June 26th – Letter from Svalbard #4(b)

This entry is a hodge-podge of things:

A 'lifer' for me - an Ivory Gull.

Getting a ‘new’ bird for one’s lifelist is important to every bird person. Ever since I started going to the Arctic I have been hoping to see an Ivory Gull. I always pictured it out at the ice edge, scavenging a polar bear kill. But no, the one I saw was scavenging the dog food in the communal sled dog kennel at the edge of town before it flew up to search for tidbits in the flotsam/garbage across the road. Disappointing somehow……

The largest tour boat I've seen here - for two hours there were more people on the streets than live in Longyearbyen.

Although fishing and whaling figured largely in Svalbard’s early history (and still does to a degree), its more recent history, especially in the vicinity of Longyearbyen, revolved around coal extraction (and still does to a very limited degree). Still, Longyearbyen is very much a seagoing town with an active waterfront. Now, though, much of the nautical traffic involves tourists. Large and small vessels are arriving all the time. One morning I was taken completely by surprise: when walking to the university building I was surrounded by a long and steady stream of tourists. I made a detour to find the cause and found a boat the size of a large hotel at the waterfront. It had let all the passengers out for a 2-hour sightseeing and souvenir-buying spree before herding them all back onto the ship for the next port-of-call.
Sailboats here are plentiful. Some are rental boats, some are being actively sailed by their owners in town, and some have come from Europe. There is no tax on Svalbard so some individuals buy their boat here and then take it back to Europe tax-free (or, at least, that’s my understanding).

The National Geographic Explorer - a 'more exotic' cruise ship .

Rental sailboat in the harbour - there were several rental boats, registered in a variety of countries.

Another sailboat - an old one with a lot of character.

This has got to be the most honest town I’ve ever experienced. You don’t lock your car, in fact, most people leave their cars unlocked with the keys in them. A lot of people don’t lock their houses. The garage where we keep the zodiacs and all the boating equipment isn’t locked. And yet nothing gets stolen. Another interesting aspect to this is that in all buildings – public or otherwise – people take their shoes off in the foyer and go about in their socks. This includes restaurants and hotels. Here’s a picture of the entrance to the university building which shows all the shelving for shoes. I can’t imagine this happening anywhere else.

Entrance to the large, 3-story university building - everyone leaves there shoes at the door.

The Summer Solstice, in some cultures, has been a major cause for celebration for centuries, if not milleniums. It’s sort of a big deal up here as well, and with good reason since the sun plays such an integral part in the life of arctic peoples. Last night there was the traditional (for up here) beach party to celebrate it. (I know, I know, it was a few days late but the people who are going to over-indulge are going to need the second day of a weekend to recover.) There was a big bonfire on the beach; tables and chairs were set out for people to sit down and enjoy each other; there was a pavilion to buy beer, wine and spirits (although you were able to bring your own); hamburgers were available; and nice rock music blasted out over a sound system, loud enough to put you in a groove but not so loud that you couldn’t hear your friends speak. It was just a very pleasant place to be. And then….two young women wandered a little way down the beach away from the madding crowd (but followed by a couple of camera wielding compatriots). Having imbibed enough alcohol to get them going, they stripped down to their undergarments (one even eschewed her bra) and dashed into the frigid waters, swam 20 strokes and then hustled back to shore to the appreciative applause of the crowd (although maybe it wasn’t all appreciative: “they must be crazy!” All in all it was a good night. I wonder what it’s like here when the sun doesn’t clear the horizon. The Winter Solstice….now that would be worthwhile celebrating!

The beach party to celebrate the Summer Solstice - taken at midnight.


1 thought on “June 26th – Letter from Svalbard #4(b)

  1. Happy belated birthday brother, and many many more. Health and happiness to you.
    It sounds like your having a great time.
    We enjoy reading your exploits.
    I still think there is something ascew with a man who loves birds. 🙂
    We’ll see you when you get home.
    Rick & Edith

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