A polar bear attacks: The ice cave (part 1)

There are an estimated 3000 bears, which means they outnumber locals, and are possibly also more curious.

“If you see any animals, then get inside the snow cave and cover the entrance.”

The Italian guide Giovanni removed a pen from inside his jacket. “And here, take this.” He pressed it into Yvonne’s hand.

Was this to write my will? In case of polar bear, stab in the eye with Biro?

Not quite. It was actually a gun, albeit very small and pen-sized. “It will kill a human, but not a bear. This will just scare it, though that should be enough. But don’t worry,” he added, “you won’t see anything.”

Not see anything? I hadn’t come 3000 km to northernmost Norway, the Svalbard archipelago, the 78° degree of the polar circle, to not see anything.

Alas, when the bear eventually would attack, there was no snow cave to hide in, and certainly no James Bond pen.

Video not safe for claustrophobics…

Let me back up. Ever since I heard about the tragic death of an English school boy camping on the archipelago, I’d wanted to come for one reason alone, and that reason did not involve a tent, or being Eton.

The Inuits of North America call it Nanook. Ursus maritimus, the maritime bear. King of the Arctic; known as isbjorn in the local vernacular, and by the local leather and animal goods shop as “€12,000 + shipping”.

A hyper-carnivore, an animal with such as penchant for blood that if there is a god, then she has a great sense of humour, because the poor beast always must eat while wearing a white fur coat.

There are an estimated 3000 bears, which means they outnumber locals, and are possibly also more curious.

The most are concentrated in the eastern parts and on the sea ice, far from Longyearbyen, and typically don’t bother to enter the valley where the archipelago’s capital is situated. Having been there for a week, I kind of understand their position.

Longyearbyen has a border-town ambience. A pub, a whisky bar, and a large Thai supermarket.

There’s also no taxes, no visas, and dying is not allowed. Before you ask, it’s to do with a lack of suitable burial grounds and end-of-life care, and not some ingenious loophole to live for eternity.

The township extends three kilometres up the Longyear river into a valley, and 2 kilometres along the harbour from a university up to the airport.

Here, set in the hill above is the global seed vault, where its precious seed samples from the entire world are protected by permafrost (for now), and a sign that says: “closed to visitors”.

In June when we visit, the daylight is constant, but not much else: from the pre-fab houses, to the fading coal-mining operations, to the transient locals.

A metaphor for the arctic environment.

Continuing reading Part II: Survival of the fastest

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