Interesting little concentration camp feeling had frozen gutter footboards.
From the window of our accommodation, we occasionally caught glimpses of neighbor reindeer who looked phlegmatically and scratched further. We didn’t disturb each other’s living space. This is an ideal good neighborly relationship. Live and let live.(b.i., 2023)
Those who know me know I'm not fond of animal shows. Swimming with dolphins, whale watching, seal photography, elephant riding, and similar tourist experiences do not attract me because they exploit the animals. (On my first and last elephant ride, the elephant looked back and spat us in the face. We deserved it!) But I did not regret this dog adventure; think of me as selfish or a dozen tourists. I am also a dog lover; I have been a dog owner for decades. I love dogs, whether small or large, pedigreed or mixed, pet or working dog. I believe that dogs and humans can tune in to each other so that they understand each other from one glance. I think that human and dog friendship is eternal. I believe that every dog with whom we share our lives, or who shares his life with us, shapes us and leaves a mark on our souls forever.
This approach made me want to try dog sledding, a spectacular form of polar vehicle transport on Svalbard. After a severe overalls dressing, we were trained in dog protocol and ethology. We learned about dogs' body language and what to expect from which dog. I note that every four-legged was extremely friendly, although one liked to acquire the objects in the tourists’ pockets.
After getting acquainted and cuddling with dogs, we had to harness the sled dogs ourselves. Since the dog’s joints were anatomically fixed in place, I had trouble getting into the harness. After harnessing, the dog had to be put on two legs because it has so much power that it easily pulls and drags you through the snow. Two legs = half power, and even so, they have destructive physical energy.
Although most of the dogs were as Husky as I myself come from around the Urals, that’s okay. There were Husky-like creatures among them, but they were mostly mixes. Not all were photogenic (beautiful), but we are talking about four-legged animals intended for work rather than an exhibition. Their role in the pack was visible. There were introverts, extroverts, flattering poses, and aristocrats among them. The pack and the team-selecting owner did not choose the biggest face; the “most licked” leader, but the smartest and typically smaller one. The leader dog was placed next to the strongest member of the pack. This thinking might produce more successful products for us humans as well. Mind and strength. I was thinking and acting. This drives the dog sled (and our lives) forward.
Our Superstar (leader dog) was not very heated by the desire to show off; he instead hid and had to be brought out of the kennel. He seemed so wilted that, at first, I thought he was a puppy. But then, an old German wisdom was confirmed that I heard from a veteran. “Thinking is hard …” or a little man (or dog J) is not a straw! As early as departure, they drew our attention to the fact that the dogs are so excited to pull that they can only travel with a tightened brake. (Think of a car with such vital fuel that you have to brake continuously so you don’t over-speed).
At first, I didn’t take the warning too seriously. I thought of the hysteria before departure as more rage or squealing than actually “revving up” the engine. Those who harnessed barked because they wanted to leave, those who stayed home because they missed out on the “party.” It was real madness. (Advice for dog lovers: If you want to keep a Husky, have a sound nervous system, bad hearing, and no neighbors.) Imagine that absurd scene where people stand on their balconies in a residential park every morning and envy those who can go to work while loudly hysterical about why they sit at home instead or why it’s weekend again or holiday and vacation? The other part of people would scream indignantly at the bus stop that come on that bus because they finally want to work do something for the world Well this (Babelian) noise precedes dog sledding departure 30 years ago I have been dogging but afterwards I can say that there was not little fear in me at exit What will happen if we lose control over dogs or if sled overturns or dogs leave us on snowfield Then I realized there is something I can control there is something I don’t even need because it works by itself When dogs started off with full throttle (some on two legs) they jerked our vehicle so much that I almost fell off my feet Then everything smoothed out Like 5 cylinders (sometimes more) in engine The furry buddies worked Silence glaciers snow sunshine racing dogs Couldn’t speak My eyes clouded with emotion and of course cutting cold During racing everything became so idyllic As if time had stopped As if perfect moment completeness had arrived in my life which nothing can overwrite I felt yes this is worth living for this is what I was born for Finally I am main character of my own life This is what I want to do forever 30-40 dogs 6 sleds perfect harmony and willingness intelligence and enthusiasm ancient instincts racing on endless snowfield among majestic mountain ranges I felt like calling me “voice of wilderness” To infinity and beyond … (But when one of sleds turned upside down in front of us).
Suddenly sled got stuck because the passenger compartment lay on a high layer of snow Sled dogs sensed it and slowed down Leader dog looked back and, depending on instructions from the controller, urged his companions to speed up or slow down. This is real teamwork. Like all good things, unfortunately, dog racing ended too. After our arrival - contrary to harnessing order - first, team members had to be unharnessed, then taken to their place, and finally, the lead dog, This is the Husky PR / HR Leader, steps on stage first, and the leader leaves it last When saying goodbye, there was no little lump in my throat Hope all those who will ever have opportunity to try dog sledding will look at sled dogs not as toys but as real partners They deserve it
We can learn a lot from them Humility, willingness, collective thinking, enthusiasm, and stamina (I think there is no Hungarian word for this kind of Duracell bunny effect or what editor). If you haven’t done it yet, but dog sledding is on your bucket list, Maybe volunteer once in such a place. After all they get Royal Canin J (B. I., 2023)
Svalbard consists primarily of icy tundra and mountains, which include high peaks and glaciers. The archipelago's highest point is Newtontoppen, which is 1,717 meters high and is located in the southern part of Spitsbergen.
Most of Svalbard has no significant vegetation, as the climatic conditions are very harsh. There are no trees in the northern areas, only low shrubs and tundra plants. The north islands have more arctic vegetation, such as grass, lichen, and moss.
The number of endemic plant species is very low in Svalbard. One of these rare plant species is the mountain avens (Dryas octopetala), which only occurs in the polar regions. Another endemic plant species is the Svalbard sorrel (Oxyria digyna), which grows on frozen soil. However, the vegetation is significant for the local wildlife and ecosystem beyond the Arctic Circle.
"In Longyearbyen, it is not only the climate and the unusual geographical conditions that are the strangest to me but also the rules and laws that the city administration has enacted due to the local circumstances:
The city’s residents are not allowed to keep cats: this way, they protect the already poor bird population in the area. Expectant mothers have no opportunity to give birth on the island: they have to travel to a mainland hospital three weeks before the child’s birth and then return home with the baby, as Longyearbyen has no maternity ward. Alcohol consumption is limited in the city, and people must take their guns with them when they leave home to protect themselves from polar bears.
However, the most interesting of the strange laws is not about life but death.
Although the city has a cemetery, it has been out of use for 70 years, as the authorities banned “death” in 1950.
The explanation is simpler than we think: it is usually so cold in the town that, on the one hand, the ground is frozen, and on the other hand, the temperature almost preserves the corpses, so they do not start to decompose in the soil, thus attracting wild animals.
Scientists also fear that bodies buried in permafrost (i.e., permanently frozen soil) may still contain live virus strains. Their fear is not unfounded, as a recent study found that bodies placed in the local cemetery before 1950 still show signs of the 1918 influenza pandemic.
That’s why the solution was made so that terminally ill or seriously injured people are transported to the mainland so they do not die on the island. Of course, someone dies unexpectedly in town, so the body is sent to be buried on the mainland. (2022)