Road ain’t what it used to be
ON MY booking form, the warning: “Take bus or taxi in case of polar bears.” Maybe we should do the same, but ours could say: “Take bus or taxi to colder beers.” So I took the bus to the base camp trapper’s hut, unique accommodation in Longyearbyen, Svarlbard.
It’s the middle of summer, sun’s shining, in fact it stays shining for months, 24 hours a day ( talk about daylight saving). Bloody hard to sleep if the curtains don’t make it all the way over the window. Though in winter they have the Arctic night – no sun at all and maybe glimpses of the dancing green lady ( I’d love to see her) The Aurora. So really they have two seasons like us – we have mangoes and no mangoes, they have sun and no sun.
This place is way over the Arctic Circle and they take advantage of the fact. The sign in the small bank is “welcome to the most northern ATM in the world”. Technology everywhere, polar bears probably have iPhones, or Ice phones ( sorry).
But this is certainly not the outback town I’d dreamt about 33 years ago. It now has stuffed polar bears and husky skin mats, all to entertain the tourists from ships on the way to Greenland and Iceland. I hope I see as many live polar bears as I’ve seen stuffed. Supermarkets, jewellers ( Barb would have liked it after all) and Wi- Fi everywhere.
When I was backpacking, you would go to a pub or cafe and simply write letters, sometimes taking days, then you would find a stamp, post it, and maybe beat it home. But that was the magic and you would meet people; now it’s screens and Wi- Fi. You can even do free video calls! What happened to doing a Jack Reacher and going off the grid? If I don’t call Mum every night I’m in the polar bear poo. Google Svarlbard, it’s the furthest you can get from our glorious paradise, yet I can video live to Mum.
I’m surrounded by Nordic folk, I’ve not seen an Aussie yet, and I have to admit I am a bit lonely. Years ago you just met mates on the road, but the road is different now. In fact, no one says g’day; I did, copped frowns. Perhaps they just didn’t understand.
It may be a tourism enclave now, but it was a whaling town and more recently, coal – and I’m pretty sure it wasn’t Adani. Happy days.