I love talking with people, sharing my stories, making people laugh.. listen to their troubles and motivating people. Maybe because I am an ENFP, which often called as the Campaigner, I love all of these stuff.
But once in a while.. I can get overwhelmed. When I don’t schedule my time and energy right, I can get really tired with things and people. And I need a solitude time to recharge. This is also the time I direly need every once in a while to stop the hustle and review my life, thinking whether it has gone in the right way, the way I want it to be.
Back in 2013, I get a full 9 days of peaceful solitude time in Svalbard. Also known as Spitsbergen, this archipelago is located in the Arctic sea, between Norway and North Pole. It is under no country sovereignty, but administered under the Kingdom of Norway.
I don’t think there is any better place to find nothingness and quietness as in Svalbard. And its beauty.. just once in a lifetime experience that I am really grateful to witness in my life.
To go there, I had to pass Norway first, so I went from London (where I lived for some time for my master study) to Oslo. From Oslo I continued the journey to Tromsø, wherein I already felt the different ambiance than the busy London that tired me that time. Note that even when you don’t need any visa to enter Svalbard, you will still need Schengen multiple visa to transit in Tromsø for your fly in and out Svalbard.
Note: look at the window before you land in Tromsø, it’s amazing.
Day 1 – Longyearbyen
Longyearbyen is the main settlement and administrative centre in Svalbard. It has the main airport transporting visitors from Tromsø. It has nice museums, shops and library, and you can find families with kids too living here. However, it is already in polar bear area so you can’t go out without someone bring a riffle for a precaution.
Tallship and Sail
To explore the archipelago, I needed to board a tallship called “Antigua” in Longyearbyen harbour. The ship is sooo beautiful and fit just perfectly to the scenery. I have to admit, I took hundreds of her photos during my 9 day-trip.
Since the water can be too shallow for the ship, we use rubber boats called zodiac to reach lands. Only one person can stand when you’re in zodiac and the seating must be arranged carefully to make sure it balances. You don’t want anyone fell into -40 degrees Celsius and die because of hypothermia.
We have a chef on board, who amazingly could cook really delicious food during the trip and has really sharp eyes too! He could spot wildlife with naked eyes from very faraway while he’s fishing for our dinner. Mind you, we use binoculars, some were really good quality, but could not spot polar bears and arctic foxes as fast as he did.
Day 2 – Heading North West
Leaving Longyearbyen, we firstly visited a glacier nearby Liliehook. I learned here from the guides on board that the rumors saying that there were addition of ice in Arctic was not true. The fact is, the icebergs were shifting down from the mountains and looked like there were additional of ice there. But actually there may not be any additional ice at all since the mountains did not produce more ice due to the raising temperature. I also learned that while the global warming is a nature cycle that will happen in any case, there were some factors such as CO2 that accelerated this cycle.
We could hear the glacier felt and dropped, the colors were white and blue, and greenish. I was amazed and couldn’t believe I was there to witness!
Later on the day, we visited Zigna Hamna. Hamna means harbour, and Zigna a Norwegian name, it was the name of a captain’s daughter that were related to this harbour.. I can’t remember the details. What I remember was, this is a place of Germans weather station during World War II, which then destroyed by the Norwegians. We could see the ruins since nothing could be taken from this place, even rubbish. We must leave everything as it is. So.. yeah.. we saw some rubbish stayed in the same place as it left.
In the night, Svalbard welcomed me with this beautiful view. I promise I almost cried that night..
Day 3 – Alice Hamna and Lake Mourain
Today we visited Alice Hamna and Bruce Hut. Another story on Arctic expeditions, sad ones, especially since we found some graves on this place. Due to the movement of the ground, some part of the skulls were visible; and due to the fact that this place is actually a giant refrigerator, the clothes were still intact as other graves found other area. It was scary but fascinating at the same time.
One thing that I remember is this seal. He was really curious that he kept coming back to our Zodiac, and then left when we turned on the engine, startled. And then coming back again when we turned it off. We actually met some curious wildlife like this. Because they were not use to contact with human, they were not afraid or aggressive yet because they did not know human could hurt them.
