Left Canada a few days ago to come to this remarkably remote place at 78 degrees north to join Cape Farewell’s global Climate/Culture Expedition. A group of 20 scientists, writers, visual artists and musicians; a delightfully odd collection of souls from around the world, will be boarding a 135 foot sailing schooner, the Noorderlicht, for a 22 day sail around the Svalbard archipeligo, a kind of roiling, boiling think tank on climate change.
Leaving Canada I was feeling excited to be going to a place that I thought would be beyond the reach, or at least just ahead of the curve, of the global eco-tourist trade. Having spent the summer hearing news of the sheer number of tourist boats cruising the Canadian Arctic, including the embarrisingly staged photo-op of Prime Minister Harper balancing on a little piece of polar ice (having personally banished the Russian Air Force) I was feeling pleased to be going to the far reaches of the polar planet, halfway around the world, away from the madding crowd.
Fifteen of us gathered at London and flew north to Oslo where we met our five Russian compatriots and continued further north to Tormo. Changing planes, we left Tormo in the darkness of night and flew ever further north to Longyeaybyen – and into the midnight sun. To bed with light in the sky at 3 am we awoke at 8 am, had breakfast and walked to the wharf, the boat and, as it turns out, a new awakening! Contrary to my expectation, eco-tourism has arrived and is alive and well in Longyearbyen too!
In the past three years, 200 tourist beds have been built in a variety of hotels; mostly to accommodate the cruise-ship trade from the south, but also to provide for climbers, hikers, kyakers and the odd scientific cultural polar expedition to sea. In addition, Longyearbyen hosts a small university, complete with students on bicycles and a very fine local museum to illustrate the history of a once-thriving but small coal mining town and northern outpost.
But never mind, it is still a spectacularly beautiful and very remote place and I have been assured that as we sail further north to the edge of the polar ice cap, we will see no signs of other humans and are guaranteed to see lots of whale, walrus, seal, manitou and of course polar bear. And this I do believe to be true as we will be packing rifles as protection whenever we go ashore. Will keep you posted.
Video by Iris HäusslerBACK TO TOP