Exploring the deep Arctic

Trip Start Dec 01, 2011
Trip End Jan 20, 2013

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Where I stayed
Coal Miners' Cabins Longyearbyen
Read my review - 4/5 stars

Flag of Norway  , Svalbard and Jan Mayen,
Monday, May 28, 2012

I got off the airplane at 1AM and there was complete sunlight. The next sunset here is August 23.   I fell asleep on the plane and woke up minutes before landing, but I looked out the window and saw pure white.  This island is beautiful and I have never seen anything like it.  When I got my bags, everyone seemed to be dressed as an eskimo.  It's high temperature now is just above freezing and it’s the beginning of summer.  Everyone here had snow shoes and I had tennis shoes and sandals as I have five months left of travel and most of it will be in weather that is nearly 100 Fahrenheit.   When I started scheduling my trip, I wanted to go to Greenland, but could not, so I thought of the next place that would be like Greenland and came up with here.  I priced the ticket at $2400 for a one way, but I got it for roughly $40 with my frequent flyer miles.  I got the bus to my guesthouse, but it was closed, so I slept in the lobby until they opened.  This guesthouse was 20 minutes from the city center.  The city center consists of mainly hotels and a short street that has pubs and places selling souvenirs and tours and only one grocery store.  It is semi developed here, so that is good.  It is 78 degrees north of the equator and the highest inhabited island in the world.  It is very expensive to eat here, so I bought ingredients to cook pasta in my hotel for $15.  The hamburgers in the pubs sold for nearly $25 with no fries or additions.  I purchased a boat ticket for the next day going to a far off mining island where it is possible to see polar bears.  There were basically 3 options of tours to do.  There was the boat trip, you can do a dog sledding trip from any amount of days or also a trip to many places around the island and the other option was nowmobiling..  They were all about the same price.  I was hoping to do the snowmobile one as it covers more ground, but the snow is melting.  You can rent a snowmobile on your own and not go on a tour, but if it breaks down, I will be stranded with no one to help me fix it, so I opted to go to the boat tour.  I went to the museum in Svalbard and learned a lot about the history of the island.  A lot of people might ask how this island got discovered and why people would want to come here.  It was discovered on accident when someone was trying to sail to the north pole, but encountered some ice and re-routed the trip and ended up here.  It was a mining town for a long long time and was almost abandoned until tourism hit it in 1990.  Nearly 30,000 people a year visit here now.  There is no longer mining in this city, but there is in neighboring cities, which only have miners.  The museum also went over some of the history of the animals here like polar bears and whales.  The Greenland right whale is very common here.  The funny thing about this whale was since it lives near ice, it has to be very fat to keep warm and when they killed this whale, it nearly floated.  There are also seals, walruses and other animals.  This island is 13% land that can be harvested and 60% iceberg and the rest is rock, so that is one of the reasons why the food is so expensive.  Nothing grows here and I haven’t seen any livestock of any sort.  The livestock have nothing to eat.  I stopped by the church and cemetery on the way home from the museum and that is pretty much all there is to do in this small town.  I saw pretty much the whole thing.  The funny thing about the cemetery is that no one can be buried there unless it is an accident.  On this island, people live here, but when they retire, they are forced to leave and same with births.  They send you to the mainland of Norway to give birth.

The 2nd day in Svalbard, I got up at 230 AM on accident.  The jet lag is killing me and I can not sleep to change things because it is sun 24/7.  It’s hard to return to sleep and easy to take naps during the day, but then you can not sleep at night.  At 800, I was picked up by a bus to go on a cruise around the area.  The cruise took over 10 hours and cost $220, but there was not much else to do around here.  I was hoping to see a polar bear.  They have said that most people see a mother and her cub, but the ice is melting a little bit and the polar bears usually hang out on the ice, so unfortunately, I did not see one.  I did however have a great day.  The trip started out with a 2 hour trip up to a city called Pyramiden.  Pyramiden has been abandon for six months.  It is not accessible in the winter due to ice and a few days ago, the ice was too thick to reach this city, but today we were fortunate enough to make it to the port.  We spent two hours in this city.  I saw about five reindeer here.  This was my first reindeer sighting.  I thought reindeer were kind of like elk, but they are much smaller and white.  This city called Pyramiden was also a mining town and very interesting.  It once had a movie theater, pool and other recreational activities that Longyearyben does not.  It is completely abandoned other than about 10 people in the summer.  There are a lot of old buildings that are boarded up.  They had all female houses, all male houses and married houses.  They had an old hospital, shops, gas station, mine and school.  I'm just guessing by the smell, but I think they mined coal.  It was very interesting seeing this city even though there was nothing here.  I didn’t understand the full reason why it is now abandoned, but it has something to do with the collapse of the Soviet union as they occupied this city and also they moved the mine to a new city where they ended up being a big mistake.  It has been abandon since 1998.  On the way to the next stop, we saw a couple seals and those were the first wild seals I have seen.  They were on a patch of ice.  We stopped at a giant ice shelf for about 10 minutes that was also interesting, but not as good as the pictures show.  The lunch was whale meat and I didn’t eat it.  It seems very fatty and I got to thinking of how many people one whale could feed.  A cow is roughly 600 pounds of meat, but a whale could be nearly 20 times that.  The last stop on this boat was our final stop where there was a bird cliff watch.  We did not leave the boat for this one and at first, I thought they were just birds, but they were actually birds related to penguins and they flew.  They looked exactly like tiny penguins and I can not remember the name of the bird, but they were pretty cool.  The last interesting thing I saw today was there are a few random houses out here.  They are not big houses, but some people do live out here alone and usually next to them, they have a little hut they use for trapping or hunting.  The usual animal that are hunted are arctic fox , reindeer and seals. After the cruise, I just took a long long shower in hot water. After being out in the freezing cold, a hot shower never felt better!

My third day in Longyearbyen was quite boring.  I got up for breakfast and went for a three hour hike into the snow mountains.  It was some great scenery.  It seemed like the hike never ended.  I was looking for a glacier, but never found it.  It would have been a lot better to get a snowmobile for today, but today was a holiday.  There was nothing open except a convenient store and thank god it was open because  I had nothing to eat.  The sun is really interesting here.  It never goes down.  Usually, I watch the sun go from one side of the sky to the other and set.  It just goes around the sky here.  It never goes down.  I was really happy with this island and what I saw here.  It was very fun.  I have never seen anything like this and probably will not in a long time. 
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