A dummy in a snowmobile suit (complete with a Soviet-era-style helmet) sits in a lonesome chair in the corner, like a WWII relic that Svalbard had forgotten. In reality, it was exactly how we were supposed to dress, with no skin exposed to the elements. I for one, was dancing with joy to learn that the snowmobile had heating in the handlebars for the hands.
With Christian (out German guide of Svalbard Scooterutleie) and two other Dutch tourists, we took off into Adventdalen once again, going further than the dogsleds could and up into the Pingo, an Inuvialuktun word that refers to a hill with a core of ice. Pingos, as they are known in English, are formed in areas of permafrost when ponds or lakes are drained. When the wet lake bed freezes, the ice below expands and is forced upwards. With the roar of the engine in my ears and illuminating beams of light from the other snowmobiles, we cut a path slightly upwards around the Pingo and stopped shy of a cabin up in the hills. It’s there that we stopped for coffee and blackcurrant drinks (ribena) deep in the valleys and for random conversations that flitted from the constellations in the sky to Chris’s 1-year long survival training course in the Arctic.
Whatever I had expected of snowmobiling, it wasn’t one that involved shooting straight into the snow at the slightest squeeze of the throttle. As responsive as the snowmobile is to acceleration, steering took more effort than I thought, helping to give my underworked biceps a good push at the same time.
As reticent as the Norwegians are about their successes, bragging rights here, as it seems, come in the form of latitudes that measure how far past the arctic circle you’ve gone as well as the extremity of the activity in which you’ve participated. One of the Dutch guys asked Christian what the furthest he’d been, to which he sheepishly replied, “83 degrees.” I noted that the dutch tourists’ reaction was one of awe, who then proceeded to talk about scaling a mountain near the Svalbard airport the day before.
I got back in time for an Advent candle-walk ceremony that apparently involved copious amounts of mulled wine and candles; I saw a small, lopsided Christmas tree instead in the centre of town with lots of people milling about. Instead of standing there cluelessly as I normally do, I wondered what the fuss was all about and took a 30-minute walk out of town where the candle-march was supposed to have started…and inevitably found myself at Huset, the most highly-rated restaurant/cafe in all of Longyearbyen and sat down for a really early dinner. The chef himself said that he’d prepare a dish from the normal menu for me (there was only the Christmas dining option on that day) because I ‘wasn’t from around there’. If I had been Norwegian however, the chef said and trailed off with a murderously forbidding expression on his face, swiping sharply once across the table.
Smoked trout, with salad, pickled mushrooms and beetroots with lemon mayonnaise was what I got while everyone else ate pork belly. And it couldn’t have been better. There’s usually little compulsion for me to step out after dark, but I’m glad that I made this exception.