Where am I, seriously where am I? My passport was stamped out of Norway, I took a three hour flight north and was never stamped back into a country. Not only that, it was bright out at 1am when we landed, 3pm bright. After a couple discussions I discovered I really am in Norway, but a segment of Norway that the international community allowed to recognize as being Norway if their citizens have equal rights as Norwegians. Forty countries have signed the treaty that controls Svalbard and don’t need a visa to live or work on the Island, but there are a couple catches. It is illegal to be born or die on Svalbard, there are not any taxes on goods, there is a flat 16% income tax, at the liquor store you can only buy 24 beers or 2 liters of spirits a month, and you fall under the control of the appointed governor of Svalbard.
Svalbard was discovered a couple few hundred years ago by a dude looking for the northeastern passage and starting in the late 1800s they began to mine coal from the island (visible seams). There are five year round settlements on the islands (population 4(caretakers of an old Russian settlement), 35, ~100(Polish), 400ish(Russian), 2,000 (main town, only 35 miners) makings them the farthest north active public settlements (I am sure this can be debated). Longyearbyen is the farthest north settlement with over 1000 people in the world. Being so far north it never gets dark in the summer. The low light is 3/4pm dark.
Fat bikes, $1300
Seal hanging to dry
I didn’t have the best weather during couple days in Svalbard with it being cloudy and drizzling, but in the afternoon the sun would break through the clouds. If I didn’t have blackout curtains and Sonata I don’t think that I would be able to sleep, but having standard meals helped.
The town of Longyearbyen is comparable to Boulder/CO mountain towns. There are 4 different groups of people that live in town: the miners, the locals (basically everyone else who works in the tourist industry, almost all between 20-40, 70% Norwegian, physically active, and like to play in the mountains), students (a branch on Tromso University/international researchers), and the Thais (10%, the second largest group of people, they are signers of the treaty and many come to the island for cleaning/kitchen work). The Thai population means that there is a Thai food shop, Thai massage, and a Thai restaurant in town. Since there are more polar bears in Svalbard (mainly on the the ice) than people you are legally required to carry a rifle if you leave town (read 4 streets without any signage). The people from main land Europe were amazed that the guides put bullets in their guns at the edge of town….
The first day in town I got a solid 5 hours of sleep, ate some smoked salmon, mustard fish, and herring for breakfast then headed out to the dog yard. The dog yard had ~150 dogs and we harnessed 25 of them up (Putin wasn’t being used because he was too aggressive and Bush was kept on huge other side of hedge yard as Putin) onto our wheeled sleds and went for a ride. We then grabbed lunch and went for a zodiac ride to see puffins and other assorted birds along with abandoned Russian mining towns. We then grabbed dinner which was great until the last course. It was seal, whale, and reindeer. The reindeer was great, but the seal and whale tasted like over cooked liver.
Our second day in Svalbard got off to a rocky start. Somehow our reservations for a 7 hour hike at 9am were changed to a short evening hike without anyone telling us. The women working at the front desk spent about an hour calling half the town and ended up finding us a guide to take us up the glacier around noon. The town our second day was overrun with ~5000 cruise ship tourists from 7 boats which combined with the snafu about what we were doing made us a little testy. The cruise ship tourists are not allowed to but alcohol at the liquor store since it is untaxed and they technically are still in there EU and Svalbard isn’t in hue he EU (plus they would wipe out the entire stock). At the store a liter of Hendricks was ~$30, small soy sauce $6, 18 eggs $7, soy whipped cream $6, 1lb salmon $18, and a can of coke $1.
Me with Luna (really the dogs name)
Overall Svalbard was one of the craziest/most awesome place that I have been. Most of the tourists tend to be older since it is more expensive, but it is a place I would go back to.