Breaking the Spitsbergen Bubble

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The last day of our trip we spent in Longyearbyen. One of the guides on the campsite told us the airship museum, covering over 100 years of polar exploration history, was worth checking. We spent a surprising amount of time in this tiny museum, reading the stories of the many men who wanted to be first to reach the north and south poles. It’s not exactly happy stories: most of them died in airship crashed or simply disappeared. It was impressive though to see how far people actually made it, considering the limitations of technology and the weight of gear at that point.

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Walking around in Longyearbyen for a day was a good closure of the trip. You would be surprised about the vibrancy of this tiny little city. It has a very atmospheric feel, a couple of nice bars and many enthusiastic people. Almost everyone we met had a positive, free-spirited view of their stay on the archipelago and had consciously chosen it as their place of residence. One day they simply decided to do what they actually wanted to do, which is being active and outdoors. It’s a small bubble of enthusiasm this city, enthusiasm that catches on to the travelers passing by. 

IMG_3274 (1)This positive atmosphere stood in stark contrast to the stories of how the islands are also managed for the bad. It was sad to hear and see how humans are generating a negative impact. The main visual mark of this impact was Pyramiden, another reason why this trip was so impressive. After sailing for hours along Ísfjorden’s coast, passing by the immense Nordenskiold glacier, it’s a bit of a shock to get there. Mining and other waste is lying around all over the place. The seawater along the shoreline colors deep brown from the influence of undefined substances and materials lying in the water.

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After guides had been explaining us how fragile the ecosystem is and how we should be careful about not stepping on the flowers, we heard about how the krill fishery is taking away the basis of the food system and how whales get killed to feed them to tourists and dogs. We heard about how the islands still export shiploads of coal while people in Longyearbyen complained about the lack of ice, the warm temperatures, the overload of grass on the hills. Being in this insanely beautiful place it made me sad to see how reckless we can be with our environment. However, after having been in the bubble for a couple of days it was good to grasp reality again and get the full image.

Looking back at the entire week, Spitsbergen was one of the most mind-blowing places I have been to. It is completely different from anything I had experienced before, in every aspect of it. Since I only got to see such a tiny part of it, it didn’t get crossed off the list. Such experiences call for more!

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