I woke up before sunrise. It was so beautiful it was a crime to sleep. The plan for the day was to rent snowmobiles and go explore the surrounding area. The surrounding area being Longyearbyen: the northernmost settlement in the world.
We were lucky to arrive during the first week this little town saw daylight. The place was waking up with the light of the rising sun after four months of polar night.
Covered in snow all year round, it’s cute to see the way the houses are painted in all colors as if rebelling against the nature’s white. There’s even a “color plan” of the town endorsed by the governor to ensure a happy-looking community.
With the thick layer of snow and ice it’s hard to realize that the settlement is actually located right on the shore. That ship is the proof.
Well, at the moment the ship can’t get closer than that. But during summer months, when ice melts, Longyearbyen is accessible by boat. In fact, cruise ships and fishing boats have sailed these waters for over 100 years. Adventurers and the rich were the first leisure travellers to visit Svalbard to hunt polar bears, walrus and other noble game back in the 19th century. Yes, way before the airport opened granting access to rest of the world just at the end of the last century.
So back to the snowmobiles. This is your “iron horse” of the island. Without one, you might as well stay back home. Yes, you can rent a car here, but it won’t get you further than the town premises, which is not far. There are no roads between the settlements and other parts of the island. So the only way to get anywhere is by snowmobile – if there is snow, by boat – if there is no snow, and by aircraft – if you don’t give a damn about snow.
Upon renting a snowmobile you’re instructed not to leave the settlement limits “clearly marked with signs bearing the picture of a polar bear.” And if you choose to go further, it is compulsory to carry a firearm, which can be rented in town. In theory you must also get an “explicit permission from the Governor of Svalbard”, for your own good. So that they know where to look for you, just in case.
There, found mine.
A snowmobile also runs faster than a polar bear. And since I didn’t have a riffle with me, it was a comforting thought. Thus, well armed with a camera, off we went “into the wild”.
You feel so much space and freedom, you don’t know what to do with yourself. And so we went ahead aimlessly full speed to our hearts’ content.
I’m sure we’ve seen the polar bear sign, but must have missed it. So here is the town of Longyerbyen from far:
During March the day doesn’t last long. And it’s amazing to see how the colours change depending on the sun location. Before you know it, from crispy-cold-blue everything turns into bright-orange-pink.
And when you find yourself in a deep purple shade, you take it as a sign… and rubbing your frostbitten nose return back into the safety of the settlement.
Unless you’re one of these guys of course: Sons of Svalbard 🙂