June 7, 2007
Latitude/Longitude: 78°12.0' N, 015°40.0' E
Cabin inspection is the first order of the day at 0830. We are up early and cleaning the cabin before breakfast; there is quite the flurry of activity. Everyone is responsible for their own living spaces and it is interesting to see scientists and crew members polishing, vacuuming and washing the fine woOden decks. The Oden is a beautiful ship and all appreciate the fine conditions we have been enjoying so no one minds the cleaning.
The decision has been made that about half the science party will go ashore after lunch and half will stay onboard until the early morning. I am quite sure that I will never get to Svarlbard again so I want to experience this unique town of Longyearbyen.
It is an odd feeling to be waiting for things to end. Though we were together for only two weeks, when you are on a cruise such as this, sharing close quarters and all working towards a common goal, a certain camaraderie develops and it is difficult to say good-bye. Many of the science party will be back for the 40 day cruise in July, but I will not. I secure invitations to the labs at Woods Hole and I hope that I can make a field trip (or two) happen in the next school year.
The small boat that has been working so closely with the AUVs, ferries us across the harbor to the small dock in Longyearbyen. It seems odd to just walk ashore after being on the ship and it seems odder still that no one is concerned that we have just disembarked a ship and walked onto Norwegian soil. No customs, no passport check, no "how do you do." The taxi takes us over the unpaved roads to the center of town. There are more snowmobiles than cars in town. Originally a coal mining town, there are now businesses, industries and a summer university in Longyearbyen. It still looks much like a frontier town to me.
We settle in briefly at the "Basecamp," a rustic-looking hotel in town before setting out to explore. The accommodations are much more pleasant than is apparent from the exterior, with comfy beds that I'm not sure we will even have time to try out. Because of the snowy, muddy street conditions, it is customary to take your shoes off as you enter an establishment like the Base Camp and everyone walks around in their warm socks.
We find that while planning a short hike, anyone leaving the settlement must be accompanied by a guide with a shotgun for protection against polar bears. There are signs posted all over town warning about the danger. The triangular red-trimmed signs have an outline of a polar bear and read (in Norwegian), "Valid for all of Svarlbard." At the local market I buy a sign to bring home as a souvenir.
Martin Ludvigsen has a valid gun license and rents a rifle to protect us on our excursion. After hitting the local shops and spending the last of my Norwegian krones we gather for a walk up a scree-covered hill just outside the village. (Later I find that it is called Plateau Mountain). We scramble up the loose rocks, spongy permafrost and snow to a wonderful lookout over the harbor. After having pictures taken next to the large stone cairn, it is time for some glissading and sliding down the snow-fields and a few snowball fights. It is time to head back into town to let clothes dry out enough to go out for dinner.
At one of the popular local restaurants, we sample smoked seal meat served with sour cream and flatbread. I couldn't resist trying this local dish, though Martin told us that his dad often served seal - to his dogs! I knew I had to try it, if just to tell my family and students that I was daring enough. It was difficult to leave we were having a great last meal together, but we wanted to catch a quick rest and get organized for our early morning flight.
As I rested in my comfy bed looking out at the bright sky at 0200, I thought how fortunate I am to have this opportunity to travel to the Artic a second time. I am forever grateful to the ARMADA Project at the University of Rhode Island, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution and the Swedish Polar Research Secretariat for making this all possible. I will sing your praises to all who will listen.
I recall a conversation I had with an Oden crew member back on board my favorite icebreaker. He asked me if I would ever come back again and without hesitation I answer wholeheartedly, "Yes!" "Oh, you have it," he says. "You have Arctic Fever." I do.