Monday, February 26, 2007

Day 211: Super Duper

Is what this weekend was. Big news on this side of the world - I bought a scooter. And finally actually acquired it!

So the very next day I decided to join a group driving out to Barentsburg.

Barentsburg is a Russian settlement about 40 km away from Longyearbyen - about 2 hours by scooter. The beginning of this journey, which we took with a 7 scooter caravan, went up the glacier behind Longyearbyen. As we crested the glacier, I got to see the sun for the first time in two months:

Truly stunning - we drove up and rounded the top and suddenly hit the sun. We took some time to enjoy it - all of about 5 minutes before it sank below the mountains again.

Here's some ridiculous scooter loops on the mountainside:

Which I have a hard time understanding the physics of, since I can have a hard time staying upright on flat ground. We continued on our way, and eventually came across part of an old mining center near the coast.

Where we found a Russian helicopter which looked like it was about to land on us...

Maybe it was doing some kind of coastal watch? I have no idea. Someone found a reindeer antler:

And here is the old dock:

Another break, looking across the coast line over the sled that thought to bring extra gas:


The friend of a friend riding behind me on my snowmobile:

One of the leaders of our little expedition:

Me! Although you'd never know it:

And then, our first view of Barentsburg - a black smudge on the horizon:

Barentsburg is a bizarre outpost of communism. Entering the town is surreal in the golden light of polluted skies, smelling of sulfur and burning coal. The buildings are boxy in a way that is reminiscent of faded text-book photos, and despite appearances there are almost no people around. The town was built to support around 3000 people, although only about 850 live there now.

The sports hall, one of the highlights of the settlement:

The snow is stained black from the coal smoke every few inches. All around town we find strange sculptures, including one sort of monument with this bizarre effigy:

We took a short trip through the cold museum, finding this dried Arctic shark:

And this:

Mikko in a trippy coal mine simulation:

Monument outside the museum:

Mikko and creepy sculpture next to above monument:

More images of Barentsburg:

Some of us stuck together to take a walk around town and went down by the coal processing facilities:

Including the entrance to the mines themselves. At one point, the tunnel opens to allow a coal bin on train tracks to cross an open road. Looking into that tunnel:

While we were standing there, one of the coal trains came with a man.

Upon seeing us, he stopped the train, jumped off, and ran over to me.

The coal miner stuck out his hand and said "Victor!", and I replied with my name. He then put his hands on my shoulders, and started to lean in. I assumed he was trying to do the cheek-cheek kiss, which I am extremely bad at, so we had a bit of an awkward moment dogding faces. He then tried to say something in Norwegian (I think?), until one of my friends came over and tried speaking Polish. Our languages frustrated, he pointed to my watch, looked at the time, and motioned that he had to leave. Once again, he put his hands on my shoulders, and started in for the kissing procedure. Determined to get it right this time, I instead found that I wasn't messing it up - he was going in for the mouth kiss, following my inadvertant dogde. Momentarily paniced, I moved at the last minute and he got mostly cheek. A cultural experience, to say the least, and extremely amusing to my friends watching.

These people:

Anyway, more of Barentsburg. The firestation:

The miner's run-down hospital:

A playground:

The church:

Lenin watches over his people:

Soviet murals:

And radio arays:

Looking across the fjord:

Trash on the dock:

One of the few buildings that actually seemed to be used - an apartment complex outside of which we ate our lunches.

Back at the scooters, we wait for the others to return:

A view on the drive home:

And that was Barentsburg. Here's some photos I took of Longyearbyen recently:

Well. More happened this past weekend, but we'll save that for another day.

The other night I made choclate chip cookies from memory, with no measuring utensils, and inprovised ingredients (for example, apparently Norwegian's don't have brown sugar). Tonight I make teryaki reindeer steaks. This marks an unprecedented high in my culinary productions.


Hans Mundahl said...

That's pretty amazing the different kinds of cultures that are found in pretty close proximity of eachother.

That purple sky picture doesn't really look real. Amazing.

Der Wilderer said...

Great! I'm glad you bought that scooter and hope for more stories like this one ; )

Anonymous said...

Good story.
I've been several times on Svalbard.
Russian community isn't very different from Norwegian as you might think looking at these pictures. Norwegians have been wasting a lot of money to improve their lives but difference isn't that huge.
Russians are more practical they don't waste so many resources. Both Norwegians and Russians think that Svalbard belongs to them ONLY. However in reality Svalbard doesn't belong to any. Svalbard doesn't belong to any other country either, its belongs to itself. Yes chimney
in Russian Barentsburg looks ugly, but Norwegians are driving about 2.000 two-stroke snowmobiles everyday polluting and annoying wild nature there.