Wednesday, April 7, 2010

En route from Longyearbjen to Oslo

March 29, 2010
About -10°C, clear in Longyearbjen

I almost spent this morning napping. Matt came into my room and told me that he was going to climb the hill behind our hotel and go look at the abandoned mind. My bed was comfy and warm, and it is a steep hill so I told him that I was just going to stay in. He walked outside, and I saw him climb down the stairs outside from my window. He looked back at me, and suddenly I couldn’t stand the idea of staying in any longer. I ran to the door. “Wait for me!” I yelled, and threw on some layers haphazardly. I ran down the stairs and joined Matt and Nate. They told me that I had the saddest look on my face when I looked out the window – I probably did because it was one of those times where I felt like I had to partake in a possibly uncomfortable and unpleasant activity for the challenge.
The hill was very steep and icy. Nate went first and kicked little footholds into the snow, but it became too icy to do that and we moved over to the rocks, which I scrambled up like a climbing wall. Eventually, the rocks also became too slippery, and Matt and I moved back to the snow. I stopped looking up or down, and just concentrated on each step. The hill was very steep, and rocks and bits of ice tumbled past me, then cracked as they fell down the slope. At several points, I stopped to catch my breath and thought that I couldn’t make it. But eventually, by focusing all of my attention on the ground and the next step, I arrived at the top. I couldn’t believe it when I heard Nate yell “we made it!” and held out his hand for a high five. I was completely drenched with sweat – we all took off our hats and our hair dripped and formed little icicles. My scarf was frozen as well.

We clambered into the mine, and tried to find an entrance. A few other people from the group had climbed up yesterday, and told us there was a way to get in. We didn’t spend much time inside the mine itself; to be honest it was really creepy and we had to get back to the hotel to get on the bus to the airport. It was really interesting to see the inside because it had been fairly undisturbed (what person would willingly make that treacherous climb?). There were mugs, paint cans and candlesticks sitting on shelves. In one room, there was a picnic bench. Tons of artifacts from several decades ago were lying around, kind of adding to the creepy effect. John had told me that there was a room with a blackboard and some chalk, and that somebody had written that they had celebrated their twenty-second birthday in the mine. Based on my conversation with John, Nate, Matt and I went to very different parts of the building than the rest of the group, and I never saw the chalkboard. However, there was definitely evidence of a party: very festive lights strung across the top of the mine. I have a lot of respect for people so dedicated to partying well that they would drag party lights, and all of their friends up this hill for the sole purpose of having an awesome birthday.

Eventually, we had to go back down the hill. Ever cautious, I started to pick my way down through the icy snow, but Nate just sat down and slid down a particularly icy patch. I loved watching him skid down with one hand on the ground, surrounded by a cloud of snow powder. But I hate anything that involves sliding down steep and slippery slopes (except for some mild sledding), and Matt tried to coax me into descending the fast way. He held out his hand and I had flashbacks of my dad trying to teach me how to ski: by taking me up to one of the steeper slopes and taking me by the hand and pulling me down. I tried to pick my way down but it became way too icy, so I winced and sat down and tumbled down the hill. I only screamed a little bit, at a particularly slippery part and I thought that there was no way I would stop before the upcoming rocky ledge, but I slowed down and got up and did it again. We arrived at the bottom very sweaty with frozen butts but completely intact. Then we stripped off our layers, got in the bus, and went to the airport and got on the plane.
Though our plane went all the way through to Oslo, there was a stop in Tromsø and for some stupid reason we had to clear customs just as soon as we arrived in the mainland of Norway. So we got off the plane (walking to the terminal in 4°C weather seemed almost tropical) and collected our bags, went through customs, and dropped our bags off once again. The Tromsø airport has many automatic doors, and as we were going through to claim our checked baggage, this little kid tried to get through the door but was not nearly tall enough for the sensor. To everyone’s amusement, he bumped right into the doors, and stood in shock for a few minutes not knowing what to do. His parents had passed through and were out of sight because the door could not be opened from the other side. His confused look was absolutely adorable, but I took him into my lane and got him through. I love those little moments.
There were surprisingly many small children – babies too! – coming from Spitsbergen. I didn’t expect so many families to vacation in the Arctic. I’m sad to be leaving: each plane we board is one flight closer to the end of the trip. I also kind of fell in love with the Arctic. Each place we go is so cool that I wish I could spend many more weeks there just exploring, maybe with the exception of India. On Norwegian television there are these “Incredible India” commercials with a highlights reel of this guy on vacation. He rides a dromedary camel, scuba dives, climbs a palm tree, camps in the Himalayas, goes to the Jaipur kite festival, gets a massage, plays on an inner tube raft, takes pictures of an Indian couple at the Taj Mahal, has red powder streaked down his forehead by an old man, and throws colors during Holi. I was surprised that Indian Tourism Department chose not to feature the starving beggar children, rivers of sewage, dirty trains, irritable customs officials, and creepy men.
What would my highlights reel be like?

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