It felt kind of weird fleeing a hot Swedish summer and going up north to the cold regions of the North Pole. Nevertheless, going to Svalbard during the sunny period, where temperatures are only a few minus degrees below-zero Celsius instead of the usual minus 30 degrees during the dark period, seemed like a much better option.
I wanted to experience the northern Frontier, the wild untouched areas of the arctic pole, its life and the challenge it poses. We were a group of six adventurous friends seeking a novel way to spend our summer vacation, swapping the clubbing, late night DVD binges and latte dates at inner-city cafes out with a true adventurer's trip "“ and did we get more than we hoped for!
We took an airplane from Oslo to the capital of Svalbard "“ Longyearbyen.
I was surprised when the town looked like a mix between a Klondike settlement and a university campus. We left Longyearbyen behind us as quickly as we could. Beside, visitors are not allowed in the Svalbard Global Seed Vault, the doomsday vault that houses the worlds plant seeds in case of global disaster "“ not surprising, I could not go inside to look around.
So we opted for renting a sailboat with an authentic whiskey drinking Dutch captain included and sailed off into the arctic sea. The boat dodged icebergs and anchored in fjords while I enjoyed the demise of glaciers as they fell into the fjords with thunderous roars and checking out the wildlife. The captain set course for the southernmost part of the ice shelf.
It has been said that during a year within the polar circle, there is only one day and one night. I arrived in the sunny season where the sun never sets, tans go with the territory and I was lucky to catch a glimpse of smiles on the faces of the locals.
It took some time to get used to going to bed during what felt like midday (for those of you who like to go clubbing and stay out all night, you probably know what that feels like) and the confusion that arises from trying to figure out what part of the day 3 o'clock is actually referring to. On the other hand, catching some sun on the front deck while listening to the glacier ice crackling away in my whiskey, not knowing what time of the day it is and not really caring, also has its charms. In a way, it worked magic on my hang-overs "“ suddenly wearing sunglasses during the evening shift wasn't suspicious.
I got to see all the things I hoped to see: walruses, unfortunately we also got to smell these as well; and Polar bears, a mother and her cubs almost fed upon an unfortunate group of tourists who were rescued just in the nick of time; and the Russian mining ghost towns. Unfortunately, there were no whales to see, but then again, whale hunting is still conducted up there, so no wonder the whales don't feel like hanging out in the fjords of Svalbard.
When the boat reached the ice shelf, I took a moment to reminiscence on the adventures of explorers like S. A. AndrÃ©e, Roald Amundsen and Umberto Nobile and looked out at the barren deserts of infinite ice. On the other hand, one of my friends chose to commemorate the event, his way, by dressing up in a pink ballerina suit and prancing around the front deck, thereby setting a new standard for extreme adventure. The Captain was not impressed. He may still be living in denial that the event ever happened. However, I found this to be highly amusing.
Once we were finished admiring the scenery of the ever extending white, the Captain decided to turn around and head back "“ only to learn, of course, that the boat stuck.
After a few hours of heavy labor, working our way out of the engulfing ice by taking turns cutting through it with a long pole, we were on its way back to the conformity and safety of civilization of Svalbard.
I can now call myself a full-blooded arctic adventurer, with icy saltwater running through my veins and whiskey mist upon my breath.