Our journey continued to Lake Mourain, where I learned that I needed a really good hiking skill here! But once I reached the lake.. It was magical. Unfortunately I could not get anything captured as nicely as the reality, but it was REALLY magical. The guide told us that the lake resulted from the shifting of glacier. With the greeny hills (yes, it was green as I remember), the lake showed the reflections of the hills with the beautiful real hills on the background. And the sun started to shine, giving it rays of yellowish on the already beautiful scenery. No sounds at all other than our footsteps, which were really quiet I almost thought I was in my own dream, alone. And some time later.. few flocks of birds flying by the lake made the painting became even more perfect. I want to cry just to remember the scenery.
We also spotted some other amazing wildlife in this place, reindeers and polar bears. When the reindeers came with sun shining their body.. It looked like they were falling from heaven 😀
We also found some marbles in this place.
Unfortunately, other than some photos of reindeers, I didn’t take a lot of pictures there because I was stunned with the beauty. I need to check my files to find more photos of Lake Mourain. I will update this post if I found some.
Honestly.. I would say this day was one of the bestest days of my life. After awed by the beauty in Lake Mourain, I was chilling on the top deck of the ship, when I saw these views (and when I said chilling, it was quite literally, even with my 5 layers of thermal and winter jacket).
On my left, this beautiful sunset.
On my right, this beautiful night sky.
God, You had been so good to me.
Day 4 – Ytre Norskøya
Located in Northwest of Svalbard, this place is located in the middle of ex-whaling station. We found some graves again in this place, with visible bones and intact clothes. It was said that some of them were 400 years old.
Another hiking to the top of the mountain, just to found this amazing view.
please ignore my poor fashion choices and bad skin.. my focus were only enjoying the view and stay warm 😀
On the top of the hills, I found this cross, which actually could be found in almost every highest point in the archipelago. I thought it meant another grave, turned out it was not. It was actually a remain from approximately 17th century by Pomors, a settler originated from White Sea of Northern Russia.
While hiking, I learned how harsh the life in this place is. Even for plants.. These mushrooms could only grow 1mm in 100 years!
Afterwards, we found another glacier. Not as pretty as we saw before, but still amazing. I enjoyed looking the glaciers dropped.
While having me time, just me, kindle, itunes, and the icebergs! (and these IKEA slippers I managed to bring from London :D)
and of course, some cute wildlife..
We also went to Virgohamna this day where we saw some sleeping walruses nearby. And of course, another beautiful scenery.
Day 5 – a day full of polar bears, seals and walruses
We opened the day with a visit to an ex hangar of British explorer, some more of sad stories about people who tried to conquer the North Pole in the past.
I remember there was a story about an explorer who wrote a letter before he died, and the letter found many decades letter. It contained his hope and love to his family, who may never read the letter forever.
And then we spotted a sleepy polar bear.
And a group of cute polar bears trying to get some sun. They did not care less of human around them.. 😀
And then huge walruses.. that attracted the attention of some pro photographers in our group.
which one is scarier? lol
We then had some tea time in Smeerenburg while listening the stories of this ex-whaling station once owned by the Dutch.
As the northernmost point in Svalbard, the Dutches found hard time to get whales here since more whales were in the South, which were controlled by the Norwegians. Mind you, with minimum food and harsh weather, it was hard to survive while waiting to meet the whale oil target that they must bring back to their country.
One time, there were 7 Dutch whalers in this place that could survive all year long, thanks to Salad Mountain, which was next to this place. This Salad Mountain is actually a small hills which was often visited by birds who pooped in that place, made the place more lush than its surrounding, but only for one time in a year. It then grew a veggie that rich with vitamin c that could help the 7 whalers survived. These 7 whalers were lucky because came in time when the Salad Mountain was really green before the weather was too cold for the birds to visit. They harvested as much veggies as possible and stored it in one of their huts, with discipline in allocating the veggies all year long, they survived.
Next year, 4 other whalers came with a high confident that they too will survive. Unfortunately, they arrived too late, Salad Mountain had been gone due to the harsh weather. By time, they were dying. There were notes documenting their struggle, day to day up to the last note that said (more or less): we will survive if only anyone had the power to go out, lit the fire and made food. But unfortunately everyone was too weak and ill to go outside, the lack of vitamin c made their bones hurt so they could not move.
In the last note they said: Hope God could end the pain, they were ready.
It made me thinking, what is the line between giving up and acceptance? Perseverance and stubbornness? When could we know the time to stop trying?
Thank God the night was pretty as always, it cured the depression after visiting Smeerenburg.
Day 6 – Ny Allesund, the northernmost city in the world
It was a sunny morning when we visited an ex-marble factory. I remember I got a lot of nice abandoned pictures there. I will post them in a separate post with other shots of abandoned stuff that I took during this trip.
Afterwards, we visited Ny Allesund, the northernmost city in the world where scientists from major countries of the world live.
And of course, there should be a Roald Amundsen statue in this place.
Don’t forget to bring your passport when you visit Ny Allesund to get a stamp there. I didn’t take mine and now its stamp was lying don’t know where.. Bring some money too because there were shops and post office there if you want to send some love for your family, friends or yourself, from the northernmost city of the world.
Funny fact about Svalbard: you are not allowed to die or giving birth here. Maybe because no hospital here, and the transportation to nearby city was rare (2 times a week if I am not mistaken) and could be complicated with the unpredictable weather.
Day 7 – Glacier and finally snow!
Being an Indonesian, everyone could not help but comment that the nice weather we had so far was because I brought Indonesian sun with me. lol
So when the weather finally gone worse and snow came, everyone commented, well, finally we get the real Arctic!
Thankfully, the weather did not go worse in the morning when we tried to spot some wildlife nearby Pyramiden (a place that we visited the next day). I waited for sometime on cold ground, waiting while my mind wandered.
The reason the ground was freezing cold was this: because underneath, there were just ice and more ice..
After some time, finally, beautiful reindeers showed up.
And then foxes, but we were too afraid to get closer! This beautiful creature can be really fast and dangerous for us.
Day 8 – The Ghost Town of Pyramiden
Pyramiden, the ex-mining town of Russia, was a really interesting place and one of the highlights of the trip. It still has a complete buildings and facilities that used to be utilized by the Russian workers. Sometime ago it was closed because it produced not so good quality of coals, but may cause harm to the sensitive environment of Arctic. Until today, Russia has left the mines but maintain the place for us to visit.
And guess who is in the front of the main building in Pyramiden? 😀
Yes, Lenin. It is said as the northernmost Lenin statue on earth, and there is also one in Antarctic.. So we can found Lenin’s statue in the northernmost and southernmost of the earth.. (I don’t know how should I feel about this..)
Move on from Lenin, there is a good news for millennials, IF we lucky, we can get phone signal in this place, but only if we could hike for hours, or at this place near harbour. This last point is called “place of hope” because of that, a hope that you can get signal and reach the outer world.
As with other places in Svalbard, a riffle is mandatory when you walk around this place. This is the riffle of our guy named Vladimir that was showing us around when we visited Pyramiden.
Vladimir shared his story how could he ended up in that place and how could he survive living ALONE in such ghost town, afar from nowhere, and even extend his staying much more than his plan.
As much as I like solitude time.. I don’t think I can enjoy this place as much as Vladimir. 😀
Day 9 – Back to Longyearbyen
And my journey finished. We spent the day exploring Longyearbyen once more. Visited the museum, posting some post cards.. and get some wifi in library.
I can’t describe how I enjoy so much writing this piece. I am so sorry for the long post! It is so fun to remember the lovely me time I spent in Svalbard. What I learned from the trip: everyday is a new day. With the new sunrise, new hope arises.
and love from this polar bear